Showing posts with label Scrumptious South Africa. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Scrumptious South Africa. Show all posts

Monday, 3 December 2018

My Mum's Classic Christmas Cake

This is a dense, boozy, spicy Christmas cake that evokes many happy memories. My Mum Jenny Hobbs made this every year when we were kids, using a recipe inherited from her own mother, and I have used the same formula (with a few tweaks of my own) for the past 20 years.

You'll find the recipe directly below and, underneath that, my detailed cook's notes. Whether you serve this cake naked, or add a cloak of home-made marzipan, or add marzipan and Royal icing is up to you - isn't it interesting how people have emphatic opinions about what should go on top of a Christmas cake? Is a luscious, almondy layer of marzipan enough? Or must every fruit cake be smothered with a swirly frosting of deliriously sweet, tooth-cracking Royal icing? You tell me!

My Mum's Christmas Cake

I've halved my Mum's original recipe, which is so enormous that it requires a gigantic mixing bowl and very strong arms. But still, this halved formula will make a cake that easily serves 10 people.

Classic Christmas Cake 

For the fruit/nut mix:
½ cup (125 ml) dried apricots
½ cup (125 ml) pecan nuts
½ cup (125 ml) walnuts
½ cup (125 ml) glacé cherries
800 g mixed dried fruit (including candied peel)
½ cup (125 ml) flaked or slivered almonds
2 Tbsp (30 ml) cornflour

For the cake:
500 g unsalted butter, very soft
250 g brown sugar
4 extra-large free-range eggs
500 g cake flour, sifted
60 g cornflour, sifted
½ tsp (2.5 ml) nutmeg
½ tsp (2.5 ml) ground cloves
1 Tsbp (15 ml) good instant coffee
1½ tsp (7.5 ml) syrup or honey
the finely grated zest of a lemon
the juice of a lemon
1 tsp (5 ml) vanilla extract or or 2 tsp (10 ml) vanilla essence
1 tsp (5 ml) almond extract
a pinch of salt

For feeding the cake:

For the marzipan:
1 cup (250 ml) whole blanched almonds
1 cup (250 ml) almond flour
1 cup (250 ml) icing sugar
1 egg white (from an extra-large egg)
a few drops of almond extract
3 Tbsp (45 ml) smooth apricot  jam

For Royal icing: 
650 g icing sugar, sieved
3 egg whites
the juice of a lemon
1½ tsp (7.5 ml) glycerine [optional]

Some of the ingredients for a double batch.
Heat the oven to 150 ºC.

Prepare a deep 24-cm springform tin. Place the tin's base on a doubled-up sheet of baking paper, draw around it with a pencil, and cut out the two circles. Put the base into the ring, snap it shut and press the paper circles onto the base, buttering each one generously.

To line the ring, cut a long strip of baking paper double the height of the tin. Fold it in half lengthways and butter it on both sides. Press the strip, folded side up, around the inside of the ring.

Now prepare the fruit and nuts. Roughly chop the apricots, pecans and walnuts, and cut the cherries in half. Put them into a big bowl along with the mixed dried fruit and almonds. Add 2 Tbsp cornflour and toss well, using your hands, so every piece is lightly coated. Set aside.

To make the cake batter, cream the softened butter and sugar together in a large bowl until light and fluffy. Add the eggs one by one, beating well between each addition.

When the mixture is smooth and creamy, add the sifted flour and cornflour and mix well. Stir in all the remaining cake ingredients and then add the fruit and nut mixture. Stir well to combine (this is a very stiff batter - please see my tips in Cook's Notes, below). 

Mix to a very stiff batter.
Spoon the mixture into the cake tin and smooth the top. Place on the centre rack of the oven and bake for about two hours and 20 minutes. You will know the cake is done when it is deep brown on top, and feels firm all over when you press it with your fingertips. At this point, stick a wooden skewer into the cake. If the skewer comes out dry, with no wet batter sticking to it, your cake is ready.

Check on your cake after about 90 minutes - if you notice that the top is browning quickly, and/or the raisins are burning, cover it loosely with a sheet of tin foil.

Remove the cake from the oven, and immediately pour over 3 Tbsp of brandy - the cake will sizzle satisfyingly as you do so. Now cover the tin loosely with foil and let it stand for a day.

To 'feed' your cake: leave it undisturbed in the tin, loosely covered. (It's important not to seal the top of the cake too tightly, or the alcohol will not evaporate.) Use a slim skewer to poke about 12 deep holes right to the base of the tin.  Every two or three days (depending on how boozy you want your cake), trickle a little brandy over the top, and tilt the pan as you do this so the alcohol seeps evenly into the holes.

To make the marzipan, blitz the whole almonds to a fairly fine powder in a food processor fitted with a metal blade (but don't overprocess them, or they will become oily). Add the almond flour, icing sugar, egg white, and a few drops of almond extract, to taste, and pulse until the mixture forms a smooth ball.  If the marzipan isn't clinging together, add a few drops of water and pulse again.

While the marzipan is still warm and flexible, roll it out into a thin sheet big enough to cover the whole cake (see Cook's Notes). It's best to do this between two sheets of baking paper.

Warm the apricot jam and brush it all over the top and sides of the cake. Drape the marzipan over the cake, pressing down lightly and easing it down the sides. Trim the excess marzipan all the way round the base of the cake.

For Royal icing, lightly whisk the egg whites until just frothy. Add the sifted icing sugar, a spoonful at a time, stirring well. When the mixture is thick, stir in the lemon juice and (optional) glycerine. (The glycerine prevents the icing from setting to rock hard). Using an electric beater, whisk the icing for ten minutes, or until it is glossy, white and standing in stiff peaks. 

Dollop the icing on top of the cake and use a spatula to spread it evenly across the top and sides. Using a swirling motion, create little spikes and peaks for a snow-scene effect. Set aside, uncovered, to dry for at least 12 hours, then transfer to a cake tin.

Makes 1 fruit cake, enough for 10. 

Cook's Notes
  • This recipe is easily doubled, but mixing such a large quantity of batter takes powerful arms and a very big mixing bowl. Use a cake tin about 28 cm in diameter and at least 7 cm deep, and insulate the tin by wrapping a double layer of brown paper around the outside and securing it with wet string - this will prevent the outside of the cake burning before the inside is cooked. A bigger cake will take between 2½ and 3 hours. 
  • Add the fruit and nut mixture to the batter in batches, using a wooden spoon and a stabbing motion. This is a very firm mixture, so take your time. If the batter seems impossibly thick, add a little milk. 
  • You can make this cake up to six weeks in advance, but I always start three weeks ahead. Add the marzipan and Royal icing a few days before Christmas.
  • To figure out the size of the marzipan circle, place the end of a piece of string at the base of the cake, drape it across the top, and then take it down to the base on the opposite side - this is the diameter of your circle, but add 1 cm to be on the safe side.
  • You can use all almond flour for the marzipan if you're in a hurry.
Swirl the Royal icing to create little frosty peaks.
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Thursday, 2 October 2014

Deep-Dish Quiche with Blistered Tomatoes, Peas, Ham, Basil & Mozzarella

I made this quiche to use up a left-over ball of shortcrust pastry and a cup of peas. Every Sunday morning, I clear out my fridge and its veggie drawer, which always resembles a compost heap, no matter how hard I try to keep it organised.  (Try my recipe for Quick Nourishing Green Soup, which is a smart way of using up leaves and herbs that have wilted in the cold but are still perfectly good for eating.)

Deep-Dish Quiche with Blistered Tomatoes, Peas, Ham, Basil & Mozzarella

Wine recommendation from Michael Oliver. He says: "Haute Cabriere Unwooded Pinot Noir 2014".
Go to the end of this page for more detail about this wine pairing.

