Monday, 28 April 2008

Dried green peppercorns: try them in this pungent salt mix

If you have a taste for freshly milled black pepper, look out for whole dried green peppercorns. These are the unripened, dehydrated form of black peppercorns and they are milder and slightly fruiter, with a clean and sparky aroma - ideal for using in dishes where you'd like a mellow, peppery flavour without the aggression and throat-catching pungency of black pepper.

Dried green peppercorns aren't available in supermarkets in South Africa, but you will be able to find them at your local Indian spice shop (I've also seen them at the spice stand at the Rosebank Rooftop Market). Put them in your pepper mill and grind them directly over the food (I've put green peppercorns in both my grinders and have banished the black 'corns to the back of the cupboard, for use only in the heartiest of stews, roasts, pickles and potjies.)

These pale green, puckered little beauties can also be rehydrated by soaking them in wine, stock or water for an hour or so - a lifesaver you're fresh out of brined Madagascar green peppercorns and in the mood for steak with a creamy pepper sauce.

Here's a nice all-purpose flavouring salt-and-pepper mix, à la Jamie Oliver, using dried green peppercorns. This recipe makes a big quantity, but it keeps well in a sealed jar or tupperware box. Delicious with roast chicken, lamb chops and steak, in soups, stews and salad dressings, or sprinkled over potatoes before they're roasted.

Green Peppercorn, Rosemary and Lemon Salt

finely grated rind of 5 lemons
120 ml (8 T) dried rosemary (or fresh rosemary needles, very finely chopped)
120 ml (8 T) dried green peppercorns
1 cup (250 ml) flaked or coarse salt

Spread the grated lemon lemon rind and (if you're using the herb fresh) the rosemary needles on a baking sheet or chopping board and place in a beam of sunlight until dry (how long this takes will depend on where in the world you live. In South Africa in summer, an hour is enough. If you don't have many sunbeams, place the mixture in a warmish, well-ventilated area overnight, or in a warm oven or airing cupboard). Add the peppercorns and the salt and mix well.

Now grind the mixture to a coarse powder using a stone mortar and pestle (you'll need to do this in batches) or - even better - a coffee grinder. You can also grind the mixture using a liquidiser with a strong metal blade. If the mixture still seems a little wet, spread it out and allow it to dry completely before giving it a good final mix and decanting into a lidded jar or plastic container.
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Friday, 25 April 2008

Quince Jelly: how to make a delightful old-fashioned preserve

Image source: Wikipedia Commons 
Do you remember all those juicy ripe quinces you ate as a child? Me neither! The first time I held a quince in my hand was in my twenties, on lovely weekends away in the historic Cape village of McGregor, where the dusty streets, with their burbling water-furrows, are lined with many ancient quince trees.

Although the fruit has fallen out of favour in the last hundred years in South Africa, many old quince trees still flourish on Cape farms: judging from the number of fresh quinces I've seen in greengrocers over the past few years, it's still considered viable as a speciality fruit.

You can't easily eat a ripe, furry yellow quince; it's too hard and too tart. A quince needs to be gently stewed or jellied before it reveals its rosy and perfumed soul.

Beautiful clear quince jelly
This is an old-fashioned fruit with a long and noble pedigree, and it makes a most delicous preserve. (I hesitate to use the word 'jelly', because that word means different things in different parts of the world. This recipe is for jelly in the British sense - a crystal-clear, wobbling gel.)

It's excellent with ham, turkey or venison, stirred into a gravy, or melted and brushed over the top of a fruit tart. Or try blobbing the jelly onto a piece of sharp Cheddar or a wedge of oozing camembert or brie (see Cook's Notes, below).

Quince Jelly
6 large, ripe quinces water
white sugar
juice of 2 lemons, strained to remove pips and bits

Rub the quinces with a tea towel to remove excess fluff, and then, using a cleaver or heavy knife, chop them roughly (and I mean roughly - they can be rock-hard) into pieces. Put the chunks, peel, pips and all, into a large saucepan and add enough water to cover. Set over a high heat and bring to the boil.

Turn down the heat and allow to cook at a gentle rolling boil for an hour or so, or until the fruit begins to break up and is softened and mushy. Top up with more water every now and then so that the fruit is always covered.

Get a large basin or bowl ready. Place a jelly bag (I use an old, clean, cut-down pillowcase) into the bowl, and ladle the hot fruit and liquid into the opening of the bag.

