Wednesday, 24 August 2011

Plum jam

I was recently given a large bag of slightly overripe plums, so I did what one does with large quantities of fruit that won't get eaten. I made jam.

Before we get started on the actual recipe, I should just debunk a few jam myths:
  • 'Pound for pound' for all jams, i.e. use a pound of sugar per pound of fruit. Not all fruits work well with these proportions.
  • Only use fresh fruit, preferably under ripe. You can make jam with frozen fruit, and you can also use very ripe fruit, but you might want to add a source of pectin.
Plums - as many as you have
Sugar - equal weight to plums (if you ca get preserving sugar, great, but it's not essential)
Water 30ml per 500g of plums
Lemon juice - half a lemon per 500g of plums. If your plums are very ripe, up the lemon juice quantity
Jam jars with lids (see below for yield information)

  • Wash plums.
  • Place the plums and water in a large saucepan (better to err on the large side, you will need extra space when it boils up) and stew slowly until the skins are soft. I have a tendency to assault them with a wooden spoon during this stage, to release the juices.
  • Add the sugar and stir until the sugar has dissolved.
  • Add the lemon juice and boil rapidly without stirring until the jam reaches 105C (220F). I use a sugar thermometer, but there are other ways of testing a jam for readiness. I found that this stage went very quickly for purple plums, but it varies from fruit to fruit and also depends on the ripeness of the fruit.
  • While the jam is boiling, sterilise the jars. You can expect a yield of 1.66 times the weight of the fruit you used. Make sure you have enough bottles!
  • Before bottling the jam, prepare the bottles with boiling water, or they will crack from the heat of the jam.
  • Fill the jars right up and immediately screw the lids on. As the jam cools, it will shrink slightly, drawing the lid down and sealing the jars properly.
  • Wait for the jam to cool and set and enjoy on toast with cheese.

Tuesday, 16 August 2011

Zucchini (aka courgette) and carrot muffins

I finally get to add a recipe to the Z section of my recipe index. Woohoo!!

This is not a recipe with a back story, more's the pity. This is one of those google-and-tweak jobs that you do when you have a boatload of something-or-other and need a recipe to use it up.

Oven temperature

175ml vegetable oil
2 eggs
175ml sugar
125ml dark brown sugar
5ml vanilla extract
500ml plain flour
2.5ml baking powder
2.5ml bicarbonate of soda
Pinch salt
10ml cinnamon (or you might prefer ground cardamom seeds)
375ml grated raw zucchini (skin and all)
125ml grated carrot
125ml chopped pecan nuts (optional)

  • Pop about 12 cupcake cases into muffin trays, or grease up muffin trays for about a dozen muffins.
  • Beat the oil and sugars well.
  • Add eggs and vanilla and beat some more.
  • Sift together the dry (powdered) ingredients into a separate bowl and then stir into the wet ingredients.
  • Stir in the veg and nuts.
  • Divide between the muffin cups/cupcake cases. These should be about 3/4 full to allow space to rise.
  • You might like to sprinkle the top with more cinnamon (or cardamom).
  • Bake for about 20 minutes until done (test with a skewer).

Thursday, 11 August 2011

What do I do with....courgettes?

Courgettes, aka zucchini or baby marrow are a lot more versatile than people give them credit for. These vegetables, if left to their own devices can grow very large indeed, but are (in my opinion) at their best when harvested young - anything between finger and banana sized. Speaking of bananas, courgettes may have green or yellow skin. One thing to note - they have tiny hairs on the skin which can trap little grains of grit... adding a most unwelcome crunch to the eating experience. So wash them well before using, but don't peel them.

Let's explore a few things you could do with them once you've done that.

I have encountered cooks who can't think of a use for one lonely courgette (or carrot, or whatever) when cooking for more than two people. A single courgette doesn't have to be left to rot in the veg compartment of the fridge. You can do things with them so that they don't go to waste.

Pretty much as you would with a cucumber (although it tastes comp-uh-letely different), you could slice a courgette into your salad. You could also cut it into 'fingers' to use as crudites with dips.

Steamed or boiled:
Courgette works really well as one of the veg in the traditional meat-and-two-veg meal. You can steam or boil it for this. I suggest either halving them lengthwise or cutting them into fat chunks, rather than the sort of thin slices that you would for a carrot. They cook quickly!

Stir fried:
Absolutely yummy in a stir fry, this might be where you want to slice the courgettes fairly thinly. Unless of course, you're using the teeny weeny ones (finger sized), then I'd just halve them lengthwise. Courgette is also one of the traditional ingredients of ratatouille.

If you're doing a huge joram of roasted mixed veg (beetroot, carrots, potatoes, peppers, etc.), try throwing in a few large chunks of courgette. As an alternative, you could use them with (or even instead of) cauliflower and/or broccoli in a cauliflower cheese bake.

While in Australia on his gap year, my elder son spent some time with the Kitchen Crusader, and he taught me one of her tricks with courgette. Thinly slice lengthwise and use the slices to line an oiled loaf tin. Fill with cheesy mashed potato. Bake in a moderate oven for about half an hour or so and turn out onto a plate. I'm just imagining adding bacon to that... among other things.

Because they cook so fast, and can disintegrate, they may not be at their best in a stew, but there are some fantastic courgette soup recipes out there!

Just yesterday, I was given some courgettes straight from someone's garden. I used some in a stir fry for dinner, and the rest were used to make courgette and carrot muffins. They were absolutely delicious, and I will share the recipe with you next week. But if you happen to have some courgettes to hand and you don't want to wait for my recipe, get googling - the Internet is your oyster!

So... happy cooking!

Image by raven_ryyder

Wednesday, 10 August 2011

Carrot, beetroot and banana cake

You may already know that it is possible to use beetroot (beets, to you Americans) in cakes. Or you may think I have wigged out. But I haven't. Honest. Try it.

I mentioned recently that I had found some beetroots on the marked-down-for-quick-clearance shelf at my local supermarket. Well, on that same day, I also found some past-their-best carrots and a bag of totally over-ripe, bruised bananas.

Please don't ever throw your over-ripe bananas out. I know how it goes: you have a family of banana-lovers, and you buy a large bunch because they're on a special. Then, just that week, the kids decide they're not in the mood for bananas and your spouse goes out of town on business. So they begin to look a little unsightly.

I don't enjoy the taste of over-ripe bananas on their own like that, but in this state, they are at their best for use in baking or smoothies, because the flavour is strong and sweet. So bake a banana loaf, or make up some smoothies. Both these things can be frozen.

Just as an added extra to today's recipe (and I will get to it, I promise), here's a smoothie I used to give my kids when they were little and feeling unwell enough to be off their food (all quantities are 'some'):
plain yoghurt
vanilla ice cream (just a smidge)
raw porridge oats

Just zhoozh that lot up together in the blender and serve with ice and a curly straw.

Anyhoo, back to what I did with the rest of the beetroots and the other things I found that day:

Oven temperature
180 (you might have to reduce this - see method below)

250ml sugar
250ml oil
3 eggs
375ml plain (cake) flour
7.5ml baking powder
7.5ml bicarbonate of soda
10ml ground cinnamon
250ml grated carrot (about one 5"/12cm carrot)
250ml mashed banana (about 3 smallish bananas)
250ml grated, raw beetroot

250ml icing sugar
'Some' cream cheese
Little lemon juice
Little water, if necessary

  • Cream sugar, oil and eggs well.
  • Sift flour, baking powder, bicarb and cinnamon together and add to the creamed mixture.
  • Add remaining ingredients. Blend well together.
  • Pour into a deep cake pan and bake for about an hour. Check from time to time with a skewer. I found this baked really slowly, and the top started to burn a little, so I lowered the oven temperature and covered the cake with foil.
  • Allow to cool on a rack. Don't ice it until it has cooled down completely.
  • Mix a little icing sugar with the cream cheese until creamed.
  • Keep adding icing sugar and mixing in.
  • Add a little lemon juice for bite.
  • If it gets too stiff, add just a tiny bit of water.
  • Spread over the cooled cake.
Just so you know, this cake lasted less than an afternoon in my household! Oh, and that saucer (in the photo) is one of only two left from my late grandmother's tea service. I am very fond of it.

