Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Feasting on Art Recipe Contest: Salmon with a Strawberry and Feta Crust

I've said it before, but I'm going to say it again: One of the best things about blogging is all the wonderful events you get to participate in. It's also one of the main reasons I started my own blog. The excitement of the challenge, finding a recipe, and seeing what everybody else did is one of my favourite things. I'm a regular on Is My blog Burning, checking out any new interesting events.

One of the wonderful blogs I came across is Feasting on Art, hosted by the lovely Megan. On April 3rd her blog will be 1 year old (Congratulations Megan!), and to celebrate she's holding a recipe competition. She challenged readers to come up with an original recipe featuring the ingredients depicted in the painting "Strawberries", by Renoir.

Pierre Auguste Renoir, Strawberries, 1905,oil on canvas, 46 x 28 cm, Musée de l’Orangerie, Paris, France

I've been to the Musee de l'Orangerie a few years back when I visited Paris with my brother. I love the Impressionists, especially the Waterlilly series by Monet. Most of this collection is at the Musee de l'Orangerie, and I spent a lovely morning looking a the paintings, and then browsing the gift shop. Now, I'm a firm believer that you can tell a good museum by two things: the gift shop and the coffee gallery. I learned this from my brother. I used to feel compelled to look at as much as I could in a museum, until I went on holiday with him. We were visiting the Musee d'Orsay, also in Paris. After I'd seen the Impressionists, and ready to start looking through the rest, my brother informed me that he'll wait for me in the coffee shop. I was aghast! What about all the rest? What about Picasso? And  Corinth? And Hals? Baby Brother calmly informed me that he doesn't actually like Picasso and Corinths and Hals, and he would much rather be having a good cup of coffee. I had to agree with him that I didn't really like Picasso and Corinth and Hals either, and we spent the rest of the morning having coffee and croissants and indulging in a spot of people watching. Which is one of the funnest things to do in Paris, let's be honest.

A few years later I was in New York, and obviously the Met is a must-do. How beautiful is that museum! There was so much to see, I couldn't get through half of it. I saw their Impressionists (of course), and then went to see their ancient history collection, another favourite of mine. It was while doing this that I stumbled upon one of the many gift shops in the museum. I won't go on and on about this, because I tell you, I will if given half the chance. Let's just say that all the beautiful books and prints and gifts impressed me almost as much as the paintings and artifacts. At least half of my budget was blown there.

So you see that this contest is combining two of my favourite things: cooking and art. For my entry I made salmon with a feta and strawberry crust. I find cooked salmon quite rich, and think that it needs something fresh to cut the richness a bit. Strawberries fit the bill nicely. Add some feta and a few herbs, with some lemon juice for a bit of zing, and this recipe is the perfect one to celebrate the last strawberries of the season with.

I also want to thank Megan for allowing me to post this late entry. For some reason I couldn't find any strawberries on my holiday in South Africa, and when I saw them on the shelf this morning I had to have them. Here's to you, Megan! May we enjoy your blog for many more years to come.

Salmon with a Strawberry and Feta Crust
Serves 4

4 salmon fillets
1 punnet strawberries
100g chopped feta (I used feta marinated in olive oil and herbs I had in the fridge. You can do the same, or mix your feta, chopped herbs and olive oil yourself)
Juice of 1 lemon

Preheat your oven to 200°C .

Briefly wash the strawberries, then hull and chop them.

If you don't have marinated feta, mix your chopped feta with some of your favourite chopped herbs (I'm thinking thyme will go nicely) and some olive oil to moisten. Otherwise, drain most of the olive oil from your marinated feta and use this.

Mix the strawberries and feta together, with half of the lemon juice. Add some salt and cracked black pepper to taste.

Place the salmon fillets on a baking sheet lined with baking paper, skin side down. Press the crust mixture on top. Drizzle with a little bit of olive oil.

Bake for 10-15 minutes, depending on the thickness of the fish, until it flakes easily.

