Friday, 27 February 2009

Two-meals-in-one-go: Roast Orange Chicken Breasts with an Apricot and Nut Stuffing, and Glazed Pork Fillet

My mom used to make a baked orange chicken dish like this when I was in my teens, and I had a nostalgic rush of blood to the tastebuds when I made it again. I've reworked the recipe and added stuffing to make it more interesting (and, besides, my husband likes a bit of stuffing).

This recipe uses a lot of chicken breasts, with the aim of having leftovers for lunch boxes the next day. It's a bit fiddly to prepare the stuffing - leave it out, if you're in a hurry.

Freshly squeezed orange juice is essential - please don't use anything else - and take care not to overcook the chicken breasts. They should be juicy and tender when they come out of the oven.

If you'd like a thicker sauce, reduce the sauce mixture by boiling it for a few minutes on the stove before you pour it around the chicken pieces. I prefer a thinner juice ( please don't make me say 'zhjooo' ['jus'] which has to be one of the most irritating words I have ever heard come from the lips of a waiter or a food critic).

There was plenty of lovely orangey, chickeny zhjooo juice left over, and I used this as a base for making Trish Deseine's lovely Glazed Pork Fillet. This clever recipe - which I saw Trish demonstrating on TV as I was cooking the chicken - poaches a whole pork fillet in a bath of fresh orange juice, soy sauce, fish sauce and ginger; as the sauce reduces, it coats the fillet in a dark sticky caramelised glaze. I managed to snaffle two meltingly tender slices before the family ploughed in, and then the bloody cat pinched the rest off the counter.

Roast Orange Chicken Breasts with an Apricot and Nut Stuffing

10 free-range chicken breasts, on the bone, and skin on (thighs would be good too)
a few sprigs of fresh thyme

For the stuffing:
a little olive oil
1 large onion, peeled and very finely chopped
a fat clove of garlic, peeled and crushed
4 slices brown bread
4-5 fresh sage leaves
2 T (30 ml) fresh thyme leaves
a handful of nuts (about 1/2 cup; 125 ml) roughly chopped (I used pistachio nuts, but pecans or walnuts would be nice)
6 soft dried apricots, finely diced
one large egg
salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

For the sauce:
the finely grated zest of one orange
300 ml freshly squeezed orange juice
5 T (75 ml) chicken stock or white wine
2 T (30 ml) honey
2 T (30 ml) good soy sauce (such as Kikkoman)
a small knob (about 2cm x 2cm) fresh ginger, grated
2 cloves of garlic, crushed
1 tsp (5 ml) ground ginger
1 tsp (5 ml) ground coriander
salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Preheat the oven to 200°C. Loosen the skin on the top of the breasts by slipping your hand underneath the skin and easing it away from the flesh to make pockets.

To make the stuffing, heat a frying pan and add the the olive oil. Turn in the chopped onion and cook over a medium heat until softened and beginning to turn golden. Stir in the garlic and fry for another minute or so (but don't let the garlic brown). In the meantime, put the bread slices into the jug of a food processor fitted with a metal blade. Process until fine. Now add the sage leaves and pulse until the leaves are finely chopped. Tip the breadcrumbs and sage into the cooked onion mixture and stir well. Remove the frying pan from the heat, allow to cool for five minutes, then add all the remaining stuffing ingredients. Use a fork or your fingers to combine.

Divide the mixture into ten portions.

Lift the skin away from the top of each breast, and spread a portion of stuffing into the pockets. Smooth the skin over the stuffing and press down well so that the stuffing is evenly distributed. Place the chicken breasts into an ovenproof dish or roasting pan and season with salt and pepper. (Go easy on the salt, as the soy sauce is salty enough on its own).

To make the sauce, whisk together all the ingredients. (You might need to warm the honey so it dissolves easily). Spoon a little of the sauce over each chicken breast, reserving the rest. Tuck a few sprigs of thyme between the chicken breasts, place in the oven and roast at 200°C for 25 minutes, or until the skin is beginning to crisp and become golden brown. Drain off any excess fat by tilting the dish over the sink.

Now pour the rest of the sauce around the chicken pieces and put the dish back in the oven. Reduce the heat to 180°C and bake for another 30-40 minutes, depending on the size and thickeness of the breasts, or until the chicken is cooked through but still tender. (Check by cutting through the thickest part of one breast; if there is not a trace of pinkness in the juices, the chicken is done.)

Serve with Basmati rice, and spoon a little orange sauce over each piece of chicken.

Serves 6, with plenty of leftovers for sandwiches.

Pork Fillet in an Orange Glaze

To make Trish Desaine's recipe, I strained the remaining juices from the roasting pan, to remove the fat that had hardened in the fridge overnight, and added a little more fresh orange juice, garlic and ginger, another 2 T (30 ml) honey, and a glug of fish sauce. I poached the pork fillet (a pork neck would be just as good) gently for the first 20 minutes, flipping it often, and then then turned up the heat to a fierce boil for the last ten or so minutes.

