Archive | July, 2010

Sour Cream Almond Coffee Cake

31 Jul

Sour Cream Coffee CakeThis weekend is rainy and damp – the perfect time for baking. Cakes and cookies, the scent of warm cinnamon and chocolate – all these are, to me, the ultimate comfort. A slice of cake, be it carrot, coffee or chocolate, is a welcoming gift to present a visitor, and they pack wonderfully for on-the-go presents. I love cake – the beautiful crumb, the creamy icings, the melding of flavor and texture. Baking a cake is immensely satisfying – the finished product is an act of magic, bringing together simple ingredients and creating a stunning finished product. I dont trust people who dont like cake 😉

And oh, this cake. A humble coffee cake, something you could whip together in half an hour or so, even though it has a filling, topping and batter. Its a simple cake, and it bakes up beautifully – fluffy, cinnamon specked, cream-cheesy interior, with little specs of baked apple, streusel topping. Its surprisingly balanced, and not over-the-top sweet. A wonderful snack, and a delightful breakfast with a cup of hot coffee. My idea of the perfect thing to have in the fridge at all times 🙂

This cake is adapted from Tamasin Day-Lewis from her Kitchen Classics book. She got the recipe from her assistant, who got it from her Auntie Fei. So this recipe has been handed down and redrafted at least four times – which is one of the things I love about cooking. You can tell someone how you made a dish, you can even write out a recipe for them. As soon as they get it home, look in the fridge and realise they have raisins rather than an apple, or creme fraiche rather than sour cream, they substitute and change around and add. Its human nature, but its also what makes cooking so personal. As soon as you have any confidence in the kitchen, you know what you like, and you adapt things to that sense of taste and artistry. Its why I love eating other people’s cooking so much. They expose their sense of taste, colour, texture, flavour and fun through what they cook, and how they cook it.

And I must admit something here. This cake actually has nuts in it! I usually dont go for cake with nuts. Ever. I took the nuts out of the sublime carrot cake from yesterday. I would never make anything chocolate with nuts. I love nuts, but not with sweet, except in this cake (well, may be I would use almond meal in a cake in place of flour in a pinch, but thats another story). Here, the nuts act as the texture component, and elevate the coffee cake with their smoky crunchy bite. They also cut the creaminess of the cake well – its made with sour cream, and layered with cream cheese, so its very rich. The nuts help that richness stay balanced. I use almonds because I find them the least offensive of nuts in sweet things, but you could use hazelnuts, walnuts, pecans, or even macadamias if you like.

Making this cake is not hard, but I would certainly make the filling and topping first, before making the batter. That way, the final assembly is quick and easy. Also, you can make it in a bundt pan, but I didnt want to, so I made it in a cake tin. Cooking time is about 10 – 15 minutes less in a bundt pan so watch for that.

Eat this at breakfast or during a coffee break, for a tea time snack or as dessert. Its delicious any which way, but I particularly like it warm from the oven.


  • 3/4 cup cream cheese
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tbsp light brown sugar
  • 1/4 tsp salt

Please make sure you get a good cream cheese. That Philadelphia stuff is full of stabilisers, gums and other chemicals. If you can find a natural, organic or locally made cream cheese, get that. The difference is huge.

Beat all ingredients together till light and creamy, and set aside.


  • 1/2 cup flour
  • 1/2 cup light brown sugar
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 cup toasted sliced almonds, divided (note: you can use any nut you like)
  • 4 tbsp melted butter
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract

In a medium to large frying pan, toast the almonds (or other nuts) until they become light golden. Divide into 3/4 cup and 1/4 cup. Set the smaller amount aside to use with the filling, and place the 3/4 cup of almonds in a bowl along with the flour, sugar, salt and cinnamon. Melt the butter, add the vanilla extract to the melted butter, and mix into the almond-flour mixture. It will be crumbly. Set aside.


  • 1/4 cup butter
  • 1 1/3 cup light brown sugar
  • 4 eggs
  • 2 cups flour
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 200 ml (about 1 cup) sour cream (you can substitute creme fraiche if you like)
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract

In a mixing bowl, cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in the eggs, one at a time.

Meanwhile, sift together the flour, baking soda, baking powder, cinnamon and salt. In a separate bowl, mix together the sour cream and vanilla.

Beat the dry ingredients and sour cream into the butter-sugar-egg mixture bit by bit – I usually mix in a couple tablespoons flour, then a couple tablespoons sour cream, etc, until you have a smooth batter.


  • Cake batter
  • 1 large apple (I used a Fuji apple) peeled, cored, and diced (you could use dried cranberries, raisins, or any other fruit you like)
  • 1/4 cup reserved almonds
  • Filling
  • Topping

Preheat oven to 180C.

Butter a cake pan, or  a bundt pan with removable sides, well. I usually put some baking paper on the bottom of my cake tin, and butter that as well, just to make removal a bit easier.

Pour about half of the cake mixture into the prepared cake tin, and smooth. Sprinkle on the diced apple, and then the reserved almonds. Spoon over the cream cheese filling, making sure you get it smeared up against the sides, and dropped throughout the interior of the pan. Top with the remaining cake batter. Smooth the top, and sprinkle over the filling. Using a fork or spoon, fold over a little batter so that you have spots of batter peaking through the filling.

Bake for 55 – 65 minutes depending on your pan, or until a cake tester comes out with crumbs.

Allow to cool on a rack for at least 20 – 30 minutes before unmolding, cutting and devouring.

Enjoy with friends.

Carrot Cake (The Best EVER)

30 Jul

Carrot Cake from heaven I cant tell you how much I love this cake. It looks like a huge effort but if you break it down into its component parts, and you start at least two days in advance, it’s a doddle.

The recipe for this cake comes from the Frog Commissary Cookbook – probably my favourite cookbook of all times. My first version was so battered, I could barely read the recipes anymore, but it didn’t matter – I had cooked the food so often, I kind of knew what needed to go in and where. Steven Poses totally innovated the Philadelphia food scene, and this cookbook really highlights easy, casual, scrumptious American cooking.

This carrot cake is something that once you make, every single person who has tasted it will ask you when you are making it again. You will become known for this cake, and you will be begged for the recipe. It will become your signature, and people will talk of you and the carrot cake together, in the same hushed awed tones. Its really that good!

As a breakfast after cooking a feast, it is a sublime cooks treat. It’s a pain to make in one go because there are so many steps, but easy enough if you cook the caramel stuffing and assemble the cream cheese frosting a day or two before hand. The cake can be baked the night before, and everything put together on the day. Seriously, this recipe will become something which will bring you fame, and depending on who you serve it to, may be even love! Heh.

We have the opportunity here to look at how our shopping choices affect the taste of our food. Its carrot cake. PLEASE buy organic carrots for this. It will make a world of difference. Get the slightly more expensive French butter if you can for the frosting – but you can use the cheaper butter for the caramel stuffing. If you are watching your budget, these things are important. Because the frosting is butter, cream cheese and vanilla, whipped together and uncooked, the actual flavour of the butter is very important. Because you cook the butter into the sugar for the caramel stuffing, the flavour gets muted and changes, and thus does not have so much responsibility.