You can add anything you like to this quiche - how about some crisped bacon bits, pitted black olives, feta cubes or left-over shredded roast chicken?

If you don't have a deep quiche pan, you can make it in a bigger shallow one, but please reduce the baking time by about 10 minutes.

A quiche like this takes some time to make and bake, but I love the slow Sunday ritual of sloping into the kitchen in my pyjamas to make pastry and chop ingredients, while listening to rousing classical music. And then, of course, triumphantly presenting the puffed-up quiche to sleepy-heads who wake up late and hungry.

I have given you quite detailed instructions, below, about how to make a rich, blind-baked quiche pastry. Here are my top tips for making pastry.

Deep-Dish Quiche with Blistered Tomatoes, Peas, Basil & Mozzarella

For the pastry: 
250 g cake flour
150 g cold butter, cut into small cubes
a pinch of salt
about 90 ml ice-cold water (see recipe, below)

For the filling: 
1 punnet (250 g) ripe cherry tomatoes
1 Tbsp (15 ml) olive oil
8 large free-range eggs
¾ cup (180 ml) cream
salt and pepper, to taste
1 cup (250 ml) cooked peas
150 g mozzarella, grated
5 thin slices ham, fat trimmed, chopped [optional]
4 Tbsp (60 ml) finely chopped chives
10 big basil leaves, torn into little pieces
100 g Parmesan, finely grated

To serve:
fresh pea shoots or baby rocket leaves

Heat the oven to 190 °C.

First make the pastry. Put the flour, butter and salt in a bowl, and lightly rub together with your fingertips until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs. Add the cold water, bit by bit, until the pastry holds together. Knead lightly with your fingertips and press into a ball. (You can do this quickly in a food processor fitted with a metal blade: use the pulse button to process the flour and butter to crumbs, then add the cold water in small splashes, through the tube of the jug, until the pastry just comes together and forms a ball. Don't over-process the dough).

Flatten the pastry ball into a rough disc, wrap in clingfilm and put it in the fridge to rest for 15-20 minutes.

While the pastry is resting, prepare the filling. Cut the cherry tomatoes in half. Heat the olive oil in a frying pan over a fierce heat.  When the oil is shimmering, add the tomatoes.  Cook for 2-3 minutes, tossing frequently, until the tomatoes are blackened and blistered in places, but still fairly raw on their insides.  Set aside on a plate.

Now get ready to roll out your pastry. Sprinkle a little water on a marble slab, or your counter-top or a large wooden board. Press a long piece of clingfilm to this wettened surface and place the pastry disc on top. Cover with another length of clingfilm. Roll out the pastry to a rough circle about 22 cm in diameter and around 2 mm thick. (Roll the pin away from you, but give the pastry/clingfilm 'sandwich' a quarter turn every two rolls). Lightly grease a deep 18-cm-diameter quiche dish. I use a fluted metal pan with a loose bottom, but a ceramic or glass flan dish will do.

Peel off the top layer of clingfilm. Now flip the pastry over and drape it over the quiche dish, without removing the upper layer of clingfilm. Gently ease the pastry into the dish, getting well into the corners, and letting its edges drape over the rim. When the pastry is sitting comfortably in the dish, run a rolling pin firmly over the rim to remove any overhang.  Peel off the top layer of clingfilm.

Prick the base of the pastry all over with a fork, and lightly press down on it a circle of baking paper or tin foil cut to about the same size.  Fill the paper with 2-3 cups of rice or dried beans, and bake blind at 190 °C for 10 minutes, or until the outer rim feels somewhat dry when you tap it with a finger.

Carefully remove the paper with the rice or beans and return the case to the oven. Turn the heat down to 180 °C and bake for a further 10-15 minutes, or until the base of the pastry is a light golden colour and feels dry to the touch.

Meanwhile, put the eggs and cream in a bowl and whisk by hand for 2 minutes, or until well combined and slightly frothy. Season to taste with salt and pepper and set aside.

Pour the slightly frothy egg/cream mixture into the quiche dish. 
Remove the pastry case from the oven and sprinkle over the peas, mozzarella, ham, chives and basil.  Drain the blistered tomatoes in a sieve, discarding the juice, and arrange them on top.

Pour the whisked egg/cream mixture into the pastry case, and top with grated Parmesan.

Bake the quiche at 180 °C for about 30 minutes, or until puffed and golden, and ever so slightly wobbly in the middle.  If you're using a deep quiche dish, this can take up to 40 minutes.  And if the rim of the pastry darkens beyond golden-brown, cover it with strips of tin foil.

Remove the quiche from the oven and let it stand for 10 minutes.  Serve warm, topped with pea shoots or rocket.

Makes 1 x 18 cm quiche; serves 6, with a salad. 

Wine pairing by Michael Olivier

Haute Cabriere Unwooded Pinot Noir 2014

It looks like: A garnet, a bright gem that you can see through.

It smells like: Elegant red berries, pomegranate and cranberry.

It tastes like: Sumptuous berries and cherries with a gentle undertow of mushrooms crushed underfoot on the forest floor.

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Tuesday, 10 June 2014

Low-Carb Griddled Chicken Breasts with Romesco-Style Sauce

There are many variations of this flavour-packed Catalan sauce, and here is mine.  Being a low-carb recipe, it contains none of the fried breadcrumbs sometimes added to romesco sauces.  If you're on a low-carb, #LCHF or diabetic diet, I don't think you'll miss the crumbs at all, because the toasted hazelnuts and almonds add lovely crunch, while the fiercely roasted red peppers and tomatoes produce natural sweetness and gorgeous depth of flavour. This is delicious dolloped over flash-fried chicken breasts, and very good with melting aubergine slices, pan-fried fish fillets, braised leeks and plain old hard-boiled eggs.

Low-Carb Griddled Chicken Breasts with Romesco-Style Sauce. The Africa shape
of this chicken breast is entirely unintentional, but somehow appropriate. Plate by my uncle
David Walters, Master Potter of Franschhoek. 
Wine recommendation from Michael Oliver: Nativo White 2013
You can whizz this sauce to fine purée, or pulse it in a food processor to a coarse pesto so it has some texture.  Because I prefer this sauce slightly chunky, I don't bother to peel the peppers.  But if you don't like pepper skin, you can roast the peppers whole in the oven (or blacken them over a flame), then scrape off all the charred skin before you process the sauce.

This sauce is traditionally made with mild dried nyora peppers, but as you're not likely to find these in South Africa, I have a specified a pinch or two of dried chilli flakes. Add more if you want a sauce with a memorable kick.

It's important to achieve a good balance of sweetness and acidity in this recipe. I've used a delicious Spanish sherry vinegar here but, again, this is not easy to find in South Africa, so I suggest you use red wine or balsamic vinegar, adding it a few drops at a time until you're satisfied with the taste.

I use blanched, skinned hazelnuts from Woolies, but if you're not able to find these, you will need to toast the skin-on hazelnuts in a dry pan first, then rub them energetically in a tea towel to remove the skins.

Low-Carb Griddled Chicken Breasts with Romesco-Style Sauce

For the sauce:
3 red peppers [capsicums or bell peppers]
1 large white onion, peeled
250 g cherry tomatoes
30 g blanched, skinned hazelnuts (see my note, above)
30 g slivered almonds
5 cloves garlic, peeled and finely chopped or grated
a pinch or two of dried chilli flakes, or more, to taste (see recipe)
2 Tbsp (30 ml) extra-virgin olive oil, plus a little extra
2 tsp (10 ml) sherry vinegar (or red-wine or balsamic vinegar)
1 tsp (5 ml) sweet paprika
salt and milled black pepper
a squeeze of lemon juice

For the chicken:
6 skinless, deboned chicken breasts
1 Tbsp (15 ml) olive oil
1 Tbsp (15 ml) butter
salt & milled black pepper
a squeeze of lemon juice

To serve:
lemon wedges
baby salad leaves

Heat the oven to 200 °C, fan on, or 210 °C if your oven has no fan.