Tie the mouth of the bag closed with an elastic band or a piece of string, then lift up the bag and suspend it above the bowl, so the liquid can drip downwards. (Tie the twisted mouth of the bag to the knob of a top kitchen cupboard, or turn a chair upside down and suspend the bag between its legs, with the bowl place below).

Leave to drain for at least six hours, or overnight. Don't be tempted to squeeze the bag - you might end up with a cloudy jelly.

Untie the bag, toss the quince pulp into the bin (or on the compost heap) and rinse out the bag for future use.

Measure the quince liquid using a jug or cup measure, and strain it, using a kitchen sieve, into a large, clean saucepan. Add an equal quantity of white sugar. (ie, if you have 500 ml of quince juice, add 500 ml of sugar). Stir in the lemon juice. Set over a high heat and bring to the boil, stirring gently now and then so that the sugar dissolves. Boil briskly for 30-40 minutes, using a flat spoon or skimmer to remove any grey scum that rises to the top of the pan.

The mixture will look dull and cloudy at first, but after a while will clarify into a beautiful pinky-amber colour. If you have a sugar thermometer, bring the mixture up to a few degrees below jam point. Or, much easier, take an ice cube from the freezer and drop a large blob of the mixture on to it. If the mixture, once it's cooled for 20 seconds, slides enthusiastically off the ice cube, you're not there yet - carry on boiling it for a little longer. If the sauce sets to a wobbly, trembling gel within 20 seconds of hitting the ice cube, it's ready.

Skim off any remaining foam and ladle into hot, sterilised jars. Screw on the lids tightly.

Keeps for up to a year; opened jars should be kept in the fridge.

Makes 3 jars.

Postscript: I've used a teaspoon of this jelly in all sorts of gravies, and it makes such a difference to the taste (don't use more than a teaspoon, though: it's very sweet.) It is also makes a delicious base for a mint jelly: finely chop and handful of fresh mint. Melt a big blob of quince jelly in a saucepan, stir in the fresh mint, and add a little squeeze of lemon juice. Good with roast lamb.

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Monday, 21 April 2008

Ultimate liquid padkos: Frankies old-fashioned soft drinks, fresh outta KZN

Swiggy, is what I'd call Frankies old-fashioned soft drinks. Deeply swiggy, icy and refreshing. These nostalgic home-style cool-drinks, made at Newstead Farm in the KZN Natal Midlands, are just the ticket on the long, dispiriting, end-of-holiday drive between Harrismith and Jo'burg (and, my goodness, those last few hours are dire, aren't they?)

Have you noticed how, when you're driving towards the coast, everything looks so sparkly and beautiful? The fields of nodding pink-and-white cosmos? The golden folds of grass? The achingly beautiful blue smudge of high Berg on the western horizon? And how, on the way back home, the landscape looks so drab and flat and yellow, the sky so glittery? And how your heart (and your tummy) flops miserably around in your lap as you approach the big Jozi smoke-dump?

A clutch of Frankies sodas (really yeasty ginger beer, old-style root beer, cloudy lemonade, and proper cream soda - clear, not neon green) certainly kept my spirits up and my eyelids perky on a recent drive Jozi-wards. Much as I love and adore Coca-Cola, to hell with the devil-in-a-bottle. My liquid padkos of choice in the future is any soda made by Frankies.

You can buy the sodas at selected outlets on the road home - I got mine at the wonderful Mooi River butchery (just a hop and skip from the toll gate). I wouldn't have bought them if this gorgeous promotional poster next to the cashier hadn't caught my eye: here it is (above), emailed to me by Frankies' Mike Schmidt. I am hoping that these lekker sodas find their way into some of my local delis and supermarkets soon. If you're interested in stocking them, contact, or take a look at the about-to-be launched website.

And a big thumbs-up to Frankies for coming up with an original and quirky new food product.

I'll be featuring more home-made and artisan food products in the weeks to come.

Poster image © Frankies Soft Drinks Print Friendly and PDFPrint Friendly

Friday, 11 April 2008

Quick oven-baked chicken breasts in a spicy yoghurt-coconut sauce

Try these tender, fragrant chicken breast fillets when you're in the mood for something spicy, but can't face an unctuous and complex curry (or don't have the energy to make one).