I have made changes to the original recipe.  I hate nuts in dessert. I don’t know why, I just do. I love nuts but don’t mix them with chocolate or cake or brownies for me. They interfere with the original taste, and don’t do anything to add to it.

In this carrot cake, especially, I don’t like anything to interfere with its smooth unctuousness. There is something so luscious about how this cake feels in the mouth that nuts just interfere with the sensual experience for me.

I have taken out the pecans in the cake and the caramel stuffing – add in if you like nuts. Ugh.

I have also added mixed-spice as I like the low musky note it adds, and I have upped the cinnamon as I don’t think you can ever have enough cinnamon!

Serves 16 – 20

This cake is most easily made if you start it at least one day ahead, preferably two, since the caramel filling, for one thing, is best left to chill overnight, and the cake needs at least a day or so to firm up. The different components can be made even up to several days in advance and stored separately until you are ready to assemble the cake (as early as the night before you will serve it).

Caramel Stuffing

(This is the “stuffing” of the carrot cake – between the two layers of cake).

  • 1 1/2 cups sugar (I use a mix of white sugar, vanilla sugar and organic brown sugar – 1/2 a cup each)
  • 1/4 cup flour
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/2 cups heavy cream (I use the pouring cream you can buy in the long life milk cartons)
  • 6 ounces (3/4 cup) butter (I use salted – but you can use unsalted)
  • 2-3 teaspoons vanilla extract (or more – depending on your taste)
  • 1 tsp to 1 tbsp Maldon or Fleur de sel to sprinkle over the stuffing
  • OPTIONAL: 1 1/4 cups chopped pecans (I dont use nuts in this cake because I dont like cake with nuts, but feel free to add them if you like. You can use walnuts, or even dried coconut if you like).

In a very heavy saucepan, blend well the sugar(s), flour and salt.

Gradually stir in the cream. Make sure they are blended – the dry ingredients will slowly absorb the cream. Leave this for a few minutes to let the sugar really melt into the cream.

Chop up the butter and add to the saucepan.

Put the saucepan on low heat and stir as the butter melts. You will see the butter getting absorbed into the creamy mixture as it melts.

Once the butter is absorbed, stir in 1 teaspoon of the vanilla.

Simmer the mixture for 20 – 30 minutes (up to an hour depending on the heat), stirring occasionally. It will start to pop and sizzle. Make sure you stir so the bottom and sides of the pan get scraped down.

Once the caramel is golden brown to nut brown in colour (again, depending on your taste), and the mixture is thick, take off the heat and cool to lukewarm.

Add the remaining vanilla (I usually add at least another teaspoon because of how weak the vanilla is in Malaysia), and the nuts or coconut if you are using them (don’t!).

Let cool completely and refrigerate, preferably overnight. If its too thick to spread when you are ready to assemble the components, let it warm a little to spreading consistency. Just before spreading, sprinkle the Maldon or Fleur de sel over the caramel.

Any extra is SUPERB with vanilla ice cream as a topping.

Carrot Cake

  • 1 1/4 cups corn or other clear light vegetable oil
  • 2 cups sugar (I use a mixture of white and organic brown)
  • 2 cups flour
  • 3 -4  teaspoons cinnamon
  • 2 teaspoons mixed spice
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 4 eggs
  • 4 cups grated carrots (about 1/2 kilo bag) – if you dont have enough carrots, you can add a few apples
  • 1 cup raisins
  • OPTIONAL 1 cup chopped pecans (see above re nuts in cake).

Preheat the oven to 175 C

Line the base of two 10 inch cake pans with baking paper, and grease well with butter

In a large bowl whisk together the corn oil and the sugars until the oil is absorbed into the sugar. Leave to let the mixture meld for a while.

Meanwhile, mix the flour, cinnamon, mixed spice, baking powder, baking soda and salt together in a separate bowl.  Sift half of the dry ingredients over the sugar-oil mixture and blend.

Alternately sift in the rest of the dry ingredients while adding the eggs (lightly beaten), one by one.

Combine all well, and leave to sit for a bit while you grate the carrots.

Add the carrots, the raisins and (if you are using them) the pecans.

Pour mixture into prepared pans and bake for about 25 – 30 minutes, or until a knife inserted comes out clean.

Cool upright in the pan on a cooling rack. Unmold the cake before you refrigerate it if you are not using the cake that day. Wrap it well in plastic wrap or a clean kitchen towel.

I think this is best made at least 1 – 2 days in advance. Too fresh a cake makes it very difficult to cut – I used a very fresh cake at my last party, and after the first few slices, the cake was unfolding herself like a blowsy lady who had too much to drink at a party!

Cream Cheese Frosting

  • 1/2 stick to 1 stick of butter (salted) – I usually use less butter than cream cheese, at room temperature
  • 1-8 ounce package of cream cheese at room temperature
  • 200 – 500 g of powdered sugar (I usually use less, and add more to taste)
  • 1 – 3 teaspoons of vanilla

Using electric beaters, cream the butter well.

Add the cream cheese and beat until well blended.

Sift in the sugar and the vanilla.

Depending on the consistency of the frosting, leave in fridge for a few minutes (if too soft) or add a little sour cream or milk (if too stiff).


Centre the cake on your serving plate.

Depending on your taste, use a serrated knife to cut the cake into 2 – 3 layers.

Spread the caramel filling between the layers of cake. You may have to use a spoon and just drop the thick caramel onto the layers.

Spread the frosting over the top and sides.

Refrigerate to let the cake hold itself together.

Serve cake at room temperature.


  • The assembled cake freezes very well
  • You can substitute apples or zucchini for the carrots
  • Batter can also be baked as cupcakes, loaves, sheet cakes

Five Favourite Food Writers

29 Jul

I love books, and I love cooking. Ergo, I have collected hundreds, if not thousands, of cookbooks over the years. I have some books in multiple copies, just in case I have the urge to share (one of the things about book lovers is that we give our books away to like minded souls) or the pages get so cooked upon they are no longer legible! I love them all, and I gain inspiration from every different kind of cookbook. I am catholic in my tastes when it comes to food writing. I dont limit myself to vegetarian writers, though I obviously gravitate to writers who think about vegetarian cooking in a new and different way. I am inspired by all sorts of cooking, and I read not just for recipes and ingredients, but also to look at technique and the way people think about and write about food.

I was asked in a previous post to list some of my favourite cookbooks. I decided to list some of my favourite food writers, because if they are amongst my favourites, all their books are on my Must Have list! These writers also produce wonderful recipes, but they also inspire just by how they express their own fascination with food. I love people who write passionately about food, who bring the personal into their stories and recipes. I enjoy being brought into their world, their minds, their lives. Do try and read some of these writers – just for their passion and joy.

And please note, I have many more favourites than just these five (Julia Child, Elizabeth Luard, Calvin Trillian, Alice Waters …. oh and more and more and more, come to mind!) … but these are some of my current inspirations, as well as constant companions from when I first started to read cookbooks, and food writing, for sheer pleasure. Enjoy!