Monday, 8 August 2011

(Sort of) Borscht

You've probably realised that I'm a pretty transparent, heart-on-my-sleeve sort of person. I'm no good at dissembling (and have no interest in acquiring the skill, either, come to that). So if you are connected to me in other spaces, you will know the brutal truth that the reason that I have not been posting many recipes here, lately, is that I simply can't afford the ingredients. It occurred to me that, if I was being so up-front about it on Facebook and Twitter, there was no reason to be coy about it here.

We are currently in a fairly difficult financial position that is set to get immeasurably worse within the next few months. Of course, we continue to hope for a miracle and to work hard at making sure we have left no stone unturned, but, for now, it is what it is. We have been blessed by friends who have given us food hampers, which has been wonderful and kept us all fed, but I have been uninspired recipe-wise. I hope you understand.

Be all that as it may, my local supermarket has a shelf where they sell fresh produce that has passed its best. I decided to pull my head out of my... erm... navel and get creative with what was on offer there. This is what I did yesterday, with a bag of no-longer-firm beetroot (beets, to you Americans) I found. Variations of beetroot soup (probably best known as borscht) are very popular in most East European countries.

The thing you need to know about this soup is that it is extremely low in fat (apart from the soured cream, that is, and you could always choose to leave that bit out) and highly nutritious.

15ml olive oil
1 onion, finely chopped
1 stick celery, sliced (optional - I leave this out because I have one son who loathes it)
3 or 4 beetroots, peeled and grated
1 large potato, peeled and grated
1 carrot, scraped and grated
1.25l stock - meat for omnivores, vegetable for veggies
Black pepper
Splash of red wine
Generous pinch of sugar
Soured cream

  • In a large saucepan, heat the oil and saute the onion and celery until the onion becomes slightly translucent.
  • Add the carrot, beetroot and potato just briefly.
  • Add the stock and bring to the boil.
  • Reduce the heat and simmer for about 40 minutes.
  • Season with black pepper (and salt if you feel compelled) to taste.
  • Add the red wine and sugar. Stir until the sugar has dissolved.
  • Serve, with a dollop of soured cream and crusty brown bread.
Some things you can try with this soup:
  • Add a sprig or two of dill - it's surprising how well dill works with beetroot!
  • Add about 15ml of freshly grated ginger root (instead of the dill, not as well as).
  • Instead of either of the above, about 5ml horseradish will put hairs on your chest, if you like the stuff (I don't).

Thursday, 4 August 2011

What do I do with...eddoes?

This is one of those things that regularly appears on the 'exotic' stand in the fruit and veg section of our larger supermarkets, along with mooli, yams, okra and dudhi. It's one of those things you might pick up and look at from various angles, wondering "What's one of these? To which cultural group is this an everyday thing? What would I do with it? Would the kids even eat it if I bought one and had a go?" Okay, you might not. But I did. So now you don't have to!

They are found in places like the Caribbean and are popular with West Indian cultures. We have a great many people of West Indian descent in our area, so it's no surprise that our supermarkets stock these corms - they know their target market! Apparently, they are also a staple in parts of Africa, but I never encountered them in any of the parts I visited. I must not have visited the right parts - after all, it is a large continent!

Eddoes look a bit like hairy, striped potatoes, and you can pretty much treat them as you would a potato. Chips, mash, roast, sauteed... the whole shebang.

To be honest, that is really all I need to say about them. They have a slightly different taste: sweeter and slightly nutty, with a silkier in texture. They feel a little slimy when you're working with the raw version, but don't be put off, they don't taste slimy when cooked.
Our eddo experiment...

We tried this recipe, which has them coarsely mashed with sauteed onion and a dash of chilli. Very nice, they were, too. All four members of the family approved. Tesco has also provided a few recipes that are worth exploring.

Thursday, 28 July 2011

What do I do with...cauliflower?

I suspect that, for most people, the knee jerk thing to do with cauliflower is to serve it with cheese sauce. But, my very earliest childhood memory of cauliflower is fishing it out of the bottle of pickled veg before my Dad got to it. They were his favourites, too, so competition was hot!

From this, you will deduce that you can pickle it very successfully.

It can also be eaten raw, chopped up into small pieces in a salad or larger pieces to serve with a dip.
It works very well in a stew. You should pop it in fairly late, though, because it contains high levels of water and could go a bit mushy otherwise. Mind you, some people like it like that. In fact, if you cook it long enough to go fairly soft (don't destroy it!), you can mash it up with potatoes.

Served as a veg in its own right, it can be steamed or boiled (I prefer steamed, you won't be astonished to hear). If you fancy adding the cheese sauce, or even just white sauce, you go right ahead, but don't be misled into thinking that this is the only option and that cauliflower is off the menu if you've run out of milk and/or cheese.

I once ate a cream of cauliflower soup that was absolutely delicious and was astonished to discover how easy it was to make. Here's one example, but there are many others. I have also found that a cream of cauliflower-and-butternut soup works very well, and you can make it by following the cream of cauliflower recipe, and just adding some cooked butternut at the blending stage. As far as I'm concerned, butternut and cauliflower were made for each other (a bit like Forrest Gump's peas 'n keerits).

If you like a bit of bite to your food, try this cauliflower curry. Veggies may like this chickpea and cauliflower curry, which adds the protein source.

Image by Ian Britton.

Thursday, 21 July 2011

What do I do with... carrots?

When I was a child, my grandfather had a vegetable garden in which he grew carrots. My grandparents' home was where we spent our Christmas holidays (which were in the height of summer, remember), as did all the rest of family: my mother's siblings and their spouses and - in due course - children. The cousins all played in the garden. When we got thirsty, we drank water straight out of the garden tap. If there was a hosepipe attached to the tap, we drank straight out of that. It didn't occur to us to do anything else. When we felt peckish, we dug up a carrot or pilfered some beans.

I still remember the taste of a just-washed carrot straight from the garden.

So, yes. You can eat them raw. Just like that, or dipped in houmous or sour cream and chive dip. You can also grate them up and pop them in a salad.

And before I go getting all sensible, they make a wonderful cake ingredient (but the icing absolutely has to be cream cheese icing!).
They can also be steamed or boiled (I prefer steaming) until just soft to serve as a vegetable. If you're not accustomed to cooking carrots, it is better to err on the side of raw rather than slushy and completely overcooked. If you saw Forrest Gump, you will know that 'peas 'n keerets' are a very good combination!

You could mash them together with potato and swedes, which is very popular in Sweden (although they don't call swedes by that name there, as you might expect).

Carrots can also be roasted. Just pop them in with your parsnips and/or beetroot next time.

And there is an endless supply of soup recipes involving carrots to one degree or another. Too many for me to even start trying to link to them all.

One really great thing about carrots is that you can grate them up into mince dishes while cooking (a) to make the dish go a bit further and (b) to get some veg down the neck of your picky eaters without their even noticing.

Image by kumarnm

Wednesday, 20 July 2011

Lemon and poppy seed cupcakes

My boss's husband is a keen gardener, and he has been collecting up the seeds from the many poppies in his garden, ready for next year's crop. I decided to put some of them to culinary use. I genuinely had every single ingredient in the cupboard, so I was able to make these without spending any... what's that stuff called again?

Every second person you speak to has a recipe for these, it seems. This is the one I used. I reckon (predictably enough) that they'd be even better with lime!

