Monday, 31 January 2011

Easy pork chops

This recipe (if you can even call it that) is one of my fall-backs.

When I lived in South Africa, we ate chicken several times a week, because that was what was cheapest. But, while you can pick up a whole chicken really reasonably here, portions are just ridiculously over-priced (and you can't get all the portions I want, either!). Pork is the cheapest meat in the UK.

I never ate pork in South Africa - it tasted very 'piggy'. Utterly vile. However, needs must, so I announced to the family shortly after my first stomach-swooping grocery shopping expedition on these shores that we were going to have to learn to like pork. I bought an economy pack of pork chops and grilled them.

There was nothing to learn. They were great. No 'piggy' taste at all. I have been advised that this might have to do with diet. In the UK (so I'm told) pigs are fed a vegetarian diet, whereas in South Africa, their diet contains animal protein. Whether or not this is true, I have not been able to establish conclusively. All I can tell you is that I don't like South African pork, but I do enjoy UK pork.

In order to add something a little interesting, to pork chops (or loin steaks), I spread a little concoction on each piece before grilling (and I always grill - meat very seldom gets fried in this household). You need to know that pork works brilliantly with fruit... hence the traditional apple sauce. But you don't have to get stuck in an apple rut.

On this occasion, I mixed up about 60ml orange marmalade (left over from the rusks), 5ml black mustard seeds, a bit of barbecue spice and just a little water. Then I brushed each chop generously with this mixture, repeating each time I turned them (I grill pork chops for 4 minutes at a time, turning them 3 times, so that they actually get 8 minutes each side).

You could try apricot jam. Or fig jam. Or mango chutney. You know... whatever. Something sweet and fruity. And if you don't like the mustard seeds, leave them out. Or replace them with cumin seeds. Or (once again) something.

Remember? Experiment. What's the worst that could happen?

Oh, and I served them with potato wedges, carrots, peas and edamame (soya) beans.

Sunday, 30 January 2011

Failing with impugnity

On Wednesday and Thursday last week, I attended a conference related to my professional life, namely learning and development (which you may think of as staff development or workplace learning, or something along those lines). One of the themes that came out of the conference was the extent to which we have underestimated the value of failure. We have tried so hard to create failsafe working practices, that we have forgotten to create safe-fail working spaces. Spaces in which we can safely try, fail, learn something, try again... and so on.

And it occurs to me that we're a bit like that in the kitchen.

Many's the person who says "I'm a hopeless cook!" And it's usually because they tried a few times, failed a few times and gave up. But even good cooks fail, you know.

For example, my husband does the most fantastic potjies. But let me tell you that his first attempt was disastrous. He is also brilliant with the Weber, and regularly makes spectacular roasts in it... including our Christmas roast every year. But he had to go through a learning curve - strictly following a recipe and not always getting it exactly right first time.

I don't pretend to be a brilliant cook, but I'm not bad. And let me assure you that I have made some dreadful blunders along the way. I once totally destroyed a huge quantity of top quality steak which I then served at a dinner party. It was only when I took my first mouthful that I realised how absolutely awful it was. The embarrassment...!

But the important thing is not to give up (that, and to test your recipes before you inflict them on a dinner party).

Yesterday, I had a go at one of the Kitchen Crusader's interesting sounding recipes... and it didn't turn out quite as I had expected. It was heavy and stodgy instead of being moist. But I'm going to have another go. I'm pretty sure the problem isn't with the recipe. This time, I'm going to divide the mixture into two cake tins and bake it for longer at a lower temperature (I'm also going to add a hint of chilli and perhaps some lime, but that's another story).

I mean, what's the worst that can happen?

So you produce something that's inedible and it costs you a few quid. But you had an interesting experience... and you learned something. Next time it will go a bit better. Just make sure there is a next time.

Friday, 28 January 2011

Shena's 'Mexican' chicken

This recipe came from my aunt. As with so many recipes that carry a country name in the title, it would probably be completely unfamiliar to any natives of that country. But that's what Shena calls the recipe, so that is its name. The fact that it appears under M in my indexed, handwritten recipe book is an indication of how young and 'iggerant' I was when I started compiling the book!

Oven temperature
190C (reduce for fan-assisted ovens)

Chicken portions (I used a dozen drumsticks as you can see)
250ml tomato sauce
60ml sugar
60ml chutney
175ml water
60ml vinegar (I use a cheap balsamic)
30ml Worcestershire sauce
1 large onion, finely chopped
Pinch salt to taste
Little oil

Ready for the oven
  • Pan fry the chicken portions until they are browned on all sides.
  • Place in a casserole dish.
  • Mix all remaining ingredients and spoon over the chicken.
  • Cover (use foil if your dish doesn't have a lid) and bake at 190C for 90-120 minutes. If you'd like to brown the chicken on top, as I have done in the picture above, uncover for the last 20 minutes or so.
  • If necessary, you can thicken the sauce using a little cornflour.

I serve this with rice and vegetables, but you go right ahead and find your own accompaniments.

Thursday, 27 January 2011

Marmalade rusks

I have previously explained about the South African concept of rusks, so I won't go over that again. Please don't be put off by the fact that these rusks contain marmalade if you're not a fan. Neither are any of the menfolk in my family, but they love these rusks and find the marmalade-y bits best of all.

This recipe was torn out of a magazine in 1995, and has been used many times since then. At one point, I even took orders for these from the local home industry outlet. Give them a go. You will need a large mixing bowl.

