Friday, 28 February 2014

The food lovers' suitcase

My inspiration for cooking comes from my travels. In the past, the only time I could afford to eat out when was travelling. I get thrilled by new ingredients, new dishes, discovered abroad. Often travelling cheaply, in self-catering or hostels, I learnt to pack some essential tools and provisions, to enable me to cook while on the road and some much loved condiments, especially Marmite, for that taste of home while on a long journey. Recently, a spice company (@spicekitchenuk) sent me a pretty flowered drawstring bag with small packets of cumin, coriander, cassia bark, cardomom, turmeric, chilli powder, cloves, enough to throw together a makeshift curry. I wrapped it in a plastic bag to ensure that my clothes don't stink of masala.
But even in London, I always have a few items in my handbag in case I should come across a bland meal, god forbid. I was intrigued to hear, and to me this was one of the more delightful nuggets of the awful gossip fest that her court case turned out to be, that Nigella Lawson habitually carries mustard in her bag. If ever I have sample sizes of food or drink in a press goodie bag, they get put aside for later use as a pocket book condiment. At present my handbag contains a small envelope of Maldon salt, a teeny bottle of tabasco, and one square of dark chocolate. In the past I've carried cloves of garlic, lemons, limes, miniature bottles of creme de cassis to add to particularly acidic or cheap glasses of white wine or bubbly.

I spent a year backpacking around South America, and, assuming I would be trying out great coffee from the Amazon to the Andes, I took a tiny Italian coffee maker, lodged in the side pocket. It was a shock to discover most South Americans drank Nescafé. Still I was popular at backpackers hostels, other travellers forming an orderly queue to use it.

Nowdays I'm lucky enough to have food, drink and travel as a job. I'm an addictive homeware buyer, trawling the markets and the shops for new kitchenalia, justifying it all as 'props' for photos. (By the way, one of my food travel pictures is a finalist for the Pink Lady Food Photography awards this year!)

My South African suitcase (so far)
On this trip I've gone a bit mad: two heavy-weight cookbooks, a turquoise whisk and rubber spatula, two glass bowls (how am I going to get those home in one piece?), several types of rooibos and a frankly ridiculous large 'mat' made of twigs and wire which I can't fit into my suitcase. I also have some mango pickle but that has been doubled bagged in a plastic ziplock.

I've come up with a list that will help the enthusiastic travelling cook below. But what would you add to it? What do you always take with you either to eat or to cook with? It might be a cocktail shaker, or a portable bbq or a cigarette lighter electric kettle...

Cooking: Swiss knife, a set of cutlery, a cup. In the old days everyone had a knife and a tankard hanging off their belt. Ziplock bags for saving things. A flat rubber bowl? (Although I remember being impressed when I camped in Patagonia, Argentina, I saw an Israeli couple, straight out of the army, who, lacking implements, used a thick plastic bag as a salad bowl to accompany their meat barbeque.)

Food: Marmite, salt, lemons or limes, (easier than vinegar), chilli sauce, teabags, mustard, spices, garlic, fresh chillis, herbs, a spill proof small bottle for olive oil (I lost an expensive camera due to carrying around a bottle of vinaigrette in the same bag).

