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Hot Fudge + Port Pear Chili Jam

30 Dec

So yes, I am in a saucy mood. I have been cooking a lot recently, but not new recipes. And its been one of those weeks (months?) – first my phone died, and then my hardrive on my laptop got fried. I am lucky in that I have the means to deal with these issues (new phone on the one hand, and my old laptop on the other). But its been a frustrating time, and I havent felt a whole lot of inspiration.

But a stroll through O’Gourmet certainly helped! Mr. Kumar (the manager) was so excited to show me some chili powder from Kashmir – hand carried back to KL. It was like nothing I had ever seen before – rich, deep burnt orange red, and almost wet … with a scent that had so many layers to it I cannot even begin to describe, but I will try. Soft, mellow, with a sharp tinge… hauntingly musky with a long profound beat of heat and sun and spice. Gorgeous. Stunningly sensual. I had to cook with it – and suddenly, inspiration arrived!

I decided to make a chili ice cream (the recipe for which I will post tomorrow). But this was to be not just a singular ice cream, but an ice cream sundae. Hot fudge sauce (with dark bittersweet chocolate and melted Scottish fudge) and a chili jam – with a base of port and pears – at once sweet, hot and boozily beautiful. I felt that these sauces would elevate and intrigue – and would provide the perfect foil for the cold creamy ice cream. AngelKitten suggested we get some caramelised pistachios to top the sundae. What a combination of flavours and tastes! I couldnt wait to get started.

These two sauces would of course be just as magical on their own (the hot fudge sauce is particularly simple to put together) or combined over chocolate or vanilla ice cream. If you can, though, try the whole package. Its quite a few pieces of cooking work – but if you break it all down, and prepare in advance, its actually a doddle!

Hot Fudge Sauce

Makes about 2 cups of hot fudge. This can be served warm, or made in advance and reheated just before serving. Use the best quality chocolate and fudge you can find.

  • 450 – 500 g (1 lb) vanilla fudge
  • 1/2 cup cream
  • 250 – 300 g bittersweet (at least 70%) chocolate, chopped
  • 1/2 teaspoon Maldon or other sea salt

Grate the fudge into a large saucepan. Add the cream and stir a little.

Add the chopped chocolate, stir, and add the Maldon salt.

Place the saucepan over a low heat, and melt the chocolate into the fudge, stirring all the while. Make sure that the fudge too has been completely melted into the sauce.

Serve warm, or store, covered, in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks. Reheat before serving.

Port Pear Chili Jam

Makes about 2 cups of jam.

This jam is quite loose. It pours like a sauce, but it also depends on how long you cook it – the less liquid left, the more “jammy” and thick it becomes.  If you do not want to use port or another alcohol, substitute with grape juice.

  • 9 pears (I used 3 each of D’Anjou, Bosc and Conference), peeled, pared and roughly chopped
  • 1 + 1 tbsp pear balsamic vinegar (if you cannot find this, try using pear or apple juice or even some apple cider vinegar)
  • 1 cup port wine (or grape juice)
  • 1 tsp best quality (Kashmir if you can find it) chili
  • 1 tsp chili flakes
  • 1 tsp mustard seeds
  • 3 – 6 tbsp dark brown sugar
  • 1 tbsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 tbsp best quality (25 year old) balsamic vinegar
  • 2 tbsp honey (I used leatherwood honey)
  • 1 tbsp vanilla bean paste or vanilla essence

Peel, core and chop the pears. As you work, place the pears in a large saucepan, and toss them with 1 tbsp of the pear vinegar.

Measure out the pour wine and add to it the remaining 1 tbsp pear vinegar, chili, chili flakes, mustard seed, 3 tbsp of brown sugar, cinnamon, salt and balsamic vinegar. Stir well to combine, and pour over the pears.

Place the saucepan over high heat, and bring the mixture to the boil, stirring well.

Once the mixture comes to the boil, lower the heat to medium, and add the honey and the vanilla. Allow the mixture to simmer, uncovered for at least an hour. The jam will thicken and become much darker in colour. Taste and add a little more brown sugar if you feel you need to up the sweetness of the jam.

Give it a stir every so often. Allow to simmer until it is a thickness that you prefer. I like it a little liquid because I am using it as an ice cream topping … but! If you want to make it into a proper jam, just cook it for a little longer.

This can be served warm or at room temperature, and will keep, uncovered in the fridge for up to 2 – 3 weeks.

Apologies for lack of photos – still dealing with loss of hardrive!

Spicy Cheese Crackers

27 Dec

I really dont like the crackers that you can get at the stores. They taste like they are full of chemicals. And when the process of making crackers is so very simple, its a wonder that we buy them at all. This past Christmas, I was going to dinner at Jobby’s house. I wanted to bring some lovely but simple things, as I had been immersed in cooking these last few days. I decided on a raspberry-gooseberry fool, which is just whipped cream, scented with vanilla and a touch of icing sugar, folded into cooled stewed raspberries and gooseberries. That sweet tart cool creamy combination is beautiful – and it takes minutes to make.

I knew Jobby would probably make her wonderful hummus. So crackers were a good addition – and they are delicious enough to eat on their own. Unfortunately I did not get a photograph because Nana chowed down more than half before we even left the house! But suffice to say, these crackers are wonderful – such a complex blend of flavour. You could spice them up with anything you like, but I used chili powder, mustard seeds, and English mustard powder. The combination is divine, spicy and cheese-y all at the same time. The crackers are crisp and flaky and can be cut into rounds, squares, or whatever your heart desires. Poke a few holes in them, pop them in a hot oven, and watch them brown up and puff a little. Beautiful.

These crackers will keep, in an air tight box, for about a week, but if you have a Nana around the house they wont last!

Makes about 100 crackers, depending on how you cut them

  • 1 cup bread flour (OO flour)
  • 1 cup polenta
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp chili powder
  • 2 tsp mustard seeds
  • 1 1/2 tsp English mustard powder
  • 1 cup cheese – cheddar/parmesan mix
  • 3 tbsp cold butter
  • 1 cup buttermilk

Preheat the oven to 190 C (375F).

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

In a large bowl, combine the flour, polenta, salt, baking soda, chili powder, mustard seeds and English mustard powder. Toss to combine.

Grate the cheese over the flour mixture, and stir well.

Grate over the cold butter, and stir again, gently.

Pour over the buttermilk, and combine. Turn the dough out onto a working surface and knead, gently until it all comes together.

Form the dough into a ball, and refrigerate, covered for about half an hour.

Once the dough has rested and cooled, divide it into quarters.

You can now roll the dough out very thin, and cut it into shapes, or roll the dough into a log, and slice very thinly.

Arrange on the baking sheet, and using the tines of a fork, poke a few holes in each cracker. This is optional, but it will help keep the crackers flat and less puffy.

Bake for about 8 – 10 minutes, or until the crackers are golden and cheesy.

Let cool for at least 10 minutes before gobbling up!

 

Candied Caramelised Oranges

21 Dec

Are you stuck for a Christmas dessert that you can make without much thought, and which will taste as if you have put in hours of work? These candied, caramelised oranges might just be the thing. I love their jewel-like colour – a deep dark citrine or amber … glistening with orangey caramel syrup that they make themselves. Theyre blowsily sexy – soft, sticky, totally decadent and delectable. They taste like the holidays… and believe me, theyre so simple, its almost embarrassing!