Oven temperature

275g caster sugar
200g butter, left at room temperature for a couple of hours to soften
540ml self raising flour
4 eggs, separated
Juice and grated zest of 3 small lemons
2.5ml vanilla extract
Poppy seeds (some)
Cupcake cases (about 18ish)

250ml icing sugar
Juice and grated zest of 1 lemon
Little water

  • Cream the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy.
  • Beat in the egg yolks, one at a time.
  • Sift in the flour and mix well.
  • Add lemon juice, lemon zest, about 10ml of poppy seeds and vanilla and beat some more.
  • Beat the egg whites in a separate bowl with clean blades and then fold into the main mixture.
  • Place your cupcake cases into muffin pans and spoon in the mixture. The cases should be about 3/4 full.
  • Bake for about 20-25 minutes until done (test one or two with a skewer).
  • Cool in the muffin pan for a little while before placing them on a cooling rack.
  • Ice as follows: mix together the lemon juice, zest and icing sugar. If it is a little stiff, add just a bit of water.
  • Plop a dollop on top of each cooled cupcake and then sprinkle with some of the poppy seeds.

Thursday, 14 July 2011

What do I do with...cabbage?

I find it surprising how many of the people in those healthy eating type programmes, where the person's diet is given a makeover, don't recognise a cabbage, let alone know what to do with it. It strikes me as being one of the most commonplace of vegetables. However, just in case you're not familiar with it, here are some ideas as to what to do with this versatile vegetable.
When I was a child, I loathed cabbage... except for my Gran's pickled red cabbage (note: the link doesn't go to my Gran's recipe, that is lost to the grave, more's the pity), but then I was pickle-mad, it has to be said - I had been known to eat an entire bottle of gherkins in a sitting, and then drink the vinegar!

This iffy relationship was not improved when I went to boarding school and was regularly served a grey-ish substance that had once been cabbage, until the life was boiled out of it.

My relationship with cabbage now could hardly be further from that. And the same is true of my family. In fact, it is a miracle that my husband still has all ten fingers, because he regularly steals raw cabbage as I'm chopping it, and eats it straight into his mouth with a look of sheer bliss. Nor have I ever had to put up with the whinging my mother used to get at the dinner table: both my sons have happily eaten cabbage from the get go.

Until I moved to the UK, I only knew one kind of cabbage (other than red), and that was the sort that is known as green cabbage, here. There are also white cabbages which (as the name implies) are almost white, and very tightly packed. The leaves are much firmer and more brittle. But I think my favourite must be savoy cabbage. It is much darker, with curly leaves and has a stronger taste, somewhere along the road to Brussels sprouts, but not quite that strong.

Cabbage can be eaten raw in salads. There are scores of recipes out there for salads that involve cabbage. In the UK, the most popular is coleslaw. When I was a child, my Mom used to make a salad she (perhaps unimaginatively) called 'cabby appy' for family barbecues: cabbage and apple salad. This involved chopped cabbage and apple with raisins (and sometimes roast peanuts), all mixed up with mayonnaise.

All cabbages can also be steamed or boiled, but take care not to destroy the stuff completely until you're left with a barely identifiable, watery mass. I tend to steam mine and I like to add caraway or cumin seeds.

You can also use finely sliced cabbage very successfully in a stirfry with carrots, onions, bean sprouts, bell peppers, baby corn and sugar snap peas (and meat, if you like).

Cabbage is absolutely delicious in soups and stews, and it features heavily in a great many traditional European dishes, some of which I have even shared on this site, such as kåldolmar.

Cabbage is also the main ingredient of sauerkraut. You could make your own, or buy it from the supermarket and then use it in Polish bigos.

In researching this post, I have come across some fabulous sites offering cabbage recipes. Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall has some great ideas for red cabbage, while Cherie Stihler has dedicated an entire page to cabbages in general.

Image by richcd.

Monday, 11 July 2011

You may notice some service interruptions

For personal reasons I won't lay at your doorstep, I am going to have to reduce the frequency of my posts on this blog for a while.
I have tried to avoid having it come to this, but reality got in the way, as it does. I toyed with the idea of posting recipes without photos, but thought better of it. I like to provide you with evidence that the recipe I'm posting works with current ingredients and equipment. For example, I have noticed that my older recipes call for far more salt than more modern recipes, and I want to give you an accurate run down of what I actually use, not what the original recipes ask for.

I hope that you will continue to swing by as and when I am able to share recipes. I will keep posting links on Twitter and Facebook, so that you are still notified when there is something new to try.

Friday, 8 July 2011

Lime drizzle cupcakes

I recently made these for my neighbours' 58th wedding anniversary. I promise to make something far more splendiferous for their diamond anniversary in a couple of years' time.

Oven temperature

100g butter, kept in a warm place for a couple of hours to soften it slightly
125ml caster sugar
1 large egg, separated
5ml vanilla extract
175ml plain flour, sifted
10ml finely grated lime zest (or you could use lemon)
5ml baking powder
60ml milk
juice of half a lime

25ml lime juice
60ml icing sugar

  • Cream the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy.
  • Whisk in the egg yolk and vanilla.
  • Add the sifted flour, zest and baking powder and beat until it is all blended together.
  • Add the milk and beat a little before adding the lime juice and beating a bit more for good measure.
  • In a separate bowl (with clean blades) whisk the egg white until it forms peaks.
  • Fold egg-whites into the rest of the mixture.
  • Grease your cupcake pan, or pop a paper cupcake case into each hollow.
  • Divide the mixture among about 8-10 cupcake spaces and spread it evenly.
  • Bake for about 20-30 minutes or until a skewer comes out clean.
  • Cool in the baking tin for a few minutes, then remove and place in a huddle on a flat plate. Poke a few holes in their tops
  • Whisk the juice and icing sugar together, then drizzle over the cupcakes.
  • Pop the cupcakes onto a cooling rack until cooled. 

Thursday, 7 July 2011

What do I do with....parsnips?

Parsnips something look like anaemic carrots. In fact, in Afrikaans, parsnips are called 'witwortels' (white roots) to distinguish them from 'geelwortels' (yellow roots). Because the yellow roots are more common, they are usually simply referred to as 'roots' (wortels).

However, they have a very different taste. I can remember being surprised to find them so sweet and not even slightly turnip/swede like in taste.

I have previously shared a recipe for roast parsnips, which is my favourite thing to do with them, but you can also:
  • Roast them with honey a la Jamie Oliver (who also seems to like them with cumin)
  • Add them to a salad
  • Boil/steam them as you would carrots. In fact, you could mix them together with carrots for a bit of interest
  • Use them in a soup as an additional ingredient - just grate some into your existing recipe
  • Use them as the main ingredient of a soup (or even this)
  • Make them into chips (which you can also do with carrots and beetroot, by the way)
In fact, in my research for this post, I came across an entire site dedicated to parsnip recipes. So I shall leave you with a link to said site and urge you to go off on a parsnip-fuelled adventure.

Wednesday, 6 July 2011

Cardamom babka

This is a variation on Tessa Kiros's recipe for 'Bobba's babka' from her book Falling Cloudberries. Kiros is one of my favourite favourites. She has a mixed heritage, has lived in various parts of the world, and loves preparing food for people. What a brilliant combination!

Her beautifully presented books are what inspired me to attach a little back story to each of my recipes on this blog. You can curl up and read them even if you're not in the mood for cooking that day... mind you, chances are that you soon will be.

This recipe is quite time consuming, but there are long periods when you can get on with other things while it looks after itself in a warm place.

I made this on Saturday to take to church on Sunday, but it didn't quite work out as planned, due to a rookie mistake on my part. Does it serve to encourage you to learn that I also make rookie mistakes, or does it cause you to lose confidence in my recipes? I'm going to take a chance. I shall reveal the rookie mistake at the appropriate moment.