Oven temperature
180C then low (about 80-100C)

1kg (7 cups) self raising flour
5ml salt
3ml bicarbonate of soda
2ml cream of tartar
250ml sugar
250g butter or marg (I always use butter)
100ml (about 130g) rough cut marmalade (the kind with big pieces in it)
2 extra large eggs (I used 3 medium)
250ml buttermilk

    Like Granny used to do...
    • Melt the butter/marg over a low heat (or in the microwave, at about 50% power). 
    • Sift together flour, salt, bicarb and cream of tartar in a large bowl.
    • Add sugar.
    • Beat together the melted butter, marmalage, eggs and buttermilk in a separate bowl.
    • Make a well in the centre of the dry ingredients, and stir in the buttermilk mixture.
    • Stir in, and then knead (with your hands, like your granny used to do) into a soft dough.
    Ready for the oven
    • Roll into golf ball size balls and place in loaf tin (I only have one, so I used a cake pan as well, with no ill effect).
    • Bake at 180C for about 50-60 minutes until baked through (test with skewer).
    • Remove from oven. Leave to cool slightly, then break/cut apart. At this stage, you have what the Afrikaners call mosbolletjies, and you could eat them just like this. In fact, my sons prefer them this way. However, if you want to move on to full-blown rusks... 
    • Dry at 80-100C until crisp right through (about 6 hours or so). I place the cooling racks straight into the oven, because you need to have air circulating on all sides of the rusks (so no baking trays).
    • Dunk in coffee to enjoy.

    The recipe in the magazine said it makes 20-25, but I made double that, so go figure.

    Wednesday, 26 January 2011

    'Spanish' rice

    This is one of many recipes given to me during the early years of my marriage by one of the older ladies in the church. I wish I could remember who it was, but I can only narrow it down to handful of likely candidates. It's probably not an authentic Spanish recipe, but I'll stick with that, since it's what it was called when it was given to me. Apologies to any Spaniards.

    With a wry smile, I realise that I am now one of those 'older ladies' passing on my recipes...

    Oven temperature

    500g minced beef
    125g bacon, diced
    250ml raw rice
    4 medium tomatoes, chopped
    1 green bell pepper, chopped
    2 medium onions, chopped
    Garlic to taste, chopped
    1/2 beef stock cube (or your preferred equivalent)
    salt and pepper to taste
    5ml mixed herbs
    125ml tomato sauce (ketchup)
    750ml boiling water
    A little oil (about 15ml)

    Serve with a dollop of sour cream
    • Fry the onions and garlic in oil over medium heat until softened. 
    • Add bacon and fry lightly until almost done. 
    • Stir in rice.
    • Add mince and stir until browned and crumbly.
    • Add tomatoes and green pepper.Stir until softened.
    • Season with herbs, stock, tomato sauce and seasoning.
    • Place in casserole dish and pour on boiling water.
    • Cover and bake in the oven for about 20 minutes.
    • Uncover, stir and bake for a further 20 minutes or until the liquid has mostly been absorbed.
    • Serve with a dollop of sour cream (optional) and perhaps a leafy green salad.

    If you double this recipe, don't double the water - increase it by only half (1125ml/1.125l)

    Tuesday, 25 January 2011

    Wendy Wilson's banana, carrot and nut cake

     And so yesterday you met the Kitchen Crusader. She will be guest blogging here from time to time. I hope that you will feel encouraged to swing by her blog and try some of her recipes. She is a far more creative cook than I am! She also (and this is important) eats tomatoes. I don't, so without her input, there would be a paucity of tomato recipes on this blog. Not that she will be sharing only tomato recipes here, I hasten to add. Next week's recipe is something completely different, and one I can't wait to try myself!

    Banana, carrot and nut cake
    This recipe came from about the same period as the banana loaf recipe, but it comes from a different Wendy. I gather that she is no longer a Wilson, but she was when she gave me the recipe, so we'll stick with that. Wendy' speciality was cakes. She baked magnificent cakes and generously shared her recipes with all comers. I am about to share one of them with you. Apologies for the 'hotspot' in the photo - my photography skills need work (I also need a better camera, but hey ho).

    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 chopped nuts

    375ml icing sugar
    15ml butter
    15ml cream cheese
    Plain yoghurt
    Little lemon juice

    • 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 at 160C for about an hour. Check from time to time with a skewer.
    • Allow to cool on a rack. Don't ice it until it has cooled down completely.

    The icing should gently run over the edge
    • Mix a little icing sugar with the butter and cream cheese until creamed.
    • Alternate adding more icing sugar and yoghurt and a few drops of lemon juice until the mixture is just stiff enough to run over the edge of the cake when poured on top.
    • Pour gently and slowly onto top centre of the cake.

    Monday, 24 January 2011

    Attack of the Kitchen Crusader Part One: Roast Tomato Pasta

    Who is this Kitchen Crusader? you ask yourself.
    Where does she get off imposing herself all over and up in Karyn's blog on Kitchens (that's what it's about right?)?
    Why does she talk about herself in the third person?
    Why is this an "attack"? That sounds dangerous and I didn't bring my mace spray.
    Is she actually made out of a kitchen and goes on crusades, or does she go on crusades for kitchens (whose opinions don't really get listened to very often, when you think about it)?
    What am I going to make for dinner tonight?

    Hey! What's with all the questions, blog reader?
    Also, boy do you jump from thought to though mighty fast. Maybe you should get that checked. It might be a sign of anaphylaxis or something else serious and medical that I know the name of, like hypothermia.
    That's right, blog reading friend, I, The Kitchen Crusader, know stuff about medical conditions and other things of great intellectual wordiness. Logically, you should therefore trust everything I say and try every recipe I produce. Logic doesn't lie.

    As a side note, I might be able to help you with that question about what you can make for dinner tonight. Good food doesn't have to be fancy or expensive or time consuming. Because some of us have jobs and some of us have after-work sport and some of us have mortgages and some of us have electricity bills to pay and some of us don't have foie gras or essence of Amazonian mung bean in our fridges on a regular basis and some of us have boyfriends who bother us by wanting to take us out dates and get involved in other, trivial, girlfriend duties (and some of us don't know how to use full stops or commas either, apparently). And some of us, have all of these things. Incidentally enough, I have all of those things. I know, I'm a martyr. But really, hold your applause, I can't hear you, your monitor is in the way. And even if you don't have the incredible level of time/monetary/lack of food-fanciness commitments I have surely you believe cooking should be simple and fun, rather than painful and long-winded.