Monday, 24 February 2014

Top food destinations in Cape Town

Two beautiful ladies at the Old Biscuit Market, Cape Town 


Protea, the national flower of South Africa
Colourful utensils, at one of the shops in Woodstock.
Cape Town has many varied food traditions, Afrikaans, British, Indian, Cape Malay and of course, indigenous African, and you'll want to stop by all of them. On this occasion I didn't manage to try out the latter, although this may change next week when I go to Franschhoek, in the wine region, about an hour outside Cape Town.
Cape Town is hard to get a handle on, reminding me of Los Angeles, a splash of different neighbourhoods with an indistinct centre. You need a car to get around. I didn't have one and spent a small fortune in taxis even though the exchange rate for the pound (18 to 1 at the time of writing) is excellent at the moment. Don't get your hotel to call your taxi, they charge double, unless money is no object. I used Excite taxis (021 448 4444), the cars weren't as swishy but the rates were good, 9 rand a kilometer. The taxi drivers were always friendly although I felt sorry for one who said he'd been on a 24 hour shift. "Isn't that dangerous?" I ventured. "I try to take little naps between rides" he assured me. Do be careful about grabbing any old cab on the street. I did this, being told by a Capetonian that it was fine. It wasn't. The driver seemed directionless, driving around in circles, didn't have a meter and I started to get nervous. He stopped at a petrol station to ask another cab where to go, while I sat in the car. Apparently didn't work, so he then stopped to ask directions from yet another taxi. This discussion took even longer, at least ten minutes. I was wondering if I should get out and make a run for it when the driver returned and said "Ok you give me 100 rand, then you get in this other taxi who will take you to your hotel and you give him 20 rand". "Why would he do that?" I asked. I got out and asked the other driver "You are willing to take me for 20 rand?" "Yes that's ok" he replied. Perplexed by this strangely uneven deal, I went along with it and got to my hotel safely. Never again. Always call a cab or arrange for them to pick you up. Because, the truth is, you can't walk around, which is bloody frustrating. I don't think this is white paranoia. You will get mugged in broad daylight.
However the good news is, eating out is a bargain. You can get excellent, world class food at extremely reasonable prices.
surfer dude barmen, Old biscuit factory, cape town
Surfer dudes, barmen at the Old Biscuit Mill Market, Cape Town.
Mango chutney, by the container, Old Biscuit Mill Market, Cape Town.
Mango chutney, by the container, Old Biscuit Mill Market, Cape Town.
The Michael Jackson of salad, Old Biscuit Mill Market, Cape Town.
The Michael Jackson of salad, Old Biscuit Mill Market, Cape Town.
Cordials by Wilde at Heart, Old Biscuit Mill, Cape Town (including Buchu, a local mint-like herb)
Cordials by Wilde at Heart, Old Biscuit Mill, Cape Town (including Buchu, a local mint-like herb)
Old Biscuit Mill food market, Cape Town.
Old Biscuit Mill food market, Cape Town.
Mr Designer Omelettes, Old Biscuit Mill, Cape Town
Mr Designer Omelettes, Old Biscuit Mill, Cape Town
MarketsThe Old Biscuit Mill on Saturdays is the place. I found it vibrant, lively, with a wide range of delicious foods sold at stalls and drinks bars. There are large tables in the middle where people can sit down and eat and live music. The whole experience reminded me of the vibe of my underground farmers markets. Everyone dresses up to be seen so it's also a fascinating people watching exercise. As a market, there a few stalls where you can buy food that isn't cooked, some home-ware stalls and shops, great folded steel knives and chopping boards made from medical grade synthetics used for hip replacements but that feel like marble.
Also recommended: The Woodstock Exchange, 66-68 Albert Rd, Woodstock where you can visit the Lock Stock Market on Saturday mornings.
Woodstock is a cool, up and coming area, other places to check out in the vicinity include The Kitchen, ideal for lunch; this is a Cape Town institution run by Karen Dudley who has authored a couple of beautiful cookbooks. Breakfast is great at The Superette in The Woodstock Exchange. 
Cape Malay area in Cape Town, Bo Kaap.
Cape Malay area in Cape Town, Bo Kaap.
Cape Malay area in Cape Town, Bo Kaap.
Cape Malay architecture, Cape Town
Biesmiellahs, next door shop to the restaurant
Biesmiellahs, next door shop to the restaurant
Cape Malay food: this isn't, as you might think, Malaysian food. If anything it's Javanese or Indonese. So no peanuts. The food is similar to Indian, with curries, rice, roti, samosas, dhal, and gram flour fritters similar to bhajis but called dhaltjies, but the difference is that Cape Malay curries are sweeter with less heat, often adding dried fruit and nuts to the curries. The names are often similar with different spellings, breyani for biryani, rys for rice, except for bredie which is a kind of stew and frikkadel which are meatballs. (See my Durban/Cape Malay fusion recipe Bunny Chow with peach curry). There is also the addition of dairy, particularly custard which is seen in the frankly bizarre sounding bobotie, shepherds pie with custard anyone? (makes my Doctor Who themed menu with fish fingers and custard sound quite normal) and the more culinary conventional melktart or custard tart. The Cape Malay curries are always accompanied by a vast tray of multi-coloured sambals or atchars, cool and hot (pickles/chutneys/relishes). I'm a girl who loves a pickle, and I fell in love with the mango sambal I had at the 12 Apostles hotel so I bought a large tub in the market which wasn't quite as good but an ok approximation (note to self, DO try this at home).