Home CookingLaurie Colwin

Colwin is probably one of my favourite authors, period. She wrote for Gourmet magazine many years ago, and I never missed a column. In a magazine that could sometimes be daunting for its slightly high-brow approach to food, Colwin’s writing was approachable, intimate, friendly, funny and yet totally passionate about food. You could imagine having coffee with her, and chatting about the perfect recipe for a birthday cake that would appeal to a 10 year old… a meandering comfortable conversation that could only happen between old friends. Colwin passed away in 1992, at the age of 48, from an unexpected heart attack. When I read about her death in Gourmet, I grieved as if I had lost a close personal friend. I was heartbroken, and I still feel a bittersweet sadness when I read her now, knowing that she is no longer amongst us, cooking, chatting, dreaming, writing. Thats how true and real, pure and strong her voice was.

She is also laugh out loud funny, and clear in her opinions and likes and dislikes about food. As a young woman, reading her books, I was inspired. She presented herself, complications, contradictions, passions and all – and you just wanted more. How can you not adore someone who calls a steamed chocolate pudding sincere?

Her two food books, Home Cooking and More Home Cooking (which was published posthumously) are the food books which I give to friends who arent interested in food. The humour and love with which she writes about food, home life, family, are inspiring and beautiful. Her descriptions of cooking and eating and her recipes are immediate and accessible. I love these two books, and wouldnt be without them. If you have not read Laurie Colwin’s writing yet, I envy you for the immense joy of discovery when you do. You will feel like you have gained a lifelong friend. If you only choose one author from this list, choose her.

“The smell of chocolate bubbling over and slightly burning is one of the most beautiful smells in the world. It is subtle and comforting and it is rich. One tiny drop perfumes a room like nothing else.” (from Home Cooking)

AppetiteNigel Slater

Way beyond and before Nigella, there was and is Nigel Slater. He writes about food as one would write about a lover. He immerses himself in flavour, texture, taste, smell. You can feel him want to rub his cheek against the perfect roundness of an egg, squish his fingers in a wobbling custard. He is a sensualist, and I adore reading his books. They are the perfect foodie present – inspirational, contextual, honest and real. No sous vide or fancy foams for Nigel. He waxes poetic on the perfect roast potato, and makes you want to go out and cook one now. He writes about everything with such relish, such passion, such earthy sexiness.

His website gives you an indication of how he presents food and himself, but really, reading his books, in particular Tender (about his vegetable and fruit garden – 5 years in the writing, 500 recipes), Real Cooking, Real Food, Appetite, and The Kitchen Diaries, will be an eye-opening and bountiful journey into the mind of a true cook. I also love his raw, vulnerable, beautiful memoir, Toast: The Story of a Boy’s Hunger.

For food writing that is different from just about anything out there – full of joy and hunger, ravishing and delightful, Slater’s your man.

“Joan’s lemon meringue pie was one of the most glorious things I had ever put in my mouth: warm, painfully sharp lemon filling, the most airy pastry imaginable (she used cold lard in place of some of the butter) and a billowing hat of thick, teeth judderingly sweet meringue. She squeezed the juice of five lemons into the filling, enough to make you close one eye and shudder.” (from Toast: The Story of a Boy’s Hunger)

The Art of EatingM. F. K. Fisher

I consider Fisher to be the Goddess Mother of food writing. She published over 30 books in her lifetime, and wrote about food in the broadest sense: recipes, history, gastronomy, philosophy, culture, and natural history. She loved food, and she had an amazing ability to bring the reader into her fascinations – from oysters to old recipes, from Dijon to California. She wrote about the pleasures of the table with simplicity, humour and a keen intelligence. You cannot help but learn when you read her books – about the science of food preparation, the history of a place or an ingredient, or the economies of scale of consumption. MFK Fisher is also a pleasure to read because she wrote from the mid 1930s to her death in the mid 1990s, so her focus was food in its natural state. Her writings on how to economise, at the start of World War 2, are a fascinating glimpse of a particular time and space.

My favourite MFK Fisher book is The Art of Eating, which brings together Serve It Forth, Consider The Oyster, How To Cook a Wolf, The Gastronomical Me, and An Alphabet for Gourmets, considered her most popular and important books. I also love Recipes: The Cooking of Provincial France, With Bold Knife and Fork, Among Friends, and A Cordial Water: A Garland of Odd & Old Receipts to Assuage the Ills of Man or Beast. Considering that many of her writings were first published over 50 years ago, they are totally contemporary, deeply engaging and wonderfully intimate.

If you havent read MFK Fisher, you havent read food writing. She set the bar for true immersion in food, and her voice was bold, strong and resoundingly passionate.

“E is for Exquisite… and its gastronomical connotations, at least for me. When I hear of a gourmet with exquisite taste I assume, perhaps too hastily and perhaps very wrongly, that there is something exaggeratedly elaborate, and even languidly perverted, about his gourmandism. I do not think simply of an exquisitely laid table and an exquisite meal. Instead I see his silver carved in subtly erotic patterns, and his courses following one upon another in a cabalistic design, half pain, half pleasure…” (from An Alphabet for Gourmets)

French Laundry CookbookThomas Keller

Keller is, I think, one of the high priests of incredibly beautiful, elaborate haute cuisine. His food is astonishing, complex, witty and cerebral. His French Laundry restaurant, in Yountville, California, is legendary, and it is one of my life goals (honestly) to eat there, or at Per Se, his New York restaurant. He is an icon of modern food – the successor to Alice Waters, the founder of the California cuisine movement with its focus on organic, locally produced food. Keller took that one step further and added a particular magic – from sous vide to foams to complex, time consuming chemical processes – his food is constantly challenging how you think about eating.

I love his books, particularly The French Laundry Cookbook and Ad Hoc at Home. The first book is a must to understand the mind of the Chef – his philosophy, his painstaking approach, his creativity and his passion. There is no way in heaven or hell though that I would want to try and recreate what he cooks – its too complex for me, and too overwhelming. I love to look into the mind of someone as passionate and brilliant as he, but I wouldnt want to be him! However, Ad Hoc at Home is much more accessible because it was written specifically for the home cook, and while it shows all the Keller brilliance, and generously allows us to learn his tips and tricks and magic, its actually cookable with basic ingredients and equipment.

Keller seems to me an obsessive chronicler of his approach and his genius. Thats generosity – but its also confidence. For a look into the meticulous mind of an icon of food, these books are an important and inspiring education.

