Monday, February 28, 2011

Fantastically Festive Fresh Fruit Tartlets…

Writing about food is going to be tough for me today as I have a tummy bug and am feeling rather less than enthusiastic. And that is sad as the tartlets I made with my friend this weekend deserve lyrical praise. So I will do my best.

The topic of fruit tarts has been discussed a few times since I was whisked off to Café Milano a few weeks ago for a spoiling. Their fruit tarts, amongst so many other things, are out of this world. Crazily enough we still felt the need to make our own just to see if the work warranted the taste. It was also my nephew’s birthday party on Sunday so we had the perfect excuse.

Fruit tarts are a combination of a short crust case, cream custard, fresh fruit and a light fruit glaze. The result should be crisp, creamy and tangy all in one mouth full and I think we managed to get just that. I must have eaten at least 10 while we were making them. They were so fresh, light and more’ish.

Spending the night in the fridge, they did lose some of that lovely crisp lightness and I think that in hindsight I would pre make the bases and custard but assemble the tarts just before serving.

Fresh Fruit Tarts

Makes about 50 mini tarts – perfect for a party!

For the pastry

2 cups of flour

¼ tsp of salt

100g of ground almonds

1 tsp vanilla essence

2 egg yolk

½ cup castor sugar

Rind of ½ half a lemon

1 Tbsp of lemon juice

200g butter

2 - 3 Tbsp ice water

Sift your flour into a mixing bowl. Add the salt, ground almonds, vanilla essence, egg yolks, sugar, lemon rind, squeeze of lemon juice and cold butter cut into cubes. Combine the ingredients by rubbing it between your fingers until well mixed and has formed rough crumbs. Add the iced water to the crumbs to form a dough like mixture.

If you have a food processor, follow the same instructions by blending all the ingredient together to form crumbs and add the ice water at the end to form the dough.

Roll the dough into two balls and refrigerate for an hour or two until the dough is cold.

For the custard

Makes about 500mls

1 cup (250ml) of thick cream

½ cup (250ml)of milk

1 whole egg

2 egg yolks

1 Tbsp vanilla essence or the equivalent in paste or 1 bean seeded

4 Tbsp castor sugar

A pinch of salt

1 Tbsp corn flour

Warm the milk, cream, vanilla essence and half the sugar in a heavy bottomed sauce pan. In a bowl whisk the eggs, half the sugar, salt and corn flour until it is frothy and has no lumps.

Spoon the hot milk mixture into the egg mixture gradually. Once all the milk and egg has been combined, return the mixture to the sauce pan and whisk gently while reheating. As soon as the mixture starts to thicken, remove from the heat and whisk until the thickening process has stabilised. Return to the heat and whisk until it bubbles slightly then remove from the heat and whisk again until it has stabilised.

It is now ready for use. If storing for later use, store in air tight container or cover with cling film but in a container where the custard fills the container and the cling film almost touches the custard. This prevents a skin from forming.

For the fruit

Choose fruit that can hold its shape and has a certain amount of tartness. Berry’s and tropical fruits work well. Figs and plums too. For inspiration look in google images at fruit tarts.

Making the pastry cases

The mini tarts look so elegant and dainty but if time is an issue one large tart is certainly the way to go.

Preheat your oven to 200˚ and place the wrack in the canter of the oven.

Roll your pastry out onto a floured surface and cut out circles of the correct size to fit your mould. I used a silicone mini pastry shell mould which worked like a charm and blind baked the shells using the method in this video clip:

It is quicker and much less fussy.

Take a look at this clip for the traditional blind baking method:

Use one ball of pastry at a time so as to keep your pastry cold and manageable. Roll all the left over bits of pasty into a ball and keep it the fridge, so it can cool again before reusing it.

Once the shells have been baked leave them on a wire rack to cool. Store them in air tight container out of the fridge if you are planning on using them at a later stage.

Once ready to start assembling, get your pastry shells, custard and fruit ready. Spoon the custard into the pastry shells leaving a little space in the shell for the fruit. Arrange the fruit in the desired manner and set the tarts aside on a serving platter.

I feel that glazing the tarts is not essential. In my opinion the flavour and appearance is not especially enhanced and it just add to an already time consuming process.

If however you want to glaze them…

For the glaze

Melt four table spoons of smooth berry or apricot jam with one table spoon of water and paint the fruit with a pastry fruit. The glaze should be very thin and just add glossiness to the fruit.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Because sometimes one just has to bake a cake.

