Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Super duper, easy peasy vichyssoise

This time of year, for me, usually entails a trip to Calitzdorp — a sweet, not-too-pretty-but-filled-with-character dorp in the Klein (small) Karoo, just outside Oudtshoorn — to visit my folks. They retired there from Jo'burg about six years ago, and since then I've come to look forward to my visits, not just because I get to spend time with them, but because it always means lots of fun in the kitchen with the spoils form my dad's veggie patch, a lot of wine appreciation, and generally a lot of togetherness, laughter and good eatin'.

Huge home-grown carrots, gargantuan beetroots, fresh salad leaves, lovely, earthy potatoes, snappy leeks, sweet cherry tomatoes and firm, shiny zucchini were all potential ingredients, but I decided to give vichyssoise (cold leek and potato soup) a bash. I'm not sure why, exactly, because I'd only had it once at a restaurant and I hadn't really enjoyed the taste or the temperature — the merits of chilled soup eluded me. Perhaps, now, I came to this recipe due to the baking Karoo temperatures, and the fact that I'd been on a steady diet of rich meats and carbs for about a week straight... I needed a reprieve from the heat and heavy food.

I didn't want to leave the result to chance, so I consulted both Larousse and The Joy of Cooking — the former called for a base of water with a bouquet garni thrown in, while the latter called for stock. So I used both (a stock cube, I admit), and boy, oh boy, was it delicious — thick, savoury and filling, but quite light at the same time. I also didn't chill the soup completely, but rather served it on the cool side of room temperature, and I think this allowed for more flavour. But if you prefer your soups icy, by all means.

This is one of those stupidly easy recipes that yields fabulous results — and we all need more of those, don't we? Don't worry too much about getting the amounts exactly right, they're more of a guide.

If you happen to be experiencing a cold winter right now, this soup is also — hey presto — exceedingly yummy served hot.

(Side note: Vichyssoise was invented in the US by a French chef, who named the dish after his home town, Vichy. So drop that into conversation, why don't you.)

Serves 4

12 leeks, white bits only, washed and finely sliced
50g butter
600g potatoes, peeled and cubed
1 bouquet garni*
1 litre chicken stock (or just enough to cover the potatoes)
1 cup cream
Salt and white pepper, to taste
Chives, to garnish

1. In a large soup pot, gently fry the leeks in the butter until soft and translucent — do not allow to brown.
2. Add the potatoes and garni to the pot, as well as enough stock to just cover the potatoes. Give it a good stir, bring to the boil, then reduce the heat and allow to simmer until the potatoes are soft.
3. Using a handheld blender (or an ordinary one — which just means more washing up!), blend the soup to your desired consistency. I like it slightly chunky.
4. Leave the soup to cool, then plonk it in the fridge if you'd like it chilled, for about an hour.
5. Stir in the cream, season with salt and pepper, and divide between four bowls. Garnish with chives (snip-snip) and that's that.

*Two sprigs parsley, two bay leaves and one sprig each thyme and rosemary, tied together with a piece of kitchen string.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Current addictions

La Parmigiana
This pasta factory in Dean Street, Newlands, offers expertly made fresh and freshly frozen pasta so you can plonk it straight from the freezer into boiling water, and their prices put Woolies to shame. Their Napoletana and arabiata sauces make me want to take up poetry. If you take a baking dish to them they’ll fill it with virtually anything (pasta-related) you desire. 021 448 8852

Yoghurt, garlic, olive oil, salt
Okay, make that: 1 cup thick, diet-be-damned full fat yoghurt, 2 cloves super-fresh crushed garlic that perfumes your fingers (1 clove if you're squeamish), a few glugs of herby extra-virgin olive oil, and a generous helping of flaked Maldon salt, to taste (I like it plenty salty). Mix it all up until blended and allow to stand so the flavours infuse for at leat 10 minutes.

This sauce is heavenly. I love glooping it over poached eggs, sliced tomato, and anything with a vaguely Indian or Middle Eastern slant. Sometimes I just stand in the kitchen, staring into space, eating it by the spoonful.

Kuhestan Lemongrass and Ginger Cordial
This cordial has a delicate, fresh, floral, not-too-sweet flavour — I imagine this is what nectar tastes like to bees. I bought it at the Hope Street Market. Here's their website.

Hibiscus salt 

I don't know if I can call this an addiction yet, because I'm in the process of making it — but I'm pretty sure all the signs of imminent addiction are there. I'll let you know how it goes.

White Saffron & Cardamom Chocolate
Whoever decided on this flavour combination should be canonised (it was a company called Chocolate Marionettes — I'm looking into the paperwork). Unfortunately the only place I know of that stocks it is the Peregrin Farm Stall on the N2 just over Sir Lowry's pass. But maybe if you contact them they can tell you where to get some.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

real purdy: red cabbage & citrus chicken salad

I am completely obsessed with red cabbage at the moment. Its crunch. Its colour. Its versatility (mostly in the salad department). On a nerdy note, it contains 36 different varieties of anthocyanins (or ‘thingies’), which have been linked to cancer protection. Plus, a large, violet, delicately veined globe placed artfully on a kitchen shelf is a viable d├ęcor item.

This vibrant salad screams summer. It’s full of flavour and super-duper good for your body, but more importantly, it’s delicious. The crunchy cabbage, the sweet citrus, the savoury chicken… If you have an aversion to grapefruit, replace with orange. (Actually, any sweet citrus works well.) It’s a great way to use up roast chicken leftovers.

