Thursday, March 31, 2011

Roast tomato and lentil soup

If you live in Cape Town I’m sure you will agree that it is officially soup weather. I LOVE soup. I could eat soup every day and often do. I also find it handy to make a big pot of soup and freeze it into single portions which are easy to defrost and heat for week day lunches or dinners.

I also find soups an easy way to create a low fat, low GI great tasting meal without having to compromise too much on the tastes I like. The soup I’m writing about today has exactly that great combination I love. The lentils add that robust meaty flavour while being low fat, high fibre and high protein. The roasted tomatoes are also a great savoury taste and the roasting intensifies the flavour.

I have trained this recipe many times already and it has always become a firm household favourite. You can vary the colour and texture of the soup as well by choosing different types of lentils. The pink lentils are sweeter and give the soup a pretty colour but you lose out on allot of fibre. I like brown or green lentils as they have a more robust flavour and texture, but the colour of the soup can become brownish.

You can easily add bacon, ham, chorizo or beef to this soup adding to the flavour, but also adding to the fat content.

If you want to garnish the soup nicely, save a few of the roasted tomatoes before blending them and garnish the soup with roasted tomatoes and bit of pesto.

Roast tomato and lentil soup
Makes about 2.5 litres of soup

8 large ripe tomatoes
Salt and pepper to taste
2 Tbsp of brown sugar
2 Tbsp of olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
2 ribs of celery, finely sliced (optional)
2 large carrots, grated (optional)
1 leek, finely sliced (optional)
2 tins of lentils or (250g of dry lentils - just cook soup longer, until tender)
2 Litres of vegetable stock
1 tsp of salt

Pre-heat your oven to full heat and grill. Place the wire rack in the middle of the oven. Slice the tomatoes thickly and lay them in a roasting pan. Grind salt and pepper over them. Roast the tomatoes with the oven door a crack open to let out the steam. They will lose allot of water and need to have almost halved in size and should be browning on the top. Half way through the grilling process you can sprinkle them with a little sugar. Once roasted, set aside for use later.

In a large pot fry the onion, celery, carrots, garlic and leeks. You can leave out the celery, carrots and leeks for a purer soup. Add the lentils and stock and simmer until the lentils are soft and soup has thickened slightly. Add the tomatoes and using a hand blender puree the mixture lightly. Try not to over puree as some texture is nice.

Taste the soup and adjust the flavour where needed. If the acid of the tomatoes is strong add sugar. If the soup needs depth, add more stock concentrate or salt and you can add a little cumin, turmeric and garam marsala, if desired, which in my opinion improves most things.

If you can ever find mung beans (or green lentils as they are sometime called) they are what I would ideally use instead of regular lentils. They are far more robust in texture and meaty in flavour.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Pear and berry crumble

I am a big fan of hot apple crumble with vanilla ice cream. It has that tart, creamy, crunchy thing going on and I love the contrast between the hot pie and the cold ice cream. The thing is, I’m not a fan of just plain apples so I usually have pears in my fruit basket and I always have frozen berries in the freezer as they are perfect to perk up a smoothie and are a great last minute dessert fail safe. So this is how my pear and berry crumble came about… you can use many different combinations of fruit and top it off with crumble. They just need to be fruits which lend themselves to being cooked.

Apples, pears, peaches, plums, rhubarb and berries are good tried and tested fruits which work well in pies. So be creative and come up with your own combinations. If the fruit is very tart add sugar, if it’s very sweet add less sugar and perhaps a squeeze of lemon juice. Tinned fruits work really well in pies and are great to have in the cupboard for when you need to whip up a last minute dessert or tea time treat.

I hate throwing food out so if I have allot of fruit fast approach its expiry date, a fruit crumble is often a good way to use it and a great excuse for a spontaneous dessert!

The recipe for this fruit crumble was for a dinner party I had last week and I experiment with the crumble part of a recipe I found in a cook book by Sonia Cabano called Easy, Simple and Delicious (a winner). I did modified it a bit but the addition of flaked almonds and ginger spice as she recommended was awesome.

I love the crazy way the blue berries turned my pears psychedelic purple!

