Friday, 29 June 2012

Behind-the-scenes snaps from my cookbook's shoot

Like an over-excited five year old, I'm hopping from foot to foot and tugging my plaits about my cookbook Scrumptious: Food for Family and Friends, which will be published on 6 July 2012 by Random House StruikOver the next week or so, I'll be sharing some insights on this blog about the interesting and exasperating process of creating a cookbook:  how I settled on a theme and title, how I chose, devised and tested the recipes, and how I wrestled with the business of writing an accurate, original and (I hope!) inspiring manuscript.

Postscript, 2 JulyHere's a charming blog post from photographer Michael Le Grange describing his experience of the photo shoot.

Michael Le Grange's photograph of my Peri Peri Calamari with Chouriço Sausage. Click on the image
 to see a full-size version. Image © Random House Struik 2012. Plate by my uncle David Walters, who made all the fine porcelain dishes for the book.

In the meantime, here are some behind-the-scenes snaps from the cookbook shoot, which took place over three weeks at my home in Hout Bay in late 2011 (with another burst in January, when we shot the cover).

My recipes were photographed by specialist food photographer Michael Le Grange of Cape Town's Flat Art Studios, a quiet-spoken, quirky man whose thoughtful eye for light and detail truly knocked my socks off.  We became firm friends over the course of the shoot, and every time we styled, shot and discussed one of his beautiful images I felt a blast of relief that I'd opted to use a professional. (I'd been offered the option of using my own pictures for the book, but I declined, figuring that the success of a cookbook rests largely on the quality of its images, and that my food snaps just wouldn't cut the mustard.)

 I took charge of  styling the food and settings (more about the styling of the book in a future post), and the dishes were prepared by energetic chef and stylist Sarah Dall. All this took place beneath the gimlet eye of Beverley Dodd, the talented designer and artistic director of my book.  Completing the team were Michael's assistants Kirk and Willem, intern chef Kaylah Greenberg and stand-in chef Juliet Douglas.

Here are some of my snaps of the shoot.

Herb and Rice Salad with Feta, Walnuts and Broccoli Crumbs, ready for shooting

Left to right: Photographer Michael, designer Bev, stand-in chef Juliet, intern chef Kaylah and
 photographer's assistant Willem.
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Friday, 22 June 2012

Cape-Style Spicy Beer-Battered Fish Bites

I've recently reworked this recipe for a guest blogpost I wrote for The World of Beer blog. This is one of my all-time favourite recipes, and I do hope you give it a try.

I often use beer to make batter for fritters and other deep-fried delectables because it produces such a beautifully light and brittle result. The actual science behind the beer-effect has always been a mystery to me, but recently I came across an article in Scientific American that neatly explains just why beer makes such excellent batters. In Beer Batter is Better, W. Wayt Gibbs and Nathan Myhrvold write: “Beer makes such a great base for batter because it simultaneously adds three ingredients—carbon dioxide, foaming agents and alcohol—each of which brings to bear different aspects of physics and chemistry to make the crust light and crisp.”

One of the most important points they make in the article is that because alcohol evaporates so fast, a batter made with beer needs less cooking time and dries out more quickly than one made with water or milk.

When it comes to frying delicate fish in batter, this speedy cooking time plus the insulating effects of the foamy batter both play a crucial role in preventing the fish from drying out in the fierce heat of the oil. It took me many attempts to come up with the right formula for a super-crisp fish batter, and eventually I abandoned wheat flour and cornflour altogether. In this recipe, I’ve used a mixture of chickpea flour and rice flour to give the spiced batter a fine texture and a lovely, lacy crispness. As the nuggets hit the hot oil, the batter puffs up into a crunchy golden cage, while the encased cubes of fresh linefish are quickly cooked by the action of steam.

I have called these nuggets 'Cape-style' because the fish comes from my local harbour in Hout Bay, and because the batter contains some of the key spices and flavourings of Cape Malay cuisine.

Served with a cool avocado and coriander dip, or a zingy yoghurt raita, or a fresh mint chutney, this is a delicious snack for a festive occasion, and I promise your guests will fall on the nuggets like starving puppies. Do use very fresh, firm-fleshed fish, from which you have removed all the bones, and not frozen fish, which will turn to mush.

I find it easiest to deep-fry food in a small, deep saucepan over a gas flame. You can use a pan over an electric plate, or a domestic deep-fat fryer, but a naked flame is better because it allows you to regulate the heat with ease. For perfect results, I can recommend using a thermometer to keep the oil at a constant temperature of between 160°C and 170°C. If you don't have such a gadget, use Jamie Oliver’s method: put a little piece of raw potato in the oil while it’s still cold. When the potato floats to the surface and is a rich golden brown, the oil is hot enough.

Rice flour and chickpea (channa or gram) flour are both available from health shops, Indian spice shops and some supermarkets.

Cape-Style Spicy Beer-Battered Fish Bites

For the fish:
1 kg fresh, firm-fleshed white fish fillets, deboned and skinned
3 cloves garlic, peeled and finely minced
a thumb-sized piece of fresh ginger, finely grated
2 tsp (10 ml) lemon juice
salt and milled black pepper
a little rice flour
oil for deep-frying

For the batter:
¾  cup (180 ml) rice flour
¾  cup (180 ml) chickpea [channa] flour
2 tsp (10 ml) cumin
2 tsp (10 ml) powdered coriander
1 tsp (5 ml) turmeric
1 tsp (5 ml) red chilli powder (or more, to taste)
1 ½  tsp (7.5 ml) salt
milled black pepper
1 x 330 ml can of ice-cold lager

To serve:
lemon wedges
flaky sea salt
a dip of your choice

First make the batter. Sift the rice flour and chickpea flour into a mixing bowl and add the spices, salt and pepper. Gently pour the beer over the dry ingredients and whisk lightly until you have a smooth, slightly puffy batter about the thickness of cream.  Don’t over-mix the batter. Place in the fridge for 10 minutes.