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Wednesday, 25 February 2009

Quick Sweetcorn, Feta and Leek Fritters

Quick Sweetcorn, Feta and Leek Fritters
These sweetcorn fritters are lovely with a sweet chilli sauce 
Five ears of lovely local sweetcorn have been giving me the yellow tooth from inside my fridge for a week now, but I just didn't feel like eating mielies (which is what we call corn here in South Africa). A fritter was what I felt like, and this is what I made.

Do use a fairly generous amount of oil - say, 2 to 3 tablespoons - when you fry these fritters, so that the little kernels of corn sticking out at the edges go all nutty and juice-poppy as they brown.

My kids really liked these and I'm going to make them again for their lunch boxes.

You could add some Thai flavours - a little chopped coriander, lemon grass and chopped green chilli, perhaps some ginger and garlic, to this mixture, and serve it with a sweet dipping sauce.

Quick Sweetcorn, Feta and Leek Fritters

5 ears of sweetcorn (on the cob)
a large leek, white part only, skinned and very finely chopped
a generous handful of chopped fresh parsley
two wheels of feta cheese (about 140 g), crumbled
2 free-range eggs
½ cup (125 ml) white flour
½ tsp (2.5 ml) baking powder
salt and milled black pepper, to taste
sunflower or olive oil for frying

Hold the corn cob vertically in one hand, its bottom end resting on a chopping board, and slice downwards with a sharp knife to cut off the kernels.

Put the kernels in a bowl, add all the remaining ingredients and stir well with a fork.

Heat the oil in a nonstick frying pan and, when it is nice and hot, use a large spoon to drop dollops of the mixture into the oil. Fry for about two minutes, or until golden brown on underneath, and then flip and fry for another two minutes. Don't let the pan get too hot as these burn quickly. Add more oil, if necessary, to the pan for the next batch.

Drain on kitchen paper and serve hot with lemon wedges.

Makes about 10 fritters. Print Friendly and PDFPrint Friendly

Saturday, 21 February 2009

Audrey's Almond Tart

Audrey Rayner, champion baker, on her wedding day.
My late mother-in-law Audrey Rayner (née Morgan) was a wonderful cook, entirely self-taught, with a particular talent for pastry and cake making. She had a lightness of touch, a fine palate and an innate understanding of good ingredients.

She was also an entirely English cook, producing the sort of fine traditional food that makes grown men weep: the tartest fruit pies, flans and crumbles, the most succulent roasts, the tastiest gravies, the lightest biccies and steamed puddings.

Here is her recipe for Almond Tart, a simple but sublime formula consisting of a light shortcrust pastry, a spreading of excellent home-made raspberry jam and a topping of almond frangipane.

You will notice that this recipe calls for Stork  (a South African margarine or vegetable shortening designed for baking). Audrey wasn't a margarine eater - the very idea of putting it on toast would have appalled her - but she always insisted that vegetable shortening made the lightest and best pastry. Use butter if you like, but Stork is best.

I hesitate to tamper with this recipe, but I have two things to add to it.  One, roll your pastry out between sheets of cling film (and I bless Rachel Allen for this excellent tip), which makes it so easy to handle.

I wanted to show you the whole tart, but my family polished
off most of it before it had even had a chance to cool.
Two: Although Audrey never baked this pastry case blind, you might want to do so if you want a crisp dry bottom on your pastry.

Audrey's Almond Tart

For the pastry:

250 g cake flour
150 g cold Stork margarine, or similar vegetable shortening, or butter, cut into small cubes
about 100 ml ice-cold water (see recipe, below)

For the filling:

100 g soft butter
100 g caster sugar
1 large free-range egg
2 Tbsp (30 ml) self-raising flour
70 g ground almonds
5 ml (1 tsp) natural almond extract, or almond essence
5 Tbsp (75 ml) raspberry jam, slightly warmed

Heat the oven to 190° C. 

First make the pastry. Put the flour and the margarine into a bowl, and rub together with your fingertips until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs. Add the cold water, bit by bit, until the pastry just holds together. Knead lightly with your fingertips and press into a ball. (You can do this quickly in a food processor fitted with a metal blade: use the pulse button to process the flour and margarine, and add the cold water in splashes, through the tube of the jug, until the pastry comes together and forms a mass. Don't over-process the dough).

Wrap the pastry in clingfilm and put it in the fridge while you make the filling.

Using a whisk or electric whisk, cream together the butter and caster sugar until light and fluffy. Whisk in the egg, self-raising flour, almonds and almond essence. Set aside.

Now roll out your pastry. Place a long piece of cling film on a marble slab, or your counter top. Put the cold pastry ball on top, and cover with another piece of clingfilm. Using a rolling pin, roll out the pastry into a rough circle about 20 cm in diameter, and about 2 mm thick.

Grease an 18-cm-diameter flan or pie dish.

Peel off the top layer of cling film. Now flip the pastry over and drape it over the flan dish, without peeling off the upper layer of cling film. Gently ease the pastry into the dish, getting well into the corners, and letting its edges drape over the rim.  When the pastry is sitting comfortably in the dish,  run a rolling pin firmly over the rim to slice away any overhang.   Peel off the top layer of clingfilm and pull away the excess overhanging pastry.