Pear and berry crumble

Serves 6 (4 in my house)

1 x large (820g) tin of pears (drained) or 10 fresh pears, peeled, cored and sliced

200g of fresh or frozen berries (I used raspberries and blueberries)

½ cup of oats

50g of flaked almonds

½ cup of nutty wheat

½ cup of castor sugar

½ tsp of cinnamon

½ tsp of ground ginger

¼ tsp of salt

125g of butter

Pre heat your oven to 160C˚ and place the wrack in the middle of the oven.

Spread the fruit out into the bottom of a pie or casserole dish small enough to allow the pie to be at least 5 – 4cm thick.

Combine all the ingredients (except the fruit) in a mixing bowl. Using your finger tips rub the butter with the dry ingredients until they have formed light crumbs.

Spoon the crumbs lightly over the fruit and bake for about 25 minutes until the crumble is golden and crispy.

Serve with whipped cream, custard or ice cream.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Eggs Provencal a la Mama

I’m on a bit of a comfort food mission at the moment. Think it’s the change of seasons and hopefully the change of pace which will go with it. Slower more leisurely cooking, richer flavours, spices and roasts. I love roasts…mmm! Okay, now I’m getting carried away as I’m not blogging about roasts today, but I can’t help fantasising about the roasts I will be preparing and naturally blogging about soon…

Back on track now, the dish I am blogging about today is for me to the mid week meal what the roast is to a Sunday. In our home it’s called Eggs Provencal and is a recipe my Mom got from an Elizabeth David cook book on traditional Italian cookery. She added mashed potato to the recipe and the rest is history! I’ve been hooked my whole life.

It is a perfectly balances meal with all the elements of veg, starch and protein as well as tangy, creamy and sticky textures and flavours. It’s what my Mom cooks for me when she knows I need nurturing. It’s what I cook for myself when I need a midweek comfort food fix without the guilt of pizza.

And for those of you who think eggs are should strictly be reserved for breakfast dishes or baking need to realise that this is a very Anglo-Saxon perspective. Mediterranean, Middle Eastern and Asian cooking uses eggs as the protein part of their main meals far more often than they would serve eggs at breakfast. So take it from me, this recipe is a winner!

Eggs Provencal a la Mama

Serves 4

For the mash

4 large potatoes, peeled and cubed

75g of butter

½ - 1 cup of milk

1 tsp of salt

Freshly ground black pepper

For the tomato concasse

1 medium onion, peeled and chopped

1 clove of garlic, peeled and chopped

1 Tbsp of oil

6 large tomatoes, finely chopped

½ Tbsp of sugar

1 tsp of salt

Fresh or dried herbs (e.g. basil, oregano, thyme, parsley)

Chilli optional

4 jumbo free range eggs, poached

Parmesan, grated

Boil the potatoes in salted water, until just done. Check this by spearing the potato with a knife. Drain the potatoes, add the butter and mash with a potato masher until fluffy and no lumps. Add the milk, salt and pepper and mash until smooth and creamy. You can decide what consistency you like your mash to be and add more or less milk.

Heat the oil in a pan on medium high heat. Fry the onion and garlic until it turns glassy. Add the chopped tomatoes and simmer until it forms a nice saucy texture, the cooking time will vary here according to the water content of your tomatoes. Add the sugar, spices and herbs and simmer for a minute or two until the flavours have combined.

I have added two helpful links for poaching eggs below:

I however don’t add vinegar as I don’t like the way it makes the eggs taste but this can lead to the eggs being a bit ‘all over the place’. Try the vinegar method first and you can experiment once you are more familiar with the technique.

Layer the mash, concasse and eggs in a serving dish or plate individually and top with grated parmesan.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Decadent mushroom pasta for the ‘whole’ family

My family has recently grown by two very cute super naughty grey kittens who have taken over our house and already have us firmly wrapped around their tiny paws.

On Saturday we invited kitten godmother Annika to redeem her birthday pamper day - fresh berry and mango fruit salad in the bath, body exfoliation and masque, girly chatter, tandem full body massage (with a little help from the kittens), chilled bubbles and lunch, followed by 4 episodes of Vampire Diaries tucked in bed with the kittens and another bottle of bubbly. With Annika being a self confessed pasta-holic and autumn in the air, the lunch menu was easily chosen.