Cut the fish into 2-cm square cubes. Put the cubes in a bowl and add the garlic, ginger and lemon juice. Season with salt and pepper and toss well to combine. Set aside for five minutes.

Warm a platter in the oven. Heat the oil in a small, deep saucepan, until it reaches 160°C. Put a little rice flour on a plate. Roll each fish cube in rice flour, dust well to remove the excess and, using a fork or a pair of tongs, dip the fish into the batter so that it is well coated. Gently lower the nuggets into the oil (five at a time is about right) and cook for a minute and a half to two minutes, or until puffy, crisp and golden. Fish the nuggets out of the oil in the order in which you put them in, using a slotted spoon, and drain well on kitchen paper. Place them in the warm oven while you fry the rest.

Serve piping hot with lemon wedges and a dip.

Serves 6-8 as a snack. 

This article originally appeared at on 5 January 2010, and then in The World of Beer's blog on 20 June 2012.
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Saturday, 9 June 2012

Pork Steaks with Wine, Tarragon and Mustard

I don’t need any encouragement to come up with a recipe that uses wine, because it’s one of those ingredients that adds instant flavour and complexity to so many home-cooked dishes. Here, I’ve paired juicy pork steaks with a voluptuous sauce of cream, mustard, tarragon and Nederburg’s 2011 Sauvignon Blanc/Chardonnay blend, created specially for Masterchef, in collaboration with Woolworths.

This is the seventh in a series of recipes for Woolworths South Africa, pantry sponsors of MasterChef South Africa.

Tarragon is a tricky herb to grow, and you don’t often see it fresh in the shops, but I’ve found that good-quality dried tarragon is a perfectly acceptable substitute. In fact, I’m at a loss to explain why dried herbs are so often considered inferior to fresh ones. Sure, some herbs (such as basil and parsley) do not lend themselves to drying, but others, and especially dried oregano, mint and tarragon, are valued ingredients in my spice drawer. For example, dried mint, much used in Moroccan cooking, is quite distinct in taste and aroma from fresh mint, with a peculiar charm all of its own. Top-quality dried Greek oregano has a heady pungency that leaves its fresh form in the starting blocks. Tarragon’s flavour does tend to intensify with heat, however, so use it sparingly.

You can use medallions of pork fillet for this dish, but I find they dry out quickly in the pan. I prefer Woolies’ pork steaks because they’re so lean, sweet and succulent (and, besides, I appreciate how economical pork is compared to beef or lamb). This is a quick, easy dish to make, but be sure to serve it piping hot from the pan, while the sauce is still smooth and silken.

My other recipes for Woolworths #wooliespantry:

Pork Steaks with Wine, Tarragon and Mustard
4 large pork steaks, or 8 small ones
3 Tbsp (45 ml) flour
white pepper
2 Tbsp (30 ml) olive oil
1 Tbsp (15 ml) butter
1½ cups (375 ml)2011 Nederburg Sauvignon/Chardonnay blend, or similar
¾ cup (180 ml) water
2 tsp (10 ml) dried tarragon
2 Tbsp (30 ml) Dijon mustard
½ cup (125 ml) cream

Trim any visible fat from the pork steaks. Put the flour on a plate and season it with salt and a little white pepper. Heat the olive oil and butter in large, shallow pan that will fit all the steaks on one layer. While the fat is heating, dip each steak in the seasoned flour, then shake to remove any excess. When the fat is very hot, but before the butter begins to brown, fry the steaks for 2-3 minutes on each side, or until they have a nice golden crust, but are still slightly raw on the inside. Remove with a slotted spoon and set aside in a bowl. Drain any excess fat from the pan, but don’t wipe it out.

Pour the wine and water into the pan and stir to dislodge any brown bits on the bottom. Bubble briskly for 4-5 minutes, or until the liquid has reduced by about a third. Now turn the heat right down and stir in the tarragon, mustard and cream. Simmer for two minutes, then return the steaks (and any juices that have accumulated underneath them) to the pan. Cook at a gentle burble for about 5 minutes, or until the sauce has thickened slightly, and the steaks are cooked through. Shake the pan occasionally, and don’t allow the sauce to reduce too much or become gloopy – it should be just thick enough lightly to coat the back of a spoon. Check the seasoning, adding more salt and white pepper if necessary, and serve immediately, with crushed baby potatoes and mangetout, or mash and peas.

Serves 4.

Cook's notes: 
  • Use a pan with a large surface area so that the wine and water reduce quickly. For a really glossy, rich finish, stir a teaspoon of butter into the sauce just before you serve it.
  • You can use medallions of pork fillet for this dish, but take care not to overcook them, as they toughen easily.
  • If you can find fresh tarragon, use that instead, but do so judiciously, as it has a more intense flavour than dried tarragon. Use one tablespoon of chopped leaves, and then taste the sauce at the end to see if you need to add more.
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