Saturday, 14 November 2015

Camembert Baked in Vine Leaves, with Verjuice-Poached Grapes

Need a gorgeous Christmas curtain-raiser? Try my jewel-bright starter, which combines hot oozing Camembert with sharp-sweet grapes lightly poached in Verjuice.  (If you don’t have fresh vine leaves, use blanched baby spinach leaves to wrap your cheese.)

Camembert Baked in Vine Leaves with Verjuice-Poached Grapes
and oven-baked croutons. (Plate by David Walters.)

Wine recommendation by Michael Olivier.  He says: "Asara Vineyard Collection Pinotage Rosé 2015." 

 It looks like: Packed in a Burgundy shaped flint bottle with a gold screwcap and elegant label. In the glass it is a beautiful dusky pink, inviting you to take a sip. 

 It smells like: Watermelon sorbet, spun sugar and roadside brambles. 

 It taste like: Fresh red and black berries, the fullness of honeydew melon, crisp, fresh and a lovely harmony right through to a long aftertaste.

This is the second in a series of new recipes I've developed using Verjuice, and I do hope you'll put this show-stopper on your Christmas table this year. Why? You can make it well ahead of time, it doesn't take long to fling together, and it's a simple starter that draws appreciative gasps from guests.

Camembert Roasted in Vine Leaves with Verjuice-Poached Grapes

For the grapes:

1 cup Verjuice
4 large vine leaves, or 6 baby spinach leaves, stalks removed
1 Tbsp (15 ml) honey
1 large sprig of fresh thyme
a big bunch of sweet red grapes

For the cheese:

1 x 250 g just-ripe Camembert
1 sprig of fresh thyme
milled black pepper

To serve:
oven-baked crouton tatters (see Cook's Notes; below), or Melba toast

Heat the oven to 180 ºC.

First prepare the vine leaves and grapes. Pour the Verjuice into a shallow pan and bring to a simmer. Spread a large sheet of clingfilm on the counter.  Blanch the vine leaves by dipping each one in the simmering Verjuice for 10 seconds. Snip off the stalks and spread the leaves on the clingfilm to dry. If you're using baby spinach leaves, you'll need to blanch them a little longer - they should be soft and floppy.

Add the honey and thyme sprig to the pan, then lay the bunch of grapes in the pan, on its side. Poach at a gentle simmer for about 7 minutes, turning the bunch often, or until the skin is splitting and fruit is just beginning to collapse. Remove the grapes and set aside to drain in a colander.

Turn up the heat and boil the Verjuice until it has reduced by about half, and is thickened and glossy. Set this syrup aside.

Cut an X shape across the top of the Camembert, about 5mm deep, and push a few sprigs of thyme into the slits, using the back of a knife.  Wrap the cheese in the blanched vine leaves.  Set the cheese on a sheet of baking paper, wrap up to a loose parcel, and secure with kitchen string or raffia.

Place on a baking sheet and bake at 180 ºC for 7-12 minutes, or until the cheese feels very soft and oozy.

Remove the baking paper, and place on a platter.  Arrange the poached grapes around the cheese, drizzle them with the Verjuice syrup, and serve immediately with crisp golden croutons (see below) or Melba toast.

Serves 4 as a starter or snack.

Cook's Notes:

To make oven-baked crouton tatters, heat the oven to 190 °C, fan on. Tear a day-old baguette, or white rolls, into big rough scraps, and arrange them on a non-stick baking tray.  Drizzle very lightly with olive oil, toss well to and bake for 7-10 minutes, or until they're golden brown and crunchy.  Put the croutons on a wire rack and allow to cool - they will stay crisp for a few hours, depending on the humidity in your kitchen.

Print Friendly and PDFPrint Friendly

Wednesday, 14 October 2015

Cold Cucumber, Herb & Yoghurt Soup with Verjuice Granita

I hope you'll enjoy this cold yoghurty cucumber soup, topped with feathery flakes of frozen Verjuice. With its lovely contrast of herbal creaminess and sweet, crunchy acidity, this is a splendid starter for a blazing day. There are deep, clean, singing flavours here that make you want to drink it in buckets, as if it is exactly what your body craves.  This low-carb recipe is suitable for diabetics.

Cold Cucumber, Herb & Yoghurt Soup with Verjuice Granita 

Wine recommendation by Michael Olivier.  He says: "Klein Constantia Metis Sauvignon Blanc 2014." 