This is one of those happy-accident recipes: I'd come home with a stash of lovely fresh spices (I am a complete sucker for spice shops) and a large packet of beautiful organic deboned chicken breasts. My idea was to marinate them for an hour or two in a subtle yoghurty mixture, cut them into strips and cook them quickly on a ridged griddle, but I ran out of time, so I tipped the whole breasts, still coated in their marinade, into a ceramic dish and chucked them in a very hot oven for 20 minutes. The result was just sublime: the combination of quick cooking in a cold marinade and the tenderising effect of yoghurt made the chicken so buttery and soft that I could cut it with a fork the next day (I had the leftovers for breakfast the next morning, on toast).

Only the freshest, sparkiest spices will do for this dish. If your stash of powdered cumin or coriander is more than two months old, or smells a bit dusty, chuck the lot in the bin and buy two dirt-cheap little fresh packets from your local greengrocer. A whiff of freshly ground cumin should deliver a good smack to the nostrils.

Quick oven-baked chicken breasts in a spicy yoghurt-coconut sauce

For the marinade:

3 small cloves fresh garlic, skinned
1 T (15 ml) grated or chopped fresh ginger
1 T (15 ml) powdered cumin
2 t (10 ml) powdered coriander
1 tsp (5 ml) turmeric
1 tsp (5 ml) cayenne pepper or chilli powder (to taste; leave this out if you are feeding heat-sensitive kids. One or two depipped, finely shredded fresh green chillies will also do the trick)
juice of 1 lemon
1 cup (250 ml) thick fresh white yoghurt (Bulgarian, Greek or whatever looks fresh)
1 cup (250 ml) tinned coconut cream
salt and milled black pepper

For the dish:

8 deboned, skinned chicken breasts
5 thin slices of lemon, with peel
a few fresh curry leaves (optional)

For the garnish:
a handful of fresh coriander (cilantro), finely chopped

Put all the ingredients for the marinade into a food processor or liquidiser. Give the mixture a blitz at high speed, so that all the ingredients are thoroughly blended. Put the chicken breasts, lemon slices and curry leaves into an ovenproof ceramic dish and aggressively prick the chicken pieces, top and bottom, with a fork.

Pour the marinade ingredients over the chicken breasts and, using your hands, toss and turn the chicken and the lemon slices to that everything is thoroughly coated in marinade. Cover the dish with a piece of cling film and set aside in a cool place for an hour or two. (If you're going to marinate them for longer than two hours, put them in the fridge, and increase the cooking time - given below - by 8 or so minutes).

About 35 minutes before you're ready to eat, turn the oven on high (200°C) and allow to preheat for 15 minutes. Remove the clingfilm and the lemon slices from the dish and put it into the oven.

Cook for 20-25 minutes, or until the marinade is bubbling gently. Remove the dish from the oven and make a deep cut through the thickest part of the biggest fillet. If there is no pinkness in the flesh, remove the dish from the oven. If there is a little rosiness, return the dish the oven and cook for another five minutes (but not a second more). The chicken should be just cooked.

Just before serving, sprinkle the chopped fresh coriander all over the breasts.

Serve with spicy rice, or a green salad, or on its own.

Good on toast the next morning.

Serves 4 - 6 Print Friendly and PDFPrint Friendly

Quick, thick chicken soup for kids, using the remains of the roast

My goodness, but it's a palaver making a proper chicken soup. The concocting of the stock, the cooling of the bird, the plucking of the meat, the chopping and frying of the onions and other veg, the liquidising-in-batches of scalding liquid, and the dozens of dirty bowls, pots and sieves involved ... it just doesn't seem worth the bother, no matter how heavenly and heartwarming the result.

But I feel I have an obligation to make chicken soup for my family, the same creamy, thick, luscious, nutmeggy essence of chicken made by my own mom and her mom before her. Besides, it took me eight years to convince my daughter to eat soup, and Mom's Chicken Soup is the only soup she'll eat. Every time I put a picked-out chicken carcass on the stove to make a stock (which is generally once a week) she races into the kitchen, shouting 'Oh, goody! Chicken soup!'.

Here is a quicker version that omits the tiresome chopping and sautéing of veggies, and involves only a large saucepan, a colander, a big bowl and a liquidiser. It doesn't have the complex flavours of a properly made chicken soup, and it's thickened, I blush to admit, with flour, but I promise this is a passable version of the real thing.