I used a bread maker to mix up the dough, because yeast is my nemesis. Before I got my bread maker, I never produced a successful yeast-including product. Since I got my bread maker, I have never failed to produce a successful yeast-including product. Simple as.

I am going to share the recipe as per the original (non-bread maker) instructions, and then explain what I did differently.

Oven temperature
180C (adjust for fan assisted ovens)

625g plain (cake) flour
5ml salt
80ml caster sugar
15g dried yeast
250ml tepid milk
60ml vegetable oil (plus a little extra for brushing)
2 large eggs, lightly beaten

15ml ground cardamom (Kiros calls for cinnamon)
100g dark brown sugar
60g butter, softened

1 egg yolk
10ml milk
30g soft brown sugar

  • In a large bowl, mix together the flour, salt.
  • In a smaller bowl, mix together the yeast, milk and oil and leave for 10 minutes to let the yeast  start to do it's thang.
  • Scrape out the yeast mixture into the larger bowl (make sure you get it all - it tends to be reluctant) and mix well.
  • Add the eggs and mix some more.
  • Tip it out onto a floured surface and knead it well for about ten minutes.
OR... bung all the above ingredients into a bread maker and set it to 'dough' then proceed as below.
  • Brush the top with oil and pop it oily side down into a large, clean bowl. Brush the surface that is now on top with oil, too.
  • Cover with cling film (Saran wrap) and leave in a warm place for about an hour and a half to rise... and it will rise. It should now be about twice the size it was.
  • Split the dough in half and roll out one half on a floured surface. You need to get it about .5cm thick. It should preferably be a roughly rectangular shape of about 25x45cm, but don't panic if the shape isn't perfect.
  • Mix the cardamom with the butter and brown sugar and spread half of this over the rolled dough. Spread it well and evenly.
  • Roll the dough into a sausage along its longest edge and set aside, while you repeat this process with the rest of the dough.
  • Now lay the two sausages side by side and sort of twist/braid them together. Pinch the ends together well. When you've entwined them, give them a few extra twists, to tighten up the loaf.
  • Pop them into a greased 30cm loaf tin (and this is where my rookie mistake came in. I forgot to grease the loaf tin. I mean... really???) and leave in a warm place for another hour or so, to rise some more.
  • Mix together the egg yolk and milk and brush the top of the loaf. Sprinkle with brown sugar.
  • Bake for about 30-40 minutes, or until a skewer comes out clean when you poke it right in the middle.
  • If the ends are cooking too quickly, and the middle too slowly, Kiros recommends you cover the ends of the loaf with foil.
  • Cool for a few minutes in the tin before turning out onto a cooling rack. For those of us who have made rookie mistakes, this is the moment when half the loaf empties out and the other half stays behind in the tin. It tastes, just as good, mind... it just doesn't look good enough to serve to guests.
  • Serve slightly warm or totally cooled (if it lasts that long) with or without butter.

Tuesday, 5 July 2011

Chicken madras

Since I appear to have deleted my photos of this dish, I have opted to use a photo of coriander leaves/cilantro. Image by beglib.

The Indian foods I have eaten since moving to the UK have been so very different from the Indian foods I used to get in Durban, South Africa. It makes one realise what a large, multicultural country India is.

The Indian descendants living in South Africa are largely Tamils, whose forebears hailed from from the southern parts of India. The food they now eat in South Africa has of course been adapted over the generations based on the ingredients available to them.

It didn't occur to me at the time, but I never ate at an 'Indian' restaurant all the years I lived in Durban. I don't even remember seeing one. I guess it would be a bit like having an Italian restaurant in Rome, since Durban is often referred to as 'the capital of India', boasting over a million people of Indian heritage (possibly the largest in the world outside of India itself).

Nevertheless, while I was teaching at a performing arts school in the Indian sector of town, I got to know all the take-away places and greasy spoons nearby. My students, to whose parents a white teacher at the school was still something of a novelty, used to bring me Tupperware dishes of this or that "my mother made for you, mem." Sadly, I never got the recipes of all these wonders. In many cases, I didn't even get the names. But, as a struggling student, I was enormously grateful for the free meals!

I always knew when there had been a wedding in the family, because then I'd get burfi or jalebi. Maybe both! My housemates used to love that!

The Indian foods on offer in England usually owe their heritage to Kashmiri or Punjabi traditions. So it's naan bread instead of roti, more meat, less beans... and in general the food is more aromatic. Oh, and I haven't seen a chilli bite in aaaaages!

There are of course, 'Indian' dishes which have been invented in both England and South Africa, just as macaroni cheese is an American dish with a nod to Italian roots. But even those tend to follow the patterns of the cultural heritage of the local populations.

Over the years, my palate has become less hardy, and there is no way I could eat the fiery hot samoosas I used to scoff after the final class on my way to a singing gig 'back in the day'.

Today's dish has a bit of bite to it, but is still within what I would consider a reasonable range. It's one I learned to make in the UK, even though it hails from the more southerly parts of India (Chennai).

800g chicken, skinned and cut into bite sized pieces
1 large onions, finely chopped
6 tomatoes, finely chopped
2-3 small green chillies (adjust to taste), chopped
2.5cm piece of ginger root, peeled and grated (or just use the 'very lazy' kind in a tube)
4 cloves garlic, crushed
5ml chilli powder
2.5ml ground cumin
2.5ml ground coriander seeds
5ml turmeric
5ml nutmeg
2 cloves
3 cardamom pods
Garam masala (some)
Bunch coriander (cilantro) leaves
Pinch salt
75ml oil

  • Heat the oil over a moderate heat in a heavy-based saucepan. Pop in the cloves and cardamom pods.
  • Add the onions and fry them well. Not just to the translucent stage you may be used to, but until they are well browned.
  • Stir in the green chillies, ginger, garlic, red chilli powder, cumin, coriander and turmeric. Stir for a couple of minutes.
  • Season with a pinch of salt and stir some more.
  • Add the chicken and stir for about 3 minutes to seal it. If it sticks a bit, add just a little water (no more than 50ml).
  • Add the nutmeg and tomatoes and cover. Simmer for about 20 minutes over a medium heat.
  • Sprinkle with garam masala and fresh coriander leaves to serve.
  • Serve with rice, naan bread, roti....or whatever starch your little heart desires.

Monday, 4 July 2011

Granny juice (aka lemon squash)

When my kids were little, they both had a tendency to wheeze when given any commercially available squashes. We eventually identified the culprit as sulphur dioxide, a commonly used preservative in South Africa in those days, especially in fruit products.

So we avoided them. Since pure fruit juices, while abundant and richly varied in South Africa, were beyond our budget on any grand scale, this meant that the kids' liquid intake was somewhat restricted.

Fortunately, John's Mom used to make lemon squash - which the boys dubbed 'granny juice' - in vast quantities. It was delicious and refreshing. And, yes, it contained a lot of sugar, but absolutely nothing else nefarious.

And of course, it works just as well with limes... or a combination of the two.

12 unwaxed lemons, thoroughly washed
1kg sugar
2l (2,000ml) water

  • If you're feeling dedicated, use a grater to grate off the zest of about half the lemons. Otherwise, use a vegetable peeler, but be careful not to get any of the pith.
  • Place the zest, water and sugar into a saucepan (not an aluminium one!) over a low heat and stir to dissolve the sugar. The liquid should be a yellow shade and smell of lemons.
  • Strain out the zest and set the liquid to one side.
  • Squeeze the juice out of the lemons and add to the liquid (which will have cooled down a bit by now). It is very important not to boil the juice, or even to heat it up too much, because that will destroy the vitamin C (apparently).
  • Bottle and keep until needed. Make sure the bottles are well sealed.
  • To drink, dilute just as you would any other squash to get the strength you require.
Oh... and the photo is my own. Just so you know ;o)

Friday, 1 July 2011

Risotto with an eastern twist

This is based on another recipe from my 200 veggie feasts book. In the original version were ingredients of the sort not found in the average kitchen (most people I know have never even heard of mirin, for example... and Blogger's spellchecker certain doesn't seem to know what it is!) and I was not about to send you on wild goose chase for the sake of a few mls of this (30mls in the case of the mirin, for example) and a dash of that.