Whipped Brie de Meaux en Feuillete with Tellicherry Pepper and Baby Mache. This is a very simple, elegant way to serve a familiar cheese and was, in fact, how I began to compose cheese courses. Not only did I want to compose a cheese course, but I also wanted to manipulate the cheese into an elegant form. Brie is creamy and cream whips – therefore, I figured, I could whip Brie, and it worked. Be sure to use a very good, ripe, creamy Brie in this dish. Whipping makes it light and luxurious, even surprising. You recognise the flavour of Brie, but here, because the cheese is light and airy, that flavour is pleasantly out of context and feels new, especially paired with the spicy pepper and delicate greens.” (from an introduction to a recipe, The French Laundry Cookbook)

Comfort Me With ApplesRuth Reichl

Ruth Reichl is the last editor in chief of the late, lamented, beloved Gourmet magazine. She is a critic, cook, author and gourmet of encyclopedic proportions. She is modern, feisty, adventurous, worldly and completely accommodating in her recipes and writing. She brought Gourmet into the larger sphere of multi-cultural influences, and made it much more open and accessible. Her attention to detail, and her ability to describe lovingly every element of a meal scrupulously, makes her a cook’s writer.

Reichl has written cookbooks, including The Gourmet Cookbook: More Than 1000 Recipes and Gourmet Today: More than 1000 All-New Recipes for the Contemporary Kitchen. The latter is an amazing book for vegetarians, as she has made a conscious effort to acknowledge vegetarianism as an important way of life. All the food in these books is easy to make, easy to understand, and delicious to eat. She has also published four very open and revealing memoirs: Tender at the Bone: Growing Up at the Table, Comfort Me with Apples: More Adventures at the Table,  Garlic and Sapphires: The Secret Life of a Critic in Disguise, and Not Becoming My Mother: and Other Things She Taught Me Along the Way. Each book is a revalation of a this woman’s complete commitment to her immersion in food, and a remarkable testament to a life well lived.

For a cook starting out, who is unsure of technique and approach, who wants modernism and creativity, but also recipes that are easy to understand and accessible, Reichl’s cookbooks are a must.

“Amora brought long baguettes to dip into the garlic mayonnaise, which was soft, airy, rich, delicious. Eating that aioli was like biting into savoury clouds. As we ate, Robert told stories of his native Provence, where women sit in the sun with mortars squeezed between their fat thighs, furiously pounding garlic into aioli. As I listened my eyes grew heavy and I began to sink into an odd, sleepy euphoria.” (from Comfort Me with Apples)

Braised Broccoli with Red Wine Pasta

28 Jul

Braised broccoli with red wine pastaWhen I started cooking and writing regularly for this blog, I decided to let my whim take me where it would .. and of course, it lead me down the paths of cream, butter, and lots and lots of chocolate. But woman cannot live on that alone (well, she can try, but will end up as big as a house)… suddenly my cravings have changed. Gotten simpler, greener, more robust and earthy. I crave broccoli and butternut, spinach and beetroot. I am enjoying this change of focus (notwithstanding macaron class and the occasional batch of cookies) and I adore the food that I am cooking for its simple satisfaction, its beautiful taste, and its health(ier) context.

I am also enjoying the fact that finally my body is starting to listen to itself, and enjoy food for its sensual pleasures, and health giving properties, rather than rely on it for comfort. Its a nice change of pace 😉

Given all of that, this pasta is something that I have been wanting to try for ages. I found myself with a bottle of wine left over from the World Cup, and so … Braised broccoli, succulent and green, chili, garlic, and toasted almonds top plain pasta that has been finished in a bottle (yes, a whole bottle) of red wine. The pasta gets cooked in regular water first, and after five minutes, gets drained, and then finished off in wine. Because the pasta is already part of the way there, its pores are open, so to speak. It soaks up the wine, gaining a wonderful slightly bitter winey intensity, and glorious colour. Zinfadel is best for colour, but I only had a cabernet – didnt turn out half bad if I say so myself.

This meal is a quick meal that feels like a celebration. Its so dramatic, the colours are so beautiful, and its soul satisfying.

Serves six (greedy) to eight people

Braised broccoli

  • 1/3 – 1/2 cup almond flakes or chunks (about 60 – 90 g)
  • 500 – 750 g (1 – 1 1/2 lbs) broccoli and cauliflower of your choice (I like a mix of regular broccoli, romanesco broccoli and purple cauliflower)
  • 2 – 3 tbsp olive oil (add some butter if you are not vegan just for depth of taste)
  • 7 – 9 cloves of garlic, sliced thin
  • 1 – 2 tsp red chili flakes
  • 1 tsp oregano
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1- 2 cups vegetable stock (made from a stock cube if you like) or white wine or water
  • 1 tbsp lemon juice

In a large, dry, non stick frying pan, over medium to low heat, toast the almonds until they are golden brown. Pour off into a bowl, and set aside for later.

Peel the leaves off the broccoli, trim the stems, separate the head into small flowers, and chop the large stalks into medium sized chunks. Keep the stalk chunks and the separated flowers of broccoli separate. Rinse the broccoli under cold water.

In the same large frying pan, heat olive oil (and butter if you are using), over medium high heat, until the oil starts to shimmer.

Add the garlic and allow it to soften for a few minutes. Add the chili flakes and oregano, and the chopped stalks of broccoli, and allow to cook for 5 – 10 minutes until just tender crisp. Add the flower heads of broccoli to the pan, season with salt and pepper, and allow the heads to just sear in the hot oil. You will have a pretty full pan at this point.

Add about half a cup of vegetable stock and let the broccoli braise in this liquid for at least 5 – 10 minutes. Test for doneness – add more braising liquid if needed.

Once the broccoli is cooked to your liking (I like it still with a bit of bite in it rather than boiled to within an inch of its life), sprinkle over the lemon juice and set aside on the stove top.

Red wine pasta

  • About 1 tsp of olive oil or canola oil
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 500 g (1 lb) spaghetti or fettucini (nothing too fragile like angel hair)
  • 1 bottle (3 cups) red wine – preferably Zinfadel for the colour, but you can use anything
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 1 cup cooking water from first pasta boil

First of all, lightly oil the inside of a large pot with olive or canola oil. This will encourage the pasta not to stick to the inside of the pot as it cooks.

Boil about 3 litres of water in the pan, and add salt. Add the pasta and cook for exactly 5 minutes. The pasta will have softened, but will not be al dente yet.

Drain the pasta, reserving about 1 cup of the cooking water.

Return the pot back to the heat, and pour in the bottle of wine and add sugar. Allow the wine to come to the boil, and reduce slightly, about 3 – 5 minutes. Add the pasta to the wine, and with tongs, turn the pasta in the boiling wine, allowing all of it to be covered by the wine. Check often, but after about 6 – 10 minutes the pasta should be a beautiful wine colour, and al dente. You might need to add the additional cup of cooking water in case the pasta is taking a little longer.

To serve

  • Red wine pasta
  • 1/4 cup grated parmesan or pecorino (with additional to serve) – optional
  • Toasted almonds
  • 1 tsp olive oil
  • Braised broccoli

Using your tongs, transfer the red wine pasta onto a serving platter. If there is any boiling liquid left in the pot, make sure to let it drip off the pasta as you transfer it.

Add the parmesan (if you are using), half the toasted almonds and the olive oil, and toss the pasta. Add the broccoli, reserving a few pretty florets for presentation) and all its cooking liquid to the pasta, and toss, making sure that there is an even distribution of garlic and broccoli throughout. Taste and adjust salt and pepper as needed.