Lightly oil a large baking tray.  Remove the stalks and seeds from the red peppers and cut into big wedges.  Cut the onion lengthways into thick slices, and slice the cherry tomatoes in half.  Arrange the vegetables in a single layer in the baking tray, and rub a little olive oil over the onion slices.  Season lightly with salt and roast in a hot oven for 45-60 minutes, or until the veggies are very soft and have blackened edges here and there.  Watch them closely so they don't scorch or stick.

While the vegetables are roasting, put the hazelnuts and almonds into a dry frying pan, set over a medium-low heat and cook, tossing frequently, until they are golden brown and lightly toasted. Don't take your eye off them for a moment - they burn in an instant.  Add a teaspoon of olive oil to the pan, along with three-quarters of the peeled, crushed garlic.  Cook gently, over a low heat, for another 60 seconds, without letting the garlic brown. The idea here is to take the sting out of the garlic. Remove from the heat and set aside.

Scrape all the roasted vegetables into a food processor fitted with a metal blade.  Add the chilli flakes, the nut/garlic mixture, 2 Tbsp olive oil, the reserved garlic, the vinegar and the paprika.  Whizz to a fairly coarse purée - or to a fine paste if that's what you prefer - stopping now and then to scrape down the sides.  If the blades are reluctant to turn, add a little more olive oil.

Season to taste with salt and milled black pepper.  Add a spritz of lemon juice - just enough to 'lift' the sauce. Use a spatula to scrape the sauce into a bowl.  Serve immediately, or cover tightly and refrigerate for up to 3 days.

To prepare the chicken:  Place a chicken breast between two sheets of clingfilm or sturdy greaseproof paper and use a rolling pin (or a wine bottle) gently to bash it out and flatten it so it's of a fairly even thinness all over.  The trick here is to start in the middle and work outwards, using gentle thumps that won't shred the chicken or make holes in it. Repeat with the remaining breasts.

Heat the olive oil in a large frying pan and cook the breasts, over a medium-high heat, for about two minutes on each side, or until just cooked through.  (If you're not certain they're cooked, cut a slit on the underside of the thickest part of the biggest breast. If it's still pink inside, cook the breasts for another minute or so.)

Turn down the heat, add the butter and a squeeze of lemon juice, season to taste with salt and pepper and cook for another minute,  basting the breasts with the butter & lemon juice.  Remove from the pan, rest for a minute, then serve hot with the romesco sauce, lemon wedges and baby salad leaves.

Serves 6.

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Thursday, 5 June 2014

Spicy Low-Carb Roast Chicken Soup

Although the picture below shows a few dabs of fresh red chilli, this is delicately spiced and mild enough to offer to kids. I've used restraint because I don't want the spices to overpower the deep delicious chickeny flavours of this soup. The chilli is there to give the soup a finishing kick, but entirely optional.  I often use ready-roasted rotisseried chickens in soups these days because their flesh and skin have a gorgeous melting texture and a salty succulence that's difficult to reproduce in a domestic oven, and they're a world apart from the insipid flesh you'll pull off a chicken that's been simmered in a home-made stock.

Spicy Low-Carb Roast Chicken Soup

It may seem a hassle to make stock using the bones and skin of your supermarket chicken, but this process takes just 30 minutes, and adds glorious depth of flavour. The veggies are seethed at the same time, in a separate pot; after that you'll need just 10 minutes to put the soup together. And dinner's on the table!

If you don't have all the ingredients for the stock, throw in what you do have in your fridge - half an onion, a stick of celery, and so on.

I've used vegetables to thicken this soup (leeks, cauliflower plus a few carrots for colour) and it contains not a grain of starch, making it suitable for anyone on a low-carb or diabetic regime.

I bought the chicken for this soup from Checkers - hot out of a huge industrial rotisserie - and it was plump, juicy and packed with flavour.  My favourite rotisseried chickens, however, come from Woolies.

Spicy Low-Carb Roast Chicken Soup

1 ready-roasted/rotisseried chicken (it helps if it's still warm, as this makes it easier to strip away the flesh)
6 medium leeks (500 g, after trimming)
4 large carrots, peeled
2½ litres boiling water
2 cloves
2 bay leaves
a few parsley stalks
freshly milled black pepper
2 Tbsp (30 ml) olive oil or butter
3 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
1 small head of cauliflower (500 g), trimmed and broken into florets
4 Tbsp (60 ml) cream
½ tsp (2.5 ml) turmeric
½ tsp (2.5 ml) cumin
½ tsp (2.5 ml) mild curry powder
½ tsp (2.5 ml) chilli powder
a pinch of freshly grated nutmeg

To garnish:
finely chopped or sliced fresh red chillies [optional]
fresh parsley or coriander

Pull the rotisseried chicken into big flakes, leaving
some golden skin behind if you fancy it.
Tear all the flesh away from the chicken, pull it into large shreds, place in a bowl and cover.  (If you like chicken skin, cut away the breasts whole and slice diagonally into strips so each piece has a covering of golden skin). Put all the skin and bones into a large pot. Scrape out any golden-brown jelly or juices that have collected in the chicken's packet and add to the pot.  Turn on the heat and gently fry the bones and skin for a minute or two.

Prepare the leeks by trimming off the dark-green upper parts and making a long horizontal slit three-quarters of the way through their lengths.  Fan out the ‘pages’ of the leeks under a cold running tap and rinse away any grit hiding in the outer leaves. Set aside.

Add one leek and one carrot, each cut into thirds, to the pot, and pour in 2½ litres boiling water.  Now add the cloves, bay leaves and parsley stalks and season generously with milled black pepper.

Bring the stock to a fast boil, skimming off any foam as it rises, cover with a tilted lid and cook over a medium heat for 30 minutes, or until the carrot pieces are very soft.  Turn off the heat and let it sit for five minutes.  Using a large spoon, lift away and discard any fat.

While your stock is boiling, gentle sauté the leeks and carrots
in a separate pan.
While the stock is boiling, slice the remaining leeks and carrots.  Heat the oil or butter in a separate large pot (I use my wok) and gently sauté the veggies for about 4 minutes, or until the leeks are just beginning to soften. Add the garlic and cook for another minute. Now place the cauliflower florets on top of the leeks and carrots, and add 4 ladles of boiling stock from the other pot.  (It's okay if the cauliflower is poking up above the water line - the steam inside the pot will cook it.)  Cover with a lid and simmer at a brisk bubble for 15 minutes, or until the carrots are very soft.

Remove the lid from the pot containing the veggies and place a colander on top.  Pour the hot stock through the colander and press down on the bones with the back of a spoon.  Retrieve the carrot and leek pieces from the colander and add them to the soup.

If your second pot isn't very big, you can pour everything back into the rinsed-out pot in which you made the stock.

Blitz to a fine purée using a stick blender or liquidiser.  If the soup is too thick, thin it to the desired consistency with hot water.  Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Stir in the cream, turmeric, cumin, curry powder, chilli powder and nutmeg,  and simmer for 5 minutes. Now add the chicken strips - reserving some for the garnish - and cook over a gentle heat for another few minutes, or until the chicken has heated through.

Serve with finely chopped red chilli, plenty of milled black pepper and a scattering of parsley or coriander.