 It looks like: Packed in the bottle embossed with the Constantia logo, the fusion of philosophies is reflected in the flower on the label that is a hybrid of the South African Protea and French Iris. In the glass a pale gold with green amber flashes. 

 It smells like: Pure classical good Sauvignon aromas. White fleshed peaches and nectarines. Grapefruit oil. 

 It taste like: Rich, vibrant palate. Generous fruit, blackcurrant leaves, almost savoury. Minerals present in the exciting lime squirt in the long aftertaste. This is a laster if well stored could go up to 8 years after vintage.

I've had fun this month developing a series of new recipes using Verjuice, and this is the first of nine. Are you familiar with Verjuice?  It's a delicate, slightly tart, somewhat sweet, unfermented juice made from unripe grapes, popular as an acidulating agent in Roman times and the Middle Ages.

In recent times, this ingredient's been revived by Maggie Beer, one of Australia's best-loved cooks, food writers and restaurateurs. My aunt, the brilliant Gilly Walters of Wedgewood Nougat fame, introduced me to this ingredient some years ago, and I always have a bottle of it in my kitchen. What I love about Verjuice is that it doesn't have any of the throat-raspiness of vinegar - it's a gentle ingredient that sings sweetly in the background.

Over the next few weeks I'll be sharing some of my new Verjuice recipes with you, and I hope they encourage you to experiment with this intriguing ingredient over the festive season (you'll find it at Woolies).

When I first wrote this recipe down, I recommended serving it immediately, but I found that its flavour developed and mellowed over the next day, so feel free to make it up to 24 hours in advance (but keep it in the fridge, tightly covered, in a non-metallic bowl).

Make sure the serving bowls are very well chilled, or make pretty ice bowls in which to serve this beautiful starter.

Cold Cucumber, Herb & Yoghurt Soup with Verjuice Granita 

For the granita:

½ cup (125 ml) Verjuice

For the soup:

2 chilled English cucumbers (about 700 g)
2 Tbsp (30 ml) Verjuice
1 cup (250 ml) Greek yoghurt
1 small clove garlic, peeled and finely chopped
1/3 cup (80 ml) chopped curly parsley
1/3 cup (80 ml) chopped chives
3 Tbsp (45 ml) chopped dill
1 tsp (5 ml) Tabasco sauce
3 Tbsp (45 ml) cream
salt & milled black pepper

First make the granita.  Pour the Verjuice into a small metal pan and freeze for 45-90 minutes, or until just frozen - the time it takes will depend on how efficient your freezer is.  Use a fork to scratch and scrape at the surface to create light, feathery crystals. Return the dish to the freezer.

Lightly peel the cucumbers, leaving a little green skin here and there. Roughly chop and place in a food processor with all the remaining ingredients, except the cream and seasoning.  Whizz until very smooth. Now stir in the cream and season to taste with salt and plenty of black pepper.

Serve immediately in chilled bowls, topping each serving with a heaped spoonful of Verjuice granita, plus a scattering of chives or dill fronds.

Serves 4.  

(Note/Disclaimer:  I was paid a professional fee to develop these recipes and supply photographs, but this fee did not include featuring them on my blog and elsewhere. This I do because I'm pleased with these dishes and want to share them with you.)

Print Friendly and PDFPrint Friendly

Sunday, 23 August 2015

Easy Upside-Down Pear & Almond Cake

A light, almond-scented cake that's best served warm with clouds of whipped cream, and preferably on a Sunday afternoon when the rain is pelting down and Monday's looming like an unwelcome house guest. This doesn't take much effort to make, and to make it even easier, I've used tinned pears. You can, of course, buy fresh pears, peel them and poach them, but why go to all this effort? I'm a huge fan of South African tinned fruit, which in my opinion is of outstanding quality.

Shower your Pear Cake with toasted, flaked almonds & icing sugar.

The first time I tested this recipe I used a sponge-cake formula, but despite its high butter content it was curiously dry. The second time, I went with a lighter, fat-free batter, which puffed up beautifully and was still airy the next day, when the cake had cooled and was dispatched to school and work in various lunchboxes. Another tweak I made to the second version was using double the quantity of tinned pears.

There are four watchpoints in this recipe: first, be sure to line your tin properly with baking paper, to prevent the cake burning and sticking at the edges.  Second, take your time beating the eggs and sugar to the ribbon stage - the mixture should be very pale, thick and fluffy before you add the flour. It's fairly quick to do this if you have an electric whisk or similar appliance, but if you are making this by hand you will need to put in a lot of elbow grease.