I checked out Biesmiellah, one of the oldest restaurants in Cape Town, 40 years strong, in the Muslim Bo Kaap area where they have all the picture-postcard brightly coloured houses. Biesmiellah also has a takeaway and shop next door where I tried the bollas and the koe'sister, the Cape Malay cousin to the Cooksister pastry. The Koe'sister is more doughnutty in texture, with anise flavourings, coconut on the outside and is less sweet than the syrupy Cooksister or Koeksister. The lady at Biesmiellah told me her doughnut secret, add milk and mashed potato to the dough. This way the doughnut will remain soft all day, not stiffening up as doughnuts usually do. (Again, must try at home).
To get the best Cape Malay food, you need to eat at someone's home. Perhaps some enterprising soul will open a Cape Malay home restaurant. I'm going to be trying out some Cape Malay recipes myself, having bought the beautiful Bo Kaap cookbook. (By the way, there is no South African Amazon site so book stores are the main places to buy books. Someone told me that Amazon closed because so many deliveries went missing and couriers were too expensive that it wasn't worth continuing).
Pouring sparkling wine at Publik, Cape Town.
Pouring sparkling wine at Publik, Cape Town.
Bree Street, not far from the Bo-Kaap area above, is another trendy foodie haunt with some really good restaurants and bars. I was taken on a little tour by Clara Bubenza, the chef from A beautifull Life in the Youngblood building (70-72 Bree St), part art gallery and part cafe. This lady, who created the first chefs school for women in Egypt, has a huge personality, and is greeted by friends wherever she goes. I was introduced to her by Greg who has been running South Africa's first roaming pop up restaurant events Secret Eats. He's an American who has been living in Cape Town for two years, but he's now a central part of the food scene, partnering with innovative chefs. Both Greg and Clara were a hoot to hang with.
I ate at Birds on Bree, which was recommended to me from several different sources. The chef Kevin Mink is evidently very talented. Although my first plate was possibly over-styled for my tastes, being at heart a peasant, the flavours were sublime. Food you ponder on later and think, I can't wait to go back. Pudding was preserved lemon icecream (MUST copy) with a spiced apple tart. Do go.
I had a drink at Publik, a meat shop and wine bar started by food blogger David Cape. I went there in the evening when the butchery wasn't open but this took London restaurant Meat Liquor's abattoir theme and ran with it. Behind the butchers counter and thick glass walls you can see entire hanging carcasses, all very Damian Hurst. During the day, people do their meat shopping, butchers carving prime cuts of ethically reared meat, while relaxing with a glass of wine from nearby vineyards. Perhaps this is the modern equivalent of memento mori, whereby we may contemplate death (but not ours). The service is simultaneously casual and friendly: "How about two glasses of sparkling Stellenbosch wine for 50 rand (about £2.75p) each?" suggested the barman, waving a magnum bottle. "Sold" said I.
Other Bree St. recommendations include: Bizerca Bistro, french fine dining, craft beers at AndUnion and reportedly exquisite Italian food at 95 Keerom a couple of blocks over from Bree St.
Kloof Street is another restaurant heavy area where you can look up and see Table Mountain customarily napped with a rolling cloud tablecloth. I visited The Black Sheep, only open a couple of months but packed. Headed by chef Jonathan Japha, the constantly progressing menu, chalked up on the black board, changes every day. I only had one dish because the weather was so humid (I tend to lose my appetite) on the night I went but both food and service were vibrant. Plus I'd already had late lunch at the stylish Liquorice and Lime, an enormous ciabatta style sandwich, a tramezzino with salad, surrounded by appropriately green and black interior. They also sold a fearsome two foot long twisted croissant in their bakery section.
Other recommendations in Kloof St include Caffe Milano, the bakery arm of Giorgo Nava, the Italian head chef of 95 Keerom.
Where I didn't get to eat was at a township restaurant or home in Cape Town. Locals recommended Mzolis in Gugulethu, a nearby township, where they have African braai stalls and music. The problem for me is that the indigenous African diet is very meat based but I'm sure I could have found some local tidbits to eat. Next time.
Green Goddess dressing with avocado salad at the 12 Apostles hotel
Green Goddess dressing with avocado salad at the 12 Apostles hotel
Waitress at the 12 apostles hotel
Waitress at the 12 apostles hotel
In terms of hotel restaurants I had an elegant meal at the 12 Apostles hotel, past Camps Bay. The service was unparallelled at a beautiful location. I also had high tea there 'Tea by the Sea', a Victorian African experience, leopard-skin waistcoated waiters with blinding white shirts and impeccable manners, cups of rooibosch and tiers of cakes and sandwiches. But no matter how high end the restaurant, the prices are a fraction of what you'd pay in London.
..............................
Thanks to Jeanne Horak-Druiff of Cooksister, Sonia Cabano, Clara of Beautifull Life cafe, Greg of SecretEats, chef Grant Hawthorne and particular thanks to Ishay Govender-Ypma of Food and the Fabulous for help and introductions, you couldn't find better guides to Cape Town.
Sunbathing on the cape.
Sunbathing on the cape.