I have an unusual relationship with cake. I like soft desert style cakes like cheese cake or lemon meringue but am not a huge fan of dry cakes.
On Monday I felt the need to bake a cake. It was my stepdad’s birthday and I decided to try a cake which was based on a one his mother used to bake for him, an apple cake – Tante Bertie’s Apfel Kuchen Sehr Fein. It was delicious… all the usual non cake eaters in the family liked it. I used my Italian vanilla sponge cake recipe (a total winner) and topped it with apple slices I had poached in rosé, chai spices and sugar. I glazed it with a reduction of the syrup I had poached the apples in and served it with vanilla ice cream… yum!
So yesterday I was responsible for the dessert at a friend’s dinner party. My mom had forgotten a bag of plums in the fridge from when she was here earlier this week, so I thought I may as well use them. They were those little prune plums which are sweet and firm. I decided to try something similar to the apple cake but kept the prunes fresh and didn’t poach them. I added ground almonds to the sponge and glazed it with apricot jam… it was nice, not as nice as Mondays cake, but still nice.
So what lesson do I take from this… fruit (and most people) are much improved when poached in wine and aromatic spices.

Apple Cake
For the poached apples
1kg of apples, peeled, quartered and cored (I used green apples)
1 cup of rosé wine (you can use white wine too)
½ a cup of sugar (I used Demerara sugar)
½ tsp of chai spice (you can also you cinnamon, mixed spice or all spice)

For the cake dough
125g of butter, just melted but not oily
¾ of a cup of castor sugar
2 large eggs
1tsp vanilla extract
A squeeze of lemon juice
¾ of a cup of cake flour
1 Tbsp of corn flour
1 tsp of baking powder
½ a cup of slivered almonds lightly toasted (optional)

In a pot on the stove combine the wine, sugar and spices. Let this simmer until the alcohol has cooked off. You can tell this from when the sharp alcohol smell has subsided. Add the peeled apple and poach this until the apples have cooked through. Remove the apples until ready for use. Continue simmering the wine until it becomes slightly syrupy. Take off the heat and reserve until ready for use.
Pre heat the oven to 180˚C and place the rack in the middle of the oven.

Whisk the melted butter and sugar until light and fluffy, slowly beat in the eggs, vanilla and lemon. Gradually sift in the flour, corn flour and baking powder.
Butter a 25cm spring form cake tin. Pour the mixture into the tin, place the apple slices carefully along the outer edge of the tin and work in circles inwards. Bake until golden and springy for about 20 – 25 minutes.
Brush the hot cake with the wine glaze and sprinkle with toasted almonds if using. Allow to cool before unmolding the cake.
Serve with soft whipped cream or ice cream.

Plum and Almond Cake
500g of firm prune plums, halved and de-pipped
125g of butter, just melted but not oily
¾ of a cup of castor sugar
2 large eggs
1tsp vanilla extract
A squeeze of lemon juice
¾ of a cup of cake flour
½ a cup of ground almonds
1 Tbsp of corn flour
1 tsp of baking powder
2 Tbsp of smooth apricot jam, melted

Pre heat the oven to 180˚C and place the rack in the middle of the oven.
Whisk the melted butter and sugar until light and fluffy, slowly beat in the eggs, vanilla and lemon. Gradually sift in the flour, corn flour and baking powder. Add the ground almonds.
Butter a 25cm spring form cake tin. Pour the mixture into the tin, place the plums carefully along the outer edge of the tin and work in circles inwards. Bake until golden and springy for about 20 – 25 minutes.
Brush the hot cake with the melted apricot jam and allow to cool before unmolding the cake.
Serve with soft whipped cream or ice cream.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Lemony chicken and marinated veggie salad

Yes, yes – I know - I am a bit hooked on these tenderized chicken fillets right now, so if you haven’t tried them yet, do! I am however not a salad fan or more exactly I am not a lettuce fan at all. Most salads I make are either lettuce free or loaded with all kinds of goodies so that the lettuce ends up being not much more than garnish.

My food consumption lately has been a little larger then usual and I’m feeling guilty. So chicken salad it is. Thank goodness this recipe is loaded with flavor and protein so I’m not going to feel deprived.

The recipe for the salad I’m making for my lunch today is posted below, but the principle can apply to any set of ingredients. Start by tenderizing and marinating your favorite kind of meat (off the bone). A light marinade would best. I would suggest a combination of some of these - oil, garlic, fresh herbs, mustard, lemon juice and zest, ginger, Indian spices, salt, pepper. Sticky sweet marinades tend to be heavy.

Finely sliver up your harder veggies and toss them with light vinegar (balsamic will discolor too much), and similar ingredients to your marinade. Leave these veggies in the fridge to draw flavor. Pan fry or grill your meat on high heat for not more than a few minutes on each side and allow it too cool before slicing.