Third, don't be tempted to open the oven until about three-quarters of the way through the baking time. After that, you can take the occasional peek.  If you notice that the cake is browning too quickly in certain areas, rotate the tin (I have to do this as my oven has notorious hot spots), and cover it with a loose dome of tin foil.

Finally, don't over-scent your cake. Good almond extract has a powerful flavour, and must be used sparingly.  If you can't find proper extract, and you're using synthetic supermarket essence, I suggest you add a few drops at a time, tasting the mixture as you go.

Easy Upside-Down Pear and Almond Cake

2 x 820 g tins of pear halves
4 large free-range eggs
1½ cups (375 ml) caster sugar
1½ cups (375 ml) cake flour
2 tsp (10 ml) baking powder
a pinch of salt
3/4 cup (180 ml) milk
½ tsp (2.5 ml) almond extract 

For the glaze & topping: 

½ cup (125 ml) reserved pear juice (see recipe)
3 Tbsp (45 ml) smooth apricot jam
a squeeze of fresh lemon juice
a handful of toasted almond flakes
whipped cream

Heat the oven to 170° C, fan on, or 180° C if your oven has no fan.

Open the tins of pears and drain the fruit for ten minutes in a colander set over a large bowl.  Reserve the pear juice.

Now prepare your tin. Generously butter the sides and bottom of a non-stick 23-cm springform cake tin. Cut a circle of baking paper to the same size as the base, press it down firmly, and spread a thin film of butter over it. Now cut a long strip of baking paper to roughly the same width as the height of the tin, and use it to line the sides of the tin.  Butter the baking paper.

Neatly arrange the drained pear halves on top of the paper-lined base of the cake tin, cut-side down and narrow ends pointing to the centre. If you like, you can tuck a whole blanched almond into the hollow of each pear.  Slice any extra pears in half, lengthways, and arrange them over the top.

Put the eggs and caster sugar into a big bowl and whisk at high speed with a hand-held rotary beater or similar appliance until the mixture has almost doubled in volume and is very pale, thick and fluffy.

Sift the flour, baking powder and salt over the egg mixture, and gently stir until everything is well combined. Now stir in the milk and almond essence to create a fairly slack batter.

Pour the mixture all over the pears, and gently shake the pan so the batter penetrates to the bottom of the tin. One sharp tap on the counter will allow any bubbles to escape.

Bake for 50-60 minutes, or until the cake is well risen, firm to the touch, and a wooden skewer pushed into the cake comes out dry.

Paint the warm glaze all over the top of the cake.
While the cake is baking, prepare the glaze. Put 125 ml (half a cup) of the reserved pear juice into a saucepan and cook over a high heat for about 5 minutes, or until it has reduced by half. Now stir in the apricot jam and bubble over a medium heat for another 5 minutes, or until the mixture is syrupy and producing big, lazy bubbles. Add a spritz of lemon juice and let the mixture cool to lukewarm.

When the cake is ready, put the tin on your counter, wait for three minutes, then run a sharp knife around the edges to loosen it.  Release the spring.

Put a plate on top of the tin, turn it over, then remove the base and carefully peel off the baking paper.

Using a pastry brush, paint the warm glaze all over the top, letting it dribble down the sides of the cake.

Scatter the toasted almonds over the top, sift over a little icing sugar and serve warm, with whipped cream.

Serves 8. 

Print Friendly and PDFPrint Friendly

Saturday, 15 August 2015

#RealFood For Kids: Low-Carb 'Grannies in Blankets'

This is a new twist on a beloved South African dish: Ouma Onder Die Komberse. Big, juicy meatballs are flavoured with nutmeg, onion and lemon zest, wrapped in soft cabbage ‘blankets’, then baked in a creamy lemon sauce.

The paragraph above comes directly from just-published Real Food: Healthy, Happy Children, by Kath Megaw (Quivertree, 2015), and I'm honoured to have been asked to contribute some of my low-carb recipes to the book.

South African paediatric dietician Kath Megaw is a leading fundi on low-carb and ketogenic diets for children. "Wait!" I hear you cry. "Low carb for kids?" Yes, that's right, but I can assure you that this is not some faddish, irresponsible book leaping onto the banting bandwagon. It's a painstakingly researched, well-informed, sensible guide that advocates a return to real, 'living' food using the wholesome unprocessed ingredients so familiar to our grandparents.