So I adapted.

As you would expect.

1200ml of veg stock (alright, you can use chicken if you must!)
15ml soy sauce
30ml white wine (or use sake or mirin if you have it)
60ml sunflower or olive oil (or replace 15mls with sesame oil, if you have some)
A few spring onions, chopped
2 cloves garlic, crushed
2.5cm piece of root ginger, peeled and grated (or a tablespoon of the 'very lazy' kind in a tube or bottle - don't use dried ground ginger if you can avoid it - it's nowhere near as nice)
375g arborio/paella rice (or bog standard rice, if it's all you have)
4 kaffir lime leaves, ripped up, or the grated zest of 1 lime
250g mushrooms (shiitake if you can get them, otherwise - you know - whatever), sliced
About 30ml chopped fresh coriander (cilantro) leaves with a few extras for garnish

  • Warm up the stock, wine and soy sauce, but don't let it boil.
  • Heat 45ml of the oil in a saucepan or large frying pan and throw in the spring onions, garlic and ginger and stir fry on high for about a minute.
  • Lower the heat and add the rice and the lime leaves. Stir for about a minute until all the grains of rice are coated.
  • Add about 150ml of stock and stir until absorbed. Keep stirring and adding stock until you have about half a cupful left in the jug. You might like to turn the heat off on the rice while you do this next bit.
  • Use the remaining oil in a different panto fry the mushrooms for about 5 minutes.
  • Add the coriander and mushrooms to the rice, with the remaining stock. If you turned the heat off before, turn it back on now, but keep it low.
  • Stir until the liquid is pretty much absorbed.
  • Garnish with a few bits of fresh coriander leaf.

Thursday, 30 June 2011

What do I do with... green beans?

You very probably already know this, but in case you don't: you're supposed to eat the pod part of a green bean, too. Unlike other beans, you don't eat just the seed-bit and throw away the outside.

Green beans are readily available in frozen or canned form, but they're so easy to cook, and no initial faff is required, so you might as well buy them fresh and score all the extra nutrients.

I was always non-plussed by the fact that the package labels on green beans in UK supermarkets advise one not to eat them raw. All through my childhood, it was the norm to help ourselves to the green beans and carrots growing in my grandfather's vegetable garden. The beans were eaten as is. The carrots were first given a wash under the garden tap.

I can only think that fears of some dread foreign disease were behind the caution (witness the recent E-coli hoo-ha). But I live dangerously and carry right on eating raw green beans - even those that come from the supermarket!

So, if you're ready for a life on the edge, you can eat them raw, too. Just like that, or chopped up into a salad. Or dipped in houmous. Mmmm. Hust give them a good rinse first.

Otherwise you can boil or steam them (whole or sliced). You can steam them in your microwave or on the hob. Give me a shout if you're not sure about how to do either of those. Don't keep going until the life and goodness have been cooked out them, though! Ugh - the memories of grey beans at boarding school.... shudder.

Some people struggle with the fact that cooked green beans 'squeak on your teeth'. And it's true - they sometimes do. I have a son with tactile issues and green beans were always a challenge for him. I found that cooking them just that little bit longer solved the problem (as does eating them raw).

I once knew a woman who had worked as an au pair in Greece where she had learned to prepare green beans like this:

Blanch them (dip them in boiling water for a couple of minutes), then stir fry them with some crushed garlic in olive oil. Add a little lemon juice for zing. Verrrrry nice!

Then an Afrikaans friend used to mix them up with roughly mashed potato, which she sprinkled with pepper. I have to say, though, that she boiled the poor beans to death first.

Another very popular Afrikaans dish is groenboontjiebredie (green bean stew - and oh boy, did I struggle to find a decent English recipe for you!), which you might like to try one cold evening.

Wednesday, 29 June 2011

Ginger beer

I really enjoy ginger beer, but the stuff that is sold commercially under that name is hardly worth drinking. However, I have a recipe (you might have guessed) that you might like to try.

It comes out of a a delightful little book that was put together in aid of Hospice in South Africa many years ago. It contains a collection of recipes from South African 'celebrities' (I use quotes because I'm not sure that the MPs included in the book should be given that label). I will be sharing other recipes from the book at some point, I'm sure, having recently rediscovered it hidden between two larger books on my recipe bookshelf (aka the windowsill in the conservatory).

I would like to explain why I purchased the book, if you don't mind:

During my Gran's agony-ridden final days, the Hospice people were a great comfort and help to us, visiting three times a day with the blessed syringe-borne relief for my Gran. Two of the workers even attended her funeral. They had not had the enormous privilege of knowing my Gran as a whole person in possession of a sound mind and a gentle heart, but they came anyway. And I'm glad they did, because they got a glimpse into the sort of a woman my Gran had been before the cancerous scourge had robbed her of her dignity, her graciousness and her humility.

Okay, now that I have utterly ruined my mascara, let me get back to the recipe for ginger beer, which - I should probably mention - takes about 10 days, and you will need a fair few 2l bottles, so get collecting.

According to the book, this recipe is a firm favourite of Nelson Mandela, but since this claim is made by a fictitious alter ego of a female impersonator, who allegedly made it for him, I'd take it with a pinch of salt, if I were you!

Stage 1
10ml yeast
80ml sugar
80ml grated ginger root (or you can use ground ginger, if you like)
500ml water

Stage 2
1,250ml sugar
2l (2,000ml) hot water
4l (4,000ml) cold water
200ml lemon juice

Stage 1
  • Place the water in a jug or bowl and stir in the yeast, 10ml sugar and 10ml ginger.
  • Leave overnight.
  • Each day, for seven days, stir in another 10ml sugar and 10ml ginger.
Stage 2
  • Dissolve sugar in the hot water.
  • Add the cold water and lemon juice.
  • Strain the stage 1 mixture through a muslin and add it to the above.
  • Bottle and allow to stand for 1-2 days at room temperature. It's probably a good idea to leave a bit of space at the top of the bottles... just in case! And screw those caps on well.
  • Refrigerate and enjoy with ice and a sprig of mint or a slice of lime.

Tuesday, 28 June 2011

Cardamom loaf cake

Years ago, I wouldn't have known what to do with cardamom (and please note that it is cardamom, not cardamon) if my life had depended on it. The first time I encountered it, my sister-in-law had bunged a pod in with some coffee that was percolating. It was thoroughly delicious! I also discovered that it was sometimes used in curries. So I bought some and used it occasionally to flavour coffee and curries.

Then, oh glorious then, we went on our first family trip to Sweden. The Swedes have this very civilised observance called elvakaffe - eleven (o' clock) coffee, which equates to the English elevenses. And of course, with the coffee, there must be a little something. And that little something had quite often been baked with cardamom. Where the recipes to which I was accustomed used cinnamon, the Swedes used cardamom instead, it seemed. Perhaps it was the novelty, but I decided then and there that cardamom was the superior flavour.

This recipe is a sort of amalgam of various cardamom loaf recipes I have acquired along the way. I always buy the spice in pod form and then grind it using a coffee grinder. It's a bit of a faff, but it's well worth it for the way it involves your nose in the flavour sensation.