Assemble your meat and marinated veggies on a bed of lettuce. No extra dressing should be needed. But there is no harm to put some balsamic and olive oil on the table for anyone who may want to add extra.

Cheese, nuts and seeds will add some decadence and texture to the salad too.

Lemony chicken and marinated baby marrow salad

makes one main course portion and three side salad portions

1 handful of lettuce leaves of your choice. I used a rocket salad pack from Pick n Pay.

For the chicken

1 large free range chicken breast, tenderised (see link)

1 tsp of olive oil

1 tsp of lemon juice

1 tsp of olive brine (the juice the olives come in)

¼ of a garlic clove, finely chopped

½ tsp of fresh thyme, finely chopped (¼ tsp of dried thyme)

½ tsp of fresh ginger, finely chopped

¼ tsp of salt

Add some chilli if you like a zing

Combine all the marinade ingredients and rub the tenderised breast with it. Leave this in the fridge until ready for use.

For the marinated veggies

2 baby marrows, thinly sliced

¼ red pepper, thinly sliced

¼ onion, thinly sliced and submerged in boiling water for a minute then drained

6 black olives, pitted and broken up a bit

¼ of a garlic clove, finely chopped

4 basil leaves, shredded

1 tsp of olive oil

1 Tbsp of olive brine (the juice the olives come in)

2 tsp of lemon juice

¼ tsp of salt

Combine all the ingredients in a mixing bowl and toss till they are coated in marinade. Leave this in the fridge, tossing from time to time as you think of it.

For the chicken, heat a dash of oil in a pan and get the pan searing hot. Fry the chicken for about 2 minutes on each side until cooked through and golden brown. Set the chicken aside and allow it to cool in the fridge.

Assemble the salad just before serving. I placed the salad leaves on a plate, topped this with the marinated veggies and stacked the chicken breast, which I had sliced thinly, on top.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Pizza! Need I say more…

Yesterday was my stepdad’s birthday and we celebrated by visiting various decadent spots around Cape Town. As we approached dinner time we discussed which indulgences we could further tackle at home. We settled on pizza.
Unlike with home-made pasta, home-made pizza tastes worlds better than the store bought version and arguably better than restaurant pizza, but I guess that would depend on the pizzeria in question.
When I say home-made I mean - you make the dough, assemble and bake the pizza - all in a domestic kitchen with a domestic oven. There are however two tricks to making this work perfectly. A pizza stone and a pizza shovel.
There are many kitchen shops which sell pizza stones but in my opinion an unglazed terra cotta tile bought from any tile shop or hardware store for usually less then R20 is perfect. The stone is pre heated in the oven and consequently provides the direct bottom heat needed to give your pizza base a similar effect to baking it in a traditional pizza oven. It truly makes all the difference.
The shovel is essential too as it is difficult to move a fresh pizza base around a scorching hot oven without incident. I bought my pizza shovel at The Banks Shop in Sir Lowry Road for R140. If you’re not in Cape Town – ask your local pizzeria where they get theirs from or try most catering supply shops.
I have broken the process down below and it looks at first glance like hard work but trust me, once you are set up and have the hang of it, it will be a joy to you, your family and your friends forever!
The comment which sealed the feedback to the pizza I made yesterday evening was – “Indecently good!”

To make a perfect pizza you need

Pizza dough – you can often buy this from a pizzeria but I would suggest making a simple white flour yeast dough - recipe provided below
Tomato base – store bought pasta sauce - Neapolitan, Pomodoro or Arabiata (for some bite). If you want to make your own and need a recipe, mail me.
Mozzarella cheese, grated – about 150g per pizza
Toppings – your favourite. But fresh herbs like basil or rocket do finish it off well.
The method
A fair amount of preparation is advisable before you start baking your pizzas. Pizza bakes quickly and is eaten even more quickly, so have everything ready.
You need to leave roughly two hours for the dough to rise before it is ready to use so plan accordingly. Pizza dough stays active for a number of days in the fridge, so you can make it the day before if you will be short of time.
Pre heat your oven at 200˚C for about 15 – 20 minutes, with the pizza stone on the wrack in the middle of the oven.
Decided what toppings you want, do the chopping and place your ingredients into bowls ready for use.
Once you have your dough, tomato base, grated mozzarella and toppings ready. Pinch off a ball of dough and roll it out on a floured surface. If you don’t have a roller, a wine bottle works well too. Roll it to the approximate diameter of your pizza stone. Prick the base all over with a fork to prevent it bubbling up. Slip the shovel under the base and place the base onto the stone in the pre heated oven. Leave it for a few minutes, just until it starts colouring. Take the base out and add the tomato, cheese and toppings and then put it back into the oven until the cheese is bubbling and browning.
Some toppings are best to add just before serving. Avo and fresh herbs are a no no in the oven. I add most of my topping just before serving as I prefer the fresh taste and texture.
Cut the pizza with a pizza cutter or a large chef’s knife and serve immediately with a juicy red wine. Repeat the pizza making process until your guests can’t eat any more!
For the pizza dough
Makes about 4 medium sized pizzas

