Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Picture story - too tired to write right now...

The view from my brothers apartment and my home base for the next four months! 
The yacht I'll be working on from tomorrow, over the Grand Prix in Monaco

Gino the head Chef and Kaitie, my future sister in law in the galley.
View from the Captains (aka my brother) cabin overlooking the Palace up on the hill! 
My first supermarket - felt like a kid in a candy store when I saw all the gorgeous tomatoes!!! 

Biggest spring onions I've ever seen! 
Supper - chicken, avo and artichoke caesar'ish salad - so yum!

Travel diary insert: Second chances

I have often heard it said “wouldn’t it be nice to be young again, but still have all the wisdom of age”. This thought just came up in my mind. I’ve just finished watching a movie on my flight from Istanbul to Nice about second chances. It just dawned on me that I am on the brink of what may be very similar to a second chance.

When I was 21 (14 years ago… an astrological significant number too, I think) I also embarked on long journey. The first away from my family, friends and comfort zone. Something happened to me on that journey, something that I have never been able to explain to myself. I became paralyzed – emotionally and mentally paralyzed. I just couldn’t do anything I had set out to do. It wasn’t that I failed as such. I just didn’t even try. I still feel really ashamed and puzzled when I think about it.

These thoughts and fears have been surfacing again, just as I get ready for my second long journey away from my family, friends and comfort zone. But I am such a different person today than I was 14 years ago. I like to think that life has forged me into sturdier stuff. I look forward to this second chance and to proving to myself that I am the free spirited, go getting person I have always wanted to be. 

Travel musings and chicken soup

As I write this I am sitting at Istanbul airport, it’s 05h54 in the morning in South Africa. I am as well as I could be, considering we were fed breakfast at 03h45 in the morning on our flight.

I am usually a big fan of aeroplane food. There is something exciting about all the little packages. To most people this seems weird, but I think the reason for my enthusiasm is the fact that mostly when I’m on a long flight I’m off somewhere exciting. This, coupled with the fact that I am blown away when I think of the logistics involved in getting thousands of these meals served in mostly a reasonably edible state, hot, thousands of meters up in the air.

That said, last night’s dinner was one of my more disappointing meals.

I am now staring a 9 hour layover in the face and feeling less than enthusiastic about the food court I saw earlier. My tummy needs gentle, light and soothing food today. I would kill for a bowl of the kiddies chicken and veg soup I trained last week. It uses the simplest ingredients and seasoning and even though it was created with young kids in mind, it is perfect for simple adult comfort food too. I want some… oh, it’s only 06h08 in the morning… and I’m not anywhere near home cooking… will have to just live vicariously through the recipe below then.

Creamy chicken and veg soup
Serves 6

2 Tbsp of olive oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped
2 medium carrot, diced into small pieces
1 litre of good chicken stock
400g tin of coconut milk
½ tsp of dried thyme leaves
200g of chicken breast or deboned thigh, cut into small pieces
100g frozen peas (petit pois)
200g of frozen sweetcorn
salt and pepper to taste

Fry the onion in the oil for about 5 minutes.  Add the carrot, stock, coconut milk and thyme and simmer for 5 minutes or until the carrot softens.  Add the chicken, peas and sweet corn and simmer for a further 5 minutes. 

Season with a little salt and pepper.  

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Salmon and spinach pie

I started working with a new client this week who is strictly kosher and has recently been put onto a gluten and sugar free diet. We have had two lessons already and have had so much fun! It's amazing to me how restrictions can be the best catalyst for creativity. I have been over flowing with ideas.

It means the world to me to be able to help someone find joy and excitement in cooking and eating. One of the dishes we made together last week was a salmon and spinach pie. It is ultra simple, really allowing each flavor to shine. 

Salmon and spinach pie
Serves 4

3 medium sized potatoes, peeled and diced
300g of salmon, lightly steamed until flaky (or fish of choice)
2 Tbsp of olive oil
1 small onion, finely chopped
1 clove of garlic, finely chopped
300g of spinach, well washed and roughly chopped
Freshly ground black pepper
1/8 of a nutmeg, finely grated
Coconut cream

Set your potatoes boiling, preheat the oven to 200˚C and place the rack in the middle of the oven.

Get the salmon steaming, this should take about 10 – 15 minutes. Lightly salt and pepper the salmon before steaming.

In a large non stick pan heat the olive oil and gently fry the onion and garlic for a few minutes. Add the spinach and fry with the onion. Add a splash or two of water from tiem to time to create steam which will cook the spinach faster. Cook until just tender.