If you're looking to banish sugar, stodge and boxed foods from your family's diet, you've found the only guide you'll ever need, whether you're pregnant, or feeding a baby, or a coping with teens who have hollow legs. If you still need convincing, click here to listen to a podcast of Kath talking about her book, and here to read more about her low-carb philosophy.  

When I first picked up my copy of this hefty 300-page book at last week's launch, I was astonished at how much detailed information is packed between the pages. It's bursting with tips, tricks and accurate nutritional info, with lovely photographs and illustrations adding whimsy along the way. Journalist and cookery writer Daisy Jones, who wrote the text, has a chatty yet precise style, and she's brilliantly conveyed Kath's 20 years of clinical experience in this field.

What's pleased me so much about contributing to this project  is seeing my name on the same line as Phillippa Cheifitz's.  Phillippa, who wrote many of the gorgeous recipes in the book, is one of the grande dames of South African cookery writing, and I have greatly admired her since I cooked my way through her inspiring Cosmopolitan Cookbook in my twenties.

I hauled my tattered, cake-spattered copy of that book to the launch, and my day was complete when Phillippa graciously signed it for me, 29 years after I bought it.

I'm so looking forward to trying the recipes on my own family - specially the mouth-watering treats from the party food section.  (My beloveds feel so deprived of puds these days.)

Nutty Exploding Apples with Vanilla Custard: another of my recipes
from  Real Food: Healthy, Happy Children

Now to the recipe. I've used a Swedish-style creamy sauce to cloak these cabbage-wrapped meatballs, but you could also bake them in a fresh tomato sauce.  Meatballs tend to be a little dense when they don't contain breadcrumbs, but I've found that a big dollop of natural Greek yoghurt helps to tenderise them. This #LCHF recipe is suitable for diabetics.

Low-Carb 'Grannies in Blankets' 

12 outer leaves from a cabbage (or baby savoy leaves)
2 lemons
salt and milled pepper, to taste
1 large onion, peeled
900g beef mince
1 extra-large free-range egg, lightly beaten
2 cloves garlic, peeled and finely grated
3 tbsp thick Greek yoghurt
1½ tsp nutmeg
1 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp white wine vinegar
1 cup cream
4 tbsp finely chopped parsley
butter, for greasing

1. Preheat the oven to 170°C (fan off).
2. Trim away the thick lower ‘ribs’ of the cabbage leaves. Bring a large saucepan of water to a
rolling boil, then add a wedge of lemon and a pinch of salt. Plunge the leaves into the water,
partially cover with a lid and blanch for 7 to 9 minutes, or until the leaves are wilted.
3. Drain (reserving the poaching water), then run the leaves under cold water for 3 minutes and
set aside to drain further.
4. Grate the onion on the fine tooth of a grater to create a soft, juicy pulp. Tip this into a large
mixing bowl and add the mince, egg, garlic, yoghurt, nutmeg and the zest of 1 lemon, plus
seasoning. Combine the mixture well using your hands., then roll the mince into 12 balls, each
about the size of a golf ball.
5. Heat a little olive oil in a non-stick frying pan and brown the meatballs on all sides, in batches,
over a medium-high heat – this should only take a few minutes per side as they should be nicely
caramelised, but still raw on the inside. Set the meatballs aside on a plate.
6. Turn up the heat and add the vinegar, plus half a cup of the cabbage poaching liquid. Let this
mixture bubble vigorously for 3 to 5 minutes, or until it has reduced by half.
7. Remove the pan from the heat, wait a minute, then stir in the cream. Return the pan to a
medium heat and let the sauce bubble for 1 minute, stirring now and then, until it has slightly
thickened. Now stir in the juice of half a lemon and the parsley and set aside.
8. Pat the cabbage leaves very dry on kitchen paper. Tuck a leaf around each meatball and arrange
in a buttered baking dish. Pour the sauce around and over the cabbage parcels and cover the dish
loosely with tin foil. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, or until the ‘grannies’ are cooked right through.

Serves 4-6 Per serving: energy: 514 kcal protein: 33g fat: 39g carbs: 7g ratio: 1.0 :1

Recipe courtesy of Quivertree Publications

More of my meatball recipes:

Print Friendly and PDFPrint Friendly