    It can be hard to know what to do with some of the random stuff in your fridge, or you might have something that simply has to be consumed or used TODAY or it might actually consume you. No really.
    That's where I come in, see I am a culinary action hero. Most superheroes have massive muscles and save people from burning buildings and natural disasters.
    I save people from culinary catastrophes and desperation.
    Examples of culinary catastrophes and desperation that I may or may not have saved people from to justify my argument:

    See, super hero, I'm similar to those "saving people from burning buildings guys" but in an entirely different kind of way.
    Also: if you just turned to the person sitting next to you, or near you, or if you just emailed someone and said, gee this Kitchen Crusader is lazy, she just used the same image four times and changed the words in it, then grab some empathy, Bucko, have you ever tried to make barely-decent-cartoons-in-microsoft-paint-on-a-lap-top-without-a-mouse? If you had, maybe you wouldn't be so judgmental. Also, I have a bruise on my knee, how do you feel now? You just judged an injured person. Also, sorry about the hyphens just then, they got a bit out of hand.

    Anyway, onto that dinner idea I was talking about earlier.

    This little, simple, super tasty roasted tomato pasta has been a favourite of mine for a while now. It requires very little preparation time and while the tomatoes are roasting you can do whatever else you want (as long as you're still in the house) because they don't need CONSTANT VIGILANCE and ATTENTION. This is the recipe I bust out when I have a stack of tomatoes that need to be used right then and there (or all they'll be good for is the bin). Also, it can be made out of little more than a tin of tomatoes. Consequently it's a massively cheap recipe, but still tastes like something special. Great for a cheap meal when people come over, or when your pantry is practically bare. Seriously, try this. I know you'll enjoy it and what have you got to lose? A can of tomatoes? Oh my.

    Roasted Tomato Pasta
    Serves 2
    You need:
    4-6 fresh tomatoes or 1 can of diced tomatoes
    2 tbsp of olive oil, or butter, plus some extra olive oil for drizzling
    2 cloves of garlic, chopped
    1 tsp sugar
    Salt and pepper for seasoning
    300g pasta of your choice
    Grated parmesan to serve
    Optional extras (add any or all of the following to change things up a bit)
    ¼ cup of kalamata olives – chopped or whole (stir through right before serving)
    4 shredded basil leaves (sprinkled over the top of the pasta when served)
    Some slices of mozzarella, bocconcini or crumbled fetta ( mixed through just before serving)
    1 small red capsicum, cut into small pieces (and roasted with the tomatoes)
    Preheat the oven to 200C.
    Chop the tomatoes into chunks of about 2 cm x 2cm. Chuck them into a small baking dish (they need to be on top of each other, rather than spaced out) with the garlic, sugar, a good pinch of salt and some cracked pepper.
    Roast the tomatoes in the oven for 30 minutes. The edges of the tomatoes should be quite brown, the roasting will have a carmelising effect. Turn the oven off, but leave the tomatoes in the oven, while you cook the pasta.
    Cook the pasta according to the instructions on the packet. Drain it, then stir all the contents from the tomato roasting dish through.
    Serve up, drizzle a little olive oil over the top, then grate parmesan over the top.

    And, incidentally, if for some bizarre reason you want to read more of this inane babble and see some more diabolically bad Microsoft paint skills... and maybe get some recipes, check out my blog.

    Saturday, 22 January 2011

    Wendy Santilhano's banana loaf

    So you bought a bunch of bananas, and nobody ate the flipping things. Now they look a bit like this and you're thinking of tossing them out.

    Don't throw them out!

    Apart from being perfect for this recipe, overripe bananas make by far the best smoothies! Or you could use them in a banoffee pie. Let me know if you need help with either of those two things.

    This recipe was given to me in about 1988 by a friend (whose name, as you have probably gathered, is Wendy Santilhano). When I met Wendy, she was working at a university and taking flying lessons. Today, she is one of a very small (but growing) number of female commercial pilots, and flies for South African Airways.

    I haven't seen Wendy in years, although we are Facebook friends. I do remember her as a person who loved to cook. And her banana loaf was deservedly held in high regard. I use her recipe whenever I have bananas like the ones in the picture.

    And yes, before you ask: yes, that is my coffee mug in the picture at the top of this post. With good reason.

    Oven temperature

    45ml butter or marg (I always use butter)
    250ml sugar
    125ml milk
    4-6 over-ripe bananas, well mashed (or lightly 'zhoozhed' in a blender, if you have one)
    500ml plain (cake) flour
    5ml bicarbonate of soda
    2 eggs
    2.5ml vanilla extract
    pinch salt

    • Sift the flour, bicarb, baking powder and salt into a bowl
    • In a larger bowl, beat the marg/butter and sugar together until creamed
    • Add the dry ingredients and the eggs. Beat.
    • Add milk, bananas and vanilla. Beat well.
    • Pour into greased loaf pan and bake for about an hour (test with a skewer - the more bananas you've used the longer it will take to bake)
    • Carefully turn out onto a cooling rack and try to wait until it has cooked before eating it.

    Try to wait until it has cooled down....
    You can eat this plain or with butter. It also makes a great dessert with custard.

    And just one last little point. Have you ever written on the peel of a banana with a ballpoint pen (biro)? Give it a try. You won't be sorry.  

    Friday, 21 January 2011

    Fridge fallout

    For years, I have not had to deal with leftovers. I have sons. Teenage sons. Any chicken left on the carcass after a roast dinner would mysteriously disappear a couple of hours later. On the odd occasion I found myself faced with a bit of leftover soup or stew, it was easy to deal with: you just freeze it as a single portion meal for an occasion when someone is home alone of an evening, or when a teenager gets the munchies and begins to forage.
    Fridge fallout 1

    But, with one son taking a gap year on the other side of the planet, and the other regularly eating with his girlfriend's family, I find I keep misjudging things. So, last night, we had what my Mom calls 'fridge fallout'.