I decided to make them because I am working on a Chinese New Year cake that uses candied and dried fruits. I love those little tiny oranges you can get this time of year  – mini mandarins from China. You could also use kumquats. They are the main component of the recipe, so make sure you get good ones. Everything else you need, you probably have in your pantry. Its really up to you what flavourings and essences you use – most of the time, I just add sugar, water and a touch of juice.

How I can call this a recipe, Im not sure. Its so simple, but its gorgeous. Lush with the oranges’ own caramel, the little tiny orange balls go translucent, and then a deep dark hue that has a richness and beauty all its own. Serve warm (you can make ahead and reheat, or just stick it on the stove in the morning, and let it go) with some vanilla ice cream or a dollop of heavy cream, and youre done. Heaven. Sweet, bitter, astringent, caramel, citrus, smoke – such a complexity of flavour, and so so easy. In the stress and mess of the holidays, sometimes that is a gift in and of itself.

To serve 4 – 6 people, you will need:

  • 2 cups light brown or caster sugar
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1/4 cup juice (or even wine)
  • Spices if you want – cinnamon is great here, as are cloves, star anise, nutmeg – but be gentle!
  • 4 cups of tiny mandarin oranges

Place a large pot, with lid, on stove top. Add sugar, water, juice and any spices. Bring gently to the boil, over low-medium heat, stirring every so often to dissolve the sugar. The sugar will boil up eventually, and then become clear. Turn the heat right down so the sugar syrup is just bubbling – little tiny plops.

Wash the little oranges well, ensuring that the little stem is removed, if needed. Poke each orange several times with a toothpick.

Place the oranges in the sugar syrup, gently gently. Give everything a stir, make sure the heat is very very low, and cover.

Simmer the oranges in the syrup for at least 1 – 2 hours, longer if you like. They will turn translucent and go very dark. Its almost like youre making marmalade, but with whole oranges.

Everything will caramelise, the oranges will leak their juice and essence, and the syrup will also turn a gorgeous burnt sticky orange.

Serve warm, with a bit of ice cream, mascarpone, or heavy cream. Heaven.

O’Gourmet Food Hall Asparagus & Mushroom Tart

19 Dec

The other day, I bumped into my friend, MsTina, as I was wandering the halls of O’Gourmet. She took one look at my face, and just laughed. I was wandering in a haze of sensual delight, in one hand a spoon, from tasting the oils and vinegars at Vom Fass, and the other hand rubbing together together a bit of Betong ginger – fresh, organic and local and with a scent that has to be experienced to be believed.

I am truly enjoying my weekly sojourns to O’Gourmet because of the quality and variety of ingredients. Inspiration seems to be everywhere. I love all the gorgeous glass bottles of sauce and spice and everything nice. I could just stand and look at all the enticing spices and nuts, tasting this and that, for ages. And dont even get me started on the vegetables! They are so beautiful! Displayed as if in a museum, with the choicest and most perfectly chosen pieces offered up for your pleasure. The woman in charge of the fruits and vegetables, Miss Heng, is a master at knifework, and so she prepares all the produce with an eye to pleasing the visual palate. When I am there, I can be inspired in an instant!

This week, my eye was caught by the most beautiful trio of asparagus – white, green and purple. Asparagus is an fascinating vegetable. Grown above ground, in full sunshine, it turns green, but cover it a little, so that only heads peek above, and the limited amount of chlorophyll it consumes means that the asparagus turns out purple. And grown completely underground, and harvested in the early dawn, so that very little light affects its growing, asparagus is clean pure white. Each tastes different – the white can be very sweet, the purple a kind of calm middle ground, and the green has that traditional nutty lemony flavour.

I decided I wanted to make an asparagus tart – but then I was captured by the gorgeous leeks and the creamy and fresh mushrooms – both white button and portobello. So I decided that I was going to make a tart which incorporated everything. I thought I would use phyllo pastry dough so it would be a rough, freeform tart, and I would place the asparagus and the mushrooms in alternating blocks of intensity on the pastry. From Vom Fass, I sourced gorgeous scented truffle oil for the mushrooms, and a bright, brilliant lemon oil to finish off the asparagus.

Now the only decision was what would form the cushion upon which the veggies would sit in splendour. I wanted the process to be simple – as complex as these tastes are, putting together this tart only takes a few minutes. So, of course, a consultation with M. Sebastien at the cheese room was in order (along with a few heavenly tastings of cheese!). He decided on a Crottin de Chavignol to pair with the asparagus. It was a master step. Crottin de Chavignol is perhaps the most famous of the goat cheeses. Its created, to strict standards, in a tiny village in the Loire valley. Its creamy, nutty, slightly tart – and perfectly balances the delicacy of the asparagus. For the mushrooms, we decided on a Pecorino al Tartufo – a young pecorino, stuffed to the gills with truffles. The scent was overwhelmingly blowsily lush, and I could have purred with happiness right then and there. To bind them together, I decided on using a little cream cheese (and in a bold move), some Delice de Bourgogne – a gorgeous cow’s milk cheese which tastes like organic cream imbued with sunshine and hay. Its like a brie, but less strong – its centre was crumbly and yet yeilding, and the edges were thickly creamy. What a cheese!

I would suggest, if you have a good cheese shop, to go, taste, and consult. There are few experiences quite so lovely as the careful contemplation of beautiful cheese. And a cheese master can help you pair cheese – particularly if you tell them exactly how you will use it – with various vegetables and foods. If you are making this tart from what you can find in the market, I would look for a good parmesan or pecorino, some goat’s cheese and a great cream cheese. This recipe is definitely adaptable – use your own cooking intelligence, your sense of taste and balance, and it will be gorgeous!

While this recipe is simple, there are a few steps to be followed. Because of the phyllo pastry, you want to make sure that the ingredients are not wet, otherwise the pastry will be soggy. Most, if not all, of the work can be done before hand. Prebake the pastry for ten minutes – it can be kept in the fridge up to 2 days. Mix and mash the cheeses, and keep covered in the fridge until ready to use. And blanch the asparagus (they live longer in the fridge if slightly blanched) and prep the mushrooms up to three days in advance. Assembly of the tart takes minutes (particularly if youve already baked the shell), and once baked, the tart can be kept in the fridge, for up to two days, reheated in a low oven, covered, just before serving.

Serves 8 – 10 people as a starter, 4 – 6 people as a main course

Balsamic mushrooms

  • 1/2 cup dried mushrooms – I used black trumpet
  • 1 – 2 tbsp truffle oil or olive oil
  • 1 tbsp butter
  • 1 leek, finely diced
  • 2 cups mixed mushrooms – about 4 – 6 portobello and 4 – 6 button – peeled and finely sliced
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 1/4 cup red wine (or Fre red alcohol removed wine)
  • 2 – 4 tbsp best quality, aged balsamic vinegar
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Place the dried mushrooms in a bowl, and cover completely with boiling water. Let stand for ten minutes while you prep all the vegetables. Once the mushrooms have softened, remove from the water with a sieve in a scooping motion. I dont drain the mushrooms because the silt from the mushrooms tends to come with them, so I simply scoop them out of the water they have been softening in.

Place the softened mushrooms in a saucepan, cover with water, and simmer over medium heat for about 15 minutes. Drain and chop roughly. Set aside.