Prick the base of the pastry all over with a fork, and press down on it a circle of baking paper or tin foil cut to about the same size.  Fill the paper with 2 cups of rice or dried beans, and bake blind at 190 °C for 15 minutes, or until the outer rim feels somewhat dry when you tap it with a finger.  Gently remove the paper with the rice, and return the dish it to the oven - turned down to 180 °C - for a further 10-15 minutes, or until the base of the pastry is a light golden colour, and dry to the touch.

Allow to cool for 10 minutes.

Spread the raspberry jam all over the bottom of the pastry case. Place big blobs of the almond filling on top of the jam, and smooth the surface with a spatula, making sure to bring the mixture right up to the edges of the pastry case and form a tight seal, to prevent the jam from bubbling up.

Roll the remaining scraps of pastry into a long rectangle (again, between sheets of cling film) and then cut into thin strips. Put the strips in a criss-cross or lattice fashion across the top of the tart (you can twist each strip first, if you like.)

Bake at 190° C for 20-25 minutes, or until the filling is golden and puffed up. Delicious warm with cream or vanilla ice cream.

Makes one 18-cm tart.

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Thursday, 19 February 2009

Moroccan Soup with Chicken, Couscous, Mint and Lemon

Subtly spiced, with a zing of lemon and dried mint and a mild kick of red chilli, this gorgeous couscous and chicken soup takes a while to prepare but is so easy to make. Dried mint is essential for this dish. If you can't find dried mint in your local supermarket, dry a bunch of fresh mint in your oven a few hours before you make the soup (see notes, below). This soup is, for me, a near-perfect supper; I would be happy to eat it for lunch. And breakfast. It's good, nourishing family food too (if you have any picky eaters who don't do spice, use the left-over stock to make my Quick, Thick Chicken Soup For Kids)

Because this is a spiced soup, it needs a very strong chicken stock, and for this reason I have specified both a whole fresh chicken, and extra chicken bones (a chicken carcass, which you can ask your butcher for) or a pack of wings. The first part of this recipe - making the stock - can be done at your leisure (but do refrigerate the stock if you're making it early). The second part of the recipe should be started about thirty minutes before you serve.

This recipe is adapted from Moroccan: A Culinary Journey of Discovery by Ghillie Basan.

Moroccan Soup with Chicken, Couscous, Mint and Lemon

For the stock:

1 whole fresh chicken
an extra chicken carcass (leftover from the roast, or raw), or 8 wings
3 litres cool water
1 whole onion, skin on, roughly chopped
3 carrots, roughly chopped
3 stalks celery, chopped
a few stalks of parsley
2 whole cloves
2 bay leaves
a lemon, washed and quartered, but not peeled
1 4-cm stick cinnamon
1 T (15 ml) whole coriander seeds

salt and freshly milled black pepper

For the soup:
30 ml olive oil
2 large onions, peeled and finely chopped
1-2 fresh red chillies, to taste, de-seeded and finely chopped
2 cloves of garlic, peeled and finely chopped
1 T (15 ml) powdered cumin
1 T (15 ml) paprika
1 T (15 ml) dried mint (see notes, below)
1 T (15 ml) white sugar
4 T (60 ml) tinned tomato paste
3/4 cup (180 ml) couscous
salt and freshly milled black pepper

To serve:
fresh coriander leaves, chopped
a little grated lemon zest
dried mint
lemon wedges

First make the stock. Put the whole chicken and the chicken carcass (or wings) into a big pot, add the water and bring to the boil. Turn down the heat and simmer for half an hour, now and then skimming off any white scum that floats to the surface. Now add all the remaining stock ingredients, and season to taste with salt and pepper. Simmer for an hour and a quarter, or until the whole chicken is tender and cooked right through.

Remove the whole chicken, leaving the carcass and vegetables in the stock, place it in a colander set over a bowl, and set aside to cool. If you have time, simmer the stock for another hour or so. Now switch off the heat under the stock and allow to cool for half an hour. Using a metal spoon, skim off any fat that has floated to the surface.

In the meantime, heat the oil in a soup pot and add the onions and chilli. Fry over a medium heat until the onions are softened and beginning to turn golden. Stir in the garlic, cumin, paprika, mint, sugar and tomato paste and cook for another minute.

Strain two litres of the chicken stock into this mixture and bring to the boil. Turn down the heat, tip in the couscous and simmer for about ten minutes, or until the couscous is done. Season with salt and freshly milled black pepper.

When the chicken is cool enough, strip the meat from the carcass and shred it. Discard any skin or bone and keep it for a stock.

Set out the warmed soup dishes, and pile the shredded chicken into the centre of each soup dish. Ladle the soup around the chicken. Grate over a little lemon zest and sprinkle with a pinch of dried mint and a generous scattering of fresh coriander.

Serve with lemon wedges, to be squeezed into the hot soup.

Serves 6-8.

To dry fresh mint, wash a bunch of mint and strip off the leaves. Shake well. Spread the leaves loosely on a baking tray, and put them on the middle rack of your oven. Turn the heat down to its lowest setting and bake until they are quite dry. Crumble the leaves and store in a clean, airtight jar for a up to a month.