Once the potatoes are soft, drain and mash until smooth. Stir in coconut cream until the desired consistency is achieved. Season with salt and pepper.

In a small casserole dish, layer the spinach in the bottom of the pan. Flake the salmon and spread that out over the spinach. Spoon the mash over the salmon.
Place this in the oven and bake until heated through and golden on top. You can spead this up by put the grill on for a few minutes. 

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Beef goulash and a big announcement!

Last week I mentioned that my life might be turned upside down for a while but it wasn't 100% confirmed yet. Well... now it has been. I am flying on Monday to the South of France to cook on board a yacht for four months. I kick off in Monaco for the Grand Prix and after that, I have no idea... but I have just bought a fabulous new camera with the expressed idea of taking loads of photos of my adventure.

I will be blogging whenever I get the time to write and the internet connection to upload! 

But on that note - I am absolutely knackered from trying to pack in as many bookings as I can before I leave, and am off to one in half an hour, so today's post is one which I really don't think needs much introduction.  Beef goulash, who doesn't love this hearty winter warmer!?

Slow braised beef goulash
Serves 6

1 Tbsp of olive oil
1 large onion, peeled and chopped
2 cloves of garlic, peeled and chopped
800g of beef goulash chunks
1 x 400ml can of tomatoes
50g of tomato paste              
250ml of beef stock
20g of dried mushrooms (porcini, chanterelle or shiitake are good)
1 cup of carrot, grated
½ tsp of black pepper
1 Tbsp of paprika
1 tsp of mild curry powder
1 tsp of mixed spice
2 tsp of salt (or to taste)
1 Tbsp of sugar (or to taste)

Heat the oil in a large pot and add the onions and garlic, frying them for a few minutes. Add the beef and brown the meat for few minutes. Add the all the remaining ingredients, except the salt and sugar, and leave on a very low simmer for 3 – 4 hours.  

Add water as needed while the stew is cooking so that it doesn’t dry out. Season with salt and sugar to taste and serve with rice, potatoes or crusty bread. 

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

A cliche is a cliche for a reason!

A client of mine asked me to teach her housekeeper to make, among other things, Chicken a la King. She has two small children and knows that this is a mild comfort food dish which kids usually love. But when she email me her request she added to the request - 'but not too 90's style'. 

This innocent little dish has gotten quite a bad rep due to being done to death from at least the 70's through to the 90's - every granny, canteen and boarding house has had some dreary version of it. No wonder many of us shudder at the mention. 

I did however train it today and it was delicious. I kept the recipe ultra simple but used the best ingredients I could find at Woolies. Quick, easy and super moreish! Long live Chicken a la King. 

Chicken a la king
Serves 6

1 Tbsp of olive oil
1 Tbsp of butter
250g of baby button mushrooms (or regular button mushrooms, quartered)
¼ tsp of salt and some pepper
1 red onion, cut into quarters (like the segments of an orange) and separated
600g of deboned chicken thighs (or breasts), cut into dice sized blocks
1 red, orange or yellow pepper, cut into blocks
¼ tsp of salt and some pepper
1 cup of strong chicken stock
150ml of double thick cream
Salt and pepper to taste
2 tsp of corn flour, mixed into a paste with 2 Tbsp of cold water

In a large pan on high heat fry the mushrooms in the butter and oil with the salt and pepper for about 5 minutes. Add the onion and fry for a few minutes. Add the chicken and the peppers, season with salt and pepper; and fry for a few minutes. Add the chicken stock and fry for a few minutes. Add the cream and corn starch paste and stir until slightly thickened. Remove from the heat and check the seasoning.

Serve with mash or rice and peas. 

Monday, May 14, 2012

Chocolate almond torte

I did a lesson this weekend with a family where the one daughter is gluten intolerant. For dessert had I suggested gluten free chocolate brownies. They were delighted with this suggestion as they all love brownies and with a gluten free version the whole family could enjoy them. 

I had seen a recipe recently on the Source Management facebook page for a chocolate almond torte. Now a chocolate torte and brownies have many similarities, so much so that I would be willing to bet that the original brownie recipe is derived from a chocolate torte recipe. So I used this recipe as the basis for the gluten free chocolate brownies I made over the weekend. 

I however couldn't resist making it for Adam and I as well, but in its torte form. It is super rich in flavour, moist and dense. An absolute must for all chocolate lovers. 