Wednesday, 19 February 2014

Recipe: steamed vegetarian gyoza with plum sauce



This Asian speciality is basically ravioli or to be historically accurate, the other way around. For pasta came from China. You can make the little circles of 'pasta' yourself but if you have access to a Chinese or Japanese shop, it's so much easier to buy the packets. What is the difference between gyoza and potstickers, perhaps the gyoza is finer and softer in texture. I've done an Asian style vegan filling for these gyoza but feel free to experiment, or incorporate Western flavours such as cream cheese and smoked salmon.
The basic Chinese sauce is soy sauce, sugar, cornflour. The soy represents the salt, the sugar tips the flavour balance the other way, the cornflour thickens. Add ginger, garlic, five spice and you have the base of any Chinese style sauce.
I made this in a wok which rather conveniantly fitted my bamboo steamer just perfectly. A bamboo steamer is very cheap, you can buy them in different sizes. Otherwise use a metal steamer. You need a flat surface as you don't want to have the gyoza touching each other, they stick and rip the skin off.
As for the plum sauce, you may have noticed that I've been cutting a trail through every plum recipe possible in the universe over the last few weeks. Right now I'm in South Africa where I'm going to be meeting the very farmers that produced all of these wonderful stone fruit. The plums, Flavorking, that I've been using for many of the purple plum recipes are in fact pluots, a blend of plum and apricot, which gives a slight 'bubblegum' flavour. These were originally developed in California and are a favourite of chefs. Pluots are mostly plum with a hint of apricot, plumcots are more of a fifty fifty mix, plum with an apricot mouthfeel. David Lebowitz wrote about his love of pluots and I met chef Jonathan Japha last night, of the highly vaunted Cape Town restaurant The Black Sheep, who was raving about pluots. I promised to get back to him with a supplier after my trip to Franschhoek next week where I'll be hanging with the growers.

Recipe for gyoza:
3 tbsps of sesame oil
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1 thumb of ginger, peeled and minced
1 tbsp of sugar
3 tbsp of dark soy sauce
1 tsp of 5 spice
1 tsp of cornflour
1 block of firm tofu
4 spring onions, the white part, sliced, keep the green part for garnishing
250g shitake or other mushrooms, sliced finely
1 packet of gyoza skins or chinese wonton skins

Recipe for plum sauce:
10 plums or pluots, blanched, skin off, stone out
5 cloves of garlic, minced
1 small red onion, diced
1 thumb of fresh ginger, peeled with a teaspoon and minced
1 star anise
2 tbsps of sugar
3 tbsps of dark soy sauce
2 tbsps of sweet chilli sauce

Method:
Make the plum sauce first to get it out of the way. Make a cross on each of the plums with a knife. Boil a kettle of water, pour into a heat proof bowl as soon as boiled and plunge the plums into the bowl. Within a minute the skin should start to unfurl from the crosses and you can get to work taking the skin off. Remove the pits too.
Then put all of the ingredients, minus the chilli sauce into a medium saucepan and heat until the plums break down a little, say ten minutes. Then place all the ingredients, including chilli sauce, into a powerful blender such as a Vitamix or use a hand blender, and mix at high speed. Taste the sauce to see if it needs anything more then set aside.
For the gyoza:
Make the filling. Put all of the ingredients until the tofu into a hot wok or frying pan and sizzle for a couple of minutes. Then strain the tofu of all water and dice it. If the tofu is soft, place it on your hand and cut it on your hand then tip it into the wok. Fry the tofu for five minutes then add the spring onions an mushrooms. The mushrooms will release a lot of liquid. Fry until the mushrooms seem cooked, for about 3-5 minutes then prepare a jug or bowl with a sieve or chinoise. Put all the mixture into the sieve and let the excess liquid drain out. You don't want a very liquid filling as the gyoza skins will not hold it.
Then make a little gyoza filling station on a table. Kids and friends can join in with this and more hands make quick work. Get a small bowl of egg white or a bowl of water (if you are vegan) next to each person. Take a stack of gyoza skins for each person. Put the large bowl of cooled filling in the middle and give each person a teaspoon.
Lay out the gyoza skin and dip your finger into the egg white or water, run it around the border of the gyoza/pot sticker/chinese dumpling/wonton skin. Put a heaped teaspoon of filling into the middle then seal the gyoza according to the pictures below. You want four folds on one side, this creates a crescent shaped dumpling.
Store them on a tray sprinkled generously with white flour, rice or wheat, this way they wont stick to the bottom when you remove them to steam.
When finished, place all of the gyoza into a steamer, spaced slightly apart. Take a piece of greaseproof paper and cut into the shape of your steamer. Run it under the tap so that it is moist.
Prepare the pot or wok of boiling water and place the steamer over it. Put the circle of wet greaseproof paper over the gyoza then put on the lid. The gyoza take 20 minutes to steam depending on how freshly they were made and the thickness of the dough.
When they are cooked they will be translucent. Serve them with the reserved green part of the spring onion and the plum dipping sauce.



