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.

Thursday, 9 June 2011

What do I do with beetroot (beets)?

Welcome to the first in my new series, "What do I do with...?"

I have discovered that a great many accomplished people are at a loss as to how to prepare fresh ingredients, and I thought I'd have a go at doing something about that. I decided to start with beetroot because it is so versatile and because it falls somewhere between the everyday things like carrots and cabbage and the 'outlandish' things like fennel and edamame beans.

It is not my intention to provide an exhaustive list in each instance, and I won't always supply links to recipes. But at least you will have a few ideas to set you off on a Google quest.

If you have any special requests, please let me know.

Back to beetroot.

You may not know this, but you can eat beetroot raw.
  • Peeled and grated into a fresh salad, it adds colour, interest, texture... and vitamins!
  • There are also some delicious cake recipes that call for raw beetroot

If you're going to boil a beetroot, don't peel it, but cut the stems off about an inch away from the veg itself, this prevents too much of the colour from leeching away during cooking. Boil for about as long as you would a potato of similar size. When you can insert and remove a sharp knife without too much hassle, it's done. Now you can peel it and do any of a number of things with it.
  • You could serve it hot as a vegetable with your main meal
  • You could chop it up and use it in a risotto
  • You could wait for it to cool down and slice or shop it up into a salad
  • You could slice it and pickle it
  • On the other hand, there are also cake recipes that call for cooked beetroot
One of my favourite things to do with beetroot is to roast it along with other veg. Peel and quarter the raw beetroot and roast it in the oven, just as you would a potato. It takes a little longer, though, so test it with a sharp knife for readiness. You can also sprinkle cumin, fennel, coriander or caraway seeds over it before roasting. Yum!

So, off you go, now and experiment with this delicious, nutritious vegetable. I should just warn you though, that the colour erm... "goes straight through you" (as my mother-in-law puts it) so you might notice evidence of it on your subsequent visit to the loo (bathroom) for a day or so. Do not panic.

Later edit:
Doh! And I completely forgot to mention that you can use it to make borscht (traditional Russian soup)!

Wednesday, 8 June 2011

English summer pudding

This is an English tradition that was taught to me shortly after I arrived in the UK, by my friend Joan (she of the overnight salad fame here and here). I heard people talking about 'summer pudding' and assumed that it was a generic term for a dessert suitable for the summer time. Joan disabused me, even though she doesn't eat the dessert herself because she can't abide the thought of 'wet bread'.

750g (or just loads) of summer berries (fresh or frozen)
125ml water
White bread, slightly stale, sliced and crusts removed
Caster sugar (or alternative sweetener)

  • Wash your berries (if using fresh) and bung them all in a saucepan with the water over a low heat. Smoosh them just a little to release a bit of juice, but not a lot - you still want whole berries.
  • Sweeten to taste with the sugar (or alternative).
  • Drain the fruit, but don't dispose of the juice just yet.
  • Line a pudding bowl with clingfilm - this is profanity inducing, but I find it necessary.
  • Dip a slice of bread into the juice and then use it to line the bottom of the bowl. Repeat with further slices, lining the entire bowl, leaving no gaps.
  • Spoon in the fruit. The bowl should be full when you're done.
  • Add just a little of the juice, and then cover the whole thing with more soaked bread.
  • Cover the pudding with a side plate (concave side up) and place a can of baked beans (or something) on top to weigh it down.
  • Leave in a cool place for at least 24 hours.
  • Remove the side plate, and turn the pudding out on a serving plate (see note below).
  • Serve with creme fraiche, fromage frais or (if you must) clotted cream.
Turning out a dessert is easier than you might think. Place the serving plate over the the bowl and, holding it in place with both hands, flip the whole thing over. Gently and slowly remove the pudding bowl and peel away the clingfilm. If you don't use clingfilm, you may find that the pudding sticks a little and the bread tears a bit as you lift away the bowl. It will still taste just as good, so never fear, but presentation may be impacted. Not a problem if it's just the family, of course! Mine would neither notice nor care.