Serve with some green vegetables.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Puddle Cookies

Good evening darling readers. Do you know what you do when you travel halfway across the world and subsequently suffer from severe jet lag? And somehow, after being up all night, when you do feel like sleeping, your Little Girl is more interested in playing and practising her standing up? You bake, that's what you do. And may I suggest these absolutely delightful Puddle Cookies? I found them on Stonesoup, a lovely blog with great recipes. When I saw it, I thought "Aaah, another use for egg whites. Must remember this one." I saved the shortcut, and kept it in back of my mind.

If you like making ice cream like I do, you usually have a stash of egg whites in the freezer. I have a few ideas about using them, mostly in the line of marshmallows and meringues, but rarely actually get around to it. I'm planning to make the meringue cookies from Smitten Kitchen, but I'm still a bit intimidated by the thought of making marshmallows. Maybe one day when I'm all grown up.

So another recipe for egg whites is always welcome. Especially if the recipe only has 5 ingredients, there's no whipping involved, it's easy to add your own favourite ingredients, and it tastes absolutely divine. And it tastes absolutely divine. You see what I did there? They are so divine, I had to say it twice. And then, as if this recipe isn't fabulous enough, it is fat free, which means you can have as many cookies as you want.

And you'll want more than one, I promise. If you're able to wait for it to cool down, you obviously have more patience than I do. When it's still warm from the oven, you have a crackly, chewy exterior with a meltingly warm interior. If you manage to wait until it's cool, you have a crackly, chewy exterior with a fabulous gooey inside. Which is what I call win-win. And the taste is divine. (Have I said this already?). Deeply intensely chocolatey. All thanks to cocoa, not a block of chocolate in sight.

If you read the blog post comments on Stonesoup, you'll see that several people have already made it, loved it, and have ideas about making it their own. I'm thinking oats in lieu of a portion of the nuts. But please make this and decide on your own variation, if any. And if you haven't already, hop over to Stonesoup for other fabulous recipes.

Puddle Cookies
Makes about 12, depending on what size you want

155g (1 1/2 cup) roasted and chopped nuts
225g (2 cups) icing/powdered sugar
30g (1/3 cup) cocoa
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 egg whites

Preheat your oven to 160°C.

Combine all ingredients in a medium bowl until well combined.

Spoon heaped tablespoons full onto baking sheets lined with baking paper. Leave plenty of room for spreading.

Bake for 12-15 minutes until crackly on top. Cool on the trays.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Pears in Coffee

Dearest readers. Remember me? The girl who promised dozens and dozens of yummy South African recipes? Yup, that's me. Only all the catching up and sleeping in and showing the Little Girl off to all the family sort of got in the way of all the cooking. But I have all the recipes packed and will work my way through them once we're back home, promise.

In the meantime I want to tell you a bit more about my Baby Brother, who I haven't seen for more than a year and missed very much. I briefly mentioned before that he is a coffee roaster, but that's not half of the story. This is what happened. Both my parents were lawyers, and Baby Brother decided to follow in their footsteps. However, after studying like mad for years and qualifying, he decided he'd rather be a filmmaker. As you do.

I was on holiday in the South Island of New Zealand when I got a call from him at four in the morning (time differences not something he appreciated fully at the time). After establishing that there is no major drama, we started talking about his future. He found a wonderful private film school in Wellington which he was dying to attend, and asked me if I'll be able to support him if he did. Of course I said yes (isn't that what big sisters are for?), and we shared a house in Wellington for almost a year.

 Baby Brother (left), Director

We had a fabulous time. His homework was to watch as many movies as possible, so we frequented the cinemas alarmingly often. In that time he made a few films himself, and I was (and still am) tremendously proud of him. After  graduation he worked on a few film sets, but when his visa ran out, he unfortunately had to come home. He needed a steady job to have his visa extended, and that's not something you find in the film industry.

Back home in South Africa work in the film industry is rather thin on the ground, and he started to look around for something else. Enter the Tribeca Coffee Company, a speciality roastery of fine coffee blends, who needed a master coffee roaster. Typical of the optimism of youth, Baby Brother decided a deep love of coffee must be all that's needed, applied, and got the job. And that's what he does now. He works quite hard, but he has an encyclopedic knowledge of coffee and coffee roasting, and, my favourite, he smells of coffee every night he comes home.