Monday, 17 February 2014

Plum and Peach jam recipes



I had crates of stone fruit left over from my South African stone fruit supper club so I got to work. I made fruit leather, fruit hand pies, poached plums in red wine, compote and jams.

I started off making jam, using Vivien Lloyd's excellent book First Preserves. But British jam is different from other sorts. To be called jam, in the traditional Women's Institute style, you need a certain proportions, usually 1:1:1 of sugar, fruit and water, which works out as a minimum of 60%, for a fruit spread to be considered as jam.
I've belatedly realised that this is why I don't particularly like jam, it's too shriekingly sugary for me. Maybe that's why I'm a Marmite lover! The good thing about the British technique is that the jams last a long time, have a good spreading consistency and the colour is not too dark.
I also asked Gloria Nicol for advice. She is passionate about making original, fresh tasting, stunning jams and preserves. She puts less sugar, only 70%, and macerates the fruit in dry sugar for 24 hours before boiling to setting point and bottling. This is technically called 'preserve'. I found her technique inspirational. 

I had peaches, yellow plums and purple plums. I made the following flavours:

  • peach and vanilla (like a hot sultry Southern American summer in a jar.)
  • yellow plum and orange flower water
  • yellow plum and lavender 
  • purple plum and green Bengali citrus
  • bubble gum plum using Flavorking which is actually a plumcot, a blend of plum and apricot.

This is Gloria's technique:

This makes 2 jars of 450g and 1 jar of 227g of standard jam jar sizes. I collect Bonne Maman jars which contain 370g, so you could make 3 jars in that size.

1 kilo stoned fruit (just ripe fruit, not spoiled)
750g granulated sugar
Juice of 1 lemon
Flavourings such as vanilla, lavender, citrus, orange flower water

Cut the stoned fruit into quarters and place in a large bowl, using alternating layers of fruit and sugar. Add your flavourings.
Leave overnight.
In the morning, heat this mixture through on a low medium heat for around ten minutes until the sugar is completely dissolved. Leave to macerate for between 3 and 24 hours. Cut out a circle of  parchment paper and cover the surface of the bowl/pan so that it stays clean (and doesn't form a skin).
Fish out the fruit and put into another bowl.
Sterilise your jars by putting them into a low oven (140cº) for 20 minutes.
Wash the lids in boiling water. You should use new lids every time but sometimes I use plastic cellophane circles/seals on top of the jars, then you can reuse the same lids.
If you are using lightning clip jars, put the orange rubber seals (check they are in good condition) in boiling water for five minutes to soften and clean them, this way it's easy to stretch the orange seals around the caps.
Let lids/seals air dry, drying with a tea towel will contaminate them.
Place the liquid into a heavy bottomed pan or preserving pan and boil hard for ten minutes. Then add the lumps of fruit which you set aside earlier and make sure you reach setting point.
There are 3 ways to see if you've reached setting point, according to Vivien Lloyd:

  • Have some little saucers in the freezer. Pull one out, add some of the boiling jam and then see if the top wrinkles when you push the jam.
  • Check if when you lift your wooden spoon, the jam coagulates on the spoon.
  • Check the temperature. It should reach 104.5cº

Once set, pour the jam into the prepared jam jars which should still be warm, about half way. Fill to the top, leaving about 3mm, then cover with a wax circle, then the cellophane circle, this will create a seal. Then, when cooler, screw on the lids tightly.
I would really recommend buying a jam jar funnel as it makes the whole process easier and less messy, when tipping the hot jam into the jars.
If using new lids, screw on the lid while the jar is still hot, tighten, then turn the jar upside down so that the lid is sterilised too.
Label them with the name and date as soon as they are cool enough to do so.

Friday, 14 February 2014

Tomato tart fine for Valentines



The French used to call tomatoes 'pommes d'amour', love apples, back in the 16th century. The pope thought that these juicy red globes were the devil's fruit. As far as aphrodisiac foods go, I'd rather a tomato than anything sweet.
This week I visited Hampton Court's newly discovered 18th century chocolate kitchen, previously used as store rooms. Chocolatier Thomas Rosier and his wife Grace (who was a celebrity chef of the time with her own fashionable chocolate cafés), lived at the court and was the only servant permitted to serve the king directly. Hampton Court is worth a visit, the red coated attendants are all historians, there are also hourly recreations with ghostly mistresses sweeping through the rooms bidding good day to tourists. We met Henry VIII who implored us to tell Katherine Parr the advantages of marrying him. She, of course, was the only wife of six to survive. I mentioned Valentine's Day coming up, that he could give a love token to Katherine. But Henry said Valentine's Day didn't exist in his time. Prior to Chaucer in the 14th century, there was no connection between the martyr Saint Valentine and romantic love, but Ophelia mentioned Valentine's Day in Shakespeare's Hamlet.