600g of white bread flour, if can find OO Italian flour it does add a special taste.
1 (10g) sachet of instant yeast
3 Tbsp of sugar
2 cup of warm (blood temperature) water or milk
1 tsp of salt

In a large mixing bowl place about 500g of flour, yeast sugar and water (or milk). Mix the ingredients until combined and starting to get glutinous. The mixture should start ‘pulling’ a little. Cover this with a dish cloth and place it somewhere warm as this will speed up the rising process.

Once the dough has at least doubled in size pour it out onto a surface which has spread with the remaining flour. Add the salt to your dough and start kneading until all the flour has been combined. To see how to knead check out this link:

Now you can either start making your pizza’s or you can refrigerate in an air tight container for a few days until you are ready to use it. Note that it will continue to rise very slowly even when it is in the fridge so leave room in the Tupperware you choose.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Even grownups deserve toast soldiers

One of my favourite breakfast egg dishes are coddled eggs. I know it sounds weird as it’s a little too close to curdled but that’s not it at all. I looked up the definition in the dictionary and just loved what they wrote – “to treat with excessive indulgence”. So these are eggs which have been treated with excessive indulgence. Nice.

So for some Saturday morning coddling we had coddled eggs (see recipe below), with 100% rye bread toast soldier from Knead bakery and a pile of freshly chopped herbs from the garden. I think there is nothing excessive in this indulgence just serious goodness!

The herby mix here also warrants some elaboration. This isn’t just chopped herbs - they are herbs chopped with fresh garlic and sprinkled with a little salt, chilli and some curry powder. This fire cracker of a mixture served on top of poached eggs, in an omelette, with grilled tomatoes or over mushrooms will zing up your breakfast like nothing else! And they look fabulous too!

Now for the egg recipe:

Coddled Eggs

Two eggs per person

4 Tbsp sour cream per person

¼ of a clove of garlic per person, finely chopped

1 tsp of chopped chives per person

1 pinch of salt per person

Pre Heat your oven to 200˚. Place the wrack in the middle of the oven. Boil a kettle full of water and fill a small roasting pan with the hot water.

Mix up your sour cream, garlic, salt and chives. Spoon two table spoons at the bottom of a ramekin or tea cup. Crack in two egg and top this with another two table spoons of the sour cream mixture. Place the ramekins into the water filled roasting pan and bake for 15 – 20 minutes. You want the yolks to be runny but the egg white to have set. You can check this by breaking the surface with a knife if needed.

Serve immediately while hot. Be careful when serving to children as the ramekins are hot, you can quickly bunk the ramekin in cold water if you are concerned.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Who doesn’t love a good burger?

So, I’m not a saint and I do eat and enjoy fast food. Burgers are not something I eat often but when I do, I choose well. The Lamb and mint burger at Royale Eatery is one of my favourites but when ones looking for that fast food feast I am a Steers girl all the way – their chicken and cheese burgers make me week at the knees not to mention their fries!

Friday was a burger day for me but I had friend I haven’t seen in months coming for lunch so I decided to make it a little special. A few days ago I had bought some gluten free rolls (made with soya flour and pumpkin seeds) from Wellness Warehouse and thought they would make the perfect gourmet burger bun. I tenderised some Elgin free range chicken breasts and marinaded them in olive oil, garlic, rosemary and basil. While they chilled for 10 minutes, I whipped up some home-made garlic and lemon mayo. See my post on tenderising chicken breasts (

I say whipped up lightly as it took me about 6 minutes and that was more because I was distracted while I chatted with my friend. The drip drip method of making mayonnaise is a horror story devoted to old fashioned people who can’t move with the times. Using a stick blender and blender jar you can make mayonnaise in a few minutes. See recipe below.

I took a few spoons of the mayo I had made (the rest went into the fridge for future enjoyment) added some of the basil and rosemary I had left over from making the marinade and added about a ¼ of a tea spoon of cayenne pepper. I had toasted the buns under the grill, seared the chicken in a scorching hot pan for two minutes on each side (also great on the braai), added some baby asian leaves from a PnP pillow pack, assembled the burger added a large dollop of mayo and sat down to enjoy my catch up session. It was tender, juicy, aromatic and great quality comfort food.