Serves 6. 

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Sunday, 1 June 2014

Low-Carb Slow-Roasted Pork Neck with Caramelised Onions

The gravy I made for this dish was not a thundering success. I figured that whizzing up the golden onions, apple slices & carrots with Dijon mustard and a splash of cream was an inspired idea for a low-carb gravy, but I was mistaken. The flavours were great, but it had a curious grainy texture, with none of the silken mouth-feel I expect from a good gravy. My family weren't at all keen, and did not hesitate to tell me so. The pork and onions were scrumptious, however, so please try this recipe, and disregard the bowl of gravy at the top left of the picture below.  (I have given instructions for preparing the so-so gravy at the end of the recipe, in case you low-carbers feel like giving it a go.) This recipe is suitable for diabetics, and for anyone on a low-carb #LCHF regime.

Low-Carb Slow-Roasted Pork Neck with Caramelised Onions  
Wine recommendation from Michael Oliver: Zonnebloem Limited Edition Pinotage 2010.
 Go to the end of the page for more detail about this pairing.
My 2009 recipe for Roast Pork Neck with Leeks, Carrots and Apples has been the second-most popular recipe on this blog for many years (the first being South African Ginger Beer). Pork neck is an inexpensive cut ideal for slow roasting. It has superlative flavour and a melting, juicy texture that cannot be rivalled by any other cut of pork. It's a little difficult to find, but I'm pleased to see that Food Lovers Market now stocks vacuum-packed pork necks. If you don't have a branch near you, look for it in a good German butchery, or ask your own butcher to order it for you.

The ingredients for this dish include a pan-browned pork neck,
onions, bay leaves, thyme sprigs, fennel seeds and an apple.
The fennel seeds add a very faint aniseed flavour, but you can leave them out if you wish. If you're on a very low-carb regime, you might elect to omit the single apple in this recipe, but I urge you to leave it in, because it adds a lovely sweet note.

It's a pain in the neck to slice onions, so I do this in a jiffy using my food processor and its thickest slicing blade.

Serve this with bright steamed vegetables, or with tender-stem broccoli, griddled courgettes, or shredded stir-fried cabbage.

Low-Carb Slow-Roasted Pork Neck with Caramelised Onions 

1 x 1.8 kg pork neck 
3 Tbsp (45 ml) olive oil, for frying
5 large white onions, peeled and sliced
1 carrot, peeled and thinly sliced
2 slim sticks celery, leaves removed and thinly sliced
1 large apple, cored and thinly sliced (no need to peel it)
2 bay leaves
3 sprigs fresh thyme
½ tsp (2.5 ml) fennel seeds (optional)
3 cloves garlic, peeled and finely grated or chopped
4 Tbsp (60 ml) red wine
1 Tbsp (15 ml) balsamic vinegar
4 Tbsp (60 ml) water
1 Tbsp (15 ml) prepared Dijon mustard
salt and milled black pepper

Heat to oven to 160 °C. Pat the pork neck dry on kitchen paper. Heat the oil in a large shallow ovenproof pan with a thick base. (You can do this in a heavy rectangular roasting pan, but you will need to watch the onions closely so they don't catch or burn.)

When the oil is beginning to shimmer, add the pork neck.  Sear it over a high heat on all sides, until it is golden-brown all over.  You may find that the meat sticks to the bottom of the pan for the first few minutes, but it will loosen with a gentle nudge once its surface has browned. This process should not take more than about 6-7 minutes, if your pan is hot enough.

Remove the meat from the pan and set aside on a plate. Add the onions, carrots, celery, apple, bay leaves and thyme sprigs.  Cook over a low heat, uncovered, stirring now and then, for 15-20 minutes, or until the onions are soft and a glorious golden colour. Don't allow the onions to burn, or you risk a bitter flavour.

Now add the garlic and cook for another minute, without letting it brown.

Turn up the heat and add the wine and vinegar. Deglaze the pan by stirring and scraping briskly to dislodge any sticky bits.

Place the browned pork neck on top of the golden onions, cover
and roast at a low temperature for two hours.
Pour in the water and place the pork neck on top of the veggies, along with any juices that have collected beneath it.  Cover the pan (use a double layer of tin foil if you don't have a lid that fits snugly) and bake for one hour at 160 °C.  Remove the lid or foil, and add a few more tablespoons of water if the onions seem dry.

Turn the heat down to 150 °C and roast for another hour, uncovered.

Remove the pork neck from the pan, place it on a warmed platter and let it rest, loosely covered with a sheet of tin foil, for 15-20 minutes.

When you're ready to serve, gently reheat the vegetables on your stove top and stir in the mustard. Season to taste with salt and black pepper.

Snip through and gently tear away the netting on the pork neck, then carve it into thick slices. Arrange these on a warmed platter, pour over any juices that have accumulated under it, and serve hot with the caramelised veggies.

If you'd like to try my-not-very successful low-carb 'gravy', remove two-thirds of the onion mixture, set aside and keep warm.  Heat the pan containing the remaining veggies, add two-thirds of a cup of water and bring to a gentle boil. Use a stick blender to blitz the mixture as finely as you can, adding more water if necessary.  Stir in 3 Tbsp (45 ml) cream and a little more Dijon mustard, if you think it needs it. Season generously with black pepper and serve hot.

Serves 6.

Wine pairing by Michael Olivier: 

It looks like: Deep ruby at the core, which pales to ruby garnet around the edges of the glass.

It smells like: Red and black berry fruits, whispers of charcuterie and smoke from the barrels.

It tastes like: Classical red Pinotage berry fruits, ripe bloodplums, a smidge of savouriness and smoke. Elegant with ripe tannins, fruit, acidity and the oak all perfectly balanced.

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Thursday, 29 May 2014

Low-Carb Paprika Chicken with Tomatoes, Green Beans and Olives

Low-Carb Paprika Chicken with Tomatoes, Green Beans & Olives 
An easy family dinner with gutsy tomato and olive flavours, freshened with snappy green beans. My fixation with excellent paprika  - both smoked and sweet - has not abated, and I can't get enough of this gorgeous ingredient. This dish is low in carbohydrates and suitable for anyone on a #LCHF or diabetic regime.

I'm sorry the picture is a bit fuzzy. I always snap pictures for this blog as I'm cooking the food, and that's usually in the late afternoon when the light is fading fast. This was demolished by my family before I had a chance to put some aside to photograph the next day.

Good tinned tomatoes are convenient, but they vary in quality and can be rather acidic, with a tinny taste, so I always use a large quantity of fresh ones in any tomato-based sauce, chucking in a tin for good measure. Tomatoes are packed with umami, and they are great for low-carb sauces because they reduce and thicken quickly.

I don't believe in peeling tomatoes for sauces, nor do I chop them. It's so easy to sling them into a blender or processor and whiz them to a pulp, and cherry tomatoes in particular are a breeze to liquidise because they're small enough to fit between the blades.

I have used both sweet paprika and smoked hot paprika in this recipe. The smoked paprika adds heavenly flavour, and it's well worth hunting for. You can find it at Woolworths, or order my favourite brand - La Dalia - from Yuppiechef. Use it sparingly though, as it is robust and can easily overpower the other ingredients.

A modest splash of cream at the end rounds out all the flavours, but you can use yoghurt instead - find tips for cooking with yoghurt here. I use leeks because I often can't face peeling onions, but if you don't have any to hand, you can use three onions, finely chopped.