I found dried chanterelle mushrooms at Pick n Pay added fresh portobellini mushrooms, crème fraiche and parmesan… it was hard to go wrong with this combo. Even the little carnivores agreed that this was an unbeatable meal.

In the recipe below I’m going to tell you exactly what I did on Saturday but naturally you can use any combination of fresh, dried or wild mushrooms you enjoy. If, however, you get the chance to eat fresh or dried chanterelles take it from me… they are awesome!

Chantarelle and Portobellini Mushroom Pasta

Serves 6

500g pasta of choice, cooked and drained

2 Tbsp olive oil

1 medium onion, finely chopped

2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped

250g portobellini mushrooms, sliced

¼ tsp of all spice

¼ tsp of cumin

½ tsp of fresh ground black pepper

1 Tbsp soya sauce

2 tsp of whole grain mustard

40g of dried chanterelle mushrooms, rehydrated with a cup of boiling water

250g crème fraiche

½ tsp of salt

1 cup of finely grated parmesan or alternative hard Italian cheese

I think it’s best to leave dried mushrooms rehydrating for a good few hours if possible, so they are not too stringy or chewy. The water they are soaking in is packed full of mushroom flavour, so try to incorporate it into your sauce. If this is not an option add it to your pasta water along with plenty of salt to give your pasta good flavour from the start.

Heat the oil in a large thick bottomed pan on medium high heat, add the onions, garlic and fresh mushrooms and fry until the onions start colouring. Add the spices and soya sauce and fry until the moisture has evaporate and the mushrooms are starting to fry.

Add the water the chanterelles have been soaking in and chop up the chanterelles before adding them to the pan. Add the mustard and crème fraiche. Allow this to simmer for 5 minutes. If the sauce is too runny allow it to simmer until the right consistency is achieved. It should be a thin sauce but should not be watery. Salt to taste.

Add the cooked pasta to the pan and combine. Dish up and top with lots of grated parmesan.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Lemony chicken

If I haven’t said it before, you must have guessed by now, my cookery style is all about how to make cooking quicker and easier, while not loosing flavour and hopefully not too much flair. At the ‘we love real beer’ festival (oh yes! we do) on Sunday a friend of mine told me about a chicken dish she had made that day which was so satisfying and easy – chicken piccata. Now, I have heard of it, eaten it in Italian restaurants but never considered making it at home. When I saw the recipe which she sent to me yesterday I immediately changed my dinner plans, as I had (almost) all the ingredients in the house.
Naturally I changed the recipe somewhat to suit my own cooking style and added a few things which I thought would enhance the flavour. I substituted the sherry (which I didn’t have) with dry white wine and a little sugar. I will however be buying some asap as my friend told me that she has a bottle of sherry which she has added fresh chillies to and she has assured me that it is an awesome addition to most dishes.
The end result was tender and tangy; and served with mashed potato, roasted root veggies and creamed spinach it made a fabulous comfort food autumn meal.
One thing I have to add… I usually try not to blog about negative things (there are enough people doing that…) but I have to bitch about the chicken I bought yesterday. I am a loyal Pick n Pay shopper and usually trust the PnP branded products. The chicken breasts I bought had long white sinews as thick as heavy duty packaging string in each breast. I had to hassle and break apart my breasts to remove them. This is the second time I have strayed from my usual Eglin Chicken in the last month, with seriously disappointing results. I will be sure not to stray anytime soon again.

Chicken Piccata
Serves 4

4 chicken breast, tenderised
¼ cup of white flour
½ tsp of salt
Spices of your choice (I used a pinch of coriander, cumin, turmeric and chilli powder)
1 Tbsp olive oil

1 Tbsp of butter
1 large onion, peeled and finely chopped
2 cloves of garlic, peeled and finely chopped
½ a cup of sherry (or white wine with 1 Tbsp of sugar)
1 cup of chicken stock
1 tsp of lemon zest
3 Tbsp of lemon juice
2 Tbsp of brown sugar
2 Tbsp of capers
1 tsp of whole grain mustard
2 Tbsp Italian parsley, finely chopped

Mix up the flour, salt and spices. Heat half the oil in a large non stick pan to medium high heat. Coat your tenderised chicken breasts with the flour and fry them until just browning on each side (2 minutes per side max). Add extra oil as you need it. Set aside the chicken.