    I took the leftover chilli con carne from Tuesday, and served it with a baked potato, the leftover salad and a dollop of sour cream. That was me sorted.

    Fridge fallout 2
    For John, I took the leftover fish pie from Wednesday night and mashed it up with an egg. I then created 'patties' with the mixture, which I floured and popped into the frying pan over a medium heat with the merest smidge of hot olive oil. Browned on both sides and served with veg. Of course, I had to test it, to see that it was okay. It was.

    Okay, so it it doesn't make for a mouth-watering photograph, but everyday food is everyday food. I'll leave the brilliant styling to the professionals. You and I will focus on food we can serve up to the family. How's that?

    Oh, and I do apologise for the sideways photos - the new Blogger editor insists on turning them that way, and then doesn't allow me to rotate them. :o(

    A quick word about the vegetables you see on John's plate. I am not much of a one for frozen vegetables - most of them have a weird texture. I far prefer to use fresh ones. However, my freezer always contains at least one bag each of the following: petits pois, sweetcorn, and soya (edamame) beans. I usually prepare them as a combo, as you see in the picture. And this is how I avoid that overcooked, watery taste:

    Method 1 - steaming
    Add no more than 1 litre of cold water to the bottom section of the steamer saucepan (if you haven't got one of those, a 20cm saucepan and a metal colander will do just fine). Place the required quantity of the chosen vegetable(s) in the top layer of the steamer saucepan. No salt. Honest. You don't need it. Assemble the steamer saucepan and cover with the lid (if you're using the saucepan and colander Heath Robinson affair, just pop the saucepan lid over the veg in the colander). Choose a hob plate that is roughly the same size as the base of the saucepan - this is the most economical and eco-friendly option. Set the heat to high and bring the water to the boil. Oncethat happens, you're almost there. Check the veg from time to time. You know that they're done when the peas seem to shrivel or shrink back on themselves as soon as you lift the lid. Don't cook them for a moment longer than that.

    Method 2 - boiling
    Add the required quantity of vegetables to the smallest possible saucepan. Add enough cold water to just cover the veg. No salt. Really. None. Place on a hob plate the same size as the base of the saucepan on a high heat. Bring to the boil. Remove immediately, drain and eat.

    A note about soya beans:
    I used to be able to buy soya beans just about anywhere, but now only Waitrose keeps them. They're obviously considered a bit 'posh' for some reason. If you haven't tried them, I encourage you to do so. They are very nutritious and tayyyy-steeeee. If you'd like to try them somewhere else before buying them, you can get them as a side dish from Wagamama (where they call them edamame beans). As my husband says: "They're like sweeties!"

    Thursday, 20 January 2011

    Robyn's health rusks

    This recipe was given to me many years ago by my sister, Robyn.

    In the UK, the word 'rusk' tends to conjure up images of an oversized tea biscuit given to teething babies. In South Africa, a rusk is an altogether different thing, enjoyed with (and dunked in) coffee.

    During my teens, my extended family often went en masse on holiday to the Drakensburg mountains during the winter, and I have fond memories of rusks with coffee for breakfast on those freezing (no central heating in South Africa) mornings before heading off on a hike. If you really want to be decadent, you sweeten the coffee with condensed milk. Now that really takes me back!

    Perhaps it would be best for non-South Africans to relate to these rusks more in the way they would relate to biscotti. In fact, the Afrikaans word for rusk is 'beskuit', so there is probably some shared heritage somewhere along the line.

    Apparently the origin of the word 'biscuit/biscotti' (which, strictly speaking, is what 'beskuit' means, although it isn't quite that straightforward in practice) means 'twice baked'. That perfectly describes how rusks are prepared. I have to warn you of a few things:
    • First off, this particular recipe is very high in fibre and will have exactly the effect that you expect that would have on your digestive system - especially if you eat too many of them, which is all too easily done. In that sense, they could be considered 'health rusks'. Hence the name.
    • Second, the last part of the baking process might prick your conscience in terms of carbon footprint. So you might want to do something to compensate.
    • Thirdly, you are going to have to get your hands dirty, okay? This is not a recipe for a cook who goes "Eeewww!" In fact, it's probably a great recipe to make with your kids!
    Oven temperature
    160C and then 'low' (about 80-100C)

    The ingredients in the original recipe are very much South African, and it references flour types that don't exist in the UK. So I will give the recipe in its original format and supply the UK substitutes in brackets.

    8 cups nutty wheat (I used granary flour)
    4 cups cake flour (plain flour)
    2 cups sugar
    1 cup bran (I struggled to find this so went with oat bran, but you might have more success)
    4 tablespoons baking powder
    500ml buttermilk (see note below)
    250ml natural yoghurt
    50ml cooking oil (I used canola)
    500g margarine/butter (I always use butter)
    1 teaspoon salt

    • Melt butter and sugar together
    • Add all dry ingredients and mix well. Forget your electric beater - you will just burn out the motor. And you would probably snap your wooden spoon. So just wash your hands really well, roll up your sleeves and do it the way your granny would.
    • Add buttermilk, yoghurt and oil and mix through thoroughly. This will be when it gets really messy, but I still recommend your hands.
    • Press into a greased oven pan (you know - the one that came with the oven in the first place?). This recipe is enough for two oven pans full.
    • Bake at 160C for about 45 minutes (adjust as appropriate for fan assisted ovens)
    • Remove from the oven (and reduce the temperature to about 80-100C)
    • Cut into slices about 2.5cmX10cm or so (use your own judgement - what size rusks do you want?) and turn out onto metal cooling racks
    • Dry in the oven for about 4-6 hours (or even overnight) until they are crisp right through. For this, I actually put the cooling racks straight into the oven. Avoid placing the rusks onto a solid base like a baking sheet. They need air from all sides. I actually prop the oven door slightly open during this process (this is where the carbon footprint bit comes in) by wedging an oven glove in one side.
    • Enjoy with coffee. Even in the politest society, it is entirely acceptable to dunk a rusk.
    It is quite tricky getting hold of buttermilk in the UK these days. In some of the bigger towns, the major supermarkets seem to stock it. But in my small town, the only supermarket that does so is Waitrose. However, I discovered that Elmlea single is 85% buttermilk. And that can be found just about anywhere. So, if you can't get buttermilk, give that a whirl.