Low-Carb Paprika Chicken with Tomatoes, Green Beans and Olives

8 chicken thighs and 8 drumsticks
2 Tbsp (30 ml) sunflower or olive oil, for frying
3 large leeks or 6 small ones (about 300 g)
1 x 500 g punnet ripe cherry tomatoes
2 Tbsp white wine vinegar
½ cup (125 ml) water
4 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
½ cup (125 ml) white wine
1 x 410 g tin chopped Italian tomatoes
a pinch of sugar
2 bay leaves
a large sprig of thyme
salt and milled black pepper, to taste
1 tsp (5 ml) smoked hot paprika
2 tsp (10 ml) sweet paprika
1 x 300 g punnet slim green beans, topped, tailed and cut in half crossways
¾ cup (180 ml) pitted Calamata olives, or a mixture of green and black olives
4 Tbps (60 ml) cream

Trim any visible fat off the chicken pieces and set aside.

Some of the ingredients for Paprika Chicken.
Heat the oil in a large shallow pan, over a medium-high heat, and cook the chicken pieces, skin-side down and in two batches, for 4-5 minutes, until the skin is crisp and golden. Take your time about this. Don't overcrowd the pan, and resist the temptation to poke or stir them - the skin will loosen from the bottom of the pan when it's ready.

Remove the chicken pieces - they will still be raw on their insides - and set aside on a plate.

While the chicken is frying, prepare the leeks by trimming off the dark-green upper parts and making a long horizontal slit three-quarters of the way through their lengths.  Fan out the ‘pages’ of the leeks under a cold running tap to rinse away any grit hiding in the outer leaves.  Now cut them into thick slices and set aside.

 Put the cherry tomatoes, vinegar and water into a liquidiser (or a food processor fitted with a metal blade) and whizz to a fairly fine pink purée.  If you don't have a liquidizer, chop them finely. Set aside.

Drain all but two teaspoons of fat from the pan, add the leeks and fry gently for 3-4 minutes, or until slightly softened and beginning to take on a little colour. Add the garlic and fry for another minute, without allowing it to brown.

Turn up the heat and pour in the wine.  As it bubbles furiously, use a wooden spatula to scrape away the golden residue on the bottom of the pan so it dissolves into the wine.  Tip in the reserved tomato/vinegar/water mixture, the tin of tomatoes, the sugar, bay leaves and thyme sprig. Cook over a medium-high heat, uncovered,  for 15-20 minutes, or until the mixture has reduced by a third and has thickened (see picture below).

When the tomato sauce has thickened, it's time to add the
paprika and the browned chicken pieces.
You can tell when the sauce is right by dragging a wooden spoon or spatula across the pan: if it forms a channel that closes reluctantly, it's ready.

Season to taste with salt and black pepper. Add the two paprikas and return the chicken pieces to the pan, skin-sides up, along with any juices that have accumulated beneath them. Cover with a tilted lid and braise over a medium-low heat for 15-20 minutes, or until the chicken is cooked through to the bone.

Now add the green beans, olives and cream, give the pan a good shake, and simmer, covered, for a further 4-5 minutes, or until the beans are bright green and just cooked through.

Serve immediately with (if you're on a low-carb regime) Cauliflower Mash or (if you're not) normal creamy mash, or rice.

Serves 8. 

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Friday, 11 April 2014

Scarlet Fruit Salad with Greek Yoghurt

This luscious salad celebrates all the glorious reds of autumn fruits in South Africa. Plums, prickly pears, red grapes, raspberries and pomegranate seeds are here, plus a few triangles of startling-magenta dragon fruit, which I'm pretty sure is not grown in this country.  Still, I couldn't resist adding them: they may taste disappointingly insipid, but they are real lookers in a fruit salad.

Scarlet Fruit Salad with Greek Yoghurt

I have a slight horror of multicoloured fruit salads, particularly the finely sliced extravaganzas that were such a hit during the health-food revolution of the late Seventies.  I appreciated the idea of the fruit salads my mum prepared with such devotion, but the furry slices of banana and the cubes of paw-paw and the triangles of apple browning in their juices made my tastebuds shrivel, particularly if the salad had been sulking in the fridge overnight.  

Also, someone told me a story that made my toes curl.  A boy scout was charged with the task of making fruit salad for his pack.  "Please clean your nails before you begin," asked the scout master. "Oh, don't worry about that," replied the boy. "By the time I'm finished chopping and mixing all the fruit, my nails will be beautifully clean."

This salad is a red version of my Black Fruit Salad, featured in my cookbook and here (left) in a magazine whose name I can't remember.  

Scarlet Fruit Salad with Greek Yoghurt

4 firm red plums, stones removed, halved and sliced into crescents
250 g raspberries
250 g strawberries, hulled and halved
4 red prickly pears, chilled, peeled and cut into crescents
the seeds of a pomegranate
250 g red grapes, halved and depipped
a small dragon fruit, peeled and cut into triangles [optional]
2 Tbsp (30 ml) icing sugar, or more, to taste
a squeeze of fresh lemon juice
1 cup (250 ml) thick creamy Greek yoghurt

Put all the fruit pieces in a big bowl.  Strew the icing sugar over the fruit, add a spritz of lemon juice and toss gently to combine.  Taste the mixture - if it's very sweet, add a little more lemon juice.

Chill the fruit for an hour or two, or until a light syrup has formed at the bottom of the bowl.  Serve in pretty bowls or glasses, topped with dollops of very cold and creamy Greek yoghurt, or whipped cream, or good vanilla ice cream.  Or you might like to try the voluptuous topping I've used for my black fruit salad - crème fraîche or mascarpone mixed with a little brown sugar and vanilla extract.

Serves 6

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Friday, 21 March 2014

Hello diabetes, and how I have had to adjust my cooking style

In January this year I was diagnosed with Type II diabetes. I was dismayed and shocked, but mostly childishly infuriated. After all, AFTER ALL, I whinged to myself, I've never had a sweet tooth, and haven't eaten a slice of cake, a bun, a biccie or a pudding for at least five years. What's more: I was maddened with my own mulishness in ignoring signals from my body that something was very wrong.

In October 2013, a spectacularly stressful time career-wise, I embarked on a punishing low-carb regime, after a slow transition over the course of two years to an eating plan that cut out most processed carbs.  The weight peeled off, and after a few weeks my appetite had all but disappeared. Excellent, I thought!

A month later, I had the confidence to hoist myself onto a scale, and I was extremely pleased to find I'd lost 8 kilograms.  By that time, I was on a diet so low in calories that it bordered it on starvation, and I was exhausted and demotivated.  By December 2013, I'd shed 15 kg, and I was mildly interested to note that I'd lost a fair amount of muscle mass on my thighs and arms.  But, hey ho! Who's complaining?

It was only in January 2014, after a dramatic weight-loss of another 5 kg, that I finally went to see my doctor, and then only because I noticed my hair was thinning. When I mentioned to her  that my vision was a bit blurry, my tongue was crisscrossed by deep cracks, and my toes, feet and shins were feeling tingly and numb, she insisted on a fasting glucose test, and that came back with very bad news.  A few weeks later I was hospitalised for a few days, on the advice of a thorough and caring endocrinologist, and I came home with a panoply of drugs, including slow-release insulin that I have to inject into tummy rolls every night.

I have to admit that I'm feeling downhearted about this.  But there is also much to be grateful for - my blood sugar has stabilised thanks to medication, a stringent diet and a brutal fitness regime. I'm 22 kg lighter than I was five months ago, I've lost four dress sizes and I'm as fit as a fiddle thanks to daily workouts. I've had great support from a nutritionist, a specialist diabetic nurse and kind friends who are also diabetics.

The biggest challenge of all has been working out what to eat. You can't cut out all carbs when you're a diabetic. It's tempting to do so, when in a panic, but then you run the risk of depriving your body and brain of essential fuel.  So you have to figure out just how many carbs your body can tolerate.