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Monday, 16 February 2009

Roast Pork Neck with Leeks, Carrots and Apples

Roast Pork Neck with Leeks, Carrots and Apples
Pork neck is an inexpensive yet most tender cut, with a delicate, sweet taste that lends itself to all sorts of flavour combinations. I don't know why you can't buy pork neck (or pork belly, for that matter) in your average South African supermarket: I suppose because the words 'pork' and 'neck' put together just sound tough and brutish, like 'knuckle gristle' or 'elbow grind'.

If you have a good butcher - I buy my pork from the incomparable Seemann's, in Strydom Park, Johannesburg - ask him for this cut. It's excellent in stews and casseroles, and lovely roasted in the oven with garlic, olive oil and fresh herbs. It also lends itself well to dark, spicy Oriental glazes: try coating a piece of pork neck in a mixture of soy sauce , honey, rice wine and orange juice wine flavoured with ginger, garlic and five-spice powder, and baking it at a low temperature for three or four hours until it's so tender you can shred it with a fork.

In this recipe, the pork is slow-cooked (after a preliminary hot-firing for browning purposes) on a bed of carrots, leeks and onions, with apple wedges and fresh sage adding sweetness and punch.

Roast Pork Neck with Leeks, Carrots and Apples

For the roast:
a piece of pork neck (about 1.3 kg), trimmed of large bits of fat
2 Tbsp (30 ml) wholegrain mustard
2 Tbsp (30 ml) olive oil
salt and freshly milled pepper
3 cloves fresh garlic, peeled and sliced
a large sprigs of fresh sage

For the vegetables:
8 big carrots, peeled
8 leeks, white parts only, rinsed
2 onions, peeled
2 Tbsp (30 ml) olive oil
1 Tbsp (15 ml) butter
3 eating apples (I used Golden Delicious)
3 cloves fresh garlic, roughly chopped
1 Tbsp (15ml) fresh thyme (see note below)
2 Tbsp (30ml) fresh sage leaves, sliced
1½ cups (375 ml) chicken, beef or vegetable stock or a combination of stock and dry white wine
salt and milled black pepper

For the gravy:
4 tsp (20ml) flour
2 cups stock, or a combination of stock and white wine
a dash of Kikkoman soy sauce (optional)
salt and milled black pepper

Preheat the oven to 220°C. Place the pork neck in a roasting pan and smear the mustard all over it. Sprinkle with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Tuck the garlic slices and sage sprig under the pork and place in the oven, on the top rack. Roast for 35-45 minutes, or until the pork is beginning to turn a golden brown on top. Remove from the oven and drain off any excess fat.

In the meantime, prepare the vegetables. Top and tail the peeled carrots and cut into batons as long and thick as your ring finger. Cut the leeks into 2-cm slices, and quarter the onions. Heat the olive oil and butter in a big pan or wok and add the carrots, leeks and onions. Cook, stirring frequently, over a high heat for five minutes, or until the leeks and onions begin to take on a little colour. Core the apples and cut into wedges, but do not peel. Now add the apple to the pan along with the garlic, the thyme, and the sage.

Cook, tossing frequently, for another three minutes, then season with salt and pepper.

Remove the pork neck from its pan and put it aside. Spread the vegetables and apple in the roasting pan and set the pork neck on top. Pour in the stock and/or white wine. Put the pan back in the oven and reduce the heat to 150° C. Bake, uncovered, for about an hour and a half, or until the vegetables are soft and glazed and the pork is meltingly tender. Check the dish every half hour or so: if the stock has boiled away, add a little more. By the time it's finished cooking, there should be just a few tablespoons of liquid left in the pan.

Remove the pork and set aside to rest for ten minutes. Lift the vegetables from the roasting pan - leaving a few bits of carrot, leek, onion and garlic behind - using a slotted spoon, and keep warm. Put the roasting pan on the hob and turn the heat onto high. Sprinkle the flour into the pan and stir well, scraping to dislodge any golden residue. Cook for two or so minutes, pressing on the remaining veg bits with the back of a spoon. Now pour in a cup of stock or stock/wine combination, and, using a whisk, stir vigorously until the sauce thickens and bubbles alarmingly. Thin the gravy with more stock, water or wine to the desired consistency (I know it's old-fashioned, but I like a thickish gravy). Turn down the heat to very low and and allow to bubble gently for five minutes. If the gravy seems a bit pallid, add a dash of soy sauce.

Carve the pork into thickish slices and serve with the vegetables and gravy.

Serves 6.

You really do need fresh thyme and sage for this dish. My thyme bush is so poorly that I have taken to buying fresh bunches of thyme and freezing them, still in their packets. When a recipe calls for thyme, I open the packet, and scrunch it in my hands over the pan, so that the little frozen leaves shower out, leaving the stalks behind. And there is no loss of flavour or texture at all. Print Friendly and PDFPrint Friendly

Pear and Blackberry Almond Crumble

If you're faced with a fruit bowl full of pears which are going to be ripe and perfect for precisely the next two hours before they collapse into brown fur, try this pretty crumble pudding. 