If there is any burned flour in your pan, clean it out, if not add the butter to the same pan and once it has melted add the onions and garlic and fry for a minute or two until they turn glassy. Add the sherry, stock, lemon zest and juice, capers, mustard and sugar. Allow this to simmer and reduce by about a 1/3. Then add the chicken breasts and parsley to the sauce and simmer until heated through.  

If making this ahead of time. Leave the chicken and sauce separate until ready for use. Then heat the sauce, add the chicken and parsley, and simmer until the chicken is heated through.

For garnish add lemon slices and extra capers.  

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Autumn flavours

Last night was cold! I got the winter duvet out and my sheep skin slipper placed next to the bed for the cold I knew was coming this morning. I'm not complaining though, Autumn is such a fabulous season. We still have lots of hot days and sunshine but we also get to light the fire in the evening and to indulge in richer warmer foods and desserts and red wine and cheese... mmm... happiness.

One meal I associate with cold weather is stew, and the combination of red wine, beef and mushrooms is unquestionably wintery. The stew recipe below is full of warm rich flavour but ending it off with some al dente peppers adds a little lightness to the finish. Served with fluffy steamed rice and crispy salad I think it’s the perfect autumn meal.

Beef Stew
Serves 6

1 Tbsp of oil
1 medium onion, peeled and chopped
600g lean beef goulash cubes
2 large cloves of garlic, peeled and chopped
½ tsp cumin
½ tsp coriander
½ tsp turmeric

6 medium tomatoes, chopped (or 1 can of tomatoes)
1 cup of red wine (or substitute with beef stock)
1 cup of beef stock
1 cup of carrots, grated
2 medium potatoes, peeled and diced

250g mushrooms, washed and quartered
2 Tbsp of oil
1 Tbsp of soya sauce
1 Tbsp of flour
½ cup of milk

1 tsp salt
1 Tbsp sugar/xylitol (or to taste)
1 red, yellow or orange pepper, deseeded and chopped into chunky squares

Heat the oil on high heat, in a medium sized thick bottomed pot. Add the onions, beef cubes and spices and fry to until just browning. Add the garlic, tomato, wine, stock and carrot and bring to the boil. Once the alcohol has cooked off the wine (about 5 - 6 mins), drop the pot to low heat allowing the stew gently simmer and put on the lid. Leave this cooking, stirring from time to time to prevent sticking at the bottom of the pot, for an hour and a half or until the beef is tender. Then add the chopped potatoes.

Heat oil in a pan and fry the mushrooms. You want to fry the mushrooms until they have at least halved in size and started to brown a little (5 – 10 minutes). Then add the soya sauce and fry and until the soy has coated the mushrooms and the liquid has evaporated. Add the flour and brown this a little. Add the milk and remove from the heat while stirring vigorously until all ingredients have combined. Return to the heat and allow the sauce to thicken into a thick mushroomy paste.

As soon as the potatoes have cooked through add the mushrooms, salt, sugar and peppers stir well and switch off the heat and replace the lid. Let this rest for at least 15 minutes before serving.

Serve with a salad and/or steamed rice.

This meal freezes well, so make double and keep the rest for another meal. 

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Breakfast muffins

My parents popped past yesterday midmorning for a quick visit to meet my new kittens (sooooo cute) and I wanted to offer them something with their coffee. I didn’t feel like leaving the house to shop so needed to make something with what I had.

The result was pretty good. I like the combination of fruit, cheese and nuts and luckily I had all three. I combined apple, cheddar and walnuts with a very simple nutty wheat muffin dough and ended up with a relatively healthy, tasty, breakfast muffin which was quick to prepare and was a very welcome midmorning tea snack. Adam and I polished the rest for breakfast this morning.

Apple Cheddar and Walnut Muffins
Makes 12 medium muffins

1 egg
¼ cup of vegetable oil
1 cup of milk
1/3 cup of sugar (brown if you have)
2 cups of whole wheat flour or nutty wheat flour
2 ½ tsp of baking powder
½ tsp of salt
1 ½ cups of strong cheddar cheese, diced into small cubes
1 cup of apple, peeled and diced into small cubes
½ cup of walnuts (or pecan nuts), chopped

Preheat your oven to 180C˚ and place the wrack in the middle. Grease a regular 12 muffin tin.
Whisk together egg, oil, milk and sugar. Sift in the flour (the nutty wheat bits will stay in the sieve, just add them afterwards), baking powder and salt and stir until well combined. Fold in the cheese, apples and walnuts.