Tuesday, 7 June 2011

Cabbage bredie

'Bredie' is roughly the Afrikaans word for stew, but somehow there is a different nuance to it. Maybe that's just my imagination, though, with my dual heritage.

I cook mine in a pressure cooker. If you don't have one, you will need to watch those fluid levels and add more if necessary. You need to know something about cabbage: it is so full of flavour that when it is such a dominant ingredient in a stew, you need very little by way of seasoning. Honest. Try it yourself.

1 whole cabbage, chopped
1 large onion, chopped
700g stewing beef or lamb, cubed
3 carrots, peeled and sliced (my 'slices' are always very large, because that's the way my husband prefers them - carrots are his favourite part of any stew)
45ml tomato puree
Salt to taste (I add none at all)
5ml caraway seeds
250ml stock
A little oil

  • In a large saucepan/pressure cooker, saute the onions in a little oil until they become soft and translucent.
  • Add the caraway seeds and the meat. Saute until the meat is browned on all sides.
  • Add the entire cabbage, carrots, tomato puree and stock.
  • If you're using a pressure cooker, close it, bring it to pressure and cook for 20 minutes. If you're not, cover, bring to the boil, reduce the heat and simmer gently for about 2 hours, checking the liquid level every now and then so that it doesn't dry out and burn.
  • Serve with rice, polenta (which is what you can see in my photo above) or quinoa. Alternatively, you can add potatoes into the stew and then serve it without the additional starch.

Monday, 6 June 2011

Themed children's parties: baskets

Today's post addresses another item from the picture above (which is a scan of an old print, so please pardon the quality). In the centre, at the back you can see a collection of little baskets. This is how I made them.

Cut the tops off
Ice cream cornets - the wafer kind, not the sugar kind.
Some kind of 'laces' - liquorice shoelaces are ideal, but they might not exist where you are. Those dreadfully sour lace things would probably suffice.
Thin, flat round biscuits like Marie biscuits.
Icing sugar.
Green food colouring.
Sweeties to put into your finished baskets.


  1. Carefully cut the tops off the ice cream cones, so that you are left with the bit that bulges outward to hold the ice cream.
  2. Mix the icing sugar with a very little water to make a paste, and then add a few drops of green food colouring.
  3. Spread this paste over one side of each biscuit and (gently) press the cone tops into the paste, wider side up. Now you have the base of your basket sitting on a patch of grass.
  4. Cut the 'laces' into lengths of approsimately 12cm.
  5. Small pockets
  6. All around the edge of the cone are small pockets. Fill two diametrically opposite pockets with the icing paste and press one end of a lace into the paste on each cone.This gives you your handle, but don't try picking the basket up with it until the icing has dried completely (and even then it's more for effect).
  7. Pop a few sweeties (jelly babies, dolly mistures, etc) into each basket, et voila!

Friday, 3 June 2011

Banana Waldorf salad

This recipe was given to me years ago by my sister in law. It has become a regular feature of my barbecue fare, and is always a hit with guests. I have one (diabetic) friend who used to look forward to my arrival to bring and share barbecues, because he knew the salad was both delicious and safe for him to eat... even when most of the desserts were off-limits.

Since I have mentioned Jonathan and his diabetes, let me digress for a moment to say this:

As you already know, I love having guests over for dinner and, with the increasing incidence of diabetes these days, my guests will often include at least one person with diabetes. Diabetic friends tell me that hosts usually plump for fruit salad when it comes to dessert. I love fruit salad and consider it a perfectly acceptable dessert, but I imagine that, when it is the 'safe' thing that gets trotted out time after time by your dinner hosts, it could become a little tiring. So I always try to find interesting, diabetes-safe recipes for desserts. Some of those recipes will be making an appearance here in due course, but I'm no expert, so please don't expect me to specialise in recipes for people with any particular dietary needs. I would hate to mislead you!