    Wednesday, 19 January 2011

    Easy fish pie

    My mother will only eat white fish fried in batter, and can't bring herself to handle raw fish. So I never had any exposure to fish during my childhood (later edit: I lied - I ate fish fingers!). I developed the idea that it was something 'other' - something ordinary families didn't cook.

    Then I only went and married a descendant of Scandinavian fisherfolk! My husband's beloved grandfather had a fishing boat and earned his keep catching and selling fish (including shellfish). My mother in law will eat pretty much anything that swims in the sea, and would know exactly how to prepare it before doing so. This is somewhat intimidating.

    I am still pretty poor with fish, I have to say. The fact that my younger son doesn't enjoy it much possibly has something to do with that, too. But I have added a few fish dishes to my repertoire. This one is probably the easiest of the lot.... and it has the stamp of approval from my fish-resistant younger son, so it must be good!

    I haven't used exact quantities, because it's very flexible, but hopefully you'll get the idea and maybe, just maybe, you'll turn out to be the person who was brave enough to try a fish dish for the very first time, using this recipe.

    Many fishmongers in the UK prepare what they call 'fish pie mix'. It contains bite-sized pieces of white fish, smoked haddock and salmon. If you are able to get your hands on that, go for it. If not, just buy a few single portions of different types of fish fillets and chop them up together.

    Oven temperature

    About 100g of fish per person, cut into bite-sized pieces
    About 1 large-ish potato per person, peeled and cubed
    Mature Cheddar cheese
    Salt to taste

    • Using the potatoes, some milk and a little butter (and salt to taste), make a soft mash (I realise I am assuming you know how to do this. If you don't please let me know in the comments, and I will explain)
    • Steam the fish until it flakes easily with a fork. This takes a matter of minutes. I have a microwave steamer which does the trick. But you could a steamer pot, or even a metal colander on top of a saucepan of boiling water (don't forget to cover the fish).
    • Using some of the butter, milk and cornflour, make a white sauce (once again, let me know if you don't know how to do this). You will need about 125ml per person.
    • Mash the fish up in the bottom of an ovenproof dish and then mix in the white sauce.
    • Cover the mixture with mashed potato. Work gently, or you will have fish mixture squooshing up through the mash. If you want to make patterns on top with a fork, you go right ahead.
    • Sprinkle with the grated cheese and a little paprika.
    • Bake in the oven for about 15 minutes.
    • Pop under the grill for a few minutes to brown the topping if necessary.
    Serve with vegetables. Since the dish isn't very colourful, go for boldly coloured things like broccoli and carrots to add interest to the plate.

    • You could try adding a bit of mustard or a pinch of mustard seeds to the white sauce
    • Alternatively, add some chopped fresh parsley (I love it, but my husband doesn't like it) or dill (which my husband loves... how very Swedish of him!)
    • Experiment with different combinations of fish. I like the blend of salmon with the smokey taste of the haddock and then a little white fish to balance it out, but you might like to try something a little different like mackerel or tiny shrimps.

    Tuesday, 18 January 2011

    Chilli con carne

    I had never tried chilli con carne before I met my husband, but his mother used to make it regularly. I developed my own version of the recipe over the years. No doubt, it contains ingredients 'proper' chilli con carne shouldn't, and omits things 'proper' chilli con carne should include, but that's the whole beauty of cooking... you can adapt things to your liking!

    The one ingredient that might take you by surprise is the chocolate. But in fact, that is an absolutely genuine Mexican thing to do. And, if you've never tried it, now's your chance. I use a chocolate shaving stick (from Hotel Chocolat) but, in keeping with my promise not to make you dash out and buy an ingredient you'll never use up, you could opt to use ordinary dark chocolate. Go with the highest cocoa percentage you can find.

    500g lean minced beef
    1 onion, finely chopped
    2 tomatoes, chopped
    15-30ml tomato paste
    1 cup dried red kidney beans
    125ml cheap red wine
    Chopped red and/or green chillies to taste (I only use one)
    5ml grated chocolate stick and 5ml sugar OR 2 squares of dark chocolate
    1 star aniseed
    Pinch salt to taste

    • Rinse and soak the beans for a few hours (or cheat and use canned ones)
    • Lightly fry the mince and onion (I don't use oil, but you might like to add a smidge) until the mince is brown and the onions translucent
    • Stir in the chopped tomatoes and the spices and salt
    • When the tomatoes have started to soften, add the tomato paste, wine and beans
    • Add enough water to cover the mixture - remember the beans will absorb water
    • Cover and simmer until the beans have softened (about 30 minutes in a pressure cooker). If the mixture still contains a lot of water at this point, let it simmer uncovered for a while
    • Serve with white rice, topped with a splodge of soured cream and a salad. A sprinkle of paprika (or cocoa) over the soured cream looks good.
    This also works with corn bread or a baked potato. And leftovers can work as a sandwich filling.

    If you have kids who won't eat vegetables, try finely grating a couple of carrots into the mince during cooking (you can do this with any mince dish, including bobotie). They'll never even notice! Obviously, if you're cooking for young children, you need to consider the chilli levels!

    It's worth noting that fussy eaters often readily eat meals they have prepared themselves, even when these contain ingredients they refuse to eat otherwise. There is a school of thought that being a fussy eater can be about exerting control, and in being allowed to prepare the meal, the child has already exercised control. It's worth a shot!

    Monday, 17 January 2011

    Cooking with your kids

    One of my Facebook friends asked for simple recipes to prepare with her children. I suggested that she give the 'quick and plenty' recipe a go, but (as I advised her) kids can manage a lot more than people give them credit for.

    When my younger son was three years old, he and a friend appeared twice in a magazine column about cooking with kids. You can see them in the picture above. And they didn't arrange slices of fruit to look like a face, either. They made cheesy scalloped potatoes and a pear custard tart.