My husband, who was born in England, is putty in my hands when faced with any sort of fruit crumble or cobbler, especially if it involves berries of any kind. He suggested adding the blackberries to the crumble, and the almonds were my idea. This filling is quite tart: add more sugar to the fruit if you like.

Pear and Blackberry Almond Crumble

one small lemon
8 pears
1 punnet blackberries (about a cup and a half)
60 ml (4 Tbsp) white sugar or caster sugar

For the crumble:
200 g cake flour
150 g cold butter, cut into cubes
100 g (about 1/2 cup) white sugar or caster sugar
50 g flaked almonds, plus a few tablespoons extra for topping

Preheat the oven to 180°C. Squeeze the lemon juice into a 28-cm-diameter pie dish. Now peel and core the pears, and cut them into wedges (an apple-wedging tool is perfect for this job).

Add the pear slices to the lemon juice in the pie dish as you prepare them, so they don't go brown. Scatter the blackberries over the pears and then sprinkle with the sugar. Set aside. Put the flour and the butter into the jug of a food processor fitted with a metal blade and process until it resembles fresh, fine breadcrumbs. Add the sugar and the rest of the flaked almonds. Pulse in the food processor until the almonds are well ground.

Cover the fruit with the crumble mixture, making sure that every piece of fruit is covered (but don't press down on the topping). Break up any claggy bits by fluffing them with a fork.

In the meantime, heat a frying pan, add the remaining flaked almonds and toss over a medium heat until golden and toasted.

Bake at 180°C for 40-45 minutes, or until the topping is crisp and the fruit juices are
beginning to seep from the edges. Sprinkle with the toasted almonds.

Serve with cream or custard - or both.

Serves 6-8.

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Thursday, 12 February 2009

21st Century Coronation Chicken with Mango: light, bright and spicy

Coronation Chicken, that classic dish of the 1950s, isn't something you're likely to see on a restaurant menu these days. In fact, I don't recall ever having seeing this on a printed menu. The only time you might encounter Coronation Chicken is if you have lunch with an old granny with strong British connections, or you might be lucky enough to find it between two slices of wholegrain organic bread in a swanky sandwich bar in London.

What a pity this recipe has fallen out of favour, because - given a little healthy tweak and updated with fresh spices - it's delicious.

At a gloved and lipsticked suburban ladies' luncheon in, say, 1959, you might have been served up a dish of cold, poached chicken, coated with a thick, tangy-mayonnaise-and-whipped-cream sauce, flavoured with tomato paste, lemon, apricot purée and a few teaspoonsful of dusty, aged curry powder. A bed of shredded iceberg lettuce might have featured, plus many tufts of parsley and a few artfully carved lemon halves.

The dish was invented, apparently, by florist Constance Spry and her associate Rosemary Hume (original recipe here) for Queen Elizabeth's coronation luncheon in 1953. The recipe appeared in the The Constance Spry Cookbook, published in 1956, and within a few years had become an established classic.

My light, bright and delicate version of this dish uses virtually the same ingredients, but with a healthy twist: skinless, deboned chicken breasts, fresh spices, some good mayonnaise, and tangy white yoghurt. And, because I live in Africa, where mangos are in season, mango slices instead of apricots. But apricots or sliced, peeled fresh peaches would be just as good.

Postscript: I have abandoned the cheffy method of cooking chicken breasts in clingfilm, below, in favour of oven-poaching, which produces a lovely, moist, flavoursome result. Here's how to oven-poach chicken breasts

21st Century Coronation Chicken: light, bright and spicy

10 skinless, deboned chicken breasts, poached, or an equivalent amount of cold sliced cooked chicken (see notes below)
2 T (30 ml) olive oil
1 small onion, peeled and very finely chopped or minced
4 t (20 ml) fresh, mild curry powder
3 ml ground cumin
3 ml turmeric
1 clove
a two-centimetre-long piece of cinnamon stick
2 whole cardamom pods
a bay leaf
4 t (20 ml) tomato paste
4 t (20 ml) apricot jam
the juice of one fat lemon
2 thin slices lemon, peel and all
1/4 cup (60 ml) stock (chicken stock, vegetable stock or water)
1/4 cup (60 ml) white wine
salt and milled black pepper
2/3 cup (160 ml) good home-made mayonnaise, or Hellman's mayonnaise
2/3 cup (160 ml) plain white full-fat yoghurt

First prepare the chicken (see notes, below) and set aside to cool.

Heat the olive oil in a frying pan and add the finely chopped onion. Cook over a brisk heat until softened and beginning to turn a golden brown. Add the curry powder, cumin, turmeric, whole clove, cinnamon stick, cardamom pods and bay leaf, and cook for another minute or so, to allow the spices to release their oils. Now turn down the heat and stir in the tomato paste, the apricot jam, the lemon juice and the lemon slices. Stir well to combine all ingredients, and then stir in the stock and the wine. Season with salt and pepper, and allow to bubble on a low heat for ten to fifteen minutes, or until the mixture is slightly reduced and glossy. Remove from the heat and set aside to cool for 10 minutes.