Home-made garlic and lemon mayo

Makes about a cup and half of mayo

1 jumbo egg

1 cup of sunflower oil

80ml of olive oil

1 clove of garlic

1 tsp of salt

Juice of half a lemon

Zest of a ¼ lemon

Break the egg into the long blender jar provided with your stick blender and add the oil. Place the stick blender at the bottom of the jar, on high speed pull it up slowly through the egg and oil. Once you reach the top the base of you mayo is made. Plunge the blender around the jar a bit to ensure that everything has been well combined. The mixture will also thicken a bit more if you blend it for a minute longer. Then add the remaining ingredients and blend until combined. Refrigerate in an airtight container.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Phiwe and my magazine debut!

O Magazine did a write up on women who have made big career changes and I was one of the people they interviewed. The picture is a screem – I look like a 70’s house wife! But Phiwe and I had such fun being made up, dressed up and put under the spot lights.

The article is on page 101 in the March O Magazine.

I am off to make myself a tenderised chicken breast burger with home-made mayo for lunch – will see if I can squeeze in another blog post later today.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Oasis for the soul

For months a friend of mine was telling me about this coffee shop called Starlings in Rondebosch, but as it was out the way for me, it never really crossed my mind to go. One morning when I had had a seriously crappy start to my day my friend stuffed a R100 note into my handbag and said she was sending me directly to this coffee shop as it would be the balm my soul needed to get my day back on track again. Well - it was exactly as she had promised and more.

From the moment I walked in I was enveloped with the smell of great coffee mixed with fresh pastries and a melange of goodness wafting from the kitchen. However, what struck me most, was the sense that you are being cared for when you are there. The space feels like a friend [with great taste’s] home. Where ever you look you see something personal and beautiful.

The staff are warm yet unobtrusive. The menu is simple but perfectly balanced. There is no compromise made on ingredients or suppliers. The coffee and tea served are from Origin, the oil and balsamic on the table is Willow Creek, the pesto served with my poached eggs is Pesto Princess, the chicken used is free range and it feels good knowing that you are going to be served only the best local produce.

Starlings has now become a destination for me, a place I go to when I need to feel nurtured. Today was a day like that and it was also the first time I chatted with Trish, the owner, chef, decorator, gardener, manager, cost controller, you name it. After chatting to her it is clear why Starlings is such a special place. Trish treats the restaurant like it’s her home and her customers like special guests and friends. Her staff are like family and everything she surrounds herself with is personally chosen and placed. Everything has a story and there is charm which can only be generated with time, care and passion.

If you have been before or plan to go – let me know what you think?

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Spinach vs. Swiss Chard

Not many people in South Africa know the difference between spinach and swiss chard because swiss chard has for the longest time been sold to us as spinach. Swiss chard has the long curly leaf with a thick celery like stalk where as spinach has a small flat round leaf with a thin tender stalk. So now that we have cleared that up I will carry on talking about chard and you will know what I’m talking about.
Chard grows really well in coastal regions with a high rain fall, hot summers and mild winters. This explains why we have so much of it in South Africa and why it is also a great option for home gardens. It easy, hardy and looks really pretty too. Stodels Garden Center has a great selection of home veggie gardening solutions and has extremely knowledgeable staff who can help you get set up. Both my father and my sister have a had a massive crop over the summer and asked my advice on how they should use it.
One of the applications I suggested was a salad. This salad is unique as the leaves are blanched (to tenderise them) and then marinated which makes this salad just that bit different and special. It is great served with Mediterranean style foods, like rare roast lamb and crispy grilled potatoes wedges or with a braai and crusty breads.
Swiss Chard Salad
Serves 6

2 Tbsp. Olive oil
2 Tbsp. Balsamic vinegar
2 Tbsp. Olive brine (the water the olives come in)
1 Tbsp. Sugar
1 tsp. Salt
1 clove of garlic, minced
A healthy grind of black pepper (optional)
About 20 leaves of Swiss Chard, extremely well washed and drained, stalks cut out
1 medium onion, cut into rings
3 small ripe tomatoes, cut into wedges
A large hand full of black olives, pitted
1 cup of loosely broken up feta

Put a medium pot or deep pan with about 5cm of water on the stove to heat to a low simmer. Combine the first six ingredients into a bowl and set aside.