I do love a heart shape, and food writer Emma Marsden has just published an entire cookbook of heart shaped foods 'Heart on a plate'.  Another good cookbook for Valentines is Helen Graves book 'How to cook your date into bed' in which yours truly has a guest recipe, a post-shag cocktail, my mustardy Bloody Mary.

Here is my simple recipe, Tomato tart fine,  for Valentines day. Again the whole thing is done and dusted within half an hour, if you buy ready-made puff pastry in a sheet.

Serves 2


1 sheet ready-made puff pastry, cut into a large heart
1 clove of garlic
Sea salt
4 tablespoons of olive oil
5 tomatoes, thinly sliced (or more cherry tomatoes, cut in half)
1 tbsp Pink peppercorns (optional)


Preheat your oven to 200cº.
Unfurl your pastry sheet and cut out the largest heart shape that you can from the sheet.
Mince a clove of garlic with some sea salt, using the flat of your knife to press down. The salt will help to purée the garlic.
Mix this minced clove and salt with the olive oil. Drizzle half over the puff pastry heart.
Lay down the tomatoes all over the heart, leaving a border of 1 cm around the edge.
Pour over the rest of the olive oil/garlic mix. Brush it particularly on the edges.
Scatter some pink peppercorns over the tomatoes and some more sea salt.
Bake for 15 minutes.
Serve with a glass of pink champagne.

love from msmarmitelover xxx
Beautiful white china heart plate by Sophie Conran at Portmeirion £32

Sunday, 9 February 2014

Mini cheddars for lunchboxes

Riley Pearson, 6 years old, was sent home from school because his parents put a packet of mini-cheddars in his lunchbox. The school has set up a healthy eating policy for lunchboxes and "Chocolate, sweets, crisps and fizzy drinks are not allowed. If your child's lunchbox is unhealthy and unbalanced they will be provided with a school lunch for which you will be charged."

The parents complained and called the media, now the school have expelled Riley and his four year old brother. It seems to me that another approach could have been taken: the school could have gathered together parents and children to discuss healthy eating. They could have set up cooking classes so that pupils could make their own lunch box foods. What was it that Blair used to say? Education, education, education. Teach kids and parents about food.

I don't think mini-cheddars, which are baked, are particularly unhealthy, not as bad, for instance, as the Smartie sandwich which the Daily Mail also reported on a while back. So what do mini-cheddars consist of?

According to their literature they are composed of the following ingredients: Wheat Flour,Vegetable Oil, Dried Powdered Cheese (12%), Sugar, Glucose Syrup, Salt, Dried Whey, Barley Malt Extract, Raising Agents (Ammonium Bicarbonate, Sodium Bicarbonate), Lactic Acid, Natural Flavourings.

They contain no additives and are free from artificial colours or flavours.

I do like mini cheddars so I thought I'd have a go at making some myself. This took so little time, maximum half an hour including both prep and baking time that I think parents could easily whip up a few batches for their children's lunch boxes. Maybe Riley's mum would like to have a go?
What do you give your kids for lunch? I would often make lovely tiny bento boxes for my daughter, which teachers would envy, but she would look longingly at the junk food of her friends. Tired working parents are no doubt doing their best but perhaps they simply don't have the energy to make good lunches for their children?



Makes 15 biscuits


190g of Jarslberg cheese, (or strong cheddar or Red Leicester), grated
50g of salted butter
100g of plain flour
1/2 tsp of sea salt
Optional: penny sized piece of achiote, ground (to give a red colour)
You can add herbs such as chives or a teaspoon of chipotle paste, or a tablespoon of Marmite, to spice them up if you wish.

Preheat oven to 180c
Mix together all the ingredients in a food processor. Knead together lightly then roll out the dough onto a lightly floured surface, about 3 mm thick. Using a small shot glass or a small cutter, cut out the biscuits, then prod in some holes using the end of metal prong. Gather up the rest of the dough, roll out and repeat. (Try to keep cool hands and cool dough as you go, if the weather is warm then leave the dough in the fridge for half an hour.) 
Lay the biscuits on a silicon mat or parchment paper onto a flat baking tray. Bake for 15 minutes.
Leave to cool on the tray then remove the biscuits. Store in a dry place. 
Does this lunchbox pass muster? Contents: one apple, one Marmite sandwich, 2 fruit leather rolls made from yellow plums, 1 pack of mini-cheddars (home-made). 