So, in honour of Baby Brother, I give you Pears in Coffee. We all know and love Pears in Wine, Pears in a Spicy Syrup, and Pears in Champagne. But Pears in Coffee will knock your socks off, I promise. The pears are poached in the coffee, and then the coffee is reduced to a syrup with the most intense coffee flavour. It is absolutely delicious. And if you want your house to smell like caramelised coffee for a couple of days, do what I did the first time I tried to make this last week and forget about the coffee on the stove. The syrup will burn to a thick paste that sticks to the bottom of the saucepan, but the smell is divine. Or just do it right the first time, and have the most delicious dessert without having to throw out the saucepan. And don't forget the cream.

Pears in Coffee
Enough for 6

6 pears, peeled and cored
1 litre freshly made coffee
6 tablespoons sugar, or to taste
1 cinnamon stick
2 star anise

Place the pears in a saucepan that is big enough to fit the pears snugly. Combine the coffee, sugar and spices, and pour over the pears.

Simmer the pears over medium heat until soft, but still firm.

Remove the pears and keep separate. Turn the heat up and boil the coffee until reduced to a syrup.

Serve the pears with the syrup and some cream.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Lucky Green Guinness Cupcakes

For some reason St Patrick's day was never a big thing when I grew up. I don't know if it was just my immediate circle, or our Afrikaans culture, but somehow it just completely passed me by. I knew there was an Irish holiday called St Patricks day, and it included some Guinness and a parade, but that was about it. I wouldn't be able to say when it was, or even who said St Patrick was.

Then I moved to New Zealand for a new adventure, and my first night out with my new friends happened to be St. Patricks's day. I wore a green top, had my first Guinness and hated it.I was hooked. Every year I made a point of going to an Irish pub wearing green, although I draw the line at ever drinking Guinness again. But still I didn't know anything more about this Irish holiday.

So when the new Sugar High Friday challenge turned out to be St Patricks day, hosted by The (ex)patriate's Kitchen, I reckoned I needed to do some research. This is what I learnt:
  • St Patricks day in Irish is Lá Fhéile Pádraig
  • St Patrick used the three-leaved Shamrock to explain the Holy Trinity to the pre-Christian Irish.
  • The holiday is held every year on the 17th of March, unless the date falls within Holy Week 
  • Seattle paints the traffic stripe of its parade route green
  • In 1962 Chicago dyed its river green to check for sewer leakage, and has done so ever since on St Patricks day
So what to make for Sugar High Friday? After some thinking, mostly about the correct pronuniation of Lá Fhéile Pádraig, I decided on broccoli cupcakes with a chocolate Guinness icing. I found this cupcake recipe in an article geared towards teaching children how to eat good food. It claims to get them to eat their greens without even realising it. Now I don't have any experience in trying to get children to eat their vegetables (yet), but I'm unconvinced that these cupcakes will do the trick. The broccoli taste is quite pronounced. This wasn't a problem for me, as I quite like broccoli, but I'm not sure how fussy kids will feel about it. I unfortunately didn't have access to any fussy kids to test my theory, thank goodness,  but all the adults who had them loved them.

Then again, that might be because of the icing. This is a recipe from Jamie Oliver via Heather from Eggs, cream and honey, and she called it Chocolate Insanity. I don't know about you, but anything called something so provocative makes me sit up and take notice. And I must agree, it was gorgeous. Very chocolaty and rich and smooth and something, and that something is the Guinness. Nobody I asked could name the secret ingredient, which is good if you want to keep the recipe a secret. I love having a few recipes up my sleeve that people can't work out. Then again, I've never cooked for chefs, so I might just be kidding myself.

I borrowed a custom from the Christmas pudding custom to make these cupcakes lucky. Before icing them, I hid a $2 coin in one of the cupcakes, and told everybody that whoever found it would be extraordinarily lucky for the year to come. That lucky somebody turned out to be me (totally by accident, I swear), so I think I might go and buy some lottery tickets.

