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The Plain Kitchen | Recipes. Food. Home. Skip to content The Plain Kitchen Recipes. Food. Home. Menu Home About Main Meals Light Meals Breakfasts Salads, Veg and Sides Cakes and Puddings Breads and Biscuits Producers and Visits Books and Research Welcome 8th July 20159th April 2016 ~ theplainkitchen ~ 2 Comments The Plain Kitchen Photo: Edd Westmacott The Plain Kitchen celebrates our food histories, memories and nostalgia through a 365 day challenge of posting a recipe a day, each recipe developed & created in my kitchen on Salisbury Plain, Wiltshire. I grew up on a farm in South Africa, and most of my time was spent with my mother, sewing, cooking, baking, creating and making. The Plain Kitchen is a homage to my mother, and represents the continuity of inheritance: although my mum died when I was 13, she had equipped me with knowledge, love and a passion for making: all of which I do today, through my design work, and through my cooking for my family and friends. The other very important thing about these recipes is that they are all gluten free: after adopting a gluten free diet five years ago, yet still wanting food, drink and entertaining to form an integral part of my family’s life, I realised that there really wasn’t much out there for people like me who enjoy eating. Although many gluten free cookbooks and recipes have been published, I couldn’t find any that just wanted to celebrate delicious good food, without the gluten. Some publications sadly smack of exclusion and regimental discipline, some even demonise certain food groups, or simply jump on a current culinary bandwagon. This is not me: The Plain Kitchen celebrates food and cooking, and embraces all types of food. My recipes are unashamedly and nostalgically steeped in my personal heritage and history, drawing particularly on those invaluable years in my mother’s kitchen, yet I’ve hopefully created dishes that are accessible for a modern lifestyle. Each recipe may be preceded by a cooking anecdote: please excuse my wistful nostalgia, but so many of my memories are rooted in cooking, family and celebrations, both in South Africa, and here in England, that it seems thoughtless not to include them where they belong. Please email me on should you want to enquire about any of the recipes, or leave a comment and I will endeavour to get back to you in at least 24 hours. A Visit to Primrose Cottage 5th August 20165th August 2016 ~ theplainkitchen ~ Leave a comment I have always been a homebody. I love being at home, either on my own, with people, or just with the cat for company. Of course I love travelling and visiting places too, and I am a person who adores people- but I also really like being in my own space. I think it stems from my childhood; those years of my mum being so ill, when my bedroom was a little refuge. Mum had redecorated my entire room when I was ten as a birthday present, and I loved it: she had made everything, from the painted lamp stands, lampshade covers, quilts, curtains, and my absolute little piece of heaven, my own Dolly Varden dressing table. It was all navy and white florals, and I adored it. I stuck posters on my walls, decorated my pinboard, filled my Printer’s Tray with my teeny tiny Wade animals, and lined my books up in perfect, library straight lines. Waiting for our visitor to arrive. Later, after mum died, Soozi my aunt took over the bedroom decorating, and in her infinite kindness and wisdom decided that I again needed a place of refuge, as we had moved from our beloved farm, and I was in a deep state of grieving. My brother was at boarding school, my father was in the middle of an ill-chosen marriage, and Soozi saved the day by ensuring my bedroom was a place I could safely retreat to, with my memories of my mother, and my books. I had a brass bed, and this time, the colours were the dusty pinks and greens of that late eighties time: Biggie Best fabrics, florals, stripes and hearts were my chosen motifs- funny how I still am a florals and stripes person, and nothing please me more than the combination of pink and green. Soozi has continued to ensure that bedrooms are things of comfort and happiness- all of her children and grandchildren around the world have her beautifully embroidered quilts on their beds- things they will carry with them forever. When I was to meet Andy and his family, his mother and father’s home also became a safe haven away from life. Both hugely kind and generous people, they felt that I needed a space of my own, as my father had moved around quite a lot again. They renovated their garage into a spare room for me: and I will never, ever forget the kindness of that gesture. I suffered quite badly from depression in my early twenties, and yet, with my safe haven to retreat to, it helped mend and heal me somewhat. Jean and I went to fabric shops and chose a scheme I liked- in this case, green and white checks, as the room was light, bright, had polished terracotta floor tiles and beautiful Oregon Pine wardrobes and