Blanche a few swiss chard leaves at a time for a minutes or two in the simmering water until tender but still bright green in colour. With a slotted spoon drain the chard leaves, shake off the excess water and dunk into the marinade. Then arrange each individual leaf into a loose clump on a platter. Continue until all the leaves have been blanched, marinated and arrange evenly over the platter.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

I am pretty lazy in the kitchen.

I may love to cook but I am not a fan of fiddling for hours prepping food which could be made much faster if you just loosen up a little. If I am having guests or trying to make something traditional, sure – I will do the time needed but if it’s just a quick family meal I will gladly go for the ‘rustic’ option. Aside from being quicker it also has more fibre and texture.

So that’s how my rustic gazpacho recipe came about. FYI, I only just came up with that name - ‘rustic’ gazpacho - it gives my laziness as certain provincial charm, I think.

For those of you who are not familiar with Gazpacho, I think it is safe to say that it can be challenging if you are not familiar with cold soups but once you get over the initial desire to microwave it for a few minutes and allow yourself to be enveloped by its chilled, tangy, crisp fullness it can become something of an addiction after a while.

Beyond liking it, I love it, especially on scorching summer days where being in a hot kitchen cooking is just not an option. If making it my way, you can whip up a massive pot of in just 10 minutes.

In the recipe below I am going to give you my version. For a more traditional version peel and seed the tomatoes and the cucumber, and use white bread.


Makes about 2 litres

500g of ripe tomatoes, quartered

¼ of a cucumber, cut into chunks

½ a red, yellow or orange pepper, seeded and cut into chunks

1 clove of garlic, peeled

¼ of a small onion

4 slices of brown or whole wheat bread

750ml of vegetable stock

¼ of a cup of olive oil

1 Tbsp sugar

1 tsp of salt (my recommendation)

Milled black pepper to taste

A pinch of cumin

1 cup of ice cubes

5 fresh basil leaves (optional)

For garnish if using

Cubed cucumber

Cubed bell pepper

Brown or whole wheat bread croutons

Drizzle of olive oil

Blend all the ingredients together and check the seasoning. Refrigerate and serve chilled. For a colourful and crunchy finish serve with croutons and some of the ingredients like cucumber and peppers diced up.

For perfect croutons pre heat the oven on grill. Cube up the bread and toss in a bowl with a drizzle of oil and some salt and/or seasoning of choice. Spread on a baking sheet and grill until crisp. Keep a close eye on them as they can burn easily.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Recreating a memory.

We had a family lunch yesterday and I decided that I needed to make my late grandmothers trifle. When I say needed I mean that in the literal sense. This trifle was the dessert I would request for my birthday every year and looked forward to at Christmas and other special occasions. Sadly, it has been many years now that I have not had the pleasure of my beloved granny or her trifle. It needed to be made.

Luckily I remember the recipe pretty well and aside from a slight deviation with the custard recipe, which I made in the traditional manor rather than hers, it was pretty damned spot on.

If there is one word to describe this trifle it is ‘light’ – the colour, the texture, the taste - is light. It’s not too sweet and not too rich and the perfect way of ending off a special meal.

In the recipe below I have not added a recipe for custard as I have decided that I need to spend a little time with the topic, as we had differing opinions around the table on how to tackle home-made custard. I feel it deserves further research and experimentation before I give you my opinion and tested recipes.

Pear and Walnut Trifle

Serves 4

8 boudoir biscuits

40 ml of Smooth apricot jam

80ml of semi sweet white or rose wine (if you don’t have just sweeten some dry white or rose a little)

1 tin of pears in syrup

50g walnuts, roughly chopped

2 cups of vanilla custard – bought or home made

125ml of fresh cream, lightly whipped

1 tsp of castor sugar

Decide if you want to serve the trifle in individual portions or a single bowl. Spread a little apricot jam on the boudoir biscuits and place them at the base of the bowl. Mix the wine with a little of the syrup from the pears about 2/3 wine to 1/3 pear syrup. Spoon the wine over the boudoir biscuits and allow the mixture to be absorbed into the biscuits. Pour the custard over the soaked biscuits. Slice the pears over the custard and distribute evenly. Sprinkle half the roughly chopped walnuts over the pears. Allow this to cool in the fridge until just before serving. Top with the whipped cream (not too stiff sweetened with the castor sugar) and sprinkle the remaining nuts on top.

If you are increasing the recipe for more people, carry on layering the biscuits and custard but keep the cream only for topping.

If making your own custard try this link for a good recipe -

Friday, February 11, 2011

Is life too short to make home-made pasta?

I am in the camp of people who believe that life is too short to make home-made pasta. I evaluate things like this on a time spent to reward ration. Some things are, despite the extra time spent on them, just worlds better when made from scratch… and pasta, in my opinion, is not one of those things. It is however for some people a passion and I thought I better just give it one more try before dissing it publicly.