Arrange a few florets on top, sprinkle with the remaining almonds, and serve immediately.

Happy Birthday Ayah

27 Jul

My Ayah and meToday would have been my beloved late father’s 74th birthday. I celebrated by going to learn how to make macarons, but I was thinking of him the whole day. I miss him more than I can ever say, and yet, I feel him with me all the time. When my sister had her beautiful baby Z, both of us felt his presence, and wished we could have him with us, so he could meet his gorgeous grandchild.

Everything I do, and everything I am, is imbued with his presence, his grace, his essence.

My father was a true epicure. He took great pleasure in all the sensual aspects of life – food, and drink, cigars, and yes, women. He taught my sister and I how to eat, how to enjoy food, how to taste and refine our ideas of what was good. He took much joy from having a meal and good wine with friends and family.

Ayah was a wonderful story teller, a brilliant mind, a sensitive and clever writer. He lived life to the maximum and he passed much too young.

From the time we were young, my sister and I were brought to beautiful restaurants, and ate “like grown-ups” – encouraged to try and taste and order for ourselves. It was an education in enjoying the fine things in life. But my father also was clever about what he consumed and how. He always had fresh fruits for breakfast, always made time for exercise, and when he indulged, he always made sure there was a balance.

One of my favourite Ayah food stories was his immense enjoyment and love of plain white toast, with melting butter, sprinkled with rough grain sugar. My sister and I used to tease him about it – how someone who ate at the finest restaurants would take such sweet happiness in a simple dish. He told us that during the war, when he was a child, he lived in the kampung (rural village) in Malaysia. There were not a lot of supplies and extras. Food and luxuries were scarce. On birthdays, or for very special occasions, children were given a piece of toast, butter (margarine more likely), and sugar. To the end of his life, he felt that one of the greatest indulgences was that simple dish.

This taught me two things. First, that food did not have to be rare or fancy or expensive to be appreciated. You have to know for whom you cook, and what resonates within them. And therein lies the second lesson – food is about memory  – it is so much more than the ingredients, and really about the emotional attachment that we give to what we eat. My father could have had chocolate mousse every day, but that did not make him feel like he was giving himself something special. But a cup of tea, and toast and sugar … now that was indulgence and love, and memory. He honoured himself, and where he came from, and where he was at that moment in time, to pause, to relish, to remember.

toast and butter and sugarSo today, for Ayah, this is my dish. I miss you so much. I love you always.

  • 1 piece of toast
  • 1 tsp softened butter
  • 1 tbsp roughly granulated sugar

While the toast is still warm, spread the butter so that it melts lightly. Sprinkle on the sugar.

Eat with remembrance and love.

Favourite Things (Part 2)

26 Jul

I was thinking just now (when the fire alarm woke me for no fire) about posting a few more of my favourite things. As a cook, I get obsessional. I have favourite knives that no one else is allowed to use, and, for example, I only like using the biodegradable rubbish bags. I only drink Ceres juices (from South Africa of course!) and while I will buy plastic bread, I try and only have organic milk and eggs. Strange, but these are my balances, in my kitchen. Its a pleasure to have been able to develop these choices and learn what balances appeal to me and only me. You would be surprised how much of a struggle it is sometimes to claim my own space. All this musing reminds me of a story …

When I first rented my apartment, I went shopping to fill up my pantry. I get nervous when I dont have enough in the pantry to make at least 3 good meals. Anyway, I stopped at the jam aisle, and flush with that particular pleasure one gets when living on one’s own, tried to figure out what jam I wanted. I suddenly realised… I knew what kind of jam my Ayah liked, my Mum, my sister, my ex-housemate, my other ex-housemate, my ex-husband… I knew what kind of jam was every body’s preference – except for mine. Hell, I didnt even know if I liked jam at all! And then I realised, jubilantly, that now was the time to figure that out…

It might sound like a minor episode, and in reality, it was, but it was also an empowering experience. Shopping truly for myself, and my tastes. For my desires and my comfort. Mindblowing, after a life of cooking and feeding everyone else. I think that is when my commitment to being a vegetarian really sunk in and stuck – because I did not have to do it for anyone else but me.

I suppose the reason I am telling this story now is that this blog is intensely personal as well. I cook what I like, when I like (to paraphrase Steve Biko). I cook to share, of course, and as an extension of my loving for family and friends, but also because cooking is me. And I cook because its what I love, and where my passion lies.

So on to my favourite things. Some may seem very ordinary, but they are indispensable to my kitchen. I couldnt do without them…

Pretty little cheese all in a row

Greaseproof paper / baking paper

Goddess, I love this stuff. I use it every single day, for something or another. Its such a simple kitchen staple, and until I really started cooking on a regular basis, and for my own whim and fancy, I didnt realise how much I used it, and relied on it. I like it better than plastic wrap or aluminum foil because its paper – much more environmentally friendly to throw away (some bits can even be recycled) and much better chemically when interacting with hot, soft, wet or otherwise foods.

I use greaseproof paper to line my baking tins for everything from cookies to roasted butternut. They are a wonderful means of preventing that sticky gooey mess that ends up at the bottom of the tin and that takes hours to clean. They are a brilliant way to ensure that cookies and cakes bake evenly, and dont stick to the pan. I used to think it was a waste to use baking paper on top of a perfectly good baking tin – but I used it once – in response to strict instructions in a recipe – and have never looked back.

I use it to wrap all my cheeses in comforting, organised little packages. I hate the plastic cling wrap or packaging that most cheese comes in these days. Once the cheese is open, the plastic encourages it to dry out quickly, or even for mold to form. I butter my cheese (I know, crazy, but it works) lightly to keep it moist, and wrap it in baking paper. It is fresh and delicious and there is so much less wastage.

I use it to cover puddings or mousse or soups – anything liquid that will form a skin – when I store in the fridge. This little bit of paper (sometimes I oil it a bit so as to prevent major sticking) prevents the skin from forming, and makes me feel much happier than if I were to cover a hot liquid with plastic wrap. I always worry (I told you I was slightly obsessional) that the plastic will release toxins in reaction to the hot liquid, and that would be bad for the consumers (namely me and those I love).

I use it around my cutting board, and underneath a bowl when grating cheese, to pick up the mess, and make for instant cleanup. Oh I love this stuff. Its simple and inconspicuous, but its a staple I cannot do without.

How do I love thee...

Immersion Blender

I have loads of fun toys and gadgets in my kitchen. Ive got my beautiful and deeply beloved Kitchen Aid Stand Mixer (I saved up for that baby, and have used her a lot), my Cuisinart food processor, and my professional ice cream maker (on sale, and adored). But the one thing that I have found I use all the time is my Kenwood cherry red immersion blender. I bought it on a whim because it was on (another) sale. I thought, this might be fun to play with at some point. When I unpacked it eagerly at home, the plug point wasnt attached, and I am not technical in that way, so I left it until I found a friend who would figure it out for me.