    As a way of keeping my kids from acting up during the weekly grocery shopping trip when they were little, I gave them each a £5 budget with which they had to buy the ingredients for a meal for the four of us. They could ask for as much advice and help as they liked. It was interesting to see how they prepared and planned for their meals, and how they worked out their budget. This was an integral part of the process and it involved all manner of very important learning skills.

    Then they each had to take charge of the kitchen one evening as we prepared that meal. I did all the 'hot work and sharp work', but they got to call the shots. Of course, I offered guidance and so on, but it was their opportunity to be creative and experimental. They tried things I would never have combined, and some results worked better than others. But there is nothing to compare with their sense of accomplishment as the family sat down to a meal they had prepared.

    There are two key pieces of advice I would give if you want to start involving your children in the kitchen:
    1. There will be mess. Lots of mess. Accept that and deal with it...afterwards
    2. They won't do things as quickly or as well as you could. Get over it. Don't be tempted to take over from them. They will learn far more from doing it imperfectly themselves than from watching you do it brilliantly.
    Have you ever noticed how the kids of competent cooks are very seldom any good in the kitchen? I have come to the conclusion that it is because those competent cooks find it very hard to let their kids loose in their kitchens to make a mess of both the kitchen and the recipe.

    Saturday, 15 January 2011

    Almond crunch

    This recipe came from my mother-in-law. I make several batches of it every year to use as Christmas gifts, and often take it as a gift for the hosts when we are invited to someone's home for dinner. It makes a pleasant change from a bottle of wine or a bunch of chrisanths.

    The recipe is for a single batch. I usually make a double batch at a time.

    250ml blanched, flaked almonds (not the toasted kind)
    125ml sugar
    30ml butter
    2.5ml vanilla extract

    Before you start, it's a good idea to spread a sheet of foil/baking parchment on the counter - you will need this later
    • Heat the sugar, butter and almonds in a heavy based skillet/frying pan over a medium heat
    • Stir constantly until sugar is golden and almonds are toasted
    • Remove from heat and stir in the vanilla
    • Spread onto a sheet of foil/baking parchment
    • Sprinkle with salt to taste
    • Leave to cool
    • Break into clusters

    Friday, 14 January 2011

    Quick and plenty teatime biscuits

    This recipe has been a family favourite since before we even were a family. Way back when, when my husband and I were newly married, our church put together a collection of recipes donated by the members of the congregation. This one came from a lady called Linda Fugard. If you happen to know her, please tell her that her recipe is now enjoying online exposure!

    As you can see from the picture, the word 'biscuit' in the UK and South Africa is not the same as the American understanding of the word. These are lovely, crisp little sweet snacks to go with a cup of tea or coffee. I guess, at a push, Americans might call them cookies, but they have a totally different texture from what tends to pass for cookies in the US.

    Be all that as it may, be warned, these are very more-ish! Fortunately, the recipe makes close to 200 little biscuits. It works brilliantly with a biscuit maker/cookie gun, but you can manage without one (see note below).

    250ml icing sugar
    250ml castor sugar
    250g butter or margarine
    250ml vegetable oil (I use sunflower, but canola would probably work just as well)
    2 eggs
    1,250ml (5 cups) flour
    5ml bicarbonate of soda
    5ml cream of tartar
    5ml vanilla extract (or essence - I prefer extract)
    Pinch salt

    • Beat together the sugars, butter/marg and oil
    • Add eggs and vanilla and beat well
    • Add dry ingredients and mix well to form a soft dough
    • Place dough into cookie gun and form into shapes on baking trays (you should be able to refill the standard sized gun about five times) and bake at 180C for about 10-12 minutes (7-8 minutes in a fan assisted oven). Remember that biscuits don't become crisp during baking. This only happens during cooling afterwards.
    • Cool on a rack before storing in an airtight container
    If you don't have a cookie gun, you can place teaspoon sized balls, evenly spaced on a baking tray, then flatten these with a wet fork. Alternatively, you could roll the dough into a sausage shape, chill it and slice it thinly. I have tried both of these and they work, but they are more time-consuming than the gun option.

    You might also like to decorate the biscuits once you've got the shapes ready to bake. Sprinkles, nuts, choc bits, etc. are fine - just experiment until you find something you like. For Christmas last year, I baked a few batches using the Christmas tree shaped template and then added a little silver ball where the star would be at the top of the tree. Of course, this is also time consuming, so I usually don't go to such great lengths.

    Thursday, 13 January 2011

    Lazy beef stirfry with a Thai-ish twist

    There are many things I love about stirfry. But chief among them are:
    • They're very quick and easy (if you cheat)
    • They make a small amount of meat go a long way (a single steak can feed the whole family)
    • They taste great!
    There isn't really a 'recipe' this time. Just a few guidelines.

    Oh, and you don't have to have a wok. A frying pan works, too. The only wok I've ever owned gave everything a revolting metallic taste, so I went back to using my very large, bog standard non-stick frying pan.

    Meat - you can use just about any meat at all in a stifry - just slice is up finely
    Vegetables - you can also use a wide range of vegetables. To be honest, I tend to be lazy. My local supermarket sells pre-juliened packs of ready-mixed stirfry vegetables. But, if I'm doing it properly, my vegetables might include:
    mushrooms - thinly sliced
    onions - finely sliced (red ones add great colour)
    carrots - cut into matchsticks (thank goodness for slicing gadgets!)
    cabbage (or pak choi or bok choi if you're feeling posh) - thinly sliced
    bell peppers - thinly sliced
    whole bean sprouts
    bamboo shoots - straight out the can
    water chestnuts - also from a can, but thinly sliced
    you could also add pineapple - finely chopped (but I have a son who loathes the stuff)
    mange tout - whole
    baby corn cobs - whole or broken up into pieces

    I start by frying the meat over a medium high heat in a tiny bit of oil until it is browned. I might liberally sprinkle it with 'Thai seven spice' which I have seen at most major supermarkets in the UK. I then add the vegetables all willy-nilly-ish, and keep stirring and turning them over until they soften up a bit. It is important not to overdo the veg, and there should be a slight crunch left in them.