Anyhoo... back to the Waldorf.

All quantities are 'some'. Find your own preferred balance of flavours. I suggest roughly equal volumes of the first four.

Apples, peeled, cored and cubed
Bananas, sliced
Celery, sliced
Seedless grapes, halved
Pecans, chopped
Mayonnaise, preferably a mild one

  • Mix all the ingredients (except the paprika) together.
  • Sprinkle paprika liberally over the top of the salad.
  • Make sure that it doesn't accidentally get placed with the desserts!

Thursday, 2 June 2011

New series: What do I do with...?

I've decided to start a new weekly series on Thursdays. Each week, I will take an item and give some ideas on the sort of things you can do with it.
I made this decision for two reasons:

Firstly, although you don't see a lot of comments on the blog posts themselves, I get a lot of feedback via Facebook, email and in person from readers, and some of you tell me that you feel encouraged to try something new - that my posts have given you the courage to step out of a rut. This humbles and gladdens me at the same time. But it also alerts me to the fact that some of you are in a food rut.

Secondly, although I don't have any pretensions to being like her, I watch Gillian McKeith's You are What you Eat and it is a recurring theme that people simply don't know how to prepare different foods, particularly fresh vegetables and grains. I reckon that this is how many of them started down the road that led to a visit from the McKeith (who, while blunt, is nowhere near the harridan she is often made out to be by her many detractors).

I know exactly how it feels to look at a vegetable and wonder (a) what it is and (b) what I'm supposed to do with it. In fact, I recently decided to address my ignorance in respect of eddoes (more of them anon), and it occurred to me that you might have similar frustrations, and that I could help there. I am a compulsive enabler. Always have been.

So, maybe you've always wanted to know what you're supposed to do with parsnips, or green beans, or quinoa. Well, let's see what we can do about that, shall we? Starting next Thursday. With beetroot (beets).

Wednesday, 1 June 2011


From time to time, whether on this blog or elsewhere, you might come across a recipe that calls for egg yolks, leaving you with egg whites. Perhaps you've always thought "What a waste!" as you've tossed the egg whites in the bin, or given them to the dog to eat.

Well, don't.

Egg whites are exactly what you need to make meringues!

In fact, egg whites and caster sugar are all you need to make meringues. I kid you not.

And, once you've got your meringues (assuming you can prevent your family from eating them as is), there are so many things you can do with them!

Oven temperature
Low! About 100C

2 egg whites
120g caster sugar (or 60g caster and 60g icing sugar)

  • Whip those egg whites until they're so stiff you can turn the bowl upside down and they stay put. No, I'm not joking. And it happens faster than you think.
  • Gradually and gently fold in the sugar (oh, alright, you can use the electric beater if you like... since it's you).
  • Place a piece of baking parchment onto a baking tray (or spray the baking tray with something non-stick-ish)
  • Place spoonfuls of the mixture onto the baking parchment. If you feel clever, and you own the necessary equipment, you can pipe the mixture onto the parchment, but it tastes the same in the end!
  • Bake for about an hour and a half. I like my meringues chewy in the middle. But if you like them crispy right through, bake them for about 3 hours.
  • Remove and cool.
Okay, so now what to do with them (other than eat them as they are, that is):
  • Spread the flat sides with whipped cream and sandwich two together.
  • Spread the flat sides with some other kind of cake icing or filling or topping or whatever and ditto.
  • Layer them in a glass bowl (or individual glass serving bowls) with strawberries, raspberries and whipped cream. If they're too big for that, crush them first. You can fling in some mini marshmallows, too if you like. Shave some chocolate over the top for fanciness.
  • Ditto the above, but with chocolate-y things such as bits of brownie, maltesers, chocolate sauce.
  • You could make one large meringue and top it with fruit.
Let your imagination run wild.