Since I had never made lasagne with fresh pasta I decided to try that. I called my pasta cousin, Annika, we poured the wine and we got started. For the filling I had wanted to experiment with something new and had three ideas but just couldn’t decide which one to do. So I decided to do all three - since lasagne is a layered affair – why not? The layers were to run as follows: béchamel, pasta, chopped walnuts, béchamel, pasta, herb roasted veggies, béchamel, pasta, fresh pesto, béchamel, pasta, béchamel, grated white cheddar. I know… what was I thinking… my poor hips.

So that was the strategy now we needed to start with the pasta. I made the dough which is pretty easy (recipe below) but Annika told me that she had read that resting the pasta dough for two hours was said to be essential. So while we rested the dough we made the fresh pesto, drank some wine, chopped and roasted the veggies, drank some wine, made the béchamel and drank some wine.

Time to make the pasta sheets – enter the pasta machine. Rolling out pasta by hand is just too difficult. I have done it ‘rustic style’ a few times and it’s just not nice. With a pasta machine it is easy, fun and a great place to kids involved. After some research on the internet we had decided to follow the method where you pre-blanche the pasta sheets before assembling the lasagne and I think that served the final product well.

The assembly process went really smoothly as we had had plenty of time to get prepared while waiting for the dough to rest. A token salad was tossed together while the pasta was in the oven and soon we were dishing up sticky squares of sin on a plate! It was DELICIOUS but hopelessly too rich. I am now sure that adding cream and grated cheese to my béchamel had not been the wisest move.

The verdict after dinner was that one needs to view home-made pasta and dry store bought pasta in two different camps. The dry version is perfect for every day meals. The home made version is a fun activity - you should have the time, the wine and the company while making it. You should also make double and freeze or dry the rest for future consumption. Above all you should make it special – the kind of meal you would usually not make for dry pasta.

In this case it’s about the journey not the destination, so make the most of it if you going to try it.

Fresh Pasta

Enough for one big lasagne for 8 people

3 cups of flour

4 eggs

1 ½ of salt

Make a well with the flour, crack in the eggs, add the salt and knead until a firm dough forms. Rest for two hours before using for best results.

Make the desired pasta according to the instructions on your pasta machine.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Miraculous seeds

Oh no, I think I’m in trouble… I was browsing around for info around omega mix seeds and happened to stumble on a recipe for omega seed brittle – as if I needed another application for seeds in my cooking… I have just made a batch and they are cooling in the fridge. From the scraps I tasted from the spoon and pan, this could be my newest sweet fix. I keep telling myself it could be worse, at least the seeds are jammed with plant based natural essential fatty acids and fibre. I’m going to ignore the calorie count.

Most supermarkets and health shops stock a mixed pack of seeds usually containing flax, sunflower, sesame and pumpkin seeds – some have added linseeds, soy nut chips, rape seed, chia seed, whatever the mix it’s probably good for you and they taste GREAT!

I use them in savoury and sweet dishes or plain as a snack. I do however prefer them toasted, it gives them a far nuttier taste.

When using them for savoury dishes I like to toast them with a little olive oil and add my favourite spices or spice mixes and a pinch of salt. I always double up quantities and keep the rest in a tupperware to have for quick use.

I love to use the mix as a Dukha with olive oil and bread for dipping. It is perfect to sprinkle on salads. Substitute it for pine nuts in pesto sauce. It makes a great garnish on soups and it’s a super snack for lunch boxes.

I love to add dry toasted plain seeds to my breakfast cereal, fruit salad and smoothies and where ever I can I add it to my baking to give it a slightly healthier twist. And now… the dangerously easy seed brittle!

Seed Brittle

Makes 20 small squares (10 of which I have already eaten,,, help!)

½ cup (125ml) of Omega mix seeds

2 Tbsp (30ml) of honey or golden syrup

A pinch of cinnamon or chai spice

Lightly toast the seeds in a pan until browning slightly. Add the spice and then the honey or syrup and stir the seeds around the pan for about 5 minutes allowing the honey to caramelize and the seeds to be fully coated. Be careful not to burn the honey. Remove the pan from the heat if you see the honey bubbling dark brown or smell burning sugar, stir thoroughly and pour out onto a greased baking tray. flatten and compress the mixture using a greased spatula and allow to set in the fridge, cut into squares of about 2cm2 and store in an airtight container.

These are perfect for a healthier option for a sweet fix and I will be trying it crushed up on ice cream soooooon!