    This is when I add the final touch, which makes all the difference. The 'sauce'. I mix together a generous teaspoon of chopped ginger, lemongrass, sweet chilli sauce, the juice of half a lime, a dash of soy sauce, the grated zest of the lime, and a little water, and stir this into the meat and veg for a minute or two, until it has been even spread through the whole thing. Because I do this often, I have taken to buying the bottles of 'very lazy' ginger and lemongrass. As a final flourish, I chop up fresh coriander leaves and sprinkle them over the top.

    Serve with noodles.

    Start to finish with all the lazy shortcuts, it takes about 10 minutes. No kidding.

    Wednesday, 12 January 2011

    Bacon and bean soup

    Since I promised to do a soup that doesn't require a blender, I thought I'd better get right on it. We had this for supper last night.

    First a note about bacon. If you're a bacon lover, it adds a delicious something extra to a wide range of soups. And you don't always need a lot of it, either - nor do you need the expensive, aesthetically pleasing rashers. Bear in mind, though, that bacon contains a lot of salt. So if you do add some to an existing recipe on a whim, adjust the salt levels accordingly. This recipe uses no salt at all, apart from what is already in the bacon.

    I'm afraid the quantities in this recipe (as with most soups) are pretty inexact. I tend to use whatever I have in the house. I recommend you do the same.

    1 pack of bacon, chopped if you like
    1 onion, finely chopped
    2 or 3 large carrots peeled and chopped or sliced (or hacked up willy-nilly)
    250ml dried beans of your choice (see note about beans below)
    250ml pearl barley
    250ml green or brown lentils
    125ml red lentils
    2 bay leaves
    1l chicken or vegetable stock

    Rinse the beans and then place them in a large bowl full of water for several hours or overnight (or see note below). Pour off the water.

    Then, hoick all the ingredients into a pressure cooker or saucepan. Make sure you add enough water, though, because the pulses will absorb a lot as they cook, and beans have a nasty tendency to stick to the bottom of the pot. This is particularly important if you're using an ordinary saucepan, because evaporation is a much bigger factor. Boil until all the pulses are soft. In my pressure cooker, this usually takes about 30 minutes at pressure.

    If you're a more considerate cook than I am, you will remove the bay leaves before serving the soup. If not, you will simply serve it with a warning to 'watch out for extraneous plant matter' (I think my kids new the meaning of the word 'extraneous' before they went to nursery school).

    You can serve with bread if you like, but I find this soup so filling, that I usually don't bother.

    About those beans
    I tend to use kidney beans, because it's what I grew up with, and because I like the colour. But, as you can see from today's picture, I might decide to try something different... or a combination of several different somethings. If you're in a hurry, you can use canned beans, but don't tell the purists I said so, okay? Opt for the 'no salt added' types. Oh, and not baked beans - just beans in water. If you're going this route, I would suggest at least two cans. Remember the '1 cup' of dried beans will turn into several cups of soaked beans, so you have to compensate.

    This can be frozen. In fact, the soup we ate last night was prepared some weeks ago and then frozen. But you can only do that once. Once you have defrosted and reheated the soup, don't be tempted to re-freeze any left overs. If you have a large quantity to freeze, try splitting it up into smaller portions that you are more likely to use up on reheating.

    Tuesday, 11 January 2011

    Butternut soup

    I am the queen of soups. Or so I like to think, anyway! But that wasn't always the case. I used to think that soups were about the scariest things imaginable to try to make. Looking back, now, I don't know what all the fuss was about - it's as easy as... in fact, considerably easier than pie.

    I love a nice warming soup on a cold winter's night, and am quite happy to have it as a meal, not just a starter. Although, as a concession to the hefty appetites of my sons, soup for main course always means that there will be dessert.

    Unusually for England, I have no qualms about inviting people over for 'soup and rolls'. Granted, these evenings usually involve a choice of three soups, fresh baked rolls, dessert, a few games of Ch√ľngel, a lot of chatter, and almost as much laughter, but dinner invitations in the UK usually involve rather more upscale fare.

    As you can see, the picture accompanying this post is well over three years old. It was taken when my elder son was studying food technology at school and chose to make this dish for one of his practicals. Perhaps the fact that it was made single-handedly by a teenage boy will embolden you to try it, even if you've never made a soup in your life.

    One small inconvenience about this recipe is that it works best if you have a blender. But I promise to share other recipes that don't need extraneous electrical equipment.

    1 large butternut squash
    1 or 2 onions (this is a taste issue - why not experiment until you get the balance you prefer?)
    Chicken and/or vegetable stock - enough to cover the vegetables when peeled and chopped
    Coriander leaves
    Plain pouring yoghurt
    Mild curry powder

    • Peel, de-seed and cube the butternut into chunks of about 2.5cm
    • Finely chop the onion
    • Pop all of these into a saucepan/pressure cooker and cover with stock
    • Add about 5-10mls of salt (see note below)
    • Boil until the butternut is very soft and the onions absolutely done.
    • Finely chop about a loose handful of coriander leaves and add at this point
    • Blend the mixture (including the liquid) until completely smooth - if you have a food processor type blender and have to blend the soup in shifts, this might take a while, so you might need to reheat the soup afterwards. Do this gently.
    • You might need to add liquid (water, stock, milk, cream - your choice) if the soup is too thick, but you are aiming for a fairly thick consistency, here.
    • When you serve, pour a little plain yoghurt into the centre of each bowl and give it one little swirl. It tastes great and looks attractive. Sprinkle a little mild curry powder in the centre of the swirl and add a bit more fresh, chopped coriander (and/or a sprig)
    • Serve with warm bread rolls
    • Try adding carrots and/or parsnips before cooking
    • Stir in the grated zest of an orange or a lime before blending
    A note about salt:
    These days, we are all being warned about excessive salt intake. I have a fairly light hand when it comes to salt, but I find I add more salt to soups than to anything else I make.