Red cabbage & citrus chicken salad
Serves 6—8
½ head cabbage, shredded
2 oranges, peeled and sliced
1 grapefruit, peeled and sliced
3 cups shredded cooked (preferably roasted) chicken
2 cups pomegranate rubies

For the dressing:
½ cup extra virgin olive oil
1 tbsp English or dijon mustard
1 cup orange juice
Salt and black pepper, to taste.

Arrange the salad ingredients on a platter (fancy shmancy like). Combine the dressing ingredients in a jar and give 'em a good shake. Drizzle dressing over the salad, rejoice and serve.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Yotam Ottolenghi's aubergine cheese cake

My bathtub is a death trap for ants.

For the few unfortunate ant-souls who find their way up the legs (it’s a ball & claw) and over the lip, there’s no escape.

In fact, the sight of them scrabbling up the sides, tumbling down, then starting all over again, is so existentially traumatising that I am compelled to rescue each and every one before I open the floodgates at bathtime. (I get the ants to crawl onto a piece of tissue, then airlift their asses out of there — I like to pretend I'm in an episode of Rescue 911.)

Sometimes I’m too late, and there are few lifeless ant corpses scattered about. I picture their families back home, holding vigil (with little ant-sized candles), ant toddlers innocently asking, ‘Mama, where’s Papa?’ To which Mama ant replies, ‘I don’t know baby, I just don’t know…’ before dissolving into tears.

And then I smile to myself, satisfied that — in the lives of those few ants I’m able to rescue — I've made a difference.

Of course, I think nothing of emptying a can of Doom over the thriving N1 ant highway that runs under our kitchen sink.

Life is full of contradictions.

Here is an extremely yummy thing I made last night, which I found here.

Yotam Ottolenghi's aubergine cheese cake
Serves 4

90ml olive oil
2 small aubergines, cut into 2cm thick slices
Salt and black pepper
150g feta
150g cream cheese
60ml double cream
3 eggs
150g baby plum tomatoes, cut in half lengthways
2 tbsp picked oregano leaves, torn
¾ tsp za'atar (optional)

Preheat the oven to 190C/375F/gas mark 5. Line with foil the base and sides of a deep, 19cm square baking tin (or a round, 22cm diameter dish), then brush lightly with oil.

Lay the aubergine slices on a baking sheet lined with greaseproof paper and brush all over with four tablespoons of olive oil. Sprinkle with salt and pepper, and roast in the hot oven for 40 minutes — the aubergines need to go soft and golden. When cooked, remove, set aside to cool, and lower the oven to 150C/300F/gas mark 2.

Put the feta, cream cheese, cream, eggs and some pepper in a bowl and whisk until smooth and thick.

Arrange the aubergine neatly in the baking tin — the slices should fill up the tray as they lean against each other, almost standing on their sides. Fill the gaps with tomatoes and sprinkle over half the oregano.

Pour in just enough of the cheese mix to leave some aubergine and tomatoes exposed, sprinkle over the remaining oregano and bake for 30 minutes, or until the "custard" sets. Leave the cake to cool down to room temperature, then remove it from the tin and cut into four squares (or into wedges, if using a round dish). Before serving, gently brush all over with za'atar mixed with a teaspoon of olive oil, or just olive oil.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Fried butternut with mint (OMF)

I went a little nuts at Woolies the other day. They had a promotion on: a giant bag of butternut for R30, but you could buy three for R60. So of course I had to buy three — about 25 butternuts!

When I got home and stumbled through the front door with my booty, the Guinea Pig just looked at me and said, ‘Uh-oh.’

And he was right to be wary. The bags sat under the kitchen counter for a few days, untouched, and it began to dawn on me that I probably don’t have enough synapses to deal with 25 butternuts.

Butternut soup... Er, roasted butternut... Er.

Oh sure, I have plenty of cookbooks and recipes that include butternut/pumpkin, but they’re a bit too fiddly and, more importantly, only require a small amount of the stuff.

Enter inspiration, stage left.

I am lucky enough to work for a magazine whose food editor uses a test kitchen just down the corridor from our office. So quite often I’ll have finished stuffing my face with leftover pizza in the cafeteria at lunch time, only to have platters of gourmet concoctions plonked down in front of me, going begging. (Which is when my second stomach comes in handy.)

Yesterday was such a day, and one of the plates happened to contain an incredibly tasty, incredibly delicious butternut dish. Little blocks of fried orange yumminess. Sprinkled with mint.

You heard me: MINT.

I simply had to know how to make it, but a cross examination of the assistant food editor yielded only that the butternut was boiled and then fried in butter.

‘But there was more to it,’ I wailed to GP later that evening in the kitchen, poking the air with my sloshing wine glass. 'It was so tasty — I couldn’t have just been fried in butter with a bit of salt. It was sweet as well...'

And that's when I figured it out. And here it is — more or less approximating what I tasted in the kitchen that day. I’m not going to bother with amounts because, well, I’m too lazy, and it’s not really all that important.

If you’re a veggie lover, this is a little plate of heaven.

Fried butternut with mint

Butternut (duh)
Olive oil
Fresh lemon juice
Mint, chopped

Boil up some cubed butternut until tender but still firm. Drain. Then melt a large (and I mean heart-attack LARGE) nob of butter in a frying pan with a similar amount of olive oil — you basically want enough to coat the butternut and make it nice and glossy. Turn the heat up really high, then add the butternut in a single layer (you may have to work in batches).

Okay, now you want to sprinkle a generous amount of sugar and salt (yes) over the butternut. Start with a tablespoon of each, then taste the butternut halfway through cooking and decide if it needs some more.

Fry the butternut until it's golden and the sugar is beginning to caramelise. Transfer to paper towel and drizzle with fresh lemon juice (to taste) and sprinkle with chopped mint.