Lucky Green Guinness Cupcakes

2 eggs
1/2 cup (125ml) olive oil
3/4 cup (165g) firmly packed brown sugar
1 cup (200g) finely chopped broccoli
1/2 cup (90g) finely grated zucchini
1/2 cup (75g) self-raising flour
1/2 cup (80g) wholemeal self-raising flour
1/4 cup (25g) cocoa
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 tablespoon milk

Preheat oven to 190°C.  Line your muffin tin with paper cases.

Whisk eggs, oil and sugar together in a large bowl. Add remaining ingredients and mix well. Spoon into prepared cases and bake for 15-20 minutes, until done. Transfer to a wire rack to cool.

If you want, hide a coin in one of the cupcakes. Pour some of the Chocolate and Guinness Insanity over each cupcake. Let it set before serving.

Chocolate (and Guinness) Insanity
100ml Guinness
100ml double cream
2 tablespoons golden caster sugar
100g dark chocolate, chopped
Sea salt

Put the beer, cream and sugar in a saucepan over a medium heat. Stir until it comes to a boil and then take it off the heat. Stir the chocolate into the hot cream mixture with a small pinch of salt.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Watermelon, strawberry and Champagne soup with feta, olives and basil

I've been looking at food blogs for a while now, and I love finding a blog that keeps me entertained for days while reading all the posts, bookmarking recipes, and sampling some of the dishes. I have a few ultimate favourites, and What's for lunch honey? is one of them. Not only does the lovely Meeta provide me with hours of reading entertainment, her recipes are truly delicious and her photographs inspiring.

And this wonderful blog is 4 years old! To celebrate, the Monthly Mingle theme this month is Champagne. Very appropriate indeed. And I immediately knew what I wanted to make: Strawberry, watermelon and champagne soup with olives, feta and basil. I made a soup like this a few years back for our New Year's eve party. More of this soon, but I have something to tell you first. You know how people all over the world have parties on New Year's eve, with lovely food and too much champagne? And you know how people think this is to celebrate the New Year? Well, actually, no. You see, it's to celebrate my birthday, which is on New Year's day. At midnight, all over the world, people have a glass of champagne on me. I'm sure all the other people whose birthday is on the 1st of January as well think it's for them, but they're mistaken. It's for me.

Therefore, naturally, I always make sure my party is big. That specific year, we decided it's going to be a formal sit-down dinner. The whole family cooked, and we had a great time planning and preparing. I decided to make this soup for a starter. I was a tiny bit apprehensive, as the guest list included a few conservative palates, but it turned out fabulous. Plates were licked, seconds were served, the recipe was demanded. A huge success indeed. I couldn't wait to recreate this for Meeta. Except I can't find the recipe, and I can't exactly remember how I made it. So I did what I had to do: I improvised.

After some brainstorming and shopping, my mum and I had a great afternoon in the kitchen adding and tasting, and I think our version is even better than the original. This is definitely not a dessert soup. The sweetness of the watermelon and the strawberry soup is perfectly balanced by the saltiness of the feta and olives. Keep in mind that all watermelons are not created equal, and you may need to add some sugar to get your preferred level of sweetness. Or not. Have your own lovely afternoon of adding and tasting.

For the bubbly I used a wonderful South African sparkling wine called Pongracz.Desiderius. The people over at Pongracz claims this Brut Cap Classique has "rich complexity with a classic yeast character from the slow maturation on the lease and a wonderful creamy, nutty quality with a long, lingering palate". I couldn't have put it more eloquently. Next time, I'm keen to try this recipe with a wonderful Australian sparkling shiraz. The possibilities are endless.

So, without further ado, please raise your glass and soup spoon to the lovely Meeta and her fabulous blog. May there be many more years to come.

Watermelon, strawberry and champagne soup with olives, feta and basil
Serves 6

1.5 kg watermelon, chopped (add some caster sugar if the watermelon isn't very sweet)
500ml strawberry juice
750ml champagne, minus one glass for the chef
30ml dry vermouth, or to taste
500ml vegetable stock 
a small handful of basil, plus extra for garnish
1/2 cup chopped feta
1/3 cup chopped black olives
olive oil

Reserve one cup of chopped watermelon, and puree and strain the rest to remove any seeds. Mix the puree with the strawberry juice, champagne, vermouth and vegetable stock. Add the basil, and chill for at least 2 hours.