In a large frying pan, over medium heat, melt the butter into the oil. Add the leek, and saute for about 5 minutes, or until the leek has softened, and turned glossy.

Add the fresh mushrooms, half a cup at a time. You want them to saute, and quickly lose their water without becoming soggy. Stir well after every addition, and season with salt and pepper.

About half way through your mushrooms, add the red wine, increase the heat to high, and let the mushrooms absorb the wine and bubble away. It shouldnt take too long for the wine to almost completely evaporate.

Add the rest of the fresh mushrooms, adjusting seasoning, and stirring well. Allow them to saute till almost dry, and then add the balsamic. This will caramelise the mushrooms and bring out their dark sweet quality.

Add the reserved chopped dried mushrooms, adjust seasoning, and allow to cook for about 5 minutes on medium high heat. Taste and adjust seasoning if needed, and set aside until at room temperature.

These mushrooms can be used in pasta, salad, sandwiches – whatever strikes your fancy! They will keep for 3 – 5 days in the fridge, well covered.

Asparagus

  • 1 bunch of asparagus – 6 – 9 stalks if large – if you can get a mixed colour variety, do so – it looks dramatically gorgeous!
  • 1 tbsp lemon oil or olive oil to finish

Prepare the asparagus. Wash clean in running water, and then take each stalk, and snap near the base. It will snap naturally – the base bits can be frozen and used for soup or a pasta sauce base at another time.

Place the asparagus in a large bowl, and cover completely with boiling water. Allow to sit for a few minutes, until the asparagus has turned bright green. This really depends on the thickness of your asparagus – if you are using the thin delicate type, this may only be a few seconds, thicker varieties will need 3 minutes or so.

Remove the asparagus from the boiling water with tongs, and place in an ice water bath immediately. Or place in another bowl, and run very cold water over.

Asparagus blanched in this manner can be dried well, and then frozen until ready to use (up to 3 months), or refrigerated up to 3 days

Cheese Base

  • 100 g + 100 g cream cheese
  • 75 g + 75 g Delice de Bourgogne or other soft white delicate cheese (or cream cheese)
  • 2 x 6 g rounds Crottin de Chavignol (or other good goat’s cheese crottin)
  • 100 g Pecorino al Tartufo (truffled pecorino – or other good pecorino or parmesan)
  • 1 tsp lemon oil (or olive oil)
  • 1 tsp truffle oil (or olive oil)

For the asparagus cheese: Place 100 g cream cheese in a small bowl. Cut the rind off the Delice de Bourgogne (if using), and mash into the cream cheese using a fork. Cut the rinds off the Crottin de Chavignol, and mash the cheese in as well. Add 1 tsp lemon oil or olive oil, and taste. Cover and reserve in the fridge for up to two days.

For the mushroom cheese: Place 100 g cream cheese in a small bowl. Cut the rind off the Delice de Bourgogne (if using), and mash into the cream cheese using a fork. Grate or crumble the Pecorino al Tartufo into the bowl, and mash to combine. Add the truffle oil and taste. Cover and reserve in the fridge for up to two days.

Phyllo Tart Case

  • 1 package phyllo pastry
  • 3 – 5 tbsp butter, browned and melted
  • 2 tbsp olive oil

Phyllo pastry is very difficult to make by hand because its so thin and delicate. Purchase a good quality phyllo from the store, and treat it well, and you will be fine. Defrost in the fridge for a day before use, or for 2 hours at room temperature. When you unroll the phyllo, place on a board or in a jelly roll pan, and cover with a damp cloth.

Preheat the oven to 170C (350F), and line a baking sheet or jelly roll pan with parchment paper.

Melt the butter in a small saucepan, and allow it to just brown a bit. This will add immeasurably to the flavour of the finished product. Add the olive oil and mix well. Let come to room temperature.

Place one or two sheets of phyllo pastry on the parchment lined sheet, and brush gently with the butter/oil mixture. Gently place another layer of phyllo over and brush with the butter/oil mixture. Continue until the entire package of phyllo pastry has been finished – usually about 15 – 20 layers. Sometimes I double the layers of pastry between brushes of butter and oil.

Create edges along the sides of the tart by folding inward about an inch, along all four sides. Prick the internal pastry with a fork, gently – otherwise the phyllo will puff up.

Bake in the oven for about 10 – 12 minutes, or until lightly browned. Cool to room temperature, and reserve, for up to 2 days, tightly wrapped in the fridge.

Assembly

  • Pre-baked Phyllo Pastry Tart case
  • Asparagus Cheese Mix
  • Mushroom Cheese Mix
  • Asparagus
  • Balsamic Mushrooms
  • Olive oil to finish – or lemon oil (for asparagus) and truffle oil (for mushrooms)

Preheat oven to 170C (350F). Make sure everything is at room temperature.

Look at the tart case. It should be a large rectangle. In your mind’s eye, divide the rectangle up into four quarters. Working from the bottom up, spoon asparagus cheese in the left lower quarter, mushroom cheese in the right lower quarter, asparagus cheese in the upper right quarter, and finish off with mushroom cheese in the upper left quarter.

Layer the asparagus over the quarters which hold the asparagus cheese, and spoon the mushrooms over the mushroom cheese. Finish off with just a little dribble of oil.

Bake for 35 – 45 minutes in the oven, until the cheese is bubbling and burnished, and the pastry is a dark golden brown.

Allow to sit for 5 minutes before serving, or serve at room temperature.

Will keep in the fridge, fully baked, tightly covered, for up to 2 days. Reheat in a gentle oven, covered in tin foil to avoid burning, for about 20 minutes.

Enjoy!

Mak Manja’s Steamed Orange Juice Healer

13 Dec

My Mak Manja has given me so much in this lifetime – her wisdom, her love, her strength, the sanctuary of her home, her intervention when I had no will… and so much laughter and joy. If I could wish anything for you, it would be for a Mak Manja of your own, who guides you, watches over you and loves you through it all. Of course, I cannot arrange for a Mak Manja for everyone (I believe that’s down to karma and fate!) but… I can share with you this.

The last time she visited, I was getting over the flu. My Mak Manja brought me a gift. A bag of oranges, and some rock sugar. She made herself at home in my kitchen, and she proceeded to prepare me this amazing, blissful, divine orange juice healing potion. Its very simple, and even though I am not sure which natural healing medicine it comes from (Ayurveda? Traditional Chinese Medicine? Natropathy? Or may be just her own instinctual knowledge…), I do know that this juice has extraordinary healing benefits. The orange is steamed, in a covered mug, in a pot. For hours and hours and hours. Well, a minimum of two hours, but really, as long as you can … the result is an elixir which intensifies and concentrates the huge vitamin compounds in the simple orange – vitamin C, folate, vitamin B1, and vitamin A, amongst others.

Drinking this juice is like getting a massive dose of pure, unadulterated love & vitamins – it feels like a supercharged vitamin shot. It goes through you, and suddenly you feel… warm, strong, steady. Full of energy. Nurtured and supported. Its wonderful as a tonic against the cold winter months. And for those with lowered immune systems, or who are recovering from an illness – it is perfect. The gentle application of heat and steam concentrates all the natural goodness in an orange, and give you a massive dose of feel good love. Making this juice for yourself once or twice a week will up your strength and stamina, and will boost your immune system and vital functions.

Its a wonderful gift, because its so easy to make. And it makes you feel so good.