Fill the muffin moulds almost to the top as they will not rise very much. Bake for 25 minutes until golden brown. Allow them to cool slightly before unmolding them. Best eaten warm. I like serving them with grated cheese, honey and butter on the side for your guests to add if they like.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Fool proof tomato tart

When I say fool proof, I mean it. I baked this tomato tart for a baby shower I attended yesterday and I managed to forget to put the heat gage on when I put the pastry in, leaving it blowing lukewarm air onto my pastry for 20 minutes, then as I was running late I had to use grill instead of convection and I almost burned the retched tart. Now that said I never even got to taste it as it was flattened within 7 minutes of reaching the party and everyone said it was delicious. So if that isn’t testimony to its fool proofness, then I don’t know what is.
The open tart principle is so easy, just roll your defrosted store bought puff pastry onto a baking tray and bake it in a pre heated oven (220C˚) for about 20 minutes or until golden and crispy. Then pop on whatever you want and bake it until the topping is ready, slice up and eat. So simple.
The tart I did yesterday is particularly delicious, I topped my pre baked pastry with little piles of grated mozzarella, topped with a thick slice of tomato and a good dollop of basil pesto and baked this until the cheese melted and had golden brown bubbles on it.
I garnished mine with fresh basil leaves but the heat can colour the basil brown, so one should only garnish it just before serving.
You can also vary the toppings. I have done tarts where I topped my pastry with grilled butternut and feta, and also with caramelised onions, bacon and blue cheese. My easy chicken pie post is also based on the same principle.
It’s a great finger food or starter but also a lovely quick family meal if served with a salad.
Open tomato tart
Makes 15 slices

1 roll of puff pastry, defrosted
250g of mozzarella loaf, grated (or mozzarella balls sliced)
15 thick slices of ripe tomatoes
100ml of basil pesto home-made or bought (My favourite bought pesto is Pesto Princess – seriously good stuff)
Fresh basil leaves for garnish

Pre heat your oven to 220C˚ and place the wire rack in the middle of the oven. Roll out of your pastry on a greased baking tray and bake for 20 minutes or until golden and crispy.

Remove from the oven and place little piles of grated mozzarella evenly spaced, three rows width wise and five rows length wise. Top each pile with a slice of tomato and spoon a heaped teaspoon of pesto on top of each slice.

Return to the oven and bake until the cheese starts melting. Allow it to cool for a few minutes, then slice it up like the photo shows it. 

Garnish with fresh basil just before serving. Best served warm.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Roast butternut, broccoli and barley salad

I first encountered this salad as a recipe entered into a magazine competition. I have kept it for ages always wanting to try it but never getting around to it. Yesterday finally I got my a into g bought all the ingredients and made it. Man was it worth it.

It is tangy, saucy, packed with goodies and I love the texture of the barley, it has a very satisfying mouth feel. It is also great for vegans, is healthy, keeps well in the fridge for a few days and can be served cold or warm.

I ate it as a main meal but am sure it will be great with a braai, or as a side for a grilled fish or a roast.

Roast butternut, broccoli and barley salad
Serves 8

3 cups of butternut, peeled & cut into smallish pieces
2 tsp olive oil
Pinch of salt
20 rosemary leaves, bruised (optional)
250g pearl barley
300g broccoli, cut into florets, don’t discard the stems, trim and cut into sticks
100g sun-dried tomatoes, rehydrated and sliced
1 small red onion, halved and thinly sliced
1/2 cup toasted omega mix seeds
2 Tbsp small capers
15 black olives, pitted
½ Tbsp of fresh mint leaves, chopped

For the dressing
2 Tbsp balsamic vinegar
2 Tbsp olive brine
3 Tbsp olive oil
1 Tbsp whole grain mustard
1 tsp of sugar
1 garlic of clove, finely chopped
½ tsp of salt
Freshly ground black pepper

Pre heat the oven on grill. Place the butternut slices on a baking tray and toss with olive oil and rosemary and pinch of salt. Roast for 20 minutes, or until tender and browning.
Boil the barley for about 25 minutes in salted water until tender.