At this point, you can strain the mixture through a sieve into a clean bowl (press down, using the back of a spoon, on the solids) or, if, you would like to keep the sauce a bit chunky, with all its oniony bits - as I do - pick out the whole spices and discard them.

In a new, clean bowl, whisk together the mayonnaise and the yoghurt. Add two-thirds of the cooled spicy mixture, and stir well to combine. Now taste the mixture, and add more of the cooked sauce to achieve the strength that suits your tastebuds. If the sauce seems very thick (this depends on what sort of yoghurt and mayonnaise you have used) thin it down with a little milk or water. Chill the sauce.

Just before serving, slice the cooked, cooled chicken and arrange on a platter, or individual plates. Coat the chicken with the cool sauce. Serve with with peeled mango, apricot or peach slices, and a few green salad leaves.

Serves 6 to 8.


Cooking Chicken for this dish:

I detest chicken breasts poached in water or stock: they go all stiff , in seconds, and the liquid gets all milky and curdled. I am also not very fond of pan-fried chicken breasts, which always seem a bit stringy.

Here are my suggestions: if you are making up a big, tossed platter of Coronation Chicken for a crowd, gently poach a whole chicken in stock or water, remove the skin, and then shred the chicken into biggish pieces, before tossing in the sauce.

If you are looking for something more fancy and cheffy, cook skinned, deboned chicken breasts as follows:

Half-fill a large pot with water and bring to the boil. Place a single piece of clingfilm on the counter top, and on to put put two chicken breasts, fillet side up, side by side. Season with salt and pepper.

Now place the salted sides together to make a sandwich. Pick up the edge of the clingfilm and roll the breasts into a tight sausage, as if you are making a Christmas cracker. Twist the ends of the 'cracker' in opposite direction so that you have a neat and uniform roll. Tuck the twists of clingfilm under the chicken roll. Now repeat the process with another sheet of clingfilm to make the package waterproof. Do the same to the remaining breasts. Put the the chicken rolls in the boiling water and turn the heat down to a simmer. Cook gently for 20-30 minutes, or until the breasts are just cooked through (how long will depend on how thick the breasts are: to test, slice right through one of the packages. If there is any pinkness remaining, re-wrap in a fresh layer of clingfilm and poach for another five minutes).

Remove the chicken parcels from the boiling water using a slotted spoon, and place on a plate to cool. Refrigerate for an hour or so. Then peel off the clingfilm and, using a very sharp knife, carve into disks. Print Friendly and PDFPrint Friendly

Monday, 9 February 2009

Creamy Scalloped Potatoes, the foolproof way

Pommes Dauphinoise is one of those recipes that foodies get their knickers in knot about, coming over all authenticker-than-thou, and arguing about cheese and garlic and so on. Maybe they have a point, because this is a tricky dish to get right, especially if you live in South Africa where there are so few varieties of potato, and these are so erratically labelled, that often you can't tell whether you've got a waxy or a floury on your hands until you've actually cooked the darn thing. You can follow the same recipe to the letter ten times and get a different result each time: swimming in liquid or dry as a bone, or curdled to a nasty mess, if you're particularly unlucky.

The way to achieve a perfect, tender result is to simmer the potato slices in cream and milk on your stovetop before you bake them: this way you can adjust the amount of liquid needed before the dish goes into the oven.

I never peel potatoes for this dish, because I think the skins add to the flavour, and, besides, the slices are so thin that any peel just isn't an issue. But go ahead if you're picky. You can add garlic, thyme or a sprig of rosemary to the cooking liquid, if you like, but I think it's perfect as it is.

Creamy Scalloped Potatoes, the foolproof way

300 ml cream
2 cups (500 ml) full-cream milk, plus more to top up
half an onion, peeled
a bayleaf
2.5 ml freshly grated nutmeg
salt and freshly milled pepper
8 medium potatoes
4 T (60 ml) butter
a clove of garlic, peeled

Preheat the oven to 170° C. Pour the cream and two cups of the milk into a saucepan. Add the onion,the bayleaf and the nutmeg, and season well with salt and pepper. Bring to the boil, then turn down and simmer for five minutes. Using a mandolin or the slicing attachment on your food processor, cut the potatoes, skins and all, into very thin slices. Tip the slices into the hot cream/milk mixture (don't leave the slices to stand for longer than a minute or so, as they will turn brown). Now add enough extra milk to just cover the potatoes. Add the butter.

Simmer for about 10-15 minutes, until the potato slices are tender, but still holding their shape, and the liquid has thickened slightly. Remove the onion and the bayleaf, and check the seasoning: you may need to add more nutmeg.

If the potatoes have absorbed a lot of liquid, top up again with milk so that the liquid just barely covers the slices. Cut the garlic clove in half and rub it all over the bottom of a baking dish (no need to grease it; the liquid is buttery enough).

Carefully tip the potatoes and liquid into the baking dish, and give it a gentle shake to distribute the slices evenly. Scatter a few pieces of cold butter over the top of the dish, and bake at 170° C for 30-40 minutes, or until tender and golden on top.