Remove basil from the chilled soup, and taste for seasoning.

Serve the soup chilled, and topped with the remaining chopped watermelon, chopped feta and olives, and some extra basil leaves. Grind some black pepper over the top and drizzle with some fruity olive oil if desired.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Guess where I am

Dear readers. The reason I've been quiet over the weekend is because we are all suffering a bit from jet-lag. I'll give you a hint: I'm eating biltong as we speak. Good biltong. Outside there's a braai (barbeque) going. Made with wood fire, not gas. Earlier I had a cup of tea with my mum. Not Rooibos, because I don't like it, but it could've been.

 Little South African soccer chicken

Yes, you're right. I'm visiting South Africa, my home country, and my family. What a great time we're having. In between afternoon sleeps to try and adjust to the time zone, we're spending time catching up. It's the first time the Little Girl sees her mother country, and she's having a great time impressing all these new people. Of course it helps that everybody thinks she's gorgeous.

 Press me on my back

As soon as we arrived at mum's house, I started browsing through the recipe books and magazines lying around. I tell you, there are so many recipes I want to try, if I start cooking right now I won't be done when we leave again in 2 weeks. I'm very excited.

 Easter egg!

So, no recipes tonight, but lots of fabulous food coming up. I promise.

Friday, March 12, 2010

The Happiest News

Dearest readers. I'm in a very good mood and I'll tell you why. It's my friends, you see. The ones who are responsible for me being married to the Fabulous Man. The ones who at their wedding had the good sense to put me at the same table as said Fabulous Man. And who also (somehow) arranged for Mcnaught's comet to fill the entire sky that night, to make me feel that surely this was a sign of good things to come.

They are expecting a baby, which is fabulous news. Not at all surprising. These two are so wonderful, I knew some little soul would claim them as parents sooner rather than later. I've been waiting for them to make some sort of announcement for months now. And what do you know? This morning I gave the Lovely Steve (that's his real name, of course) a call, and he said the magic words: "We have news." And I was filled with happiness.

So, to celebrate, and congratulate, I decided to make a cake. My immediate thought was chocolate, as you do, but then realised that Sarah will be watching her caffeine intake. Mind you, as they are in New Zealand, and therefore cruelly denied to ever taste my cake, I realise that the caffeine levels in my cake is entirely beside the point. Still, in case the Lovely Steve decides to make his own version (and he is the best cook in the world, which I'll tell you about some time), I searched for something else.

In the pantry I had some almond meal left over from my tagine, and also a whole bag of lemons from our friend Nick's garden. Nick was also at the fateful wedding, so I thought it only fitting to look for a recipe combining the two. I consulted our friend Google, who suggested the lemon and almond polenta cake on Nigella's website. Now I have a motto in life, and it is that if it's good enough for Nigella, then it's good enough for me. That woman should be queen, I tell you. Not only will commonwealth envelopes feature uber sexy stamps, probably smelling of chocolate, more Australians might vote in favour of keeping the country a monarchy.

Of course the cake tasted fabulous. Not too sweet, very lemony, and a lovely texture thanks to the polenta. I only had the instant type, and it worked perfectly. If you have the patience to wait for the cake to cool completely in the tin, you're a better man than I am (figuratively speaking, of course). I couldn't wait, the smell was driving me crazy. And it was delicious, but very crumbly. You do really need to cut this cake fridge cold. After that you can serve it as as, but I also tried it at room temperature and slightly warm, both very good. You decide which you prefer.

A note to all Australian readers: this recipe is from the UK, therefore a tablespoon is 15ml, not 20ml. If anybody can tell me why Australia is different in this regard, I'd really like to know. Google wasn't sure.

Lemon, almond and polenta cake
Recipe from here

200g butter
200g caster sugar
200g ground almonds
100g polenta
3 eggs
4 lemons
1 teaspoon (5ml) baking powder
6 extra tablespoons (15ml) caster sugar

Preheat your oven to 170°C. Grease and line a 23cm springform pan.