In a separate bowl big enough for the whole salad, whisk the dressing ingredients together. Drain the barley and add it to the dressing. Mix well and allow it to cool.

Boil the broccoli in salted water for a few minutes. You want it still to be firm. Drain and rinse in cold water to preserve the colour.

Add the broccoli, butternut and all the remaining ingredients to the barley and toss together before arranging it on a platter.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Grilled Fillet Balsamico

A dear Italian friend of mine and awesome cook taught me many years ago how to do this super simple and simply delicious, melt in your mouth fillet. It is a dish all my friends have recreated and I still get phone calls at odd times, asking for reminders on how to prepare it.

At first it seems like an unlikely combination to mix meat with vinegar but the sweet tanginess of the balsamic really compliments the flavour and its effect on the texture is awesome. Melt in your mouth like you cannot believe.

The secret is to keep the fillet as rare as possible as the acidity of the vinegar cooks it further and to get your oven or braai as hot as possible to build up a nice crust on the meat. It also lasts really well in the fridge and tastes phenomenal cold the next day.

Fillet Balsamico

Serves 4

800g of trimmed beef fillet

125ml of olive oil

125m of balsamic vinegar

30 - 40 fresh rosemary leaves, bruised

Marinate your fillet in the olive oil, balsamic vinegar and bruised rosemary leaves. Place the fillet in a snug container so the marinade can cover it and turn it every so often if you remember. I like to leave it for about 2 hours or so but longer is also fine.

When you are ready to cook the meat preheat your oven (or braai) on to top heat, as hot as you can get it. Remove the fillet from the marinade, place it on a baking tray and into the oven, reserving the marinade.

Grill the meat for about 15 to 20 minutes depending on the size of the fillet. Remove it from the oven and slice it into slices of about 1 – 2cm thickness. Arrange the slices onto a serving platter and pour the reserved marinade generously over the hot meat, return it to the oven for a further 5 minutes. You can then grind some salt and pepper over the top and serve immediately. The vinegar continues cooking the meat and gives a tenderness and flavour that is truly memorable.

Summer serving suggestion: crispy Mediterranean potatoes and rocket salad

Winter serving suggestion: Dijon mustard mashed potatoes and roasted root vegetables

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Freshly baked bread

So I came to my senses and instead of baking a cake I baked bread. Eating a slice of bread just out the oven with butter, is just about as satisfying to me as eating a slice of cake. My mom always used to bake us fabulous bread when we were kids and I used her seed loaf recipe as the inspiration for mine.

I have modified it a bit by adding my ever faithful omega seed mix and my new craze Maca Powder both of which I think give this loaf great flavour and an added ‘health’ fix.

The great thing about this bread recipe is that it is really easy, with no kneading. Just mix, prove and bake.

I bought a silicone bread mould as I have been enjoying baking in silicone but this is one mould which is not better than a regular tin. If you fill the mould to capacity it sags badly in the middle giving the loaf a rather odd shape.

This recipe should be pretty easy to teach your housekeeper to make for your family, so you can have fresh bread as often as you need it.

Whole wheat seed loaf
Makes one loaf in a 23 x 13 x 8cm bread tin

1 cup pearl barley, soaked for at least 1 hour in 1 cup of boiling water
1 cup of mixed omega seeds, lightly toasted
2 1/2 cups of stone ground whole wheat flour (or nutty wheat)
1 sachet instant yeast

1 Tbsp of brown sugar

4 Tbsp Maca Powder (totally optional)
2 tsp salt

1 1/2 cups of lukewarm water

2 Tbsp of olive oil (optional)
Oil or spray ‘n cook for the pan

Mix all dry ingredients – add water slowly with the soaked cracked wheat and the water it soaked in.

The mixture must not be too sloppy or too solid. Stir well until the gluten starts forming. Add oil, if using.

Oil the bread tin and pour the mixture in. Place in a warm spot (I find the oven perfect, I just warm it a very little, then turn it off and leave the door open) for about ½ an hour – the bread should have doubled in size. Do not bump or disturb it at this stage or it will collapse.