Thursday, 6 February 2014

Recipe: bunny chow with peach curry



Bunny chow is a South African street food, part of its 'rainbow cuisine', with influences from indigenous tribal cooking, Malaysian, British, Afrikaans/Dutch and Indian food. It is similar to the trenchers that medieval Britons used, prior to the generalised use of cutlery, which was a stale hollowed-out loaf, a carrier for the food. The advantage being that, once the sauce has softened the bread, you can supplement the dish by tearing off and eating some of the trencher.
Bunny chow originates from Durban, where there is a large Indian population, so is filled with a curry. I served mini bunny chows at my South African stone fruit supper club last week. One of the guests, Cooksister, a London-based South African food blogger (one of the longest running blogs), expressed surprise at the fact that the curry was vegetarian, but, in fact according to wikipedia, the original bunny chows were vegetarian. Today bunny chows are mutton, beef or beans. You'd think they'd have rabbit stew wouldn't you?
A street food company is now selling Bunny Chow in the UK, and it may well take off. It's a bit like a curry sandwich, very moreish and a great lunch option.
The piece of bread that remains from the hollowing out process is referred to as a 'virgin'. It's not done to nick someone else's virgin. According to this site, most bunnies are made from the ends of a quarter loaf of bread, but ones that are made from the middle of the loaf, without a crust at the bottom, are called 'funny bunnies'.
I used peaches to make the curry which may sound strange but fruit curries taste better than they sound, one of my favourite curries is Camilla Panjabi's fruit and nut curry. There is an element of chutney about a fruit curry, which is no bad thing.

Here is the recipe for Peach Curry Bunny Chow 
Serves 4

4 rolls, centre pulled out, top cut off
5 peaches, skinned, not too ripe
Coconut oil, ghee or vegetable oil, for frying
1 tbsp of mustard seeds
1 cinnamon stick
1 bay leaf
5 cardamoms, green,
2 cloves, ground
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp coriander seeds
1 large brown onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 thumb of ginger, minced
1 red chilli, finely sliced
1/2 bar (100g) of creamed coconut
1 tbsp of turmeric
10 small red potatoes, skin on, quartered.
3 tomatoes, quartered, sliced
1/2 red pepper, sliced
50g green or yellow sultanas
Salt
Handful of fresh coriander leaves
1 lime, cut into quarters

Go to the shop and buy the ingredients including the rolls. You can use fairly crappy Greggs style rolls for this.
Come home, have cup of tea, put radio on. Persuade self that you have an exciting life and that you'd rather make this and that the lack of sex, drugs or rock n roll is just fine.
Prep the peaches by blanching them: cut a cross on the top and plunge into boiling water for a minute. Take off skins and take out stone. Prep the rest of the veg.
Get a medium saucepan and melt the coconut oil in it on a medium heat. First sling in the mustard seeds, hear them pop. Add the rest of the spices: cinnamon stick, bay leaf, cardamom, clove, cumin, cordiander seeds. The secret to a good curry is a mix of whole and ground spices. Here you are tempering them, i.e. frying them a bit before you put the rest of the ingredients in. Only fry slightly, you don't want everything to taste bitter.
Put in the onions, garlic, ginger, chilli, creamed coconut, turmeric.
Add the small red potatoes, cook for ten minutes. Add the tomatoes and red pepper. Add the peaches. Add the sultanas. Add salt.
Keep stirring.
Taste. Maybe add more salt.
Gut your rolls. Scoop the curry inside, scatter fresh coriander and squeeze lime over. Put the cap back on. Eat while looking outside the window at the rain and think of Africa.

Tuesday, 4 February 2014

Recipe: Nectarine Tart

yellow nectarine tart

Visually a rectangular tart tin looks great. I bought mine off ebay, but you can get them here too. Worth having one in your baking equipment repertoire.
I've been working with South African stone fruit recently and last week I did a whole supper club menu using the fruit in both sweet and savoury recipes. This recipe uses yellow fleshed nectarines which you can cook or warm, if needed, unlike the white fleshed nectarines. 

This recipe makes two tarts so halve the ingredients for one. I don't know how you will use half an egg though. Make a teeny weeny omelette?
In this recipe you will be baking blind. This is a technique that makes sure the pastry at the bottom of the tart doesn't go soggy when you add the filling. So you'll need either baking beans or pulses (which you use for only this purpose) to weigh the pastry down.

Pastry
100g of unsalted butter, room temperature
1 egg
50g of caster sugar
200g plain flour
1 teaspoon of salt

Filling
Creme patissiere:
50g of caster sugar
3 egg yolks
20g plain flour
20g cornflour
300ml of milk
1 teaspoon of vanilla paste

1/2 jar of apricot jam
4 yellow fleshed nectarines, cut into crescent shaped slices

Pastry:
In a stand mixer using the beater attachment or by hand with a wooden spoon, beat the butter until soft, then add the sugar until the mixture appears fluffy and white. Gradually add the egg to the butter. Mix the flour and salt.Then add the flour/salt bit by bit until it forms a dough. Press the dough into a disk and cover with clingfilm. Leave in the fridge for half an hour to rest and chill.


