Thursday, 26 April 2012

Tomato and Blue Cheese Tart with Rocket

Vegetarians....the word conjures up all kinds of emotions and opinions. We have a few in the family (my husbands side of course, ever heard of a vegetarian from the Karoo?) I don't know how my husband comes from the same family, as he considers any 'proper' meal to contain meat ... chicken passes as a vegetable! I saw an apron with this saying on it: 'Vegetarian is an old Red Indian word for bad hunter.' Maybe it should read 'bad hunter but good gardener' as my in-laws all seem to be expert gardeners. I love gardening but I'm not a vegetarian, but if I was this would be the type of food I'd like to eat. This recipe comes from Rick Stein's 'Food Heroes' recipe book. The book starts with a quote from legendary Irish cook Myrtle Allen, this book is about people producing 'common things uncommonly well.' This recipe is certainly not common and it is indeed uncommonly delicious. Even my husband agreed, I know, I almost fell off my chair in shock at his admission. I used baby plum tomatoes which makes the cooking time for the tomatoes much shorter than the original recipe and Rick Stein uses Blue Vinny cheese (Dorest farmers being the Food Heroes), but any good blue cheese will do.

So in preparation for the in-laws onslaught, this is the perfect lunch for the herbivorous.

750g baby plum tomatoes
450g puff pastry
100g blue cheese, thinly sliced
1 tsp thyme, leaves only
1 tbsp olive oil
handfuls rocket
1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
sea salt
freshly ground black pepper


Preheat the oven to 180°C. Cut the tomatoes in half lengthways and place them cut-side up in a lightly oiled, shallow roasting tin. Season sea salt and black pepper and roast for 5 minutes. Lower the oven temperature to 150°C and roast them for a further 20mins until they have shrivelled in size but are still slightly juicy in the centre. Remove and set aside.

Increase the oven temperature to 200°C. Roll out the pastry on a lightly floured surface into a 30 x 37.5 cm rectangle. Lift it onto a lightly greased baking sheet, prick here and there with a fork and bake blind for 18-20 minutes until crisp and golden.
Arrange the tomatoes haphazardly over the tart base, leaving a narrow border free around the edge. Crumble over the slices of blue cheese, sprinkle over the thyme leaves and drizzle over the olive oil. Return the tart to the oven for 5-6 minutes until the cheese has melted.

Remove the tart from the oven and scatter the rocket over the top. Cut it into 8 pieces, sprinkle with a little extra virgin olive oil and serve.

Serves 8.

Friday, 20 April 2012

Pears, Choc-kit biscuits and Brandy pudding

This recipe is especially for Kirsten, who's husband JP has a choc-kit addiction.
For my non-South African readers, a choc-kit biscuit is a sandwiched chocolate-filled oats and coconut biscuit (cookie). If you make this recipe, any biscuit with a chocolate centre will do the trick.

This recipe originated from my mother out of necessity, as in the Karoo guests regularly arrive unexpectedly at the farm. Often it is visitors who have read the book about our family farm written by my great aunt Eve Palmer the Plains of Camdeboo, someone wishing to view the small private museum, or old friends who are simply passing by. In true Karoo hospitality they are always invited in for a meal and this recipe is a life saver for unexpected guests. All the ingredients are in the store cupboard and the pudding can be thrown in the oven as the meal begins and whisked out just as this it needs to be served.

Half a pear and a biscuit per person. This recipe is to serve 6, adjust for as many guests as you have. You can also substitute the pear for half a yellow cling stone peach, which is equally as delicious. I'd also say use the best brandy you can, Cognac is even better.

6 canned/tinned pear halves
6 choc-kit biscuits
6 tbsp brandy

Place the pear halves in an oven proof dish. Top each pear with a choc-kit biscuit and drizzle the tablespoon of brandy over the choc-kit biscuit, making certain it absorbs well into the biscuit.

Pour a little of the pear juice into the bottom of the oven proof dish, cover with tin foil and place in the oven for 20mins at 160 degrees. Pears just needs to be warmed through and the biscuit becomes a nice soft boozy, gooey topping.

Serve with a dollop of ice-cream or thick cream.

Friday, 13 April 2012

Poached Chicken Legs with Dumplings

Let's be honest, when one is thinking about what to make for dinner poached chicken doesn't exactly jump to mind first. But this dish will NOT disappoint you. The chicken stays moist and tender and comes with a built-in comforting broth and herby dumplings. Yum, yum.

This recipe comes from Gordon Ramsay's Kitchen Heaven cookbook, he recommends using suet to make the dumplings which has a distinct lightness and richness. I have tried the butter version dumplings and would recommend you use suet. The suet does not have a meaty taste at all, it just imparts a rich flavour which is why it was ideal for so many traditional English dishes like Christmas pudding, mince pies, roly poly and steak and kidney pie. Dumplings have a bad reputation for being heavy, doughy and tasteless, but a well made dumpling is unsurpassable.

After eating this dish I was in a happy trance-like-state for the rest of the evening. Definite 'chicken soup' for the body and soul. I omitted the turnips simply because I didn't have them and by using chicken stock instead of water you get a lot more flavour. I also like to have pittas or a crusty bread when I serve this to soak up all the broth at the end. 


Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
4 large chicken legs
3 large carrots, peeled
2 medium onions, peeled
2 sticks of celery, peeled
3 large turnips, peeled
2 cloves of garlic, peeled
a sprig of fresh thyme
2-3 sprigs of fresh parsley
1 star anise
1 bay leaf
1 litre good chicken stock or water

Herb dumplings
225g self-raising flour
115g suet
1 tbs chopped fresh flat leaf parsley


Season the chicken legs and place them in a large pan. Chop the vegetables into large pieces and add to the chicken. Cut the garlic cloves in half and add to the pan along with the thyme, parsley sprigs, star anise and the bay leaf. Add enough chicken stock or water to just cover the chicken and vegetables. Put the pan on a medium heat and simmer gently, uncovered, for about 1 hour, skimming the liquid when necessary to achieve a good clear broth.

While the chicken is cooking, make the dumplings by mixing the flour and suet with a pinch of salt, the chopped parsley and enough cold water to make the mixture into a soft dough. Roll into small balls.

Towards the end of the cooking time, remove some of the pouching stock to a second pan and bring to a simmer. Drop the dumplings into the stock and poach for 10 - 15mins until soft and puffed up.

Serve and scoff immediately for best results.

Serves 4.

Monday, 9 April 2012

Rhubarb and Vanilla Jam

When I think of making jam, I think: 'oh groan...who has the time to be standing in front of the stove stirs vats of jam?' But revelation! The secret is not to make too much in one go, how much jam do you want taking up your cupboard space anyway? I thought I'd try something other than a crumble with my rhubarb. It's sweet sour earthy flavour is unique. What a wonderful underrated vegetable, or is it a fruit? Well, in the US it is classified as a fruit due to a court ruling back in the 1940's and in the UK it is defined as a vegetable. So it's a vegetable that likes to go incognito and often pops up in the most unusual places like desserts and jams.

A word of warning, this rhubarb and vanilla jam is so delicious it is like eating pudding. I ended up eating mine out the jar.

400g rhubarb
400g jam sugar
1 vanilla pod, halved lengthways
juice of half a lemon

Put a small plate in the freezer. Chop rhubarb to 3cm pieces. Put the rhubarb into a preserving pan or your largest saucepan with the sugar and halved vanilla pods.

Heat gently, stirring, until all the sugar has dissolved, then squeeze in the lemon juice and increase the heat. Make certain all the sugar has dissolved before boiling. Boil for about 10 mins, skimming off the scum as you go. (the fruit should be soft).
Setting point when surface wrinkles
Test for setting point by spooning a little onto your chilled plate. After 1-2 mins, push your spoon through the jam - if the surface wrinkles it is ready, if not, keep cooking for 2-min intervals, testing in between. Or if you have a sugar thermometer it should reach 105C.

Once the jam is ready, let it cool for about 15 mins before ladling into warm sterilised jars and sealing. Will keep for 6 months in a cool, dark place. Serve on croissants or fresh bread.

Makes two medium sized jars or 4 small jars of jam.

First time jamers: you are a first time jam maker you may find this link very useful. Ten steps to jam making by Delia.

Sterilising jars: Wash your jars in hot, soapy water, then leave in a low oven to dry completely. Keep them warm. Alternatively, run the jars and lids through a hot dishwasher cycle, then let them dry.

Saturday, 7 April 2012

Ottolenghi's Flourless Chocolate Cake

Oh the wonderful, sensory overload of Ottolenghi.
I have been beating a path to their front door in Notting Hill for quite a few years and my wallet and waistline have felt the effects. But the food is outstanding. Their philosophy is to keep food as natural as possible in a Mediterranean-style cuisine which packs an unapologetic flavour punch.

The window displays alone are worth a visit. The aim is to display all food in the same way that a market stallholder does: show everything you got and don't interfere with it too much. I have heard Ottolenghi's food being described as 'food porn'. Brilliant and so true. Eat your heart out Amsterdam.

The salads are sublime and a selection of cakes, cookies and pastries to make your heart skip a beat. (oh wait, or is that the sugar overload?) My personal favourite is the Flourless Chocolate Cake. Which I have daringly taken the challenge to make. Can it possibly measure up to the shop bought version? You'd better believe it.

This Flourless Chocolate Cake, is also known as Ottolenghi's Chocolate Fudge Cake in their cookbook. It is decadence in abundance. Two things I will say if you make this cake is: 1.) It requires a little patience. 2.) Do not think about the calorie content, at all.

If you are ever in London, I highly recommend popping into one of Ottolenghi's shops.

240g unsalted butter, cut into small cubes
265g dark chocolate (52% cocoa solids) cut into small pieces
95g dark chocolate (70% cocoa solids) cut into small pieces
290g light muscovado sugar
4 tbsp water
5 large eggs (separated)
a pinch of salt
cocoa powder for dusting


Preheat the oven to 170˚C.

In a large bowl combine your chocolate and butter. Both should be cut up into small pieces. At the same time mix the sugar and water into a sauce pan and bring to a boil over medium heat. Make certain the sugar has melted before it boils. Once boiling pour over the chocolate and butter until it is all melted together.

Stir the egg yolks into the chocolate one at a time and reserve the whites in another bowl.  Let the chocolate cool room temperature. Then whisk the whites and the salt until firm and fold into the chocolate. This is when I prepared my springform cake tin. Something to do while waiting for the chocolate mixture to cool.

Pour 2/3 of the mixture into your cake tin and cook for 40 minutes until a toothpick comes out clean. Then set aside until completely cool.

Then pour the remaining mixture over and cook for 20-25 minutes until a toothpick shows a moist crumb. Set aside to cool and dust with cocoa and/or icing sugar.

This is everything it should be: dense, dark, rich, fudgy and chocolately. If you don't manage to eat it all in one sitting, it will keep for 4 days at room temperature.

Serves 10.

If you need tips on lining a springform cake tin, this is a good guide. How to line your springform cake tin.