Oven temperature

Mix well...
125g butter
375ml caster sugar
3 eggs, separated
7.5ml ground cardamom seeds
1000ml self raising flour
5ml baking powder
Pinch salt
250ml water
60ml oil (I like it with olive oil, but you should experiment)
Slice and eat with butter

  • Cream together the butter and sugar.
  • Stir in yolks and cardamom.
  • Add flour, salt, baking powder and water.
  • Beat egg whites until stiff and then fold into mixture.
  • Add oil and mix well.
  • Bake in a greased loaf tin for about an hour.
  • Cover with a cloth and allow it to cool in the tin for about 20 minutes before turning it out onto a cooling rack.
  • Slice up and eat with (or without) butter.

Monday, 27 June 2011

Themed children's parties: all the children of the world

In 1997, we had a party with this theme. I baked the cake in an ovenproof bowl instead of a cake tin to get the curve I was after because, no the world isn't flat (shock horror). I iced it in blue icing. Then I used ready made icing in green and carefully traced on and cut out maps of half the world's land mass. In our case, Africa was foremost of course!

At the time, it was possible to get little flags on toothpicks, and I stuck those into the cake where appropriate

I didn't try to get clever with the rest of the eats, but placed them all around the cake, directly onto the tin foil wrapped table (as is my wont). The space was decorated with flags and pictures from all over the world.
Of course, those two flags had to be there!
This photo shows my sons aged 6 and 4, 'helping' me with the decorating. Our parties were always held in the garage, and the kids didn't come into the house other than to use the loo. Some of the moms took refuge in the house, though - it has to be said!

You could invite the children to dress up if you like, but that might result in stereotypes that some people may find offensive. It depends on how politically correct (and incorrect) your friends are!

Friday, 24 June 2011

Bean and olive salad

Since it's the weekend (yayyy!!), and we're (finally) promised some decent weather here in the UK (I'll believe that when I see it!), I thought I'd do a salad recipe today. This is a recipe I cut out of a magazine donkey's years ago and have adapted.

This should be made up in advance, because it needs time to chill. Don't we all?

45ml olive oil
1 small onion, thinly sliced or finely chopped
1 clove garlic, crushed
250ml cooked haricot beans
30ml Balsamic vinegar (I'm sure you could use 'ordinary' vinegar - I'm just a fan of Balsamic)
15ml tomato puree
12 olives, stoned and halved
45ml chopped fresh herbs - I used a mixture of chives, mint and coriander leaves. I'd say the chives are fairly important, but experiment for yourself.

  • Heat oil over a low heat in a heavy-bottomed pan, and saute the onion and garlic lightly.
  • Cover and allow to 'sweat' for a couple of minutes.
  • Uncover and add beans, vinegar, tomato puree and olives. Stir for a further couple of minutes.
  • Remove from heat and stir in herbs.
  • Chill before serving.
You could turn this into a main course by adding a tin of tuna.

Thursday, 23 June 2011

What do I do with...artichokes?

By special request, artichokes are my next port of call in this series.

I adore artichokes, but they are very expensive - and pretty scarce - in the UK. The first time I visited Spain, I was stunned to discover how cheap they were, there. Where our 'mixed vegetables' packs consist of peas, corn, carrots and green beans, theirs include artichokes. Alcachofa was one of the first Spanish words I mastered.

If you've never tasted an artichoke, let me advise you to avoid the canned artichoke hearts. They are sort of pickled, and nowhere near as nice as fresh ones. The fresh ones taste a little asparagus-ish.

Many people I know take one look at artichokes and say "Fugeddit!" I was one such. I had never eaten a fresh one (I wouldn't have known where to start to cook one), and the canned ones made me go "Meh." But in 1990, we went to stay with an old army buddy of John's in Pretoria, and his girlfriend cooked up artichokes for us one day. I was terribly impressed, until she told me how very, very simple it was. I was absolutely smitten with them, and they are way up there among my favourite summer veg.

My sister in law in the US knew about this love of mine. She also knew how pricey they are in the UK. and, when I was due to visit her this time last year, decided she would serve some as a treat for me, so she consulted her recipe book and, within minutes had decided that it was just far too much faff.

Perhaps you have a recipe book like that: chop the points off all the leaves, slice the artichoke in half vertically. Snap the stem off. Stand on your head and whistle Dixie.

Just no.

For me, the best and simplest way to cook an artichoke is as follows (and the only tricky part is finding a large enough saucepan!):

Rinse the artichokes thoroughly under running water, or in a basin of salty water. If you're going the running water route, remember to hold them right way up, as you would a flower (because that's what it is, after all), so that the water can reach down between the petals. If you're using a basin of salty water, you want to sort slosh them about quite vigorously in the water.

Bung the artichokes into a saucepan and then top it up with cold water enough to cover the vegetables. You can add a pinch of salt for good measure, if you like.

Bring the water to the boil and then reduce the heat slightly to keep it at a simmer.

Keep simmering this way for about 20-25 minutes. Test whether the artichoke is ready by trying to pull off a petal. If it comes away fairly easily, it's done.

Remove from the water and plop onto a plate and eat the wretched thing. If you fancy, you can eat it with mayo or butter with or without lemon and/or garlic added.

So now I hear you wail, "Yeah, but how do I eat it???"

Like this:

Tear off one of the outside leaves. It will have a small, soft heel where it was attached to the stem. Bite of that heel and throw bin throw away the rest of the leaf. You can dip the heel into one of the things I mentioned before if you like. I don't think it's necessary, quite frankly.

Remove the hairy bit...
Keep going like this, tearing of a leaf and eating the heel of it. As you get closer to the centre, the edible part of the leaf becomes larger. Once you have eaten away all the leaves, you are left with the heart. It looks exactly like a flower, with the petals torn off... which is what it is.

In the centre of the flower are all the pistils or stamens or whichever they are. Scoop those out with a spoon and throw them away. Now relish the best part of all: the heart. Oh bliss!!!

They make a great starter, by the way. One per person.

There are all sorts of other recipes out there for things to do with artichokes. My recommendation is to start with this one. The cooking process is about the same as for a mealie/ear of corn, and the testing  for readiness is pretty much the same, too.

Wednesday, 22 June 2011

Pecan blondies

You've heard of brownies, right? Not the little girls who go on to become girl guides, but the chocolate tea time treats. Well, blondies are just brownies made with white chocolate. Try these for a tasty alternative.

Oven temperature

125g butter
200g white chocolate or 100g white chocolate and 100g (white or other) choc chips
2 eggs
125ml sugar
2.5ml vanilla extract (or cardamom extract if you happen to have it)
250g cake/plain flour
Pinch salt (even I use a generous pinch, and you know I have a light hand when it comes to salt)
50g pecan (or other) nuts, chopped

  • Chop the slab chocolate into smallish pieces. If you're using chips, these obviously don't need chopping.
  • I always cool things upside down
  • Line a square cake tin with baking parchment. If you find it tricky to line the sides, then just line the bottom, but grease the sides well.
  • Use a double boiler or, if you don't have (and I don't), a Pyrex dish over a saucepan. Bring water to the boil in the bottom half and melt 100g of the chocolate in the top, stirring frequently.
  • Add the butter and stir until it has completely melted and blended with the chocolate.
  • Removed from heat and set aside for now.
  • Cream together the eggs and sugar until light and fluffy, then add the vanilla.
  • Beat the chocolate mixture in to the egg mixture.
  • Sift in the flour and salt and beat well.
  • Stir in the nuts and remaining chocolate (or choc chips).
  • Pour into the cake tin, smooth over with a spatula and bake for about 15-20 minutes.
  • Remove from the oven and leave to stand for about 20 minutes.
  • Cut into squares in the pan, and remove carefully with an egg lifter (aka 'fish slice' in the UK) to place on a cooling rack.
  • Wait until they have completely cooled and, if you have any left (I didn't!), you can pop them into an airtight container.
  • You could choose to top them with icing or (even better) with fudge icing as chocolate fudge brownies, but they are very sweet already, so try them as is, first.
  • Try a few variations: 100g white chocolate with 100g plain (dark) chocolate chips, for example.
  • Try using different nuts. I reckon pistachios would be the business!