Put into the oven and turn it to 180C˚ and bake for about 50mins or until brown, crisp and giving a hollow sound when tapped.

Take out of the oven, leave for 5mins then gently shake it out of the tin and let it cool on a wire rack until quite cool.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Send me the perfect excuse to bake this again!

I’m neither a cake fan nor a sweets fiend but today all I can think of is the chocolate cake I trained yesterday. I am blaming my hormones for this mess, as no other cake will do. I am feeling overwhelming compelled to bake it again, for myself this time… I have been trying to find a good excuses… who’s birthday is it, who is feeling down and needs cheering up… I can’t bake an entire cake for a two person household just on a whim, can I?

If you live in Cape Town and can give me a perfect excuse to bake it, I’ll personally deliver you a slice tomorrow. Promise.

One of the things which I think may have made the difference to this cake it that I used only the best ingredients I could find. Lindt 70% chocolate, NoMU cocoa and vanilla paste, Lurpak butter. The chocolate flavour is crazy intense but the texture is still so light and fluffy. Man, that’s some good cake.

Devil’s food cake
Serves 8 - 10

125g of dark or milk chocolate, broken up
¼ cup of cocoa powder
1 cup of boiling water
¾ cup of all white bread flour
¾ cup plain cake flour
1 tsp of bicarbonate of soda
½ tsp of salt
250g of butter
1 cup of dark brown sugar
3 large eggs
½ cup of sour cream or crème fraiche
1 tsp vanilla extract

Chocolate fudge icing
¼ cup of sugar
½ cup of milk
50ml of cream
125ml of dark or milk chocolate, broken up

Pre heat the oven to 180 degrees. Combine the chopped chocolate and cocoa in a bowl, pour over the boiling water and whisk until smooth. Sift your dry ingredients together.

Beat the butter until soft and then add the sugar and beat until light and fluffy. Add the eggs to the mixture one by one beating in between to combine. Add the cream and vanilla. 

Then add half the dry ingredients followed by half the chocolate mixture and then repeat until all is just combined. Don’t over beat.

Pour into a greased cake tin scrapping the batter more towards the sides of the cake tin and bake for 35 - 40 minutes or until a skewer placed in the centre of the cake comes out clean.

Allow to cool before turning the cake out and allow the cake to be completely cool before icing.

For the icing, simmer the sugar and milk in a small sauce pan until it reduces to half and is thickening slightly. Then remove it from the heat, add the cream and chocolate and allow it to melt. Stir it with a whisk until smooth and silky. Pour the icing in the centre of the cooled cake and smoothed it with the back of a spoon until it just starts oozing over the edges of the cake.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Reclaiming ricotta

I resurrected a pasta salad recipe I had learned many years ago from an Italian friend of mine, for a training session I did this weekend. There’s not much of a story to tell around this dish, it just is what it is (which is quite a allot in itself) - it’s flavour packed, pretty healthy and balanced, easy and accessible to most palates. It makes a great accompaniment to a main meal or is a perfect light meal on its own. You can eat it just like that or add more veggies – like peppers, olives, baby corn, snow peas etc. or add proteins like crispy bacon or chicken.
Ricotta is a much neglected diary product in my kitchen, but I plan on changing this after using at again twice this weekend. It tastes great (I think, even better than cottage cheese) but it’s one of the lowest fat options of diary product you can get. It is a great source of protein, has the good omega 3’s, is high in calcium, zinc and selenium, riboflavin and vitamin B12. It’s also low in sodium. It’s creamy and tangy and great in so many recipes. The annoying thing is it’s not available in all supermarkets. Woollies usually has it and some of the bigger Pick n Pays.
Okay – enough with adjectives and list. Let just get toe recipe which is straight forward.
Herby ricotta and cherry tomato pasta salad
Serves six

250g ricotta cheese
Half a chilli finely chopped (optional)
3 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil (reduce if desired)
1 large clove of garlic, finely chopped
¼ cup chopped fresh herbs (reserve a few for garnish)
½ tsp of salt
¼ tsp of fresh ground black pepper
250g mini Italian tomatoes, cut into quarters (reserve a few for garnish)
250g fusilli pasta cooked in very salty water and drained
80g salad pack of choice (optional)

In a large bowl combine the ricotta, chilli, oil, garlic, herbs, salt and pepper by mashing it up together with a fork. Add the tomatoes and pasta and combine lightly with a fork. Refrigerate until ready for use.