In a bowl beat the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add in the eggs one by one, beating well after each addition.

Add the ground almonds and again beat well. Stir in the polenta and the baking powder. Grate in the zest of one of the lemons and the juice of half a lemon. Mix well and then scrape the mixture into your prepared tin.

Bake on the middle shelf of the oven for about 45 minutes to an hour - check to make sure a skewer comes out clean when inserted into the cake.

While the cake is baking, place the zest of two of the lemons and the juice from the remaining three and a half lemons in a small saucepan with the 6 tablespoons of sugar. Stir to combine and then heat over a gentle heat until the sugar has dissolved.

When the cake is cooked, remove from the oven and prick all over with a skewer - immediately pour the lemon syrup over the cake and let it soak in completely.

Leave to cool in the tin, then remove and wrap in foil until needed. This cake keeps well in the fridge for a few days, but I double dare you to try and keep it that long.

Enjoy with some cream if you have some calories to spare, but keep in mind that a slice of this cake actually counts as a serving of fruit (lemons, and let's not forget the vitamin C) and a serving of calcium. It will be irresponsible not to add the cream.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Little Girl Chicken Pie

Good morning lovely readers. I want to tell you about the dinner we had last night. Previously, if I heard the words Chicken Pie I would just nod and smile and think maybe one day when I have all the time in the world. Isn't it fiddly? Doesn't it take ages? Surely the pastry will be a disaster?

Not with this recipe. This recipe meets all my have-a-Little Girl cooking criteria: it's quick, it's easy, it can be made with ingredients you're likely to have, and if you don't, you can substitute. I found the original recipe at the fabulous Sarie website, where it is a red hot favourite. First of all, it uses leftover chicken. Isn't it lovely to have a recipe up your sleeve to use up any leftover chicken, that isn't a sandwich? Don't have any leftover chicken? Neither did I, so I defrosted a couple of chicken breasts from the stash in the freezer. Really want to make your own pastry, but don't have time/energy/confidence? Do what I did, and grab some pastry you have hidden away in the freezer for times like these. I always try to have some on hand. You can use it for anything and everything, and it hardly takes up any space at all. A cooking secret weapon.

I had half a bag of mushrooms in the fridge, which I added, together with a glass of the Fabulous Man's open bottle of white wine. If you have any green vegetables that's not enough for a proper side, add this as well. Basically, go to your fridge, see what's lurking, and put it in this pie. The more the merrier.

And you know what? It tastes fantastic too. Fancy and comforting at the same time, it's perfect for both Tuesday dinner and Sunday lunch with the in-laws.

Little Girl Chicken Pie
Serves 4

2 chicken breasts, or roughly the same amount leftover cooked chicken
about a handful of mushrooms, chopped
2 cloves garlic
a glass of white wine
a small handful chopped parsley
1 potato, cooked
1 cup (250ml) cream
1 sheet puff pastry
1 egg, beaten

Preheat your oven to 200ºC/400ºF

If you're using raw chicken breasts, chop them, and brown in some olive oil. Remove from pan and keep separate. If you're using leftovers, remove from bone, chop, and keep separate.

Heat butter in the same frying pan until frothy, add mushrooms and garlic, and fry until golden. I like to keep the garlic cloves whole, and get a surprising soft, creamy mouthful when I eat. If you think that's weird, by all means chop your garlic. Return the chicken and any juices to the pan, add the white wine and parsley, and cook until the juices reduce. Remember to scrape the bottom of the pan to get all the lovely brown bits.

Peel and chop the potato, place with chicken in a mixing bowl. Add the cream, season, and mix everything until just combined.

Put the pastry on a baking sheet on some parchment paper, and brush with egg. Pile your chicken filling in the middle of the pastry, leaving a border of about 5 cm. Fold the border over the sides of the filling, and brush this with egg as well.

Bake in the oven until golden brown and the pastry cooked, about 35-45min.

Serve with a salad and green vegetables.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Ricotta, dill and honey crumpets

Do you know what the most important thing is you should ask a possible love interest? "Are you a morning person." Yup. True, Do you like chocolate? and Do you like dogs? are very much up there, but in my opinion, whether a couple's sleeping habits are compatible is one of the single most important indicators of how smoothly their days gel in the relationship.