I didnt really think it would get that much use in my kitchen, but to be honest, its the thing I turn to for most of my pureeing, chopping, mashing needs. I made the most amazing blueberry banana smoothie with my immersion blender – in seconds – and it just liquidised all that frozen fruit in the blink of an eye. I make the densest creamiest soups with it, I mash potatoes with it (they come out like silk if you use a deft touch, otherwise they can get a bit gluey), I creamed butternut and spinach for a pie and mixed them with sour cream — all using the immersion blender.

Its such a simple piece of equipment as well. It looks like a … well, now come to think of it, it could be, to a naughty mind, just a little obscene! Its a large wand, with a head that holds rotating slicers. It operates like a food processor, but its much smaller, and because its handheld, much easier to control. Dont get me wrong, I love my food processor. But in part because of space issues, its a big pain in the tukus to take it out of its little storage space. And once I am done, the food processor involves a lot of parts to clean up. Not so with the immersion blender. You pop off the metal part of the wand, wash it, and you are done. It is awesome. Probably my new absolute favourite gadget. I keep thinking of new ways to play with it…

Hardworking and beloved!


When I first moved into my apartment, my landlady provided me with a fridge. Dont get me wrong, it wasnt an awful fridge. But it was definitely from the 1970’s, that particular vomity green colour that all major appliances had back then. It was very retro in not a cool way, and it wasnt very big. I could barely fit my juice and staples in, and I certainly didnt have enough freezer space for more than ice cubes and a carton of Ben & Jerry’s. I thank the good Goddess that this indispensable piece of kitchen equipment is par for the course. But when I renovated, I decided I deserved a larger fridge. I think I might have gotten my measurements wrong, or in my mind’s eye my kitchen was bigger than I thought it was, because this fridge just fit. I had to get things built around it, but I dont care! I love love love it.

Its freezer is on the bottom – a clever bit of design, because you dont use the freezer as much as the fridge part, and so bending to check out whats in the bottom of the fridge lurking in the veggie bin, is a thing of the past. My fridge is full of stuff – my vitamins and staples (flour, sugar, salt – all of which I keep in the fridge because of the high heat and humidity here) – as well as food I have just cooked and am saving for friends to eat and taste – or thats waiting to be frozen for next week – and fresh fruits and vegetables waiting to inspire me. It gives me great satisfaction to look into a full fridge – may be its that Jewish-Muslim feeding people thing, but I love knowing that if someone drops by, I will always, always have something to offer them.

My fridge makes me feel safe (against hunger, because as anyone who knows me knows, I could just fade away! 😉 ) and satisfied. When I look in my fridge, I see all the things I have made (thats one last lone oven roasted fig in the centre, by the way, waiting for AngelKitten and Ezril), and I know that I have expressed my love and passion in a way that is distinctly me. I also am inspired. Sometimes I just look in the fridge and think… Oooh, I will make that today! Or I think, I need something soothing and quiet. And whatever my mood, I can always find inspiration there.

Its funny, but taking photographs of the interior of my fridge was a bit intimidating. Kind of like showing your your undies to complete strangers. Oh well, its me, and this is my blog, so fudge it 😉

Port Wine Poached Figs Oven Roasted with Cashel Blue

25 Jul

Figs roasted in port wine with Cashel BlueAs I have written before, I am being inspired by things all around me. Recently, I read a post on Facebook about oven roasted figs with a gorgonzola sauce and thought, hmmmm, I want to do that! But of course, I wanted to work with what I had, and I wanted to make it perfect for my taste. This dish seems to be “high-falutin gourmet food” (as my friend Jobby said), but actually, its so easy to make, and so dramatic and beautiful to present. I adore figs – they have a luscious, sensual earthy appeal. They are perfect just as they are, but add port wine, a touch of spice, and some deep oven roasting and you get ambrosia. These can be served as starters or main courses, and one per person with a bitter green salad is perfection. Though the greedy ones in your family might demand more, so be prepared!

You could actually make these with dried figs, especially because of all the poaching in wine. But I prefer fresh figs… there is something so inspiring about these deep purple swollen fleshy fruits. And obviously, something downright sexy. I used to really dislike figs, but as I grew older, they somehow just grew on me. I am still not a fan of dried figs – the intensity of all that flesh and sugarsweet is just not for me. But fresh figs have a unique place amongst fruit, and they are surprisingly good for you too – a rich source of potassium, dietary fibre, and manganese. That, and they are yummmmmmy.

This recipe is really easy. You dont even need measurements, though if you are a stickler, I have given you some broad strokes. Work with what you have. Port wine for me, juice for you and red wine for someone else. Add or subtract things you like and dont like. Figs are precious. Make them as YOU want them, not someone else!

For 4 people you will need:

  • 4 – 8 figs
  • 4 cups (2+1+1) port wine (you could make this up in a variety of ways – port wine + red wine + a berry based fruit juice or use all of one or a mix)
  • 1 cup water
  • 1/2 tsp mixed spice (or cinnamon or nutmeg)
  • 1 tbsp butter
  • 2 tbsp old balsamico vinegar
  • 1 tsp Cashel blue (or other blue cheese) per fig

In a large saucepan or frying pan, over medium-high heat, poach the figs in 2 cups of port wine and 1 cup of water for about 20 minutes. You want the figs to plump up and the port wine to reduce by at least half. If you are using dried figs, add about half an hour of poaching time, at a slightly lower heat. You can leave them largely unattended, though it is nice manners to go over a few times, and bathe them in juices 🙂 About 10 minutes in, sprinkle over the mixed spice.

When the figs look lovely and thick and plump, take them out, and transfer to a heatproof serving pan. Try and get the figs to fit just nicely in the pan – something too big will make the gorgeous juices dissipate and possibly burn. Leave to cool for a moment.

Meanwhile, pour another cup of port wine, or some juice, into the bubbling thickened juices from the poaching. Boil this down to a very thick jammy sauce. As it thickens, stir in the butter to give more body, and taste – you might want it a bit peppery or slightly more spicy. If so, adjust accordingly. Set aside to serve with the figs.

Using a kitchen scissors, cut the figs open from the top. I usually cut them with one “half” bigger than the other, and then split this “half” in two, so I have a three petaled fig. Open up the fig, and drizzle some very old very delicious balsamic vinegar in the centre. Pour the remaining port wine into the pan, and oven roast the figs for about 30 minutes, in a 180C preheated oven.

Take the figs out of the oven, and switch on the broiler. Stuff the figs with a teaspoon (or more if youre feeling wealthy!) of Cashel blue (or Stilton or other blue cheese), and broil for 5 minutes or so or until the cheese is melted and bubbling.

Serve with a walnut and rocket salad, with the port wine sauce on the side.