chests of drawers. I adored that room: although was terrified of the monumental spiders that lurked behind pictures on the walls. However, that didn’t stop me retreating to it and sleeping away the black dog when I needed to. In those days, I was saved by well-considered and thoughtful spaces, and most of all, the kindness of people. The outside world was horrible, and scary, and I felt very alone; but in those bedrooms I was able to feel I could be myself: the minute I had to leave and face the outside world, I put my brave face on, I tried to be grown-up and capable, but once I was in my room, the door closed, I was safe. And I could be me. So, for me, decorating and adorning one’s home and space is not frivolous and simply a choice of aesthetics: it is a thing of security, and it always has been. I try to instill a feeling of happiness and security in my own home now, I suppose, and I have done in every little house we have ever lived in. From salvaging pieces from the tip, to painting walls, fabric and surfaces, to hand-sewing curtains when I had no machine, I’ve always, somehow, managed to create a sense of self in the spaces I have lived in. I like a bit of order: I like a lot of stuff, it has to be said, but the clutter has a place, and it has a purpose. I am not fashionable either, and I don’t go with trends. I go with what I like, and what makes me feel happy. Sometimes, it can be a bit of a sensory overload, but I like it that way. There is always something interesting to look at in our rooms, whether or not it be to everyone’s taste is another matter. I am currently preparing for a friend’s visit: she is travelling from Hampshire and is spending the night. My friend and I will have a salad supper with grilled chicken and peaches, I think, chilled Rosé, and lots of chat. We will wake fairly early the following morning, and after lots of cups of tea we will head off to Somerset, where we will be going to Hauser and Wirth in Bruton, and where we will walk through Piet Oudolf’s wonderful garden. Part of the excitement of a friend coming to stay is the spare room preparation; the turfing out of the stretched-out cat a few days before our guest’s arrival, the cleaning and tidying, the fresh linen, the flowers, and, as always, the topping up of the Caramel Wafer Jar. I always think people need a little snack, or at east the promise of one when they are away from home: so I have always included sweeties and surprises in bedrooms. Again, this is something one of those thoughtful people in my life always did: Patti, my godmother, has always had unbelievably well planned guest bedrooms full of surprises. A typical Patti room has everything one needs- and those things one may have forgotten at home too. Barnaby and I stayed with Patti and Colin in Cape Town this February, and of course, it was Barnaby’s turn to first experience a Patti bedroom: little wicker trays of treats, and sweeties, and chocolates, which he could eat all at once if he fancied it, because he was at Patti’s house. A new pair of swimming trunks laid out for Barnaby- so he could always keep a pair there, and be able to jump in the pool when it suited him. My favourite toiletries, much-needed mosquito cream, and new magazines for me to read. When someone prepares a room for you in this way, you don’t just feel welcomed. You feel that you are home. So, today’s post is all about the home. It’s about Primrose Cottage, this little wonky, ancient but beautiful cottage in which we have lived for four years. It made me cry the minute I set foot in it all those years ago: it was a feeling of warmth, of coming home, of happiness that enveloped me, and those feelings are still here, in each room. Hopefully, as the seasons change, I’ll be able to share a little more about the space we live in with you, from high Summer to Winter Snow. I hope that other people feel equally as warm when they come here. Having friends and guests over isn’t just about the food and wine- it’s about the space your guests will find themselves in. I hope, when people stay or are with us for an evening, they feel safe, and secure and content. I hope they have fun. I hope they feel happy. My old school laundry bag, which mum made from that blue floral bedroom fabric The Day After The Night Before 2nd August 20165th August 2016 ~ theplainkitchen ~ Leave a comment Food, and eating, are generally the answer to very many of life’s woes, and none more so than when one is remarkably hungover. This was just the case this weekend- Saturday morning arrived, the creeping sunlight through my little bedroom window, and with it, that rather sinister feeling that Friday night’s escapades were going to continue to revisit me throughout the entire day. It had been a very, very fun night- a birthday party at a friend’s, and a late one. Lots of friends, lots of laughing, drinking (not that much eating- and therein lay the problem) and dancing. The dancing bit I was reminded of by someone the next morning. Oh well. Sleep, water and Nurofen assist, of course they do: but more