Thursday, 21 January 2016

Chicken with Roasted Onions, Grapes & Verjuice

When I made a serious effort to learn to cook in my early twenties, it seemed terribly important to impress dinner-party guests with fiddly platings and pointless twirls and swirls. (Thank goodness the ubiquitous sauce/plate skidmark had not yet been invented, because who knows what horrors I would have perpetrated on the plate.) These days, in my fifties, I have a much more uncomplicated approach to entertaining, and when I'm expecting guests I pour all the effort into creating simple, delicious dishes that sing with clean flavours.

Chicken with Roasted Onions, Grapes & Verjuice

This is the sort of food people want to enjoy when they eat in your home. Of course there is a place for exquisite cutting-edge cuisine that looks like a flower garden exploded on a plate, but that place is not your family table. Honest food made with love and good ingredients will always knock the socks off your guests - and I promise you that most professional chefs melt into puddles of delight when presented with a homely classic such as roast chicken, a rustic veggie soup or a fall-apart beef stew.

This unusual but delicious combination of clean fruity flavours highlights the versatility of Verjuice, which lends a pleasant sweet acidity to this rustic dish.  It takes a little time to fry the chicken pieces and onions before they go into the oven, but it’s well worth the effort, because the sticky golden residue that forms on the bottom of the pan adds gorgeous flavour to the final dish, and the chicken pieces look so beautifully golden and rustly.  

This is the penultimate in a series of new recipes I've developed using Verjuice (available at Woolies),

Chicken with Roasted Onions, Grapes & Verjuice

20 (about 750 g) small pickling onions
3 Tbsp (45 ml) oil, for frying
12 free-range chicken pieces (breasts, thighs & drumsticks)
2 bay leaves
6 sprigs fresh thyme
3 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
½ cup (125 ml) Verjuice
½ cup (125 ml) dry white wine
1 bunch red grapes, stripped from their stems
1 bunch green grapes, stripped from their stems
salt and milled black pepper

Heat the oven to 180 ºC.  Cover the onions with boiling water and set aside for 15 minutes (this loosens their skins).

In the meantime, heat the oil in a large shallow pan and fry the chicken, in batches and skin-side down, over a medium-high heat, until the skins are crisp and a beautiful golden brown.  (Don’t turn the pieces over or let them cook through.)  Set aside on a plate.

Cut each blanched onion in half lengthways, trim the tops and bottoms, and slip off the skins.  Fry, cut side down, in the hot chicken fat left in the pan, for 3 minutes, or until nicely caramelised. Watch them like a hawk so they don’t burn. Carefully turn the onions over using tongs and fry for a further 3 minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon and set aside on a plate.

Add the bay leaves, thyme sprigs and garlic to the pan and cook over a low heat for a minute, without allowing the garlic to brown.

Deglaze the pan with the Verjuice and wine, stirring and scraping to loosen the golden sediment on the bottom of the pan.  Tip any juices that have accumulated under the chicken into the pan. Simmer over a brisk heat for two minutes to burn off the alcohol.

Arrange the chicken pieces and onions in a roasting tray, and tuck in the grapes.  Pour the hot wine/Verjuice mixture around the chicken, and scatter over the bay leaves and thyme sprigs.  Season to taste with salt and milled black pepper.

Bake at 180 ºC for 40 minutes, or until the chicken is cooked through and the grapes are beginning to collapse.

Serve immediately with a crisp green salad, plus crusty bread to mop up the juices.    

Serves 4-6.


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Friday, 18 December 2015

Pavlova with Poached Apples and Caramelised Verjuice Syrup

Apples and almonds have a great affinity with Verjuice. Although apples are not a traditional topping for a Pavlova, they work beautifully in this recipe, with its extravagant, brittle nest of almond-scented meringue, its clouds of whipped cream, and a reduced Verjuice syrup that’s just on the point of turning to caramel. The Pavlova should be made 8-12 hours ahead of time, and you can also prepare the apple filling well in advance.

Pavlova with Poached Apples and Caramelised Verjuice Syrup

This is another in a series of new recipes I've developed using Verjuice (available at Woolies), and I hope you'll give this recipe a bash, even if you're mortally afraid of making anything involving temperamental meringue.

My attempts at making billowing pavlovas and snowy, crisp meringues were spectacularly flat, sticky failures for many years, but eventually I nailed them, and I haven't had a flop since.  I hope my method works for you - and it it doesn't, please drop me a line on Facebook so I can assist you.

Pavlova with Poached Apples and Caramelised Verjuice Syrup

For the Pavlova:

5 extra-large free-range eggs
a pinch of Cream of Tartar
250 g caster sugar
2-3 drops of good almond extract

For the filling:

5 large crisp apples, peeled, cored and quartered (I've used both Granny Smith and Golden Delicious, with good results)
1½ cups (375 ml) Verjuice
½ cup (125 ml) caster sugar
1 cup (250 ml) whipping cream
¼ cup (60 ml) flaked almonds, lightly toasted in a dry frying pan

First make the Pavlova. Heat the oven to 160 ºC, fan off. Separate the eggs and place the whites in a spotlessly clean bowl together with a pinch of Cream of Tartar (you'll find this in the baking aisle of supermarkets). Keep the yolks for making mayonnaise.