Serves 6.

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Sunday, 8 February 2009

Cauliflower Cheese Soup with Parmesan Crisps

Cauliflower Cheese Soup with Parmesan Crisps
This thick cheesy soup has 'Mum' written all over it.  If you turn misty-eyed at the thought of the bubbling cauliflower cheese you ate as child, you'll love this comforting meal.

My kids certainly do, even though they're not huge fans of cauliflower in its whole form.  

Flavoured with a hint of nutmeg, bay leaf and clove, this soup has great depth, and for that it depends on a good chicken or vegetable stock.

If you don't have time to make one from scratch, use boxed supermarket stock, fresh or long-life, or one made up of boiling water and a good quality condensed stock liquid or jelly.  But please, not a stock cube, which will add a dusty, salty note.

This recipe serves 8 to 10 (I always make a big batch because it tastes even better the day after) but you can halve the quantities if you have fewer mouths to feed.

Cauliflower Cheese Soup with Parmesan Crisps

2 Tbsp (30 ml) sunflower oil
1 Tbsp (15 ml) butter
2 onions, peeled and chopped
2 cauliflowers, cored and roughly chopped
2 medium potatoes, peeled and cubed
1 clove garlic, peeled and chopped
a bay leaf
a whole clove
about 2 litres good chicken or vegetable stock
salt and white pepper
2 cups (500 ml) grated Cheddar

For the white sauce:
6 Tbsp (90 ml) butter
6 Tbsp (90 ml) flour
1.5 litres milk
2 tsp (10 ml) Dijon mustard
2 tsp (10 ml) lemon juice
a pinch of freshly grated nutmeg

For the Parmesan crisps:
2 cups (500 ml) freshly grated Parmesan cheese or Grana Padano, grated on the coarse teeth of a cheese grater
½ tsp (2.5 ml) cayenne pepper or paprika

Heat the oil and butter in a large pot and add the onions. Fry over a medium heat for five minutes, until slightly softened, but don't allow them to brown. Add the cauliflower pieces, potato cubes, garlic, bay leaf and clove, cover with a lid  and stew very gently for 7 minutes. Pour in just enough stock barely to cover the vegetables, cover, and cook over a medium-low heat for about 25 minutes,or until the potato cubes are tender.

In the meantime, make a white sauce. Melt the butter in a saucepan over a high heat. When the butter stops foaming, tip in the flour and stir vigorously to make a paste. Cook for a minute, without allowing the butter to brown, then tip in all the milk. Using a balloon whisk, stir wildly to disperse any lumps.

Continue stirring until the mixture is smooth and thick. When the sauce comes to the boil, turn down the heat and bubble gently for three minutes. Remove from the heat and stir in the mustard, lemon juice and nutmeg. Season to taste with white pepper and salt. Cover the surface of the sauce with clingfilm and set aside.

To make the Parmesan crisps, heat the oven to 180 ºC. Place small piles of grated Parmesan, 10 cm apart, on a non-stick baking sheet or dish lined with greaseproof parchment paper. Flatten each pile to form a little disk. Sprinkle with cayenne pepper or paprika. Bake for 6 to 8 minutes, or until golden brown and bubbling. Remove with a spatula and place on a rack to cool and crisp up.

Remove the bay leaf and clove from the soup and use a stick blender or liquidiser to whiz to a very fine purée. Stir in the white sauce. If the soup seems too thick, add a little more stock. Simmer gently for ten minutes.

Immediately before serving, remove from the heat and add the grated Cheddar, stirring until the cheese has melted. Season to taste with salt and a little white pepper (this soup needs more salt than you would think). Don't reboil the soup, which will make the cheese stringy.

Serve immediately with Parmesan crisps.

Serves 8-10

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Saturday, 7 February 2009

Meatballs in a Spicy Tomato and Yoghurt Gravy - with toddler variation

About 12 years ago I saw this brilliant recipe - little meatballs simmered in a rich, fragrant gravy - demonstrated on TV. I jotted it down on the back of an envelope, which sat in my recipe file for at least a decade, and then the envelope vanished and I had to make the dish from memory. It's probably changed a bit as a result - and I've added onions and brown breadcrumbs to the meatballs, to make them healthier and more economical - but it's still one of my all-time favourite family meals. I'm sorry I can't recall whose recipe it is, because I'd like to shake her by the hand. I still use her basic formula for family meatballs; it's the yoghurt, I believe, that makes them so tender.

This is a fabulous meal for toddlers, if you omit the onions and coriander from the meatballs and add just a wee hint of spice to both meatballs and gravy. As time goes on and the kids get addicted to the dish, you can increase the amount of spicing in tiny increments so that, by the time they're nine or ten, their palates will be begging for spicy food, and you will have given them the fine gift of a life-long lust for curry!

The original recipe called for lamb, but I usually make it with minced pork, which - if you have the right butcher - is lean, clean and inexpensive. Beef works just as well.

There are lots of ingredients here, but it is quite quick to make if you have a food processor fitted with a strong metal blade. My instructions presume that you have such an appliance: if you don't, you'll need to chop everything finely by hand (or grate the ingredients).