Another big shock - perhaps the biggest fright of all - has been learning to read labels on food packaging, and discovering that almost everything is packed with sugar.  I didn't realise how pervasive sugar was before I came down with diabetes, but I have to tell you that my jaw is on the floor. You will find gazillions of low-fat foods out there, but virtually no sugar-free options.

So how does this pertain to my blog?  From now on, I'll be featuring many more low-carb and diabetic-friendly recipes, and I hope you will enjoy my suggestions. But, because my family needs puddings and sweet things occasionally, I won't deprive you of these treats.

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Monday, 3 March 2014

Low-Carb Parchment-Baked Feta with Thyme & Chilli

A puffed-up parcel of melty feta, hot and rustling from the oven, makes a splendid snack when you're entertaining friends and family.  Part of the fun of food baked in paper is tearing open the parcels and inhaling the gorgeous aromatic steam, so bring this straight to the table and open it in front of your guests.

A slab of flavoured feta cheese resting on fresh vine leaves and
 baking paper, ready for wrapping and baking.

Mild, creamy feta cheese is perfect for baking en papillote because it so eagerly accepts other punchy flavours.  In this dish, I've flavoured the feta with a simple combination of fresh thyme, black pepper and chilli flakes, but you can add any other ingredients you fancy - garlic, rosemary, lemon zest, chopped olives, sundried tomatoes, preserved lemons, and so on.

I make two or three of these when I'm expecting a crowd, and I accompany the dish with crisp cubes of watermelon or prickly pear, or ripe baby figs (see picture below).

Served with slim iced celery sticks, this is a great choice of starter if you or any of your guests are on a low-carb or diabetic regime.

In the picture above, I've lined the baking paper with some fresh leaves from my grapevine, but you can omit these, or use baby spinach leaves.  

Wrap the feta in baking paper, and secure the parcel
with raffia or kitchen string.

Serve the hot feta parcels with ripe baby figs or crisp watermelon cubes, or with chilled
celery sticks if you're on a low-carb eating plan. Plate by David Walters

Parchment-Baked Feta with Thyme & Chilli 

1 x 250 g slab of feta cheese
5 fresh vine leaves or baby spinach leaves [optional]
1 tsp (5 ml) dried chilli flakes, or more, to taste
a few sprigs of fresh thyme
milled black pepper
2 Tbsp (30 ml) fruity olive oil

Heat the oven to 190 ºC.  Place a rectangle of baking paper on your countertop and arrange the grapevine or baby spinach leaves in the centre. Position the slab of feta cheese on top of the leaves and sprinkle over the chilli flakes, thyme and pepper. 

Trickle the olive oil all over the cheese, then fold the paper up to create a parcel, as if you are wrapping a birthday present.  Don't wrap it too tightly - there needs to be some leeway so the parcel will puff up in the oven.  Secure the parcel with a length of raffia or kitchen string. 

Slide the parcel onto a baking sheet (or place it in a ceramic dish) and bake at 190 ºC for 12-15 minutes, or until it is piping hot and puffed. 

Serve immediately.

Serves 4 - 6 as a snack. 

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Wednesday, 11 December 2013

Christmas Gammon with a Beetroot & Wasabi Glaze

A sweet blazing-pink beetroot syrup with a sting of wasabi is the glaze I've chosen for my Christmas gammon this year. To bring together the earthy flavours of beetroot and the nose-blast of wasabi, I've added crunchy pink peppercorns and a handful of fresh pomegranate seeds.

Beetroot-Glazed Gammon with Wasabi
Christmas Gammon with a Beetroot & Wasabi Glaze, studded
with pink peppercorns and fresh pomegranate seeds. Plate by
my uncle David Walters, master potter of Franschhoek.

Both the peppercorns and the pomegranate seeds featured in my Christmas 2012 gammon recipe and I'm so smitten by the combination of brittle-textured warmth and bursting sweetness that I've used them again this year. I don't think I'll ever stud a gammon with cloves again because, really, what's the point? Nobody's going to to chew on them (unless you have an elderly relative with severe toothache), and all you need do to achieve a subtle Christmassy clove aroma is to pop a few into the gammon's simmering stock.

This is the fourth gammon glaze recipe I've developed for this blog over the same number of years, and I always feel a bit anxious when November rolls around because I receive more queries and feedback about glazing a gammon than any other topic. This year I pondered for several weeks over a choice of glaze, and eventually inspiration came from a short magazine piece I was asked to contribute to Food & Entertaining magazine.  It's a food love letter to my grandmother Peggy, and in it I mention the wonderful combination of sliced ham and pickled beetroot, which I ate as a child in the Sixties in Peggy's garden.

Beetroot-Glazed Gammon with Wasabi
When you slice the gammon, the shocking-pink beetroot glaze penetrates
 the scoring marks. Serve with dobbles of wasabi and boiled baby potatoes.

A good jab of horseradish really brings the blood-and-earth flavours of beetroot alive, but instead of using the creamed variety, or fresh root (which I couldn't find in the shops), I whisked some Japanese wasabi paste into the glaze once I'd finished reducing it.

To my disappointment, the wasabi lost much of its fire during the glazing process, and faded like a sullen teenager into the background. So I doubled the quantity of wasabi from one teaspoon to two the next time I tested the recipe, which helped a bit, but still the flavour was elusive.

I therefore recommend that you serve this (in thick slices) with generous blobs of good-quality wasabi paste.

I have given detailed instructions below for simmering a gammon in stock, but please use your common sense here. I find that the cooking times given on the packaging for bone-out raw gammon (usually 55 minutes per kilogram) are excessive. This year, I cut 45 minutes off the recommended cooking time, and even then the gammon seemed a little overcooked.

Beetroot-Glazed Gammon with Wasabi
I've had good results with cooking gammon in a roasting bag.
I've tried all sorts of methods of cooking inexpensive Christmas gammons - slow-seething in stock, baking under foil and paper, slow-cooking in a crockpot, overnight cooking in a roasting bag -  and have come to the conclusion that everything depends on the quality of the ham.

For this recipe, I used inexpensive boneless gammons from Checkers for testing purposes, and they were okay, with a good flavour, albeit a bit too salty for my taste.  But there is a certain stringiness about mass-produced hams that cannot be fixed, not matter how carefully you cook them. I suspect that the gammons I bought this year had been frozen for several months, then thawed and placed on the shelf. I can't be certain of this, but there was a tell-tale coarseness and stringiness about the flesh that was most disappointing.

For my family's Christmas feast this year, I am not going to skimp on the gammon. A good quality gammon should be fine-textured and moist, with a deep rosy pink colour and a good layer of snowy white soft fat.

>> To see my gammon glazes of Christmasses past, plus three other recipes using the leftovers of a gammon, please scroll to the end of this page.

Christmas Gammon with a Beetroot & Wasabi Glaze

For the gammon and its stock:

one x 2.8 to 3 kg bone-out raw gammon
1 can (340 ml) ginger ale
1 can (340 ml) lager of your choice
2 bay leaves, dried or fresh
3 cloves
10 peppercorns
1 star anise
a small wedge of lemon, skin on
a sliver of fresh ginger
½ tsp (2.5 ml) coriander seeds
1 onion, cut in half, skin on
1 large carrot, cut in thirds
a few stalks of parsley
water, to cover

For the glaze:

2 medium-sized beetroot
3 Tbsp (45 ml) water, plus an extra half-cup [see recipe]
5 Tbsp (75 ml) white sugar
2 tsp (10 ml) wasabi paste
a squeeze of lemon juice

To garnish:

2 Tbsp (30 ml) pink peppercorns
the seeds of a pomegranate (or dried pomegranate ariels that you've soaked in water for 30 minutes)

Boiling a gammon in stock
Boiling a gammon in stock with some Christmassy
flavours. Top up the pot with water now and then,
 and skim off any foam as it rises. 
Put the gammon into a big deep pot and add all the remaining stock ingredients. The gammon should be covered in liquid to a depth of 2 cm.