Butternut and Spinach Tart with a Parmesan or Pecorino Crust

24 Jul

goldorange perfectionI am really in a tarty mood these days. Not sure why. Must be something to do with the moon 😉 I must admit that tarts and pies have always fascinated me. I love the idea of a pastry enveloping delightful fillings – and I have always believed that the pastry should be as good as the interior, if not better. I made a raspberry curd tart the other day, and now I am trying my hand at a savoury one. I love butternut and spinach together – their colours, green and orangegold are so complementary, and, more importantly, they taste so good together. Roasted butternut and lightly sauteed spinach are a knockout taste combination. But what would happen, I wondered, if you made them both very smooth and creamy, a touch of herbs and garlic, and combined them together, side by side. May be some shards of very salty, briney, goats cheese. That would stand up to the spinach and butternut. And a crust that had a hint of pecorino in it, so it too was a taste explosion.

So I set out to make this tart of my dreams … and I must admit it is a process. I made it over one evening, and an afternoon. This is a tart for a family gathering or celebration, a picnic or a birthday. I have to say that the actual cooking processes are easy, and really not focus consuming at all – you just need to be around as things get roasted and sauteed, and you need to let the crust rest, and then prebake it. Its a doddle if you break it down into smaller components (much like life) and then tackle each individual piece slowly and with great enjoyment. I roasted my butternut and prepared my tart dough the night before while watching tv. The actual work time was about 15 – 20 minutes, and the rest was allowing the ingredients to do their magic.

What I adore about this particular tart is that it is layer up on layer of perfection. When you serve it, it looks like a spinach tart, which in and of itself, is pretty damn delicious. Underneath the bronzed deep green spinach, is the goldenorange perfection of butternut, and nuggets of melted goats cheese. What an astounding mixture, what a brilliant taste sensation, what delightful surprises hidden within that beautiful crust.

Tarts are wonderful things because they can feed many people, in great style. They accommodate fillings pretty much at your whim and desire, and can be savoury or sweet at your discretion. A slice of tart will almost never go unaccepted – and when youre in the mood for just a bite, a sliver of tart can hit the spot perfectly. Plus they are so beautifully dramatic to present. Such a wide expanse of pretty colours and melting goodness. And you can serve them warm from the oven (but never hot), or cold from the fridge the next day (if there’s any left!).

If you decide to make this tart, do think about timing. If you make it all in one afternoon, roast the butternut first, make the dough and put it in the freezer while the butternut is in the oven, then cool the butternut, then make the spinach, etc. You will need to give each element time to rest, cool and intensify their flavours and textures, so be aware of what you make and when.

And just a note, I used pecorino in this recipe, but you could just as easily use parmesan. I love pecorino because its a more tangy version of parmesan, and its made with ewe’s milk so it goes easily with the goat’s cheese.

Pecorino Pastry

  • 1 cup all purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup pecorino, grated
  • 1/2 cup / 110 g / 8 tbsp butter, frozen and grated
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tsp dijon mustard
  • 1/2 tsp oregano or sage or rosemary

In a large mixing bowl, combine the flour and parmesan. Grate the frozen butter over, sifting it into the flour with the tips of your fingers. I pause and do this twice as I grate.

Beat the egg, dijon, oregano (or other herb) and salt together, and pour over the flour-parmesan-butter mixture. Bring the dough together with the tips of your fingers and let it rest in the fridge for about half an hour or up to two days.

When you are ready to use the pastry, roll out on a floured board. Drape over your rolling pin, and centre it in your tart pan. Prick with your fork, line with aluminum foil, fill with beans, and bake in a preheated oven for 20 minutes. Take out the foil and beans, prick again with the fork, and bake for about 5 – 10 minutes until lightly browned. Allow to cool a bit before filling with butternut and spinach.

Roasted butternut (and a garlic head!)

  • 3 – 4 cups butternut (about 700 g), roughly chopped
  • 1 tsp or less olive oil
  • Salt
  • Freshly ground pepper
  • 1 head of garlic
  • 3 tbsp light sour cream
  • 2 eggs + 3 yolks, beaten well together

Preheat your oven to about 220C. Prepare a baking tin with greaseproof paper.

Skin and chop the butternut, and arrange it in one layer on the baking tin. Using your hands, lightly coat the butternut with some olive oil. When I say lightly coat, I really mean lightly – you dont want the butternut swimming in oil because it will most definitely steam in the oil rather than roast and slightly char. You want that caramelised burnt butternut flavour, and a tiny bit of olive oil will really help with that. Too much will be a hindrance.

Using a sharp knife, cut about 1/4th inch off the top of a head of garlic, skins intact.

Place the garlic on the baking tin, and pour olive oil into the cloves.

Salt and pepper everything liberally.

Roast in the oven for about 30 minutes, or until the butternut is soft, and slightly burnt around the edges.

At this point, you can refrigerate the butternut, covered, for up to two days. Take the cloves of garlic out of their skins, cut away any very burnt bits (they can be bitter), and store in the fridge too, covered with olive oil. If you are serving the tart that day, go on to the next step.

Using an immersion blender, combine the butternut and 3 tbsp of sour cream.

Beat 3 eggs and 2 egg yolks together until light and frothy. Use 2/3rd of this in the butternut mixture, and reserve the rest for the spinach. Fold the eggs lightly into the butternut.

Set aside.


  • 120 g of baby spinach, washed
  • 3 cloves of roasted garlic
  • 3 tbsp roasted garlic olive oil
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Wash a packet of baby spinach well in salted water. Let it sit for a minute in the water while you heat 3 tbsp of olive oil that has been sitting with the roasted garlic cloves, along with three of the cloves, in a large frying pan over high heat. You can mash the cloves into the olive oil.

With your hands, lift the baby spinach out of the water, allowing some water to cling to the leaves. Fry in the very hot oil until it is bright green and soft, about 3 – 5 minutes only. You dont want to over cook the spinach, but you do want it to be wilted completely. Season liberally with salt and pepper.

Transfer the hot spinach to a mixing bowl. Add 3 tbsp sour cream, and using your immersion blender, make sure the spinach has been completely pureed.

Fold in 1/3rd of the egg mixture from the butternut into the spinach and set aside.


  • Baked tart crust
  • Butternut mixture
  • Goats cheese – about 3 – 5 tbsp, roughly chopped
  • Spinach mixture

Preheat the oven to 200C.

Pour the butternut mixture into the tart crust. Sprinkle the goats cheese all over the butternut, and then pour the spinach mixture over all, using a spatula to smooth the top completely.

Bake in the oven for 25 – 30 minutes.

tart heavenLet rest for 10 minutes or so before cutting into wedges and serving.

Perfection can be hard work, but it is so bloody satisfying when it comes off!

Rice Pudding

23 Jul

with a raspberry curd rippleRice pudding. At its best, its a quietly satisfying indulgence, clean, smooth, delicious. There are so many different ways to make rice pudding, and I probably have tried them all. Its one of the things I make when friends are feeling poorly, or when I am cooking for someone who is very ill and needs to get their weight and stamina up. Rice is food of the Goddesses. If, like me, you have that Asian gene in you, life is incomplete without rice almost every day. I crave rice when I havent had it in a while, and I eat it every which way. I love all the different kinds of rice – black, red, brown, arborio, jasmine, basmati… Pulut, nasi lemak, risotto, fried rice, buttered rice, plain rice with a touch of sambal and some soy sauce, rice with a fried egg on top, dripping golden yellow yolk into the pristine whiteness. I can eat rice in a myriad of ways, and one of the things I love about it is its just so good for you.