Quick, thick chicken soup for kids

the leftovers of a roast chicken, excess skin and fat removed
1 large onion, peeled and cut in half
3 large carrots, peeled
a few sticks of celery, or a handful of fresh parsley, or both
2 bay leaves
5 black peppercorns
4 Tbsp (60ml) flour
4 Tbsp (60 ml) butter
1½ cups (375 ml) milk
juice of half a lemon
½ tsp (2.5 ml) freshly grated nutmeg
salt and milled black pepper
a dash of fresh cream (optional)

Put the chicken, onions, carrots, celery, parsley, bay leaves and peppercorns in a large saucepan, add just enough water to cover the ingredients, and bring to the boil. Reduce the heat and simmer over a gentle heat for an hour and a half, or until the stock has reduced slightly. Place a colander in a large bowl and tip the stock, bones and vegetables into the colander. Allow to drain for five minutes.

In the meantime, make a white sauce. Heat the flour and butter in the same saucepan in which you made the stock. Allow to bubble for a minute or so. Using a balloon whisk, whisk in the milk and continue stirring briskly until the mixture begins to thicken alarmingly. Immediately remove from the heat.

Now tip half the drained stock into a liquidiser and add the cooked onion, celery, parsley and carrots. Give it a good whizz to process everything finely, then pour the mixture into the milk/flour mixture. Return to the heat and bring to the boil, whisking constantly to disperse any lumps. Once the mixture is thickened and boiling, use the left-over stock to thin the soup to the desired consistency. Pick all the remaining bits and pieces off the boiled chicken, shred with your fingers and add to the soup. Add the lemon juice and a shower of nutmeg, and season well with salt and pepper. Add a splash of cream, if you like (but this isn't really necessary - the soup is quite silken enough without cream). Simmer for another 5 minutes, and serve hot.

Note: The final thickness of any white sauce depends on the strength of the flour. If you find your soup isn't quite thick enough, add a little flour or cornflour slaked with water.

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Wednesday, 9 April 2008

Potato-topped Celery, Leek and Cheese Pie

It doesn't sound very tempting, does it? Who wants to eat leeks and celery, apart from rabbits and rabid vegetarians? How tempting is a recipe that contains nine vowels of the E variety? But this dish is just delicious, and I urge you to give it a try.

I have frothing fountains of celery growing in the narrow strip I call my vegetable garden, and I've been scratching my head trying to think what to do with all the celery, before it goes to seed. I'm really not mad about the texture and taste of celery, although I do understand the logic of adding a few pared toenails of the stuff to stews, stocks and soups, especially when a few nuggets of crispy bacon are involved. I have about 95 litres of celery soup in the freezer, cunningly frozen in 500-ml zip-lock bags (that's what I did with last year's crop; I even labelled and dated them, Martha-Stewart style), but frankly all they've been useful for is ice-packery when someone's sprained an ankle or walked into a door.

Anyway, this recipe came about because my husband mentioned, out of the blue, that his late mum (a wonderful cook) used to cook whole stalks of celery in a cheesy white sauce.

I had a jugful of the same in the fridge, plus a big bowl of left-over mash, and here is the result. It was so tasty, and even better the next day, when the leeky and celeryish flavours delivered a smart punch to my tastebuds.

Potato-topped Celery and Leek Pie

For the cheesy white sauce
(note: these measurements are approximate; the final thickness of the sauce depends on the strength of the flour. If the sauce seems too thick, thin it down with more milk. )

3 T (45 ml) butter
3 T (45 ml) white cake or bread flour
750 ml cold milk
1 cup (250 ml) grated Cheddar or other sharp cheese
2 tsp (5-1o ml) Dijon or wholegrain mustard
juice of half a lemon
salt and pepper

For the pie:

2 T (30 ml) olive oil
4 fat leeks, trimmed, rinsed and finely sliced
8-10 sticks young celery, trimmed of all green leaves and finely sliced
1/2 cup (125 ml) chicken or vegetable stock, or white wine
a squeeze of fresh lemon juice
salt and milled black pepper

For the topping:
2 cups (500 ml) mashed potato, warmed

Preheat the oven to 180°C.

First make the cheesy white sauce. Put the flour and the butter in a saucepan over a medium heat. Using a whisk, stir briskly until the butter melts, and allow to cook for two minutes. Now tip in a cup or so of the cold milk, whisking well as you pour. When the mixture begins to thicken, add the remaining milk, turn up the heat to its fullest setting, and continue whisking until the sauce has thickened and come to the boil. Turn the heat down to its lowest setting and allow it to bubble gently for another two minutes. Remove the sauce from the heat and stir in the grated cheese, the mustard and the lemon juce. Add salt and pepper.