Using an electric beater or a food processor fitted with a balloon whisk, beat the egg whites for 2-3 minutes, or until they are standing up in firm - but not dry - peaks.

Add a third of the caster sugar at a time to the whites, whisking well for a few minutes between each addition. When you've added all the sugar, drop in the almond extract, to taste, and continue beating for another 3-4 minutes, or until the meringue is very thick, firm and shiny (with no sign of grittiness when you rub a blob between your fingers).

Your mixture should hold its firm billowing shape without drooping. If the meringue seems thin or floppy, your Pavlova will collapse in the oven, and you'll need to chuck out the mixture and start all over again.

Line a baking sheet with lightly oiled baking/greaseproof paper (put little blobs of meringue on four points under the paper to stick it down). Draw a plate-sized circle on the paper, spread a third of the meringue mixture over it to form the base of the Pavlova, then place big, generous dollops of the remaining meringue around the edges to form a basket. A huge metal spoon is the right utensil for this.

Place the baking sheet on the middle rack of your preheated oven, and immediately turn the heat down to 110 ºC (oven fan off). Bake for an hour and a quarter, then switch off the oven (don't open the door!) and let the meringue case dehydrate, undisturbed, for at least 8 hours, or until it is crisp and dry.  If you'd like a Pavlova with a slightly squidgy centre, let the case dry out for 6 hours.

To prepare the apple filling, put one cup of Verjuice and the caster sugar into a pan.  Bring to a gentle bubble, stirring occasionally to dissolve the sugar.  Add the apple quarters and poach, covered, for 9-11 minutes, or until they are just soft.  Set aside to cool completely.

To assemble the dessert, remove the apples from their syrup with a slotted spoon and set aside.  Add the remaining ½ cup of Verjuice to the syrup, turn up the heat and boil over a medium-high heat for 10 minutes, or until the syrup has reduced by about two thirds, is turning to an amber colour, and is thick, glossy, and producing plenty of big lazy bubbles. Watch the mixture like a hawk – you want it to be just on the point of caramelising.

Whip the cream until it's thick and billowy, pile it into the Pavlova and arrange the apple pieces on top.  Drizzle the hot syrup over the top, scatter with toasted almonds and serve immediately.

Serves 6. 

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Wednesday, 16 December 2015

Vanilla Panna Cotta with a Verjuice-Gooseberry Compote

A delicate, barely set vanilla cream topped with a glorious sunset-orange compote of Verjuice and Cape gooseberries. Verjuice enhances the tartness of gooseberries, and the contrast of cool and creamy with sharp and sweet is sublime. You can prepare this dessert well in advance and merrily assemble it at the last minute.

Vanilla Panna Cotta with a Verjuice-Gooseberry Compote

This is another in a series of new recipes I've developed using Verjuice (available at Woolies). If you don't have Verjuice, poach your gooseberries in a light sugar syrup (see Cook's Notes at the end of this page).

Like this recipe? Try my Fresh Plum Jelly with a Lemon Panna Cotta Topping.




Wine recommendation by Michael Olivier. He says: "Asara Vine Dried Sauvignon Blanc 2014 - a stunner of a natural sweet wine."

It looks like: Packed in a 375 ml Alsatian Flute.  In the glass a golden straw - and please serve it in a decent sized glass..

It smells like: Soft dried apricots and sliced lime poached in fynbos honey. 

It tastes like: Rich and unctuous: desiccated pineapple rehydrated in fynbos honey. Guava, yellow Canary melon.



Vanilla Panna Cotta with a Verjuice-Gooseberry Compote

For the panna cotta:

300 ml cream
300 ml full-cream milk
5 Tbsp (75 ml) caster sugar
1 vanilla pod, or a few drops of good vanilla extract
4 tsp (20 ml) tepid water
2 tsp (10 ml) gelatine powder

For the compote:

200 g Cape gooseberries
½ cup (125 ml) Verjuice
2 Tbsp (30 ml) caster sugar (or more, to taste: see recipe)

Put the cream, milk and caster sugar into a saucepan.  Split the vanilla pod lengthways, scrape out the seeds and add them to the pan (or add the vanilla extract, if you’re using that).  Bring gradually to just below the boil, over a low heat, stirring now and then.

When the sugar has dissolved, take the pan off the heat and gently press a sheet of clingfilm directly onto the surface of the mixture (this will prevent a ‘skin’ forming).  Set the cream aside to infuse for 45 minutes, or until it has cooled to blood temperature.

Put the water into a small teacup or ramekin, sprinkle over the gelatine and set aside to ‘sponge’ for 3 minutes.  Now place the cup in a pan of simmering water (the water should come halfway up its sides) and leave it there for a 3 minutes, or until the gelatine has melted and the liquid is clear.  Whisk this into the cream mixture, then strain the cream through a fine sieve into four wine glasses.  Chill for at least 5 hours, or until the panna cotta has set, but is still very wobbly.