Rice pudding is a very friendly food. You dont have to make it fancy for it to be received with great pleasure and its incredibly easy for invalids to consume. And, if you want to dress it up and put on dancing shoes, it can take a dollop of raspberry curd, as in the photo, or some shavings of chocolate, or even be bulked up with smooth pumpkin – and suddenly, a new and delicious dish. Oh, rice pudding, how I love you, let me count the ways…

I know there are people who like to bake their rice pudding, but Im not too hot on the skin that develops. But then, in life, there are skin people and no skin people, so figure out who you are. I like a smooth, satiny white rice pudding. You can only achieve this by cooking very slowly over the stovetop, at an incredibly low heat. It takes 45 minutes – 1 hour, but most of that time, you just leave it alone. If you are cooking for someone who is ill, or who is struggling to get enough nutrients, you can beat in a few eggs right at the end to enrich the pudding. You could also add more cream, some yogurt, use all full-fat milk. You get the idea – bulk it up with fats and nutrients which will go relatively unnoticed in the consumption of the dish. A little sprinkle of nutmeg, or cinnamon, or both, also add depth of flavour.

I have to admit though, I am a purist. Rice, milk and a bit of cream, vanilla, sugar, and sometimes a touch of butter at the end. Eaten warm or cold, this is one of my favourite comfort dishes. Its like a pillow of softness, the rice melding in and flavouring the milk, and vice versa. Happy happy belly.

For about  3 cups of rice pudding (enough to serve 6 people or 4 very greedy ones), you will need:

  • 1 cup rice (any one you want, though note that brown, black, red rices do tend to take longer to cook because they are more natural. I borrowed a cup of rice from MamaLila, my upstairs neighbour, not sure but I think it was basmati she gave me, and it was goooood)
  • 5 cups of milk, divided into 4 cups + 1 cup – you can use any kind of milk you like. Try coconut, almond or soy milk. I try and use a mix of 2% and lowfat, and a dollop of cream. I have also been successful in adding buttermilk and sour cream, in small amounts to the mix. Try and get some whole or half and half in if you are cooking for someone who needs the extra fats and nutrients. All skim milk is not really that successful to be honest.
  • 1 vanilla pod, split, with the seeds scraped out, or 1 tsp vanilla essence
  • 3 tbsp (or to taste) light brown sugar
  • 1 tsp (or more) butter

In a medium saucepan, over extremely low heat, combine rice, 4 cups of milk, vanilla pod and beans (or vanilla essence), and 3 tbsp light brown sugar. Give it all a stir and leave it there for 45 minutes or so, stirring every 15 minutes to ensure that the rice doesnt stick to the bottom of the pan. You want this to cook at a very very low simmer – no boiling, but more like tiny little bubbles plopping to the surface. The rice will plump up and absorb the milk, but this process will seem as if it is never going to truly happen – it will, and it is, just trust the rice.

After about 45 minutes, you should have rice thats almost al dente. Use your instincts. I usually put in all of the final cup of milk, because I dont mind rice pudding that is quite soft, but if you think it doesnt need it all, use half or less. Taste for sweetness, and add more sugar if you think it needs it. Continue cooking at a very slow simmer for another 10 – 15 minutes until almost all the milk is absorbed. Dont take it off when its too dry – as it cools, the milk, which is now full of the starch of the rice, will become much thicker and richer.

Stir in a teaspoon or so of butter, if you like (if you are vegan, obviously, leave this out!), and let cool. You can serve it warm or cold from the fridge (which is the way I like it), snowy and soft and comforting. Add a dollop of curd or jam for colour and flavour if you like, or go purist and enjoy it in all its pristine beauty.

And enjoy how much those you love, love this!

Rice pudding!

Raspberry Curd Tart

22 Jul

intense raspberry flavourSometimes, simple is the most beautiful. I made some gorgeous raspberry curd last night, and decided to present it two ways – with a beautiful cold rice pudding, and in a stunning tart. Both are easy to make with the addition of the raspberry curd – and both ways of presentation really highlight the flavour and texture of the raspberry curd. It is incredibly intense, and a wonderful dessert for a dinner party or high tea.

This is an amazingly dramatic and beautiful tart. Such a pretty looking tart – very girly and yet totally sophisticated. I like to serve it with a blossom of lightly whipped cream flavoured with vanilla. The cream helps to balance the strong flavour of the curd, and adds another textural element to the whole.

Preferably, you should prepare this the day before to allow the curd some time to settle into the tart shell… though if you really want to serve it day of, its fine, it will just be a little bit more unctuous, and the curd will flow out when you cut into it.

First, prepare, your tart shell. This recipe makes enough so you can make two thin shells. I often flavour it with lemon instead of vanilla because lemon really complements the raspberry wonderfully.

For a 12 – 14 inch tarte shell, you will need

  • 2 1/2 cups of cake flour
  • 1 cup / 8 tbsp / 110 g of butter, frozen, then grated
  • 3 tbsp of icing sugar, or more to taste
  • 1 tsp of vanilla extract or the seeds from 1 vanilla pod scraped out or 1 tsp of lemon juice and the rind of a lemon, grated
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 1 tbsp or more cold water

Measure out the cake flour into a large bowl. Grate the frozen butter directly over the flour, stopping twice during the grating to gently mix in the butter shards with the flour. Use the tips of your fingers, and just make sure you dont over mix. You want this to be a very gentle process.

Sieve the icing sugar over the flour-butter mixture, and sprinkle over the vanilla or scrape the seeds from the pod, or lemon if you are using. Mix gently again with your fingers.

Add the egg and toss the flour with your fingers, mixing to make a dough. Taste and add up to 1 more tablespoon of icing sugar if you want a sweeter dough. If the mixture doesnt come together as a pastry dough, add a tablespoon of very cold water. Be gentle. It will come together if you have patience, and mix properly.

Form the dough into a ball, cover in cling wrap, and put in the fridge for at least an hour to firm up.

Once the dough has been refrigerated, roll out on a floured surface, sprinkling with a little bit of flour if needed. Transfer to a pie plate, and prick with a fork.

Cover the pie dough with tin foil, and fill in with beans or other pie weights. Bake in a pre-heated 200C oven for 20 minutes. Remove from oven, remove the beans and tin foil, and prick again with the fork. Brush with some egg white if wanted, to proof the tarte shell so it doesnt get soggy when you add the curd. Bake for another 5 minutes or so or until very lightly coloured.

Let cool.


  • 2 – 2 1/2 cups raspberry curd, cooled
  • 1 cooled tarte shell
  • 1 – 2 cups cream, whipped with a little icing sugar and vanilla

mmmmmmmmmmmmmPour the cooled raspberry curd into the tarte shell, cover with cling wrap and refrigerate for at least 6 hours, preferably overnight.

Just before serving, whip the cream with a little icing sugar and vanilla.

Serve in wedges, with a few tablespoons of whipped cream.