Bring the gammon to the boil, then turn down the heat and simmer at a very low burble, covered with a tilted lid, until it is cooked through (follow the timing instructions on the packaging, but please note my  comments above).

 Every now and then top up the pot with more water, and skim off any mocha-coloured scum as it rises.

In the meantime, make the glaze. Grate the beetroot, skin and all, on the coarse side of a cheese grater.  Put the gratings into a large microwave-safe dish, add 3 Tbsp (45 ml) water, and cover with clingfilm. Microwave on high for 8-10 minutes, or until the beetroot is tender. Alternatively, simmer the grated beetroot and water over a gentle heat for 15-20 minutes, or until tender.

Cool the beetroot for a few minutes, tip it into a sieve set over a bowl and drain well, pressing down on the pulp with the back of a spoon to extract all the juices.

Discard the pulp (or save it for stirring into a hummous or creamy dip) and pour the liquid into a saucepan. Add 5 Tbsp (75 ml) sugar, plus an additional ½ cup (125 ml) water. Set the pan over a high heat and cook at a fast boil for about 15 minutes, or until the liquid is syrupy, and has reduced down to half a cup (yes, go ahead and measure it!).  Whisk in the wasabi paste and add a squeeze of lemon juice.

When the gammon is cooked, remove it from the pot, cover with clingfilm and let it sit for two hours on the countertop. Alternatively - and I recommend this method, as it allows the meat to cool and contract, without drying out - let your gammon cool overnight in its stock. (I always freeze the stock in small plastic boxes for use in future soups and stews.)

To glaze the gammon: set your oven grill, at least 20 minutes ahead of time,  to its highest setting.  Place the meat in a large roasting pan.

Carefully pull away the thick skin from the top of the gammon to expose the fat layer. Discard the skin, or give it to the dogs. If it's a very fatty gammon, use a sharp knife held horizontal to the fat to shave away excess blubber. I like to retain a fairly generous layer of fat - it is Christmas, after all - but you can shave it back to a depth of about 3 mm if you'd like a leaner ham.

Score the fat in a diamond pattern, using the tip of a very sharp knife. I use my index finger to gauge the distance between score marks.

Now pour the beetroot glaze over your gammon. Don't worry if most of it runs off - this will be fixed during the glazing process. Place the pan about 10 cm under the blazing-hot grill.

This is the trickiest part of glazing a gammon. You will need to watch it like a hawk, because the tallest areas will brown - or burn - first. I always set a stool in front of the open oven door, put on a pair of padded gloves and sit there patiently tilting and turning the roasting pan to make sure every part of it is bubbling and caramelised.  Every 3 minutes or so, I use a big spoon to scoop up some of the glaze from the corners of the pan and trickle it over the gammon.

When your gammon is merrily sizzling and the fat layer looks caramelised all over, remove the tray from the oven, place it on the countertop and tuck a folded-up cloth underneath one end to set it at a tilt.  Continue for the next 10 minutes scooping and dribbling the run-off glaze gathering in the pan's corners over the gammon, until it is coated with a thick, shiny burnish.

Scatter the pomegranate seeds and pink peppercorns all over the gammon, while it is till sticky.

Serve warm with dabs of wasabi, boiled baby potatoes and fresh green leaves, or cold with bread, butter and pickles.

Serves 6-8 as a main course with veggies and/or salad. 

My other gammon glazes, plus three recipes using the leftovers of a gammon:

Christmas Gammon with a Pomegranate & Pink Peppercorn Glaze
Christmas Gammon with a Pomegranate and Pink Peppercorn Glaze

Christmas Gammon with a Sticky Orange & Ginger Glaze
Christmas Gammon with a Sticky Orange & Ginger Glaze

Christmas Gammon Glazed with Brandy & Coke
Christmas Gammon Glazed with Brandy & Coke

And here's what to do with left-over gammon:
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Saturday, 23 November 2013

Roasted Golden Beetroot with Spinach, Bacon & Ruby Grapefruit

A warm salad of slow-roasted beetroot with wilted spinach and crisped bacon bits, sprinkled with olive oil and flecks of ruby grapefruit.

Roasted Golden Beetroot with Spinach & Bacon
Roasted Golden Beetroot with Spinach & Bacon.

Golden beetroot is a hybrid popular these days among chefs and foodsters. I've tasted it a few times in restaurants, and it hasn't blown my skirt up. In each dish I've tried, this vegetable has been curiously tasteless, with none of the bloody metallic depth of ordinary red beetroot. (Then again, these dishes consisted of pretentious stacks, or were arrayed in wafer-thin raw slices and topped off with 'foam' or 'air'. )

However, the organic specimens in the picture above knocked my socks off with their glorious sunset colours and sweet, earthy flavours.

I bought these beauties in a loose bunch from my local Woolworths in Hout Bay. I was very pleased to see them on the supermarket shelf, because I've only ever come across them at farmers' markets. I also bought a bunch of regular beetroot, and hurried home to sling them in the oven.

Roasted Golden Beetroot with Spinach & Bacon
Open-roasting red and golden beetroot with a little olive oil and thyme.

Slow-roasting is the way to go with beetroot, I reckon. There is quite a lot of shrinkage, but this method brilliantly concentrates and intensifies their flavour.

I was planning to make a salad with fresh greens, but the rocket, watercress and lettuce loafing around in my fridge's veggie drawer didn't look perky. Instead, I wilted a big bunch of fresh Swiss chard in a pan, squeezed it dry, then arranged it on a plate along with some hot bacon bits (for smokiness and crunch) and a handful of dried cranberries (for sweetness). Then I doused everything with olive olive oil and a few dabs of good balsamic vinegar.

Roasted Golden Beetroot with Spinach & Bacon
A bunch of beautiful golden beetroot

Beads of blood-red ruby grapefruit are a final and pleasing finish to this salad. This is a flavour combination that wouldn't normally have occurred to me, but as it happened I'd just cut up a grapefruit on the same board I was using to slice the beetroot. What an astonishing mouth-surprise it was to taste bacon, beetroot and grapefruit together as I picked bits off my chopping board.

You can leave this out if you like, but I think you will be most intrigued by the exciting spark of the grapefruit.

If you can't find golden beetroot, feel confident using ordinary red beetroot in this recipe.

Roasted Golden Beetroot with Spinach, Bacon & Ruby Grapefruit

4 golden beetroot
4 red beetroot
4 Tbsp (60 ml) olive oil, for roasting
a few sprigs of fresh thyme
salt and milled black pepper
2 large bunches of spinach or Swiss Chard
8 rashers streaky bacon
2 Tbsp (60 ml) dried cranberries [optional]
a ruby grapefuit

For the dressing: 

5 Tbsp (75 ml) olive oil
2 Tbsp (30 ml) good balsamic vinegar
salt and milled black pepper, to taste

Heat the oven to 190 ºC.  Trim the beetroot stalks so just 1 cm remains, then cut them in half lengthways. Place cut-side up in a roasting tray lined with baking paper.

Sprinkle with the olive oil and thyme sprigs, then season to taste with salt and pepper.  Roast, uncovered, for about two hours, or until the beetroot looks slightly shrunken and is very soft.