So even though I cant give you your very own Mak Manja, I can give you her recipe. Make it for yourself when you are feeling in need of strengthening and comfort, or better yet, make it for someone you love.

Take one orange. Or two if theyre quite small.

Peel the orange, but leave a little bit of the white pith on. Not all of it, mind you, but may be about half.

Put the orange in a mug. Squish it down. With a knife, make a little hole at the top of the orange, and stuff a few pieces of rock sugar into the orange. If you dont have rock sugar, its OK. Use brown sugar – half a teaspoon or so. Squish the orange down if its small, and add another and repeat.

Cover the mug tightly. I used a little soy sauce dish because it fit exactly, but you could use some aluminum foil. Put the covered mug in a pot which has a lid.

Pour room temperature water into the pot, about half to three quarters of the way up the mug.

Cover the pot, and place over medium low heat on the stovetop. The water will take a while to come to the boil. When it does, turn the heat down to the lowest you can go, and let it simmer for a minimum of two hours, and up to four or five, or even more. Check and top up the water every hour or two. You could also make this in a slow cooker, or in the oven, but I prefer over the stovetop, because thats how I learned it 🙂

Once you have grown tired of waiting for the orange to steam (I usually get impatient by the three hour mark or so), then switch off the heat. Let the water (which should be bubbling) calm down a bit. Use kitchen gloves or a very thick kitchen towel, and lift the mug out of the water. Remove the cover of the mug. You will have very soft, tender oranges, in their own liquid.

Place a sieve over a bowl, and pour the entire contents of the mug into the sieve.

Use a spatula or spoon to mash the orange – it will be spectacularly soft and yielding. Try and mash as much juice out of the steamed orange as possible.

Pour the juice into a glass (it wont be boiling hot – but it will be quite warm), and sip slowly. Drink your fill of love, healing and strength.

Mangoes Poached in Wine With Pink Peppercorns

11 Dec

with Pink PeppercornsYou know how a sense memory sometimes stays with you long after the remembrance of when or where it was, or even with whom you shared that memory? Or sometimes a sense memory – a smell, a taste, a touch, a sound becomes the touchstone of a time and place in your life. I have that with food. Foufou to me is Ghana – the slave forts, the colours of the women’s dresses, the covered markets – all can be conjoured simply by the taste of that dish. My late father is white toast, butter and sugar. South Africa is Appeltizer, thick brown bread, and snoek pate.

And sometimes, a taste memory just lingers because it was that good. Recently, I had dinner with a dear friend at the new Chinoz in Bangsar Shopping Centre (try their pumpkin and parmesan gnocchi if you go – truly sublime!). And I realised that it was at another restaurant by the Chinoz group, the late lamented Q*doz, where I had fresh mangoes poached in sweet wine with peppercorns. This was probably one of the most powerful taste memories I have ever had. I tucked it away, and carried it with me wherever I went.

Im not sure why it affected me so powerfully, but it was amazing. I usually order chocolate desserts wheresoever I go … Believe you me, I could make a life size model of myself with all the chocolate I have eaten at restaurants over the years! But this night, I was convinced to try the poached mangoes… and what a revelation! Warm, soft, perfumed, the mangoes were rich and gorgeous in their own juices and the sweet seductiveness of the wine. I adore mango, but thought I only liked it fresh until that night. Gently poached in wine, the essence of the fruit was stroked and encouraged to blossom. I wish I could describe the layers of taste. The acidic spark of the wine, the voluptuous sensuality of the mango, and suddenly, the fire of the peppercorns. It was a joyous dish which made my soul sing.

And, as I said, I have carried that memory with me through many other experiences and lives 🙂 And when I encountered the sweet smelling, ripe mangoes at O’Gourmet, I suddenly had the urge to recreate, if not the exact dish, the memory of those flavours. I found beautiful pink peppercorns from Kashmir, treasured like gold, and my absolute favourite Leatherwood honey from Tasmania. I had more than half a bottle of De Matino Sauvignon Blanc left after making my fig and mangosteen ripple, and thus this dish was born.

Its such a simple preparation, and I think one could really be flexible in terms of ingredients. Use a good wine, though, because that taste comes through very strongly. And if possible, try and use pink peppercorns. Their flavour – musky, sweet, faded fire – is unique and wonderful and it perfumes the flesh of the mango, and the deep complexity of the reduced wine in a subtle nuanced way that is a total joy. Black peppercorns tend to be a tad more forthright in my opinion, but they can be used (may be a little more judiciously) here too.

I served this with my goat’s milk cheese ice cream but almost all my tasters said that each dish on its own was so complex, they needed to be served individually. These mangoes, warm from the pan, would do very well with some first class vanilla ice cream. Or, just on their own, with the gorgeous shiny sauce drizzled over. Beautiful!

Serves 6 pax

  • 1 + 1 + 1 tbsp pink peppercorns
  • 1/2 + 1 1/2 + 1/2 cup crisp white wine (I used a De Martino Sauvignon Blanc) – 2 1/2 cups in total
  • 1 large mango, peeled and sliced
  • 1 – 2 tbsp honey

With peppercornsCrush 1 tablespoon of pink peppercorns, and leave the other two tablespoons whole.

In a large pan, over high heat, combine 1/2 cup of white wine and the crushed peppercorns, and 1 tablespoon of the whole. Allow to come to the boil and reduce until you have a very thick wine reduction and the peppercorns.

Lower the heat, pour in 1 1/2 cups of wine, and add the peeled and sliced mangoes to the pan. Simmer the mangoes at the lowest heat for about five minutes, and then drizzle over the honey and sprinkle over the final tablespoon of peppercorns.

Continue to poach, for a further 10 – 15 minutes, or until the wine has reduced a little, and the mangoes have become slightly translucent.

Using a spoon, flip the mangoes over gently, and poach for a further few minutes. Taste and adjust the sauce – you might want to add another tablespoon of honey.

Remove from heat, and pour over final 1/2 cup of white wine.

Serve warm with vanilla ice cream. The mangoes will keep, covered, in the fridge for up to 3 days.

O’ Gourmet Goat’s Milk Cheese Ice Cream (with a Fig Mangosteen Ripple!)

9 Dec

I love goat’s milk cheese. It has an incredible, lush richness, and a particular ripe tang that comes from the flavour of the milk. Its made in a huge variety of forms, from soft spreadable cheese to firm cheese that melts beautifully. It is one of the earliest known forms of dairy products, and there is something very intense and primal for me about goat’s cheese. From Greek feta to the multiple varieties of French chevre, goat’s milk cheese is always intriguing and wonderful to cook with. I particularly love a good soft chevre, accompanied by dried of fresh figs, spread on toasted french bread. This woman can definitely live on cheese alone!

Given my adoration of goat’s milk cheese, it shouldnt be surprising that I have been wanting to make a goat’s milk cheese ice cream for ages. Ice cream is a pretty simple recipe – eggs, milk, sugar – and the addition of whatever flavourings you wish. I had an intense conversation with M. Sebastien of O’Gourmet Food Hall, and he suggested a Pave de Jadis – a soft chevre, with a thick, fudgy consistency. A tad sweet, slightly tangy, with a hint of lemon, pave de jadis literally translates as “paving stone” and gets its name from the ash which covers the brick of cheese. Its a French cheese, made in the Loire valley, and it tastes of springtime, of green grass pastures and sunshine. Its gorgeous and bright, and its soft texture is perfect for making ice cream.