Prepare your baking tin (using butter and flour) meanwhile and preheat the oven to 200ºC.

Make the creme patissiere. Mix the sugar and eggs together in a bowl. Add the flour and cornflour to the sugar/egg mixture and stir until smooth.
Heat the milk, vanilla paste in a small saucepan on a medium heat. Don't let it boil.
Add a tablespoon of the hot milk to the sugar/eggs/flour and stir. Then slowly add the rest of the hot milk, whisking all the time. If the mixture leaves some eggy bits, then strain this into a clean bowl. Cover the bowl with cling film.

Remove the pastry from the fridge and scatter flour onto your clean work surface. Roll it out to a rectangular shape, larger than your baking tin. (If making two, scrunch the leftover dough into a ball and repeat.)
Place the dough into your prepared rectangular baking tin and cut off the excess (not too much as the pastry will shrink when cooked). Prick all over the bottom with a fork.
Put a sheet of tin foil or parchment paper into the baking tin and fill with baking beans. Bake for 5 minutes then remove, let cool. Remove the sheet of foil/parchment and the baking beans. (Retain for the second tart if making).

Put the apricot jam into a small saucepan on a low heat. When it becomes warm and more liquid, use a pastry brush to baste the bottom and sides of the tart shell.
Then fill the tart with a layer of creme patissiere.
Slice the nectarines and place the slices down the centre of the tart tin at regular intervals.
Brush the top of the nectarines with more apricot jam.
Bake the tart for another 5 minutes if you want it to be warm. Otherwise serve cold. Remove from the tin by pushing up on the removable base.

yellow nectarine tart

Saturday, 1 February 2014

Recipe: Chocolate galette with yellow plums

Chocolate galette with yolk like yellow plums

Sides folded over

Laying it out, with grated Tonka bean and chocolate

This pudding is so rich, it was one of the most popular dishes of my South African stone fruit supper club.  When I saw the vibrant buttercup yellow of the plums, I wanted to contrast it with earthy chocolate pastry. Inspired to make a galette, but not the galette des roi that the French traditionally have in January, I constructed this warming, succulent beauty, with pastry so rich and flaky that it's almost brownie-like. I also used the Tonka bean which is often matched with chocolate or used in pastries and stews. It has a flavour and scent reminiscent of vanilla and cinnamon, although can be bitter tasting. In cooking, the Tonka bean endows the dish with an element of the unusual and depth. In some societies it is associated with magic, if you hold the bean, make a wish.

300g plain flour
40g caster sugar
1 tsp of salt
100g of cocoa powder
200g good quality unsalted butter, very cold, diced
100ml of ice cold water
10 yellow plums, halved and stoned
50g of semolina
Half a tonka bean, grated finely (optional)
100g demerara sugar
50g dark chocolate, grated

 Combine the flour, sugar, salt, cocoa powder in a bowl or a food processor Add the cold butter and cut it into your flour mixture, or pulse it briefly in the processor until it ressembles coarse meal.
Then gradually add the cold water, stirring/pulsing the mixture as it pulls together. You want to handle the dough as little as possible so that it doesn't warm up.
Then form the dough into a thick disc, cover with cling film and leave to rest in the fridge for half an hour.
Prepare the plums, I used the South African 'Sunkiss' plums, cut them along the dimple line at the top, then twist and separate. Remove the stone.
Line a baking tray with a silicone mat or parchment paper.
Preheat your oven to 180c.
Remove the dough from the fridge, sprinkle flour, as if you were skimming stones across the water, along your clean countertop. I actually rolled this dessert directly onto a silicone mat, which avoids having to move it once again onto the baking tray. So I floured the silicone mat and also around the edges as the circle I rolled was bigger than the mat.
Roll out a circle of approximately 35 cm diameter.
Then sprinkle the semolina into the middle where the plums will go.
Grate the tonka bean, if using.
Then sprinkle the inside of the circle with demerara sugar and grated dark chocolate.
Place the plums, cut side down, in the centre, making concentric circles. Leave a wide border of 5-7 cms around the rim.
You will fold this border over, so that the fruit is contained.
Lifting the silicone mat onto a baking tray, bake the galette for 15 to 20 minutes. Take a sheet of tinfoil larger than the galette and cut a circle out of the middle, about the size of the plums. After 20 minutes, slide the galette out of the oven on it's shelf, then place the tin foil on top of the galette, so that the bumps on the galette pastry don't burn but the plums still cook.
Cook for another 20 minutes then either serve immediately, using two fish slices to transfer it onto a plate or leave to cool. It can be eaten hot or cold. However if you want to make it earlier in the day, then reheat it in the oven for another ten minutes.