Me, I'm lucky. Not only did my husband buy me very expensive chocolate to impress me on his first trip to New Zealand to visit me, but we are the happy owners of two crazy dogs. Also, we're both not what you would call "morning people". Before the arrival of the Little Girl, we would regularly stay in bed until midday. Not necessarily sleeping.  We would have cups of tea, read a bit, chat a lot, surf the internet, and generally just spend some time together. We were very happy when we were able to train the new puppies to sleep until 10. The Little Girl is doing very well with her occasional 9 'o clock mornings. (Very occasional).

So you can imagine that breakfast is not a regular occurence in our house. Usually we have some toast mid-morning, but that's about it. Maybe some scrambled eggs if somebody is feeling energetic. But you know what? When I picture "happy family", one of the key ingredients is having a fabulous breakfast together. So, when the Little Girl wakes up at, say, 6, and let's face it, if she ain't sleeping, then nobody's sleeping, I try to do something special for breakfast. Sometimes I make omelettes, or french toast, or The Fabulous Man's favourite: egg-in-a-hole. A popular South African breakfast is crumpets (called pikelets in New Zealand, pancakes in Australia), and it always seems as if you've gone through a lot of trouble when you make them. Thank goodness they're easy.

I've been keeping an eye on the popular Paper Chef challenge for a while now. The host choses 3 or 4 ingredients, and participants have to come up with a recipe showcasing them all. It smacks of Iron Chef, and let's be honest, everybody loves Iron Chef (the Japanese one, with the hillarious dubbing and theatrical gestures). This month's event was hosted by Prospect: the Pantry, and the ingredients are honey, ricotta, dill and honey, with New Beginnings as the theme. Sounds like breakfast crumpets, doesn't it?

Everybody can make a crumpet/pikelet/pancake. Everybody loves a crumpet/pikelet/pancake. But to elevate the lovely to the divine, add ricotta, and separate your eggs. Whip the egg whites, and fold it into the batter before making these little beauties. This ensures the crumpets turn out light and pillowy (of course that's a word!). The dill adds a lovely oomph to the crumpets, and drizzling some more runny honey over them before serving is the perfect finishing touch. A great beginning for a new day. Now, go play Happy Family.

Ricotta, dill and honey crumpets
Serves 2

1/2 cup plain flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
4 eggs, separated
1 cup ricotta
3/4 cup milk
2 tablespoons runny honey, and more for serving
small handful chopped dill

 Sift together the flour and baking powder. Mix the eggs yolks and milk together, and add this to the flour. Mix in the ricotta, milk and honey and dill.

Beat the egg whites until stiff. Fold this into the batter.

Heat some oil or butter in a frying pan over medium heat. Pour in spoonfulls of batter into the pan. Fry until golden and done both sides. For me this took about 2 minutes a side, but start with only one crumpet at a time to make sure you get it right. Not all stovetops are the same.

Serve warm drizzled with some extra runny honey.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Balsamic Glazed Chicken - a dish that will stick to your (broken) ribs

Hallo everybody. We're having a bit of a tough week up the mountain. The Little Girl has discovered Standing Up, and she can't get enough of it. Against the couch, against my legs, against book cases, up the stairs (which gave me a couple of extra grey hairs!), against the sliding door looking out. Which is great, if only the Coming Down bit was just as easy. She's still struggling with that. Every now and again when I'm not paying close enough attention, I hear a thump followed by tears.

But wait, there's more, like they say on television. The Fabulous Man phoned me last Saturday after his trail bike ride, and said he'd hurt his shoulder, and he'll be home after the pub lunch. Foolishly I thought that it couldn't be that bad if they're still going out, but when he came home, cradling his arm, I knew. I could feel the gap in his collar bone, and a trip to the emergency department confirmed it: fractured. And a few ribs as well. If you don't have any experience with a man nursing broken bones, let me tell you. It's not easy. Not that my husband has a low pain threshold. In fact, he claims that he's fine until he suddenly looks as if he's going to die. I really feel sorry for him.