As I spoke with M. Sebastien, I decided that I wanted to elevate this ice cream by adding a ripple of contrasting flavour through it. I decided on dried fruit that had been poached in white wine. I first thought of a Sauternes or other sweet wine, but M. Sebastien suggested a very beautiful, light and crisp De Martino Sauvignon Blanc from the Maipo Valley of Chile. This is an organic wine, and it was perfect. It paired perfectly with the cheese as well as the fruit, and brought out the lemony notes in the ice cream. I am going to use it to poach mango with peppercorns as well (but that is for tomorrow…).

Meanwhile, I needed to find my fruit. I decided to use dried fruit because the sugar in dried fruit would add a sweet note, and confirm that this is a dessert ice cream rather than a savoury one. Dried figs from Turkey seemed to be perfect, voluptuous and golden, bursting with jammy honeyed ripeness… but then my interest was caught. O’Gourmet has a large and amazingly exciting selection of dried organic fruits that are very Malaysian – rambutan, lychee… and mangosteen! I tasted everything, and fell in love at first bite with the mangosteen. Dried mangosteen. Have you ever heard of such a gorgeous idea? All the honey mango peach tastes of the mangosteen are highlighted and intensified. Its totally delicious, and I decided then and there to mix the fig and mangosteen into the ripple.

Because I wanted a taste testing that was as broad as possible, I decided to make two batches of the ice cream – one with a fig mangosteen ripple that had been poached in the De Martino wine, and the other a ripple in which the dried fruits had been poached in a Pear and Elderflower Presse by Belvoir Fruit Farms. This sparkling juice had the same crispness and brightness as the wine, though it was a little sweeter. It gave me the chance to make a non-alcholic version of the ice cream for those who choose not to consume alcohol. Lovely!

This recipe is actually incredibly easy to make, its just that the ingredients are exotic and beautiful. Treat them with a lot of care and respect, and plan ahead. The ripple can be made up to a week ahead and stored in the fridge. The ice cream custard needs to be made at least four hours before you decide to churn the ice cream, and the ice cream must be churned at least 12 hours before you serve it to give the flavours time to ripen and bloom in the freezer. It is a dramatic and gorgeous presentation, and will intrigue and challenge your guests. I will be serving it with fresh mango lightly poached in white wine and peppercorns, which is a memory from one of my favourite restaurants from long ago… but more on that next time.

Meanwhile, enjoy this ice cream. I think its a wonderful introduction to the seductive goodness, the natural deliciousness of goat’s milk. It has an almost cheesecake flavour, and is very dense, rich and thick. Its not too sweet, and definitely reflects the quality of the cheese you choose to use – so choose well! Enjoy!

Makes 1 quart

with De Martino Wine

Fig Mangosteen Ripple

Obviously, if you cannot find dried mangosteen, you could just add more figs, or think up your own decadent combination. Dried cranberries and blueberries might be gorgeous here. Sun dried tomatoes would also be pretty wonderfully wild.

  • 1/2 cup (about 100 g) dried figs
  • 1/2 cup (about 100 g) dried mangosteen
  • 1 1/2 cups white wine (I used De Martino Sauvignon Blanc) – for the non alcoholic version, use 1 cup of sparkling juice (I used Pear & Elderflower Presse by Belvoir Fruit Farms)

Chop the dried fruit into small chunks. I used a scissors, and just cut the fruit into small bits right over the saucepan.

Place the fruit and the wine in a small saucepan, and on the lowest heat possible, poach the fruit in the wine. You want the liquid to be just simmering, never boiling. The liquid will plump up the fruit, and the fruit will absorb almost all of the wine. When the mixture becomes a sticky, gooey paste (about 10 – 15 minutes depending on your heat source), let cool and store covered until you are ready to ripple it into the ice cream.

This also makes an amazing topping for ice cream on its own. Very seasonally apt too!

Churned

Goat’s Cheese Ice Cream

  • 2 1/2 cups milk/cream mixture. I used 1 cup of goat’s milk to 1 1/2 cups of cream. But you be the judge on how rich you want it! I also keep an additional 1/2 cup milk/cream for thinning out the mixture just before it goes into the ice cream maker – sometimes, the custard can be just a tad too cheesy
  • 1/3 + 1/3 cup of caster sugar
  • 6 egg yolks (reserve the whites for other uses – making macaroons may be?)
  • 7 oz (about 200 g) soft fresh goat’s milk cheese (I used Pave de Jadis) – make sure it is a soft, fudgy, fresh cheese
  • Pinch of sea salt

Place the milk/cream and 1/3 cup of caster sugar in a medium saucepan over medium low heat. Whisk together to combine, and heat the mixture, stirring occasionally, until it reaches 175F on a thermometer, or until it just begins to steam, and bubbles begin to form on the edges of the pan.

Meanwhile, whisk together the egg yolks and the remaining 1/3 cup of sugar. I always use an electric stand mixer for this because I really want to incorporate the eggs and the sugar into a creamy whole. Use whatever youve got though, but make sure to beat for at least 3 – 5 minutes, until the eggs are light and lemony coloured, and thick in consistency.

Take the milk mixture off the heat, and add about 1/3 to the egg mixture, stirring well all the while. Once you have tempered the eggs, add the rest of the milk, slowly, stirring constantly.

Crumble the goat’s milk cheese into a large bowl and set aside.

Place the egg/milk mixture back into the pan, and cook for a further few minutes, until the mixture becomes a custard. It will thicken and coat the back of a spoon. When you draw a line through the custard on the spoon, the line will hold. The temperature will be about 175F.

Have two bowls ready, one with the crumbled goat’s milk cheese at the bottom, and a good sieve.

Take the custard off the heat, and pour through the sieve onto the crumbled goat’s milk cheese. Once all the custard has been sieved, allow the mixture to sit for a few minutes, while the heat of the custard softens and melts the cheese. Mix well, using the edge of your spatula to break up the chunks of cheese.

Sieve a second time into a second bowl, ensuring that the cheese has incorporated into the custard. Taste and adjust the level of milk/cream. Sometimes I add a further 1/2 cup of cream at this stage if the cheese is too tangy and overwhelming.

Sieve a third and final time to ensure total smoothness of the mixture. Cover, and refrigerate for at least 4 hours.

When you are ready to make ice cream, taste the cold custard. I usually will stir in a pinch of fleur de sel (or Maldon) to just highlight all the different flavours – the sweet, tangy, creamy all benefit from just a pinch of salt. Pour the custard into the ice cream maker, and follow manufacturers instructions.

With Fig Mangosteen Ripple

Goat’s Milk Cheese Ice Cream with a Fig Mangosteen Ripple

  • 1 quart goat’s milk cheese ice cream
  • Fig mangosteen ripple

Once the ice cream has been churned, you need to work very quickly. Have clean containers ready, a good spatula, a spoon, and the dried fruit ripple.

Scoop out about half of the churned ice cream into the container. Spoon over the dried fruit ripple, going right to the edge, and then scoop over the remaining ice cream. Smooth over the top with the spatula and freeze for about 1 – 2 hours until semi-firm.

Using a knife, ripple the ice cream so that the dried fruit is swirled throughout. You choose if you want it really mixed in or you want large chunks of fruit ripple sitting in the immaculate pale white ice cream.