Chocolate almond torte
Makes one 20cm cake

200g butter, diced
200g good quality dark chocolate, broken into pieces
4 large eggs
1 tsp (5ml) vanilla essence
¼ tsp of salt
1 cup of castor sugar (I used treacle sugar)
100g ground almonds
½ tsp of baking powder
100g of pecan or hazel nuts, chopped (optional)

Preheat the oven to 180°C and place the rack in the middle of the oven. Grease and line a 20cm cake tin.

Place the butter and chocolate into a bowl and microwave for 10 – 20 second intervals until the mixture starts to melt, then stir it slowly until the unmelted pieces have melted from the heat of the rest of the mixture and is thick and glossy in texture. Do not be tempted to heat it for long intervals as it will split and be spoiled.

With an electric cake mixer, beat the eggs, vanilla essence, salt and sugar until light and pale in colour. Stir in the melted chocolate and butter mixture into the whisked eggs. The gently fold the ground almonds, baking powder and chopped nuts (if using) into the mixture.

Pour this into the baking tin and bake in the oven for 35 - 40 minutes or until just becoming firm to the touch. (The skewer test may not work as the cake should still be moist in the centre).

Remove this from the oven from the oven and allow to cool for 15 minutes in the tin before turning it out and cooling completely.

Serve with softly whipped cream and fresh berries.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Sublimely simple

About 10 days ago my life got picked up by the ankles and shaken vigorously. In a good way, but also in a totally life changing way... (no, I'm not pregnant, will everyone stop asking!). I'm not going to tell you what it is quite yet, but it will be really exciting if it all happens. This though has been in between a very busy work time, many important social commitments and a severe dose of the flu.  

So during this all, I've had very little time for serious food preparation. It's been about simple, sensible, comfort food, laced with some serious sweetie binges, which I blame completely on stress. However, there is one recipe I cooked which I would like to share with you. 

Now when I say it is a recipe for butternut soup, it may seem a bit of a let down. Hold back, not all butternut soup recipes are created equal. It may be a staple South African winter recipe and right next bolognaise in terms of an entry level repertoire. But this one stood out to me because it was so very very simple, subtly different from the norm and totally delicious. 

Adam's cousin made it for us and I just had to have the recipe. I remade it and it was just as delicious. Now I insist on sharing it with you all! 

Aromatic butternut soup
Serves 4 - 6

1 Tbsp of olive oil
1 medium onion, roughly chopped
2 cloves of garlic, roughly chopped
1 Tbsp of fresh ginger, peeled and chopped
1 tsp of ground coriander
1 tsp of ground cumin
½ tsp of  ground cinnamon
½ tsp of cayenne pepper (leave it out or reduce if you don’t like spicy food)
1 x 400g can of coconut milk or cream
1 cup of water (or more if it is still too thick)
1 medium sized butternut (about 500g), peeled and chopped
2 large potatoes, peeled and chopped (or one normal and one sweet potato)
1 can of butterbeans, drained
Salt to taste

In a medium to large pot, fry the onion, garlic and ginger in the oil until soft but not browning. Add the spices and fry for 30 seconds or so, to release the flavours. Add the coconut milk and water and stir to combine all the flavours. Add the chopped potato and butternut and cook until tender.
Once tender, add the butterbeans and puree in the pot until smooth with a hand blender (or in a food processor if you don’t have one). Season with salt to taste.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

A braai even I was impressed with!

As many of you know, I have a lot to say on the braaing topic and most of that is not very good. Today I will say nothing other than good things. A friend of ours from Berlin and her South African boyfriend invited us to a braai. This braai was one of the nicest I have been to in a very long time. Apart from the weather being balmy (the last for weeks to come), the company being relaxed and congenial and bubbles flowing; the food was also exceptional.

Our German friend made a starter to die for, of roasted aubergines with a cumin yogurt sauce topped with pomegranate seeds. The aubergine flesh was cut criss-cross and seasoned with salt, pepper, fresh thyme, sesame seeds and olive oil then roasted in the oven until soft. The yogurt was Greek yogurt, seasoned with a little garlic, salt, pepper and cumin. We ate the dish warm (not hot), just like that and it was sublime. Gorgeous to look at, subtle flavors and the perfect start our meal.

The braai meat and mielies (sweetcorn) came to the table soon after accompanied by sesame potatoes which had been halved rubbed in olive oil and a little salt, then the under side pressed in sesame seeds until crusted and placed face down on a baking sheet. This was then baked until tender and slightly crisping. The sesame seeds don't burn because they are face down on the baking sheet. This was served with a tzatziki made with grated cucumber and Greek yogurt seasoned with garlic, salt and pepper.

The combination was matchless and I look forward to including them into my repertoire soon! Thank you so much Julia and Lebo.