Set aside (put a piece of clingfilm or waxed paper on the top of sauce, to prevent a skin forming, if you're making it in advance).

Heat the olive oil in a deep pan or wok and add the leeks and celery. Stir-fry, over a fierce heat, for a minute or so, but don't allow the veggies to brown. Now add the stock or wine, and allow to bubble furiously for a minute. Cover the pot with a lid or a piece of tin foil, turn the heat to its lowest setting, and allow to simmer gently for 10 minutes, or until the celery is just tender. Season with salt and pepper.

Tip the reserved cheesy white sauce into the leek and celery pan and stir well to combine. Tip the mixture into a serving dish, smooth the surface, and top with mashed potato. Brush with melted butter (or peanut-sized bits of cold butter) and bake at 180 C until the potato topping is golden brown.

Serves 6. Print Friendly and PDFPrint Friendly

Wednesday, 2 April 2008

Instant, No-Churn Mango and Yoghurt Ice Cream

I don't have a sweet tooth, but I can't live without ice cream. I like a velvety vanilla or chocolate ice cream now and then, but what I crave the most is ice without the cream: give me a fruity, zingy, yoghurty, acidic sorbet or lolly, and I am putty in your hands. For example, I have a ridiculous passion for Solero ice lollies, to the point that I keep a secret stash of them in my freezer (they're tucked behind the fish fingers, if you're ever a guest in my house).

Their flavour is slightly synthetic and their neon oranges and yellows highly unlikely, but my goodness they are good: sour, sweet, crunchy and very, very good on a hot day. Plus, they're moulded in long cylinders with a flattened end, so you can gnaw on the icy bit and then, as the ice begins to melt, make rude noises as you piston them in and out of your mouth and suck out the fruity juice and... well... that's enough of that, Mavis!

I have an ice cream machine, which I've used for many years to make fruit and yoghurt ices, but it's really not worth the bother. For one, you have to put the bowl in the freezer for eight hours before you want ice cream. For another, I've lost the plastic scrapery thing that scratches the frozen mixture away from the sides of the icy bowl, so I have to hover over it with a spatula, doing the scraping by hand.

So I decided to experiment with 'instant' fruit yoghurt ice creams. That is, ice creams that don't need to be churned or mixed as they freeze. You peel, cut and freeze the fruit, in advance, while it's in season, chuck it in a food processor with some chilled sugar syrup and a dollop of yoghurt, give it a blitz, and it's done in 2 minutes.

Two requirements: a food processor with a sturdy blade, and a very cold freezer.

I've tried this recipe with deep-frozen mixed berries (strawberries, raspberries, blackcurrents, etc), bananas and plums (you can use any fruit, as long as it's not too fibrous), but this mixture of perfumed mango and plain yoghurt is by far and away the winner. Mangos are still in season here in South Africa, and I've frozen bucketloads of them for use in winter.

'Instant' Mango and Yoghurt Ice Cream

4-5 small, perfectly ripe mangos
3/4 cup (180 ml) sugar syrup (see below)
1/2 cup (125 ml) natural yoghurt: Greek, or Bulgarian, or full-cream maas (amasi)
the juice of a lemon

Peel the mangos, slice off the flesh and chop into cubes. Put the fruit into a metal or ceramic dish, place in the deep freeze and leave for a day or two, or until rock hard.

In the meantime, make a sugar syrup (I always keep a jug of this in my fridge for lemonades, cool drinks and ice-cream emergencies). In a saucepan, mix together equal quantities of white sugar and water. Set over a medium flame and bring to the boil, stirring occasionally, until the sugar dissolves. Boil for 1-2 minutes, decant into a jug or plastic container, then chill. (Keeps for weeks and weeks in the fridge.)

When you're ready for ice cream, take the frozen mango cubes out of the freezer. Pour 3/4 cup (180 ml) chilled sugar syrup over them and wait for a minute or so, or until the mango cubes loosen. Tip the mixture into a food processor fitted with a metal blade. Add the yoghurt and the lemon juice and blitz on the highest setting for a minute or two, or until perfectly smooth and creamy.

Serve immediately.

Or put back in the freezer to enjoy for weeks to come. Print Friendly and PDFPrint Friendly