Freeze overnight to allow the flavours and depth of contrast to blossom.

Enjoy this elegant, unique creation with those you adore 🙂

Oatmeal White Chocolate Bars

8 Dec

Totally Decadent, Slightly Healthy ;)I didnt post yesterday because… well, because I was remembering my father. 14 years ago, yesterday, he passed away. And every day, I miss him. I just had nothing I wanted to cook, so I didnt. Instead, I smoked a cigar in his honour, and remembered him over dinner with a person who loved him too.

So today, I wanted to make something that was comforting, easy, and yet very flexible – kind of like my dad! I decided on oatmeal bars because they fascinate me – and AngelKitten suggested that I add marshmallows – kind of like in a rice crispie bar. Intriguing idea. You dont have to add marshmallows if you dont want to – though they certainly give the bars a chewy, burnt, caramelly angle. Basically, you need to add equal amounts of oats and “ingredients” – in this recipe I added marshmallows, pistachios and peanut butter chips. I know. Sounds like a weird mixture, but funnily enough, it works!

And, with the addition of almond meal, this is a gluten free recipe, though if you are very stringent, make sure you get oats that are labeled as gluten free. While oats themselves are gluten free, they are manufactured in factories, and often stored in facilities with other flours – cross contamination can occur, so be aware.

If you want healthy bars, please feel free to substitute dried fruit (cranberries and blueberries suggest themselves), seeds (pumpkin, sunflower, sesame) and all kinds of nuts. But do add the chocolate – it elevates these bars from crunchy granola to oh my goodness gracious, yes please, I will have another one! 😉

Makes a large baking pan full – about 20 bars

  • 4 cups rolled oats
  • 2 cups almond meal
  • 4 cups “taste ingredients” – I used 2 cups marshmallows, 1 1/2 cups peanut butter chips and 1/2 cup pistachios. Feel free to go wild – add whatever your heart desires, but if youre daring, do try this combo. Its delicious!
  • 2 tsp cinnamon or all spice
  • 3/4 tsp salt
  • 1/4 cup light brown sugar
  • 3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) cold butter, grated
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 heaping tbsp mascarpone (or cream cheese)
  • 1 tbsp honey
  • 1 tbsp vanilla
  • 1 cup white chocolate chips or chunks
  • 2 – 3 tbsp milk or cream

Preheat your oven to 175C (350F). Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper.

In a large bowl combine the oats, almond meal, taste ingredients, cinnamon, salt, and light brown sugar. Use your hands and toss well to combine completely.

Grate over the butter and toss again to combine.

In a small bowl, whisk together the eggs, mascarpone, honey and vanilla. You should have about a cup of liquid. If more, thats fine. If less, make it up with a touch of milk.

Pour the liquids over the oat mixture and use your hands to combine. You wont think that the mixture will come together at first, but trust me, it will. It will be quite wet.

Turn out into the prepared baking sheet, and bake in the preheated oven for 15 – 20 minutes or until slightly puffed and toasty brown. (If you have used marshmallows, keep a close eye out – they can burn easily).

Let cool for about 20 minutes. While the oat bars are cooling, melt the white chocolate with the milk in a small saucepan over very low heat until liquid.

When the oat bars are cooled, drizzle over the white chocolate. Allow it to firm up, and then cut into bars.

These will keep up to a week in the fridge.

Enjoy these delicious, slightly healthy, rather decadent treats!

O’Gourmet Truffled Macaroni and Cheese

6 Dec

I love macaroni and cheese, the beautiful pasta, coated with a creamy blanket of cheesy indulgence. The crispy top, making way for a melting interior. Whats not to love? Well, some varieties of mac and cheese are plainly unappetising, made from over processed, pasturised ingredients that have all the life and soul taken out of them (once youve seen that orange glow, you will never forget it!). I wanted to make a different kind of macaroni and cheese – a sensuous, indulgent meal, ripe with scent, taste, texture and balance. This macaroni and cheese is slightly wicked, a tad naughty, and very memorable. It can be served at a celebration – birthday, New Years, holidays of every kind – or just because you want to say I love you. Honestly, they will get the message!

A dish like this needs to be in part based on thought and consideration, and in part on pure inspiration. So I wandered the O’Gourmet Food Hall to see what might present itself. First under consideration was the pasta. I decided on La Collina Toscana pasta, made in Italy, and rather than macaroni, a conchiglie shape – like a small conch or sea shell. Gorgeous, naturally dried, hand crafted pasta, with a shape that has the same benefits of macaroni (the curved tubular shape catches and holds sauce well), and yet has a more elegant look to it. But of course, I dont want to be proscriptive, so use whichever pasta strikes your fancy!

I feel that macaroni and cheese can sometimes be a tad overwhelmingly rich, and I noted some gorgeously fresh organic baby spinach, so I decided to include a surprise nestled in the depths of the pasta – bright clean spinach, sauteed with white onion, and candied, caramelised garlic. I wanted to make the garlic a little differently from the original Ottolenghi recipe I used, and so decided that instead of water, I would use wine! But then, I saw Fre wines – alcohol-removed wine. Yes, honestly!

I read the taste tests, and while there is definitely something missing (the alcohol!), there is a unanimous agreement that the taste is still there… somewhat! I thought that it might be very interesting to try cooking with this non-alcoholic wine. Would you get the same taste, roundness of flavour, haunting notes of fruit and honey and sunshine, as with regular wine? I decided I would use the Fre premium white wine in the sauce, and the Fre premium red wine in creating the caramelised garlic (in place of water in the original recipe). I found that there was certainly a hint of winey flavour to the sauce and garlic, but that depth of flavour, the resonance of the wine, the layers of scent and taste, were not as fully realised. I think the next time I make this pasta, I will use regular wine, but when I am cooking for those who have issues with alcohol in their food, I would most certainly go back to the Fre. And again, if you prefer cooking with wine, please, go ahead and give in to the urge 😉

And finally, truffles. I felt that truffles added to the cheese sauce would elevate this dish into a celebratory, special meal. I looked around, and decided to layer the different truffle tastes – starting with the amazingly hedonistic truffle oil from Vom Fass, which I used to permeate everything from the spinach to the garlic to the cheese sauce. I seasoned everything with truffle sea salt, and finally, I found Himalayan truffles (tuber indicum), an inexpensive (relatively) jar of black truffles from the Himalayas. I loved these truffles. They were easy to work with, and imbued the pasta with their own truffled scent – not quite as all inclusive as European truffles, which seem to have the reach and depth of durian, but with their own nutty, dark, rich flavour.

And when I spoke to M. Sebastien in the cheese room, he suggested that I use a Brillat-Savarin (a triple cream, soft, brie-like cheese) which had been layered, and thus completely permeated, with truffles. I used organic white cheddar and a beautiful aged crumbly parmesan as well, but I promise you, when I sliced open that Brillat-Savarin, and saw the thick soft melting consistency, and smelled that unique combination of cheese and truffle… well, I wanted to rub it all over me! Incredibly luxurious and such a beautiful addition to the pasta.

This dish looks like a lot of work, and it certainly will take a couple of hours of cooking. But a lot can be done ahead of time – the garlic can be candied and caramelised in about half an hour or so, and can be stored in the fridge for about 2 weeks. The spinach can be sauteed and kept, covered, in the fridge for 3 days. Even the cheese sauce can be made the day before (though I would whisk in the egg at the last minute), and combined with the pasta just before baking. I served the dish with a simple salad of bitter arugula (rocket) and ribboned organic carrots, with a dressing of balsamic, truffle oil and soy sauce. It was a bright counterpoint to the luxury of the main course.