Tuesday, 21 June 2011

Roast butternut and pine nut risotto

This is another one of those veggie dishes that are so good you don't find yourself thinking, "All this needs is a bit of meat, and it would be perfect." Even my carnivorous elder son wolfed it down and came back for seconds!

This recipe uses coriander leaves, but sage is just as good with butternut, so try that as a variation.

Oven temperature

1 large butternut, peeled and cut into largish cubes
1 clove garlic, crushed
10ml fresh coriander leaves, chopped
Olive oil
30ml butter
1 onion, chopped
250ml arborio rice
250ml white wine
750ml vegetable stock
Pine nuts to serve
Parmesan cheese, grated, to serve

  • In a large bowl, mix up about 25ml olive oil with the garlic and chopped coriander leaves.
  • Toss the butternut cubes in this until they are well coated, then place them on a baking tray in the oven for about 45 minutes until soft right through and just starting to darken along the edges.
  • Cut the cooked butternut into smaller cubes (when it is cool enough to handle, obviously!). Don't worry if some pieces get a little mushy. If any little bits got stuck to the baking tray, rescue them - you're going to want those babies in the risotto, too - they have a wonderful toffee-ish taste!
  • Heat 15ml of the butter and another 25ml oil in a  heavy-bottomed frying pan and saute the onion until it softens and becomes translucent.
  • Add the rice and stir until the grains are coated and shiny looking.
  • Add the wine and stir until the liquid has been absorbed.
  • Now add the stock. The proper way to do this is to add a little stock at first and then keep adding a little at a time as it is absorbed by the rice. I tend to just add the whole lot in one go... because I'm a lazy Philistine.
  • Simmer until done. Don't let the rice cook for too long - it is supposed to be al dente, like pasta.
  • Remove from the heat and stir in the butternut and the rest of the butter.
  • Place into serving bowls and top with a sprinkling of pine nuts, a little Parmesan cheese, a twist of black pepper and the rest of the coriander leaves.

Monday, 20 June 2011

Themed children's parties: pirates arrrg!!

In 1996, when my elder son turned 5 and my younger son turned 3, we had a pirate party. I made a treasure chest cake, the food table was designated Treasure Island, and all the kids had to enter the party by walking the plank and shouting "Arrrrg!"

The cake is easy enough to make, just two ordinary sponges, one left square, and one cut into a rhombus shape as shown here.

Then you position the cakes so that one is the body of the chest, the other the lid, ice (preferably not in pink... long story) and trim it to look like a treasure chest and insert 'treasure' in the form of foil wrapped chocolate coins and other such things.

I made palm trees to go around the Treasure Island table, using the cardboard rolls from a fabric store. The rolls on which fabric is sold is lovely and thick. The palm leaves can be made out of card or tissue paper, of whatever you fancy.

You can make it a fancy dress party, if you like. We just opted to give each one a 'scar' on arrival, using one of my lipliners. This is my younger son, aged three, who already had an impressive collection of facial scars of his own by this time (one of which you may be able to make out in the centre of his forehead). The one on the left cheek, I'm sure you don't need me to tell you, is a fake.

Captain Scarface. Arrrrg!!!
We had a treasure hunt as one of the games, with clues scattered all over the garden and a prize at the end. Let your imagination run riot. Go for it. You know you're dying to dress up and shout "Arrrg!!!" and "Me hearties!!!" and all that.

Friday, 17 June 2011

Rock biscuits

This is one of those recipes that 'takes me back' as they say. Rock biscuits and rock buns were very popular when I was in my yoof, but one seldom hears about them these days.

So I recently took a little wander down memory lane and this is the route I took.

Oven temperature

250g butter
250ml sugar
500ml plain (cake) flour
15ml baking powder
2.5ml ground cinnamon (or try cardamom for variety)
Pinch salt
250ml seedless raisins
125ml pecans, chopped

Place on a cooling rack
  • Cream the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy.
  • Beat the eggs and then whisk into the butter mixture.
  • Sift the dry ingredients into the egg mixture and beat well.
  • Add the raisins and nuts and mix through (better to use a wooden spoon, now).
  • Drop dollops of the mixture onto a greased baking sheet, or onto a piece of baking parchment on a baking sheet (I prefer the latter).
  • Bake for 10-15 minutes until they're going golden.
  • Place on a cooling rack until cool. Don't put them into a tin before they're completely cool or they will go soggy.
You should get about 45-50 biscuits from this recipe.

Thursday, 16 June 2011

What do I do with...butternut (squash)?

In South Africa, this vegetable is known as butternut. In the UK, it is called butternut squash. I gather that Australians simply call it squash. Whatever it is called in your neck of the woods, this is one of my favourite vegetables.

When I was still 'living at home,' as the expression goes (as if after leaving your parents' house you are doomed to nomad-status for the rest of your life), it was a family tradition to make a special dinner on birthdays and the birthday girl (because ours was a single-sex family) got to choose what was on the menu. When it was my birthday, you could pretty much depend on it that you would be eating butternut and cauliflower (with white sauce). When I was a student, I would quite often survive on baked butternut for days at a time.

Butternut is more like pumpkin that squash in both texture and taste. It is firm-fleshed and has a slightly nutty taste.

So... butternut. What do we do with them?

Butternut can be grated into salads, although it can sometimes give you that feeling of furriness on the backs of your teeth. I do have a recipe for a salad that uses raw butternut, but I have never shared it because it also requires - believe it or not - powdered jelly (jell-o), which isn't readily available in the UK. However, fret not if you live in a country which oozes jelly powder from every pore and you are dying to try something new and different. Here it is, on someone else's site.

Cooked on the hob
There are various ways to cook butternut on the hob. You can
  • steam it on its own
  • steam it with chopped onion and/or coriander leaves
  • boil it (ditto the above two - and countless other - options)
  • make butternut soup with or without orange, with or without cauliflower, with or without coriander leaves and chilli. Here's Catherine's guest post recipe from a while ago.
  • make Malay-style cinnamon glazed butternut
Cooked in the oven
Butternut is also fab for
  • roasting - just do as you would do with potatoes, really. And once you've roasted it, you can use it for a different tasting soup, or for a scrumptious risotto.
  • baking - cut them in half, wrap in tin foil and bung 'em in the oven at about 200C until you can stick a sharp knife into it with ease. Alternatively, if you have plenty of time (or no foil), just chuck 'em in whole until they're done.
  • stuffing - cut the butternut in half, scoop out the pips and fill the hole with yummy things like chopped onion, bacon bits or whatever, then wrap with foil and bake as before. You can also fill the hollow after the butternut has been cooked with something like cheese sauce.
On the barbecue
One of my favourite things to do with butternut is to bake it in the coals of the barbecue - either halved and wrapped in tin foil or whole as is. You can stuff them if you like, just as you would for baking.

I'm sure there are endless other things you can do with this delicious and versatile vegetable, like substituting it for pumpkin in a traditional American pumpkin pie. But that should be enough to get you started.


And feel free to share your own butternut ideas in the comments below, or on my Facebook page.

Wednesday, 15 June 2011

Tuna steak - the fish for non-fish-eaters

Some years ago, I discovered the wonder that is tuna steak. I ate it at a wonderful Italian restaurant called Mulinos in Milton Keynes. It wasn't on the menu, but the chef had sourced some fresh tuna steak that day. My elder son ordered it, and I was surprised when the waiter asked him how he would like it done. I mean, it's fish, right? Everyone knows that fish needs to be cooked right through, right? Wrong. Oh, so wrong.