    Remember: It's easier to fix an undersalted dish than an oversalted one. You can always add more salt after cooking if you need to. If you oversalt, one trick is to throw a whole potato into the dish and cook it for a little longer. The potato absorbs some of the salt, but this won't work very well with a blended soup recipe like today's.

    If you are a salt lover, and you're conscious that you should try to cut down, try some of the low sodium options, or use herbs to add flavour.

    Monday, 10 January 2011

    Hasselback potatoes

    Sadly, there is no lovely family history attached to this recipe - it came out of a magazine at some point. But I'm making them tonight to go with a roast chicken (yes, on a Monday night - where is it written that I can't make a roast on a school night?), and they are seriously yummy, so I thought I'd share. They make a great alternative to roast potatoes and are considerably lower in calories and fat content.

    Potatoes - preferably the long, skinny kind (as many as you think you'll need)
    500ml stock
    200ml white wine
    Bay leaves

    Oven temperature

    • Peel the potatoes. If you weren't able to get the long skinny ones, cut them in half lengthwise.
    • Make several narrow slices into each one. In order to avoid cutting all the way through, stick a skewer through each one first, about 1cm from the bottom and cut down to that.
    • Stick a bay leaf into one cut on each potato
    • Pour stock and wine into an oven pan
    • Place the potatoes into the pan
    • Drizzle with olive oil
    • Bake for about 50 minutes, basting from time to time.
    You can add any remaining stock to your gravy.

    Sunday, 9 January 2011


    This is one of the many traditional/national dishes of South Africa. It tips its hat to various different cultural roots, particularly the Cape Malays.

    Even though I was born and raised in South Africa, I never prepared bobotie myself in all the years I lived there. Of course I had eaten it. Often. But, it was only when we moved to the UK, that I started making this dish to serve to guests. I liked the idea of introducing them to a new taste. It quickly became a signature dish of mine, and is much talked about.

    Inviting people to your home for a meal is far less a part of British culture than South African, and we were considered fairly hospitable even by South African standards. So you can imagine that we are downright unusual around these parts.

    Credit for this recipe must go to Ina de Villiers, the author of one of South Africa's best known Afrikaans cookbooks, Kook and Geniet (available in English as Cook and Enjoy It). Since Ina died in September last year, it seems fitting to include one of her recipes early on in this blog.

    1 onion, thinly sliced
    A little cooking oil (if necessary)
    800g lean minced beef
    1 thick slice bread (any type), crusts removed
    250ml milk
    2 eggs
    15ml medium strength curry powder
    15ml sugar
    5ml salt
    Pepper to taste (black or white)
    5-10ml turmeric
    Juice and grated zest of 1 lemon
    60ml flaked almonds
    125ml seedless raisins
    4 bay or lemon leaves
    45ml chutney

    Oven temperature

    • Fry onions and mince together in cooking oil (if using) until just done
    • Soak the bread in the milk. Then squeeze the milk out and mash the bread. Set the milk aside
    • Mix together all the ingredients, except 125m milk, 1 egg, almonds and the bay/lemon leaves
    • Press the mixture into an ovenproof dish. Insert the leaves, upright and evenly spaced, into the meat mixture
    • Cover with tin foil (or a lid, if your dish has one) and bake for about 20 minutes
    • Beat the remaining egg together with the 125ml milk you set aside earlier. Pour over the meat mixture. Sprinkle with flaked almonds
    • Bake uncovered for about 30 minutes until the egg 'custard' has set
    Serve with...
    Rice (ideally, South African yellow rice)
    Green beans
    Steamed or glazed pumpkin/butternut squash

    Make sure there is chutney on the table, too - no self-respecting South African would eat bobotie without it!

    Saturday, 8 January 2011

    Fruit cocktail baked dessert

    Since this was the dessert I was making at the time this blog was birthed, it only seems right that it should be the first recipe to see the light of day. If it is of any comfort, I am digesting it at this very moment.

    Hat tip to my friend Jenni Fleetwood in Cape Town who originally shared this recipe with me more than 20 years ago.


    200ml sugar
    1 tin fruit cocktail in juice/syrup (roughly 410g)
    5ml salt
    7ml vanilla extract/essence (I prefer extract)
    2 large eggs
    10ml bicarbonate of soda
    500ml cake flour

    100g butter/margarine (I always use butter, but Jenni used to use marg)
    250ml sugar
    1 tin evaporated milk (roughly 410g)

    Oven temperature


    • Beat eggs and sugar until creamy
    • Drain fruit (do not discard juice/syrup) and stir into mixture
    • Dissolve bicarb in juice/syrup and set aside
    • Sift flour and salt together and add to mixture. Blend well (preferably with a wooden spoon)
    • Add juice/syrup concoction and vanilla extract/essence
    Bake at 180C for 15 minutes (use a fairly large dish, so that the mixture is wide and shallow, or you will have trouble with the last part of the recipe
    Reduce oven temperature to 150C and bake for a further 30 minutes or until done (test with skewer)

    While the cake-y bit is baking, place butter, sugar and evaporated milk into a saucepan and gradually bring to the boil over a low heat, stirring fairly frequently.

    When the dessert has been baked, take a skewer and poke it full of holes while it is still hot. Pour the hot liquid over the dessert and leave it to stand until the liquid has been completely soaked up by the sponge.

    Serve hot or cold (I far prefer hot) with cream, custard or ice cream (or - if you have a family anything like mine - all three!).

    • I have used every conceivable canned fruit for this dessert: mangoes, tropical fruit salad, pears, peaches... today, I even used mandarin segments and it was an absolute hit.
    • I have occasionally used apples from the tree in our back garden, but you have to stew fresh fruit first, which adds to the work load.
    • I also sprinkled ground cardamom over the top today for the first time which worked well. You might try the same with cinnamon or nutmeg.