This truffled macaroni and cheese is worth the work and the care, the loving sourcing of beautiful ingredients. The result is a gift to the people you love, and to yourself.

Serves 6 – 8 people

Candied Caramelised Garlic (adapted from Yotam Ottolenghi’s Plenty)

  • 2 cups Fre premium red wine (or a good red wine)
  • 1 1/2 cups garlic cloves (about 2 heads – 30 cloves or so)
  • 2 tbsp + 1 tsp truffle oil
  • 1 tbsp caster sugar or light brown sugar
  • 2 tbsp best quality balsamic vinegar (I used a 25 year old balsamic from Vom Fass – it was astonishing!)
  • 1 tsp herbes de Provence or mixed Italian/French herbs
  • 1/2 tsp truffle salt (if you have it – otherwise a good sea salt is fine)

Combine the red wine and garlic cloves in a medium saucepan. Bring to the boil over medium low heat, and simmer for about 5 minutes.

Drain the red wine from the garlic cloves, reserving the red wine for later. Clean the saucepan well and dry it, and place the garlic cloves and the truffle oil into the saucepan together.

Saute the garlic in the oil for about 5 minutes or so, on medium high heat, or until the garlic has softened, released its intrinsic garlic scent, and become lightly browned.

Measure out about 1 1/2 cups of the red wine, and combine with the sugar, balsamic, herbs and salt. Pour over the garlic in the saucepan. Be careful, because it will splatter a bit.

Simmer on medium high heat for about 15 – 20 minutes, or until the liquid has almost completely reduced, and the garlic is dark red, sticky, candied and caramelised. Take off the heat, and pour over the remaining 1 tsp of truffle oil.

This candied garlic will keep in the fridge, covered for at least 2 weeks, but you will probably eat it before then! It can be an astonishing addition to salads, soups, risottos, pastas, sandwiches – just about anything you can imagine!

Sauteed Spinach

  • 2 tbsp + 1 tsp truffle oil
  • 1 cup finely chopped white onion (1 small onion or 1/2 large)
  • Truffle salt and pepper to taste
  • 3 – 4 cups organic baby spinach, washed and roughly chopped

In a medium sized pan, over medium heat, combine the 2 tbsp of truffle oil and the white onion. Saute for 5 – 10 minutes, or until the onion goes glossy, soft and shiny. You dont want it to burn, but you do want it to reach that moment just before it caramelises!

Season with truffle salt and pepper, and add the baby spinach. Raise the heat a little, and saute quickly. The spinach will turn bright green, and will release some of its liquid. This is perfect. Remove from heat, taste and adjust seasonings, and pour over the final teaspoon of truffle oil.

You can reserve this spinach for up to 3 days, covered in the fridge. It also makes a sublime side dish!

Truffled Three Cheese Sauce

  • 1 cup cream
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • Truffles – as much as you want or can afford! I used a 100 g jar of Himalayan truffles plus 2 tbsp of truffle oil plus 1/2 tsp of truffle salt
  • 3 tbsp butter
  • 2 tbsp truffle oil
  • 3 tbsp flour
  • 1 + 1 cup Fre premium white wine (or regular white wine – or even sparkling wine!)
  • 1/2 tsp (or less – to your taste) English mustard powder or Dijon mustard
  • 8 oz (about 2 cups) grated white organic cheddar
  • 200 g (about 7 oz) truffled Brillat Savarin
  • 1/2 cup grated best quality parmesan
  • Truffle salt and pepper to taste

In a medium large saucepan, combine the cream and milk. Grate over the truffles (I used a Microplane zester to shave the truffles very small and fine), and add the truffle oil and truffle salt, if using. Over low heat, warm the cream/milk/truffle mixture until it is just steaming – about 75C or 165F. Stir often. Once the mixture reaches the steaming stage, remove from heat, and let steep for at least an hour. This infusion step is important! It makes sure that the taste of the truffles is all over that sauce.

In a medium large saucepan, melt the butter and truffle oil over medium low heat. Once the butter has melted completely, add the flour, and stir well. This roux will form the basis of your sauce, so make sure that you take your time and cook it well. You want it the colour of light teak – keep your nerve. Dont burn it, but dont let it stay too pale either. I would cook for at least 5 minutes, up to 10, depending on the heat source.

Once the roux has cooked to your liking, lower the heat a bit, and add 1 cup of the white wine, whisking constantly. The mixture will immediately seize up and become very thick. Whisk in all of the steeped milk/cream/truffle mixture, and continue to whisk well. Taste. Add the remaining 1 cup of white wine, tasting every 1/4th cup or so. You dont need to add it all if the mixture becomes too heavily winey.

Sprinkle over the mustard powder or the Dijon mustard, and whisk well to combine.

Bring the heat up to medium low, and sprinkle over the cheddar. Continue whisking the sauce as you incorporate the cheddar into the mix. Taste and adjust seasonings again.

Slice the bottom rind off the Brillat Savarin, and using a teaspoon, scoop it out of its rind. Add to the sauce, and whisk well to combine.

Sprinkle over the parmesan, and whisk well, until the cheese is melted and well mixed.

Remove the sauce from the heat and allow to cool to tepid bathwater heat. Whisk in the egg yolks to enrich the sauce, and adjust for seasoning.

The cheese sauce can be made up to a day of time, before adding the egg yolks. Keep tightly covered in the fridge, and bring to room temperature before whisking in the egg yolks and assembling the main dish.

This sauce would be wonderful served as is, not baked, with angel hair pasta or linguine!

Truffled Macaroni and Cheese – Assembly

You can serve this in individual small ceramic baking pots, bake it in loaf tins (it will fill three tins), or a large enameled baking dish. Your choice – I think it depends on how and who you are going to serve! Individual pots are a very elegant presentation, but loaf tins or a large baking dish bring a casual luxury to the meal.

  • 500 g macaroni, elbow, conchiglie, or other tubular pasta
  • Truffled Three Cheese Sauce
  • Caramelised Garlic
  • Sauteed Spinach
  • Handful of Italian parsley, finely minced
  • 1/2 cup breadcrumbs (I used Panko)
  • 1/2 cup parmesan
  • A few teaspoons of truffle oil to finish

Preheat the oven to 160C (325F), and have your baking pans ready.

Prepare macaroni or other tubular pasta according to the packet directions, in a large saucepan or pot, over high heat, in heavily salted boiling water, but taste a few minutes shy of the time indicated on the packaging. I cooked conchiglie pasta, and the packet said 15 minutes. I cooked it for 11 minutes, to just before al dente.

Drain the pasta, and place in a large mixing bowl. Pour over about three quarters of the cheese sauce and stir well to combine. Taste for salt and pepper and adjust.

Place about half of the pasta in your baking pots/tin/dish. Press down to ensure that the pasta is snug. Ladle about half of the remaining sauce over the pasta. Using your hands, squeeze out the liquid from the reserved spinach, and place it in an even layer over the pasta, leaving about 1/2 inch rim free around the edge of the dish. Stud the spinach with the caramelised garlic – as much or as little as you wish, though i went easy on it. I wanted a spark of intense flavour, but I did not want to overwhelm the delicacy of the pasta. Add the rest of the pasta to the dish, and ladle over the remaining sauce.