Meatballs in a Spicy Tomato and Yoghurt Gravy

For the meatballs:

3 slices brown bread
a handful of fresh coriander leaves
1 small onion, roughly chopped
2 cloves garlic, peeled
1 kg lean minced pork, lamb or beef
10 ml (2 t) ground cumin
10 ml (2 t) ground coriander
5 ml (1 t) garam masala
a fresh green chilli, finely chopped [entirely optional]
45 ml (3 T) plain white yoghurt
1 egg
salt and freshly ground black pepper

First make the meatballs. Tear up the bread, place in the food processor and whizz to fine breadcrumbs. Add the fresh coriander and pulse until finely chopped. Tip into a large mixing bowl. Put the onion and garlic in the food processor and process until very finely chopped, but not slushy. Tip this mixture into the bowl containing the breadcrumbs, and add all the remaining meatball ingredients. Using your hands, squish and squash the mixture so that it is thoroughly combined. Form into small round balls - bigger than a litchi; smaller than a golf ball - place on large plate, and place in the fridge for 30 minutes to firm up.

For the gravy:

2 T (30 ml) vegetable oil
two onions, very finely chopped
1 thumb-sized piece of ginger, finely grated
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
10 ml ground cumin
5 ml ground coriander
2 cardmom pods
1 stick cinnamon
8 ripe tomatoes, peeled (see note below)
400 ml water
1/2 cup (125 ml) plain white yoghurt
salt and freshly ground black pepper

Heat the oil in a large pot and add the onions. Cook over fairly high heat, stirring often, until they are a rich light brown colour. Add the ginger, the garlic and all the ground and whole spices, and allow to sizzle for two minutes, without allowing the garlic to burn.

In the meantime, roughly chop the tomatoes, put them in the food processor and whizz to a purée. Don't over-process them: you want a slightly textured purée, with not too much foam. Add the tomatoes to the pot and cook over a high heat for five minutes, stirring often. Add the water. Bring to the boil, then turn down the heat and simmer for 30 minutes. Skim off any foam that rises to the top. Now add the yoghurt, a tablespoon at a time, stirring briskly between each addition, to prevent curdling. Season with salt and pepper.

Remove the meatballs from the fridge and place them one by one, using a large metal spoon, into the simmering gravy. Don't be tempted to stir or poke, which will break up the meatballs. It doesn't matter if some of them are sticking up above the gravy line: give the pot a very gentle shake so that the gravy coats each ball. Cover the pot and simmer for 20 minutes. Now take the lid off and give the pot a good shake - the meatballs will have firmed up. Simmer for another 25 minutes, uncovered, or until the gravy is slightly thickened and reduced. Check seasoning and serve hot with rice, plain yoghurt and chopped fresh coriander.

Serves 6 to 8.


* Peel the tomatoes by dipping them in boiling water until their skins begin to split. Or halve the tomatoes, press the cut side against the coarse teeth of a grater, and grate vigorously until the empty tomato skin is flattened against your palm.

* You can fry the onions for the meatballs first, if you like, but I love the subtle crunch of onion.

* You can use chopped tinned Italian tomatoes instead of fresh ones if you are in a hurry, but... oh, hell, use fresh tomatoes, or it just won't taste the same. Print Friendly and PDFPrint Friendly

Thursday, 5 February 2009

Lemony Potato Wedges with Sumac

Potato wedges are a staple in our house, which is infested with ravenous teenagers, and I get so bloody fed up with spuds day in and day out that I'm always thinking about new variations. I am a bit of a bore when it comes to the subject of oven-baked potato wedges - I don't think they're worth eating unless they've been parboiled first, for example - but I made these last night, without any prior boiling, and they were good, crunchy and crisp.

This recipe uses sumac - a red, non-fiery spice with a lovely tart, lemony flavour. Okay, sumac is not exactly available at every Pick 'n Pay, but you will find it at specialist delis and spice shops. If you can't find it, use two teaspoons [10ml] of fresh paprika, plus another teaspoon each of fresh lemon juice and finely grated lemon rind.

Lemony Potato Wedges with Sumac

6 big potatoes, washed but not peeled
1/2 cup (125 ml) olive or vegetable oil
the juice and finely grated zest of one lemon
2 t (10 ml) Tabasco sauce
2 small cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
4 t (20 ml) sumac
salt and freshly ground pepper

Preheat the oven to 200°C. Cut the potatoes, lengthways, into six equal wedges. (At this point, you can parboil them, which will give an ultra-crispy and fluffy wedge). Put the wedges into a bowl (or into a large plastic bag), add two teaspoons of the sumac, reserving the remaining two teaspoons, and all the remaining ingredients. Toss and shake well, so that every wedge is well coated with the mixture. Tip into a baking dish or roasting pan and bake for 45 minutes, or until golden brown and puffy. Sprinkle with the remaining sumac and serve immediately.

Serves six as a side dish.

Postscript: after feedback from my friend James, I have adjusted this recipe so the sumac is added in two batches. Print Friendly and PDFPrint Friendly