Remove the beetroot from the oven and set on the counter for 10 minutes, or until they are cool enough to handle with bare fingers. Trim off the stalks and any hairy roots. If you like, you can rub off the skins at this point, but I don't bother with that if I'm using young beets. Cut the beetroot into wedges.

Peel the grapefuit, remove two segments, peel off the membranes and pull these into very small pieces.  Set aside.

Twenty minutes before the beetroot finishes roasting, thoroughly rinse the spinach or Swiss chard, trim off any fibrous stalks and put it, still wet, into a large saucepan. Turn on a medium-high heat under the pot and cook for 3-5 minutes, or until the leaves are soft and wilted.  Tip the leaves into a colander, let them drain for five minutes, then squeeze them between the palms of your hands to remove any excess moisture. Set aside.

While the spinach is cooling, cut the bacon rashers into a fine dice and fry them over a high heat for 4-5 minutes, or until crisp. Drain on a piece of kitchen paper.

Arrange the warm spinach leaves in a circle on a platter and top them with the beetroot wedges.  Sprinkle over the cranberries, grapefruit flecks and hot bacon pieces.

Dribble a little olive oil over the salad, and pour the rest around its edges to form a golden puddle.  Sprinkle the balsamic vinegar over the top.  Serve immediately.

Serves 4 as a starter. 

Roasted Golden Beetroot with Spinach & Bacon
A good fruity olive oil and a few droplets of balsamic vinegar are
all that's necessary to dress this warm salad.

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Monday, 11 November 2013

For Whom the Burger Tolls: India Relish, as Hemingway may have eaten it

Darrel Bristow Bovey, columnist for South Africa's The Times newspaper, messaged me asking for advice about something called India Relish. I've never met Darrel, but I know him in a virtual way, having befriended him on Facebook when I saw him trading appalling puns with my best friend, novelist & punmeister Claire Robertson.

For Whom the Burger Tolls: India Relish, as Hemingway might have eaten it
For Whom the Burger Tolls: India Relish, as Hemingway might have eaten it.

His enquiry made my whiskers twitch. Had I heard of something called India Relish? Where could this be found in Cape Town? Darrel explained that he was planning to make 'Hemburgers' (hamburgers made to Ernest Hemingway's exacting standards) for 13 friends in a week's time, and that he was stumped by a reference in Hemingway's instructions to his cook Pablo, namely 'one heaping teaspoon, India Relish'.

Darrel was determined to create an authentic Hemburger experience, and he has written a most interesting and evocative column about how he combed Cape Town for the right ingredients. Read it here: For Whom The Burger Tolls.

As a collector of old recipes and a keen maker of chutneys and relishes, I couldn't resist the challenge of hunting down this formula.  One or two modern versions of the recipe popped up online, but I what I wanted was more information about the original India Relish. A search of the Google Books archive produced an advert in a 1939 issue of Life magazine, and an extract from a book detailing the history of the relish and some of its ingredients.  India Relish was first made by Albert Heinz in 1889, I learned, and is still produced by the Heinz corporation.

I could find only a few pictures of the modern version of India Relish, which all looked to me like jars of green slime. So figuring out the texture and consistency of this preserve was a real head-scratcher. Was it a thin, sour, pickly mixture, or a thick and chunky chutney?  I appealed to my American friends on Facebook, but not one of them had heard of (let alone tasted) the product.

The book extract indicated that the original Heinz recipe (a secret formula) was close to that of true Indian relishes, so I abandoned the idea of a watery pickle.  In the end, I made what I thought might taste the most authentic:  a cross between a sweet/sharp chutney and a piccalilli, with subtle spicing and plenty of crunch. I made up a batch, filled two bottles and threw one of them into the lavender bush outside Darrel's house.

Here is his verdict:

Isn't that a lovely response?

The recipe below is probably nothing like the modern Heinz offering. For one thing, it isn't green - I had to add a whisper of turmeric because it looked so pathetically pale in its pot.  I'm pretty sure today's Heinz India Relish is artifically stained, because unripe tomatoes and celery alone will not produce a deep green colour.

For Whom the Burger Tolls: India Relish, as Hemingway might have eaten it
A thick, glossy relish with plenty of crunch..

This is good with bread and cheese, and excellent with thick slices of ham. If you bottle it now, in sterilised jars, you can dish it up with your Christmas gammon.

In order to achieve a piccalilli-like crunch, I added a quarter of the vegetables close to the end of the cooking time.

This has just a small amount of heat, so feel free to add more chilli if you'd like to give it a kick in the pants.

Hemingway's India Relish 

8 large, very green tomatoes
4 sticks celery, well rinsed and trimmed
2 red peppers, seeds removed
2 medium onions, peeled
1 green chilli, deseeded
a small head of cauliflower, trimmed
2 Tbsp (30 ml) olive or Canola oil
2 Tbsp (30 ml) black mustard seeds
3 plump cloves garlic, peeled and finely grated
a thumb-sized piece of fresh ginger, finely grated
1/3 cup (80 ml) flour
1½ cups (375 ml) cider vinegar
1 cup (250 ml) white wine vinegar
1 cup (250 ml) white sugar
1 tsp (5 ml) powdered ginger
½ tsp (2.5 ml) turmeric
½ tsp (2.5 ml) cinnamon
½ tsp (2.5 ml) allspice
6 large gherkins, cut into little cubes
the juice of half a lemon
salt and pepper, to taste

Core the green tomatoes, cut them in half and scoop out the pulp using a teaspoon. Set the pulp to one side. Cut the tomatoes, celery and red peppers into a small, neat dice. Thinly slice the onions and cut the chilli into very fine shreds.  Break off the cauliflower florets and cut into small pieces.

Heat the oil and mustard seeds in a pan over a medium-high heat.  When the seeds begin to crackle, turn the heat right down and add the grated garlic and ginger.  Fry over a low heat for a minute, then tip in the flour and stir very well to make a thick paste.

Whisk in one cup of cider vinegar, a little at a time, as if you are making a roux, and beat energetically to break up any floury lumps. When the mixture thickens alarmingly, whisk in the remaining cider vinegar, the white wine vinegar and the sugar.

Cook over a low heat, stirring constantly, until the sugar has dissolved. Now add three-quarters of the vegetables, the powdered ginger, turmeric, cinnamon and allspice.

Turn up the heat so the mixture cooks at an enthusiastic bubble. Keep stirring and scraping, or it might stick to the bottom of the pan.  After about 25 minutes, when the relish has reduced by about half and is looking thick and glossy, add the chopped gherkins, lemon juice, remaining vegetables and reserved  tomato pulp. Season generously with salt and pepper, and cook for another 5-7 minutes.

To check whether the chutney is ready, put a dollop onto a chilled saucer and leave for a minute. Draw your finger across the puddle: if the channel you've made closes very reluctantly, the relish is ready to bottle. If it's still too thin, continue simmering until it passes the channel test.

Spoon the chutney into hot sterilised bottles or jars (see Cook's Notes) and screw on the lids. Let the bottles cool for an hour, then tighten the lids again.

Makes 2 jars.

Cook's Notes: 
  • There are several ways to sterilise jars for bottling pickles and chutneys. I find microwave sterilising the easiest.  Place two or three jars in a circle on the glass turntable, fill each one with 3 Tbsp (45 ml) water, and cook on high for five minutes. Boil the metal lids in a small saucepan for 5 minutes. Then drain the jars and lids, upside down, on kitchen paper or newspaper.  Both the jars and the relish should be very hot during the filling process.
  • When you're making relishes that are acidic, it's important to use a jar that has a plastic-lined lid, or the vinegar in the mixture may react with the metal in the lid.  

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