In a small bowl, mix together the Italian parsley, breadcrumbs and parmesan, and sprinkle evenly over the pasta.

Bake in the oven for 45 minutes to an hour, or until the pasta is bubbling and hot, and a crisp, golden crust has formed.

Just before serving, sprinkle lightly with the truffle oil to really bring out the scent.

Enjoy the love.

Comfort Food

5 Dec

Angel Kitten has taken a 1 month vow of vegetarianism. I am so proud of her, I just cant even begin to tell you. She was so moved by information she found on the PETA website, that she took a pledge to be a vegetarian for a month. I think thats amazing, and I truly believe she will feel wonderful after that month is over – so much so, that may be it will inspire her to eat vegetarian once a week or so. We have had several discussions about the choice to live a vegetarian life. I dont really try and “convert” people, but I do strongly believe that living a life of love and gentleness often includes making a choice not to eat animals.

However, I also believe strongly that if one chooses a carnivorous life, then thats OK too — especially if the choices about what meats one eats are made with care and forethought. For example, choosing to eat at the Golden Arches or the like, where the meat and chicken have lived largely painful lives, and been processed in a way that is wholesale, rather than respectful, is very different from choosing to occasionally eat meat that is free range and fed organic, non steriod, non hormone food. I would posit that the latter is much more delicious, even if much more expensive. I think if one wants to or has to eat a carnivorous diet, the logical, kind and respectful choice is to eat meat that has been treated with kindness and respect. May be not as often as highly processed meats and chickens, unless one is rich beyond the need to consider such things, but with much more satisfaction and enjoyment.

Anyway, thats me off my hobbyhorse 😉 As part of my support of AngelKitten’s choice, I really wanted to make her food that will encourage her to see how satisfying eating a vegetarian diet is. This meal is one of her all time favourites, and we often order it in restaurants together, as a conglomeration of side dishes which we share. It could be completely vegan if you mashed the potatoes with olive oil instead of butter and cream… but I leave that choice to you 😉 For us, we used organic cream and butter and were very happy with that choice.

For dinner last night, we had sauteed spinach and french beans with garlic, roasted broccoli with soy and balsamic (which Ezril said tasted meaty and immensely satisfying), and mashed potatoes with roasted garlic. It was sublime. So simple, so easy, so delicious. It was ultimate comfort food for us, and got me to thinking about what comfort food really is. Its not fancy, overly thought through, complex food. Rather, its simple, well cooked, well sourced ingredients that are cooked so their essential deliciousness shines through. We used organic spinach, french beans and broccoli – and organic milk and cream in the potatoes. If you wanted more protein in this meal, you could add some toasted almonds to the vegetables, but I dont think its necessary. I think that if you eat a balance of food through a week or so, high in protein sometimes, high in greens others, youre fine. Balance is as much about listening to what your body wants and needs at a given time as following strictures and formulas.

And by the way, these are not so much recipes, as memories of what we ate that night, in celebration of AngelKitten’s pledge. We love the juxtaposition of the clean bright freshness of the spinach and beans, the roasted dark stickiness of the broccoli, and the pure decadence of the potatoes. Its all about balance isnt it? 🙂 So here are the three recipes we put together for our comfort dinner. I am glad to say that AngelKitten took the leftovers home, and hopefully, they will nurture her and feed her for a few days more to come 🙂

Serves 4 – 6 people (with leftovers of the potatoes, most definitely)

with Garlic!

Sauteed Spinach and French Beans

  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 tbsp butter (or additional olive oil for vegan)
  • 3 + 3 minced garlic cloves
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 – 2 cups washed, topped and tailed and chopped French beans
  • 2 – 3 cups washed and roughly chopped spinach

In a large saucepan or frying pan, over medium low heat, combine the olive oil and butter, and gently heat until the butter melts. Add 3 minced garlic cloves, and cook, stirring gently, until the garlic releases its unique scent, and goes glossy and soft. Add a bit of salt and pepper to the garlic, and toss in your prepared French beans.

Stir the beans until completely coated with garlic and oil, and continue cooking until the beans change colour – they will go bright green. Taste and adjust salt and pepper.

Throw in the spinach. Its OK if a little water still clings to the leaves, but you dont want the spinach to be soaking wet. I usually squeeze it to dry it, then chop it and add it to the pan.

Stir until the spinach wilts and turns bright green, which should finish cooking the beans perfectly. Add the remaining 3 cloves of minced garlic, stir and taste for salt and pepper.

Place in a large serving bowl, and set aside. Can be served hot or at room temperature. Its even delicious, in large spoonfuls, straight from the fridge.

Mmmmmmm

Roasted Garlic Mashed Potatoes

  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
  • 1 tsp white wine vinegar
  • 1 tsp mixed herbs or herbes de Provence
  • Salt and pepper
  • Cloves from 3 heads of garlic (about 30 – 35 cloves)
  • 8 – 10 large potatoes (I usually use a mix)
  • 1 stick of butter (or 4 – 6 tbsp extra virgin olive oil)
  • 1/2 cup cream (optional)

Preheat oven to 200C (400F). Line a baking sheet or pan with parchment paper.

Place olive oil, balsamic vinegar, white wine vinegar, herbs, salt and pepper to taste and garlic cloves in a bowl. Toss to combine.

Place the garlic on the baking sheet in a single layer, and pour over any remaining liquid.

Roast the garlic in the oven until it is soft, burnt, glossy and slightly caramelised, about 20 minutes or so. Remove from the oven, and set aside.

Peel and chop the potatoes roughly. Place in a large saucepan or pot, and just cover with water. Over medium high heat, bring the water to a boil, and simmer until the potatoes are soft. Depending on your potatoes, and how small the chop is, this will take between 20 – 40 minutes.

Drain the potatoes, and place back in the pot. Slice butter over the potatoes, and pour over cream. Using a hand masher, ricer, or immersion blender (as I do), mash the potatoes. Taste for salt and pepper, and adjust.

Add all the garlic, and mash into the potatoes. Use a spoon or spatula to combine thoroughly, and taste and adjust for seasonings.

This can be prepared a few hours ahead, and reheated over a very low flame. It can keep warm, covered for an hour or two.

Sticky Green Goodness

Roasted Broccoli

  • 3 – 4 tbsp soy sauce
  • 1 – 2 tbsp balsamic vinegar
  • 1 – 2 tbsp roasted sesame oil (or olive oil if you dont have it)
  • Pepper (and salt if you wish to taste, but the soy should make it salty enough)
  • 1 head of broccoli, broken down into small florets, with the larger stalk peeled and chopped into batons – about 3 – 4 cups total

Preheat oven to 200C (400F). Line a baking sheet or pan with parchment paper.

Combine the soy, balsamic, oil, and pepper in a large bowl. Toss in the prepared broccoli, and using your hands, toss well to combine. Taste the mixture and adjust seasonings if you wish.

Place the broccoli in an even layer on the baking sheet and reserve any additional liquid for later. Roast in the oven for about 20 minutes. Remove, and flip each piece of broccoli over, dipping the broccoli in the remaining liquid. Pour over any additional liquid and continue roasting in the oven for another 5 – 10 minutes or until the broccoli is sticky, browny-green and delicious.

Serve hot or at room temperature.