Before serving arrange the salad leave on a platter and spoon the pasta salad mixture on top. Garnish with a few tomato quarters and the fresh herbs.

Friday, March 11, 2011

I will never roast a chicken without stuffing ever again

There are few foods as satisfying as a good roast chicken. Aside from a few simple twists and tweaks it is also pretty straight forward and the simplest methods are usually the best. I have read volumes on how to roast the best chicken, but seriously now, why complicate something so simple and so rewarding.
I did however decide to complicate things a little last week. I was training two lovely ladies on how to roast a chicken perfectly and wanted to spice things up for a little.
I have never personally stuffed a chicken before, its not a South African tradition. But as I had left over bread which had dried out it seemed like stuffing for the chicken was an obvious addition to the menu.
I surfed around the net a bit for ideas, but decided on a very simple stuffing which was easy to make from the ingredients I had in the cupboard. It was UNBELIEVABLE!!!! I can’t believe it has taken me so long to discover stuffing? 
Come on South African, the whole of America is nuts about it, why doesn't everyone make it here! I will go as far as to say I will never roast a chicken without stuffing ever again. In fact I think I will be roasting chicken just so that I can enjoy the stuffing again!
I had also made far too much stuffing to fit inside the chicken so I made little balls of it and placed it around the chicken about 30 minutes before the bird was cooked and they sucked up the flavour of the cooking juices… wow!
Okay – enough already. Just try it and thank me later.

Herby Stuffing for Roast Chicken
Enough to stuff one chicken and left over to make stuffing balls, or enough for two roast chickens

3 cups of dried bread crumbs (I recommend using left over speciality bread, like rye, spelt, ciabatta, sour dough etc – dried and crumbed in a food processor)
1 medium onion, peeled and finely chopped
2 cloves of garlic, peeled and finely chopped
¼ cup of fresh herbs, finely chopped – I used rosemary, sage, thyme and basil
¼ of a cup of Mrs Balls Chutney
2 eggs
1 cup of chicken or veg stock
1 tsp of salt
½ tsp of freshly ground black pepper
2 Tbsp of cold butter, chopped into little pieces

Combine all of the above ingredients in a mixing bowl and stir until it forms a loose dough or paste like texture. Stuff your chicken and roast in a roasting pan which has enough room for you to add the stuffing balls later. 

30 minutes before your chicken should be ready, take it out the oven and place balls of stuffing about the size of golf balls all around the roasting pan. Roast for a further 30 minutes. Remove from the oven and spoon some of the cooking juices over the stuffing balls before serving.

Herby roast chicken
One whole chicken

½ a cup of salt
½ a cup of sugar
1 whole free range chicken
2 Tbsp of soft butter
2 tsp of crushed garlic
1 tsp of lemon zest
1 Tbsp of lemon juice
½ a cup of fresh herbs, picked and chopped (parsley, oreganum, thyme, basil)
1 tsp of salt
1 Tbsp of olive oil

Pre-heat your oven to 200˚C and place the rack in the lower half of the oven.

Wash the chicken and the soak it for an hour submerged in one litre of cold water, with half a cup of salt and half a cup of sugar dissolved in it. Remove the chicken from the water and pat it dry with kitchen paper inside and out.

Make a paste by combining the butter, garlic, lemon, herbs and salt. Loosen the skin of the chicken over the breast meat by putting your fingers between the flesh and the skin, loosening the connective tissue. Loosen the skin right over the breast meat and legs. Flip the chicken and do the same with the skin over the thighs. The skin is less stretchy here, so be careful not to tear the skin.

Dot balls of the herb paste under the skin and gently press them flat with your fingers over the skin, evenly coating the whole chicken. Rub the skin with a little oil and sprinkle it with a salt.

Place it in a small roasting pan, breast side up. Roast for about 45 minutes to an hour turning the chicken every 15 minutes. If this skin is not golden and crispy, turn on the grill for a few minutes. Remove the chicken from the oven, covered with a lid and allow the chicken to rest for 15 minutes. Carve and serve.

Stuff with the above mentioned stuffing.