To make the compote, put the gooseberries, Verjuice and caster sugar into a saucepan and bring to a gentle simmer, skimming off any white foam as it rises.  If the gooseberries are very tart, you may need to add a little more sugar.   Simmer for about 7 minutes, or until the fruit is just beginning to collapse.  Remove from the heat, tip into a bowl, cover, and refrigerate until very cold.

When you’re ready to serve, remove half the whole gooseberries from the bowl using a slotted spoon and set aside.  Use a potato masher or fork lightly to crush the remaining berries.  Spoon a layer of the crushed fruit over the top of the panna cottas, and top with the whole berries you put aside

Serves 4.

Cook's Notes: 

If you don't have Verjuice, poach your gooseberries in a light sugar syrup.  Here's how: put ½ cup (125 ml) water into a saucepan and add 4 Tbsp (60 ml) caster sugar - or more, to taste, depending on how sour the fruit is.  Bring gently to the boil, stirring occasionally. When the sugar has dissolved, add the gooseberries and continue with the recipe (paragraph 4, above).


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Monday, 14 December 2015

Prawn and Asparagus Salad with Verjuice Dressing & Mayonnaise

An easy, sea-breezy salad that takes just minutes to put together, and you cannot go wrong if you use the very best ingredients in this simple dish. I've specified cooked, peeled prawns from Woolies here, which I admit are expensive, but they are very good, fresh and springy, and a fine ingredient to splash out on when the festive season comes rolling in.  If you're on a low-carb or diabetic diet, omit the Verjuice (which is a little sugary) and use more lemon juice or white-wine vinegar.

Prawn & Asparagus Salad with Verjuice Dressing & Mayonnaise

This is another in a series of new recipes I've developed using Verjuice, which is wonderful for making salad dressings with a slightly sweet, subtle zing.  Its gentle acidity makes it the perfect companion for ingredients with a delicate taste, such as prawns.

In this bright salad, a two-ingredient dressing and a clean-tasting homemade mayo make magic with prawns, asparagus, dark salad leaves and peppery baby radishes. If you can't find Verjuice, use more fresh lemon juice, plus a whisper of caster sugar to cut through the sharpness.  Please see my Cook's Notes at the end of the recipe for what to do if your mayo curdles.



Wine recommendation by Michael Olivier. He says: "Bellingham Whole Bunch Roussanne 2015, 
recently awarded 5 stars in the 2016 Platter's South African Wine Guide."

It looks like: Elegant bottle The Bernard Series labelling. In the glass pale golden straw with youthful lime flashes.

It smells like: Gentle tropical fruits, desiccated pineapple, kiwi and scrunched fynbos herbs. 

It tastes like: A full circle through easy entry with white flowers, ripe nectarines, Canary melon and gentle sweet spices. The fruit is generous, the acidity balancing and zesty in its youth. Long, full, richly flavoured, with a gently waning aftertaste.



Prawn and Asparagus Salad with Verjuice Dressing & Mayo

350 g asparagus tips
a packet of dark mixed salad leaves
200 g Woolworths ready-cooked peeled prawns
8 baby radishes, halved lengthways

For the dressing:

100 ml Verjuice
100 ml extra-virgin olive oil

For the mayonnaise:

2 extra-large free-range egg yolks, at room temperature
flaky sea salt
1 tsp (5 ml) Dijon mustard
200 ml sunflower oil
100 ml extra-virgin olive oil
3 Tbsp (45 ml) Verjuice
1 Tbsp (45 ml) fresh lemon juice
1 tsp (5 ml) Tabasco, or more, to taste
milled black pepper

To make the mayo, put the egg yolks, salt and mustard into a bowl.  Tuck a damp cloth under one side of the bowl to tilt it. Using an electric beater, whisk the yolks until creamy.

Mix the two oils in a small jug. Turn the beater to its highest speed. Now, as you whisk the egg yolks with one hand, dribble the oil onto the yolks, a few drops at a time, with the other. Continue patiently whisking and dribbling on the oil, a little at a time, and within a few minutes you will see the egg mixture begin to thicken. Keep adding the oil in a small steady trickle until you have a thick, pale yellow ointment.  (See Cook’s Notes, below.)

Stir in the Verjuice, lemon juice and Tabasco and season with salt and pepper.  Place in the fridge to chill for a few hours.

To make the dressing, combine the Verjuice and olive oil in a small jar or jug.

Blanch the asparagus tips in boiling salted water for 1-2 minutes, or until just tender-crisp.  Drain then plunge into a bowl of iced water to set the colour. Leave for 3 minutes, then pat dry on a clean towel.

Put the salad leaves on four plates and arrange the prawns, asparagus and radishes on top.  Drizzle with the dressing  (give it a good shake first) and serve with the mayo and plenty of warm crusty bread.

Serves 4.

Cook’s Notes:

If your mayo ‘splits’, or does not thicken, start again with a clean bowl. Place a whole egg yolk in the bowl, whisk till creamy, and very gradually dribble on the split mayo mixture, whisking all the time, as above.  In most cases the mayo will re-emulsify.


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