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Shades of Green.

While I write to you, I am busy chomping on a bowl of pasta with basil sauce and am wracking my brain as to what to focus on in today’s blog. Should I expound on the marvels of basil, one of the most versatile and luscious herbs, or on seeds which are one of my favourite and most used sources of omega oils, or on pesto and pesto style sauces without which life would not be quite as rich… Books have been devoted to each individual topic! Okay, basil it is as my basil plants are in full flourish right now and deserve a little lime light.

Basil is one of the herbs you simply must have growing at home (if at all possible). It loses its flavour with most preservation methods and is such an easy plant to grow – so do! I buy little basil plants in spring from Stodels Garden Center (I love shopping there, super knowledgeable staff and awesome selection of plants and accessories ) and within a month or two after planting I have more basil than I can use!

The staple use for basil in my kitchen is pesto style sauces! I have come up with every variation on the basil sauce theme but one of my favourites at the moment is the combination of toasted seeds, feta, garlic, olive oil and loads of fresh sweet basil. Yum! (recipe below) But the uses are endless – add basil to most pasta sauce – bought or home made. Add it to your cheese and tomatoes sandwich – or any other for that matter. Add it to salads or make a classic caprese. Add fresh on top of soups. Basil can enrich most meat sauces , stews and gravies if chopped and added shortly before serving. You can even add it to drinks – it’s yum added to a mojito!

Okay, but for starters let me give you the recipe for my basil sauce de jour.

Feta, Toasted Seed and Basil Sauce

Makes about a cup

Two handfuls (tightly packed) of fresh sweet basil, washed

1 round (about half a cup) of feta

½ a cup of toasted seeds (omega mix – flax, sesame, sunflower, pumpkin)

1 large clove of garlic, peeled

60ml of olive oil

60ml of water

½ tsp. of salt

For the toasted seeds – either lightly dry fry them in a hot pan until they start to brown or for a spicier version fry them with a dash of oil and add a little cayenne pepper, turmeric and cumin.

Combine all the ingredients in a blender jar and blend with a stick blender. You can of course blend them in a combi blender too – but it’s allot more messy.

The sauce can be kept for at least a week in an air tight container in the fridge. Add it to pasta, use as a dip diluted with chunky cottage cheese or hummus, add a dollop on a steak or with a grilled chicken breast. Use on sandwiches or add a dollop into your soup. Use to add flavour to salad dressing. Toss with steamed or roast veggies.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Several pieces of heaven… and then a few more!

Yesterday was quite a day! I got officially spoiled rotten by my delightful, cousin, friend, confidant, fellow food and pampering enthusiast, Annika! She had arranged a belated birthday day of indulgence for me.

We started with a Bikram yoga class given by hers truly at Jai yoga studio – the facilities and environment are sublime and her teaching is world class.

Then we meandered off to Café Milano for lunch which is a new café at the top of kloof street and is a collaborative venture by Giorgio Nava and Vanessa Quellec. I have been a fan of Vanessa’s work since I first sunk my teeth into it at Roundhouse. Man, am I glad that she is baking for popular consumption again! I would easily say that she is the top pastry chef and baker in South Africa. You really haven’t tasted pastry until you have tasted Vanessa’s pastry! We ended up discussing strategies of how I could get Vanessa to let me work in their bakery for a few days to see how she does it. The cherry on top was Giorgio handing us both a complimentary packet of rolls as we left. It may have been their surplice but it still made us feel special!

I was then whisked off to the newly refurbished Equinox Spa at the Cape Royale Hotel where we have a ‘couples’ pedicure – so we could carry on with a steady flow of girly banter while getting our tootsies tended to. The setting is fresh and modern and the pedicures professional and thorough.

A cocktail at the ‘Sky bar’ of the Cape Royal seemed the logical next step - this is where the girl talk started to get a little naughty but I'm blaming the apple and cinnamon daiquiri's which were way yummier than I had expected.

Next we went back to Annika’s place to freshen up before dinner while sipping on chilled glasses of pinot noir. I was pretty excited by the wine as I have never heard of it. The Yardstick 2009 by Klein Contantia. It was perfect served straight from the fridge on such a scorcher of a day, and light yet full of flavour.

The evening concluded at La Mouette in Sea Point for six course tasting menu. It was fabulous, from the service to the bread. The food was perfectly presented and the flavours adventurous without being outrageous. Annika and I were both blow away by the sweet breads and I was all over the gin and tonic pre dessert. To top it all off the full six course menu was only R210, what’s not to love.

I was chauffeured home tipsy, full of deliciousness and pampered to the max – I am so blessed!