Except when I've had a long day with Standing Up Little Girl and never got round to lunch and I'm expected to make dinner with said Little Girl on my hip, as the Fabulous Man claims he can't pick up the Little Girl with a broken collar bone and several broken ribs. And unfortunately he's right. I mean, he needs help putting on pants, picking up babies is way above his ability at this stage.

So, if ever you are in this situation, this is what you cook for dinner. You'll probably have all the ingredients in the house, it's quick and it's easy. And it's fine to abandon at any stage if you need to look after a teething Little Girl. I want to apologise for the shocking photos, but plating up a good looking meal and trying to focus your camera while holding a grizzly baby is impossible. I promise it looks good. And it tastes even better.

Balsamic Glazed Chicken
Recipe found here
Serves 2-4, depending on the size of the chicken breasts

Olive oil
1 onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 chicken breasts, bashed until about 1cm thick
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
1 cup chicken stock
2 tablespoons honey
1 tablespoon butter

Heat olive oil in a frying pan. Cook onion and garlic until soft.

Add chicken breasts to the pan, and fry until golden brown both sides. Season, remove to a plate and cover.

Add the balsamic vinegar, stock and honey to the pan. Bring to a boil, then simmer until the liquid is reduced by a half.

Stir in the butter, and when this has melted, return the chicken to the pan untill warmed through.

Serve with some rice (or couscous if you don't have time) and green vegetables.


H2OPE for Haiti update: If you still want to buy tickets for the BloggerAid online raffle, or want to buy more, you still have until tomorrow. There's a list of lovely prizes over here courtesy of Cooksister. Have a look, and see if anything catches your fancy. Haiti might be out of the spotlight now, especially due to the other devastating earthquake in Chile, but there is still a lot to be done, and it's even more important now to help keep the relief effort going. Proceeds of the raffle will go to Concern Worldwide. Head over to their website to see what good things they do.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Quack au Vin

I am in the enviable position of having a husband who works mostly from home. In practical terms this means sleeping in most mornings, having cups of tea in bed with the little girl in between us, and lunch together most days. Unfortunately this also means that he has to be in Brisbane most weeks for a day or two. This is hard. The Little Girl and I really miss him, and we're generally both just a tiny bit off until he comes home.

On the plus side, it means I have duck for dinner. The Fabulous Man thinks he is one of those people who doesn't like duck. I'm sure he'll realise his mistake soon, but in the meantime I'm on my own. Me, I adore duck. I'll be happy if somebody tells me that for the rest of my life I'm only allowed to have duck (and chocolate). My little brother, a qualified lawyer who is now master coffee roaster for an organic coffee company in South Africa, is the same. We used to have competitions at home to see who could come up with the best duck recipe (he always won, but someday I'll have my revenge).

So, whenever the Fabulous Man is working hard in Brisbane, and it's us girls home alone, I pull out some duck from the freezer. I try different things, but this one is a classic: onions, pancetta, red wine, mushrooms (which I didn't have tonight), duck breast and polenta. I'm sure duck on the bone will taste better, but it's the breasts I have in the freezer, plus they cook much quicker, so that's what I'm working with. To be honest, it's not a real recipe. I don't give exact measurements, as it mostly depends on how much of everything I have on hand. But whatever you put in this dish, it always turns out delicious. The red wine reduces to a beautiful rich sauce, and together with the onions and pancetta is just the perfect background for the duck. The perfect comforting dish to keep me happy until the Fabulous Man comes home.

Quack au Vin (or Duck for a lonely wife)
Serves 1, but easily adaptable for more

Heat some olive oil in a pan until hot, and fry the duck breast until brown. Remove with a slotted spoon, and keep warm. Fry one chopped onion in the same pan until soft. Add a handful of chopped pancetta, and fry for a couple more minutes. Add some chopped mushrooms, cook until soft. It may be necessary to add more oil. Return the duck to the pan, and add about one to two cups of red wine. Cover the pan, and cook until the wine is reduced and the duck is cooked, about 10-15 minutes. Removed the duck from the wine and let it rest before serving.

Serve with some polenta, or whatever you have in the cupboard.