My son ordered it medium rare, which is the way we all prefer our beef steak... and it was sheer bliss. I know. I tasted it. If I hadn't known it was fish, I would certainly not have guessed it from the taste (or the texture). Not that I have anything against fish, mind, but some fish has an overwhelmingly 'fishy' taste. Fresh tuna steak does not. Not even slightly.

Tuna steak should be cooked pretty much the same way you cook a beef steak - very hot pan, and then just a couple of minutes on each side (for a succulent, medium rare steak).

This is what I did with ours last night:

Two fresh tuna steaks
1 kaffir lime leaf, shredded
Juice of half a lime
1 small chilli, finely chopped
5ml grated ginger root
5ml chopped fresh coriander (cilantro) leaves
2.5ml finely chopped lemon grass
5ml olive oil

  • Mix all the ingredients (apart from the fish) together to form your marinade.
  • Place the steaks in the marinade, turning a few times to ensure that it is well coated.
  • Leave for about 10 minutes.
  • Heat a heavy-bottomed frying pan over high heat until it is very hot.
  • Give the pan a quick spray of fry light or a light brushing with olive oil if necessary. If it's a really good pan, this won't be necessary.
  • Remove the steaks from the marinade and fry for two minutes on each side.
  • Serve with potato wedges and a garden salad.

Tuesday, 14 June 2011

Chicken and sesame stirfry

I don't know about you, but I am mad-keen on the food at Wagamama. Unfortunately, on the last two occasions I visited my nearest branch, the service was iffy at best. On one occasion, it was so bad, that my husband called the manager over to complain... whereupon he (the manager, not my husband, although it was a close run thing) became belligerent and argumentative. Needless to say, my husband simply will not go back. I have since visited other branches and found the service to be of a better standard.

But I digress...

This dish has a flavour combination that reminds me of some Wagamama dishes. It's based on one that I downloaded from somewhere (Tesco diets, I think). It uses chicken breast fillets, but these are so ludicrously expensive in the UK, that I often substitute turkey breast.

2 large skinless chicken breast fillets, sliced into thin strips
1 tablespoon honey
Juice of 1 lime
2 kaffir lime leaves (optional), finely shredded
1 tablespoon toasted sesame seeds (you can toast these yourself, if you can't buy toasted ones)
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 clove garlic, peeled and crushed
5cm piece root ginger, peeled and finely chopped
225g broccoli florets
2 large carrots (you may notice from the picture that I threw in a courgette, too)
1 bunch spring onions, trimmed
250g noodles
1 tablespoon teriyaki sauce
1 tablespoon soy sauce

  • Mix together the olive oil, ginger, lime leaves (if using) and garlic in a bowl.
  • Add the chicken strips, toss to mix and set aside until needed.
  • Blanch the the broccoli florets as follows: place them in a heatproof bowl, cover with boiling water and leave to stand for 1 minute. Drain, refresh under cold, running water and drain well.
  • Cut carrots into matchstick strips (you may notice from the picture that I was lazy on this!)
  • Cut the spring onions in half lengthwise and then again crosswise.
  • Heat a wok or a large frying pan and then add the chicken and stirfry for 2 minutes.
  • Add the carrots, onions and broccoli and just a little water. Cover with a lid and steam for about 5 minutes (make sure chicken is cooked through).
  • Cook the noodles as per instructions on the packaging.
  • Mix together teriyaki sauce, soy sauce, lime juice and honey.
  • Drain the noodles and add to the chicken.
  • Add the liquid mixture.
  • Toss well until everything is evenly distributed and hot.
  • Sprinkle sesame seedds over the top. Serve.
On the occasion when the photo was taken, I used quinoa instead of noodles, just for a change. It worked. Of course.

Monday, 13 June 2011

Themed children's parties: mice

Today is the last post drawn from this picture, you'll be pleased to hear. We're looking at the little mice on the left.

Thin, round biscuits such as arrowroot or Marie biscuits
White marshmallows - one per biscuit
Pink marshmallows - two or three should do the trick
Liquorice laces
Red food colouring and a cotton bud (q-tip) to apply it with
A little icing sugar mixed with just enough water to make a paste

Marshmallow on each biscuit
Add a tail
  • Using a dab of the icing paste, place one white marshmallow on each biscuit like so.
  • Cut the laces into lengths for tails and stick one end of each lace into one end of each marshmallow to serve as a tail. Save some liquorice for later.
  • Cut the pink marshmallows into slices and then cut each slice in half.
  • Using a dab of icing paste, secure two of these semi-circles onto the white marshmallow to serve as ears. They should be quite close to the opposite end from the tail (obviously).
  • Using the cotton bud dipped in the red food colouring, make three red dots on the front of each mouse for eyes and a nose.
  • Cut shorter lengths of the laces to serve as whiskers. I cut the whisker lengths in half lengthwise, to create thinner whiskers, but it was quite a faff, so you might prefer not to do that.
  • Using some of the paste, stick 'whiskers' onto the face end of the mouse.
Et voila!

Friday, 10 June 2011

Lime and coconut tart

Some time back, the Kitchen Crusader shared (on her 365 project), a photo of a tart she'd enjoyed at Sayers in Perth, Australia. I liked the sound of it and started scrounging for a recipe (as you do). The only one I found, which purports to be a hack of the tart enjoyed by the Kitchen Crusader, calls for a mere 16 eggs.

That struck me as being a little on the expensive side for the likes of you and me. However, I have supplied the link to said recipe, just in case you're feeling extravagant. For the rest of us, I set out to create a cheaper alternative. And this is what I came up with. I tested it on friends and neighbours and they all declared this it deeeee-licious. I hope you enjoy it, too.

Oven temperature

Macaroon crust
250ml caster sugar
4 eggs, separated
500ml dessicated coconut
4 fresh kaffir lime leaves, finely shredded (see note below for further info and alternatives)

500ml sugar
125g butter
Juice of 2 limes and one lemon
Grated zest of 1 lime
4 eggs

Let's get that crust underway first:
  • Beat egg yolks and sugar together until thick and pale.
  • In a different bowl, beat the egg whites until they form soft peaks.
  • Fold the beaten whites into the yolks.
  • Gently fold in the coconut and lime leaves.
  • Line a springform cake pan with baking paper, including the sides (this is important, because, if you don't, the crust will stick like the dickens).
  • Spoon the mixture into the cake pan and spread it across the bottom and up the sides. If you can't get it to go up the sides, don't panic. I had one that worked and one that didn't and they tasted just the same!
  • Bake for 15-20 minutes until golden then set aside to cool.
Sprinkle with caster sugar if you like
While the crust is cooling, we can make the lime butter:
  • Combine the sugar, butter, juices and rind in a saucepan.
  • Slowly bring to the boil, stirring all the while.
  • Beat the eggs and stir into the mixture until it thickens.
Final stretch:
  •  When the crust and curd are both cool, gently spoon the curd into the crust.
  • If you're concerned about it being too sharp, sprinkle the top with caster sugar.
  • Slice and top with whipped or clotted cream to serve with coffee.
Notes about kaffir lime leaves:
Confession time - it was hugely difficult for me to reach the point where I was able to name that ingredient in my recipe, because of the connotations of 'the k-word' for a South African of my vintage. However, I have decided to get over myself in the interests of culinary delight.

Kaffir lime leaves
Kaffir limes are different from 'normal' limes. The leaves come in two parts: a leaf blade and a flattened leaf stalk which looks like a second leaf.

Dried kaffir lime leaves are widely available in supermarkets in the herbs and spices aisle. However, do not use those - the are yucky! If you are at all able to do so, get fresh ones (my husband swings by a Thai place in London and buys me a bunch for the princely sum of 99p). Whatever you don't use in this recipe can be used in all manner of other dishes - especially curries.

They are also available online. But, if you don't fancy that idea, rather substitute the grated zest of 3 limes. You'll get a closer approximation of the flavour than with the dried leaves. Scout's honour.