than anything, for me at least, is to eat. Cooking too, is restorative and comforting, as if I am signaling to my body that all is right with the world, all is sensible and civilized again, and silliness is not to be revisited -for a while, at least. Barnaby has been going on about Steak Frites of late: he thinks that one visit to a Café Rouge has turned him into the world’s most knowledgeable gourmand, and, I suppose, after his Moules Frites and Snails, he may just be well on his way to becoming a real little foodie. So, Lamb and Chips it was to be: steak was going to be the choice, but a visit to the butcher made the decision for us: the lamb looked far too good to ignore. I made a simple tomato, basil & mozzarella salad, and a green salad with radishes and cucumbers, dressed in a slightly sweet Dijon dressing. The courgettes were brushed with garlic olive oil and grilled on the barbecue along with the lamb, which I had rubbed with a well pounded mix of fresh rosemary and Maldon salt. The chips, however, were the real little stars here: I parboiled Maris Pipers, sliced and dried them well, and once fried, I had ready a mix of Microplaned garlic, salt and paprika, which I rubbed over the hot chips. Lots of cups of tea followed, and, along with a trashy family movie on the sofa, we finally began to feel a little more human again. The following day we ended up following a rather similar pattern (minus the hangover). Pancakes for breakfast, and lunch, again a barbecue, consisted of chicken marinaded in yoghurt and paprika, sweetcorn and jacket potatoes on the fire, halloumi, also on the fire, and lots of salads again. Have a wonderful week, everyone, and happy holiday eating and drinking. The Best Tools For The Job 25th July 20165th August 2016 ~ theplainkitchen ~ Leave a comment Cooking and being in the kitchen is such a subjective and emotive thing; so many people (me included) love being in the space, and can think of nothing better than time spent in the kitchen. So many people, however, also fear the place a little- people who aren’t naturally predisposed to cooking can find the whole thing a little daunting. In writing the blog over the last year, I’ve had many enquiries, texts and emails about my methods, my ingredients, where to source certain things, and of course, many queries about what tools I couldn’t live without- that’s been the most common comment- “What would you say is your best tool? What do you use every day? What couldn’t you live without?” Well, I can’t pinpoint exactly which is my absolute favourite (although, if you have read any of my recipes, you will probably say it’s my Microplane). I decided to write a few posts about what I consider to be my most useful tools and items in the kitchen. Today’s post is about the top ten little tools, the ones I really use every day, or at least every second day or week. I’ve not dickied up the images, I’ve not bought new tools just for the photo opportunity- these tools you see before you have been used, some have food still attached to them I think, some of them (at least in the case of the peeler and the wooden fork-spoon) I have had for at least 16 years. Bearing in mind that we have only been living in England for 19 years, and arrived as poverty-stricken newlyweds with only our backpacks and sleeping bags, I think that’s pretty good going. The next equipment installment will be next week, where I focus on larger implements such as pots and the like. I think the one common theme you will find running through these lists is that each tool is not used for only ONE thing. They double, triple, quadruple up their function, and are therefore extremely good value for money. I haven’t provided links to buy the tools, but where appropriate, I have included a brand name where I think it is of utmost importance. We are all ok with googling things, so I have left it up to you to see where the best deals can be found. I have also resisted the urge to work backwards, ie, leaving the best till last. I have started with my best and favourite Number One, and worked down to Ten. Each tool I adore, and have been known to pack all ten in my suitcase on holiday (ok- a fib- not the Pestle and Mortar!). Enjoy- and please, please let me know of any tools that are your best and favourite. Number One The Microplane I use this every day, without a shred of a lie. I use it for garlic- mostly, but of course for lemon and other zests, and for parmesan cheese, when I want a fine, translucent, instantly disappearing sort of finish to my parmesan. I use it (probably weekly) for ginger- peel a knob of ginger, and there you go- you are left with the most wonderful ginger paste after microplaning it. I wish that I had never wasted money on silly garlic crushers and presses- I wish that I had known more in my youth (but then again, isn’t hindsight a wonderful thing). I did make the mistake, however, of purchasing a plastic framed Microplane, instead of the metal and rubber one you see before you- and it didn’t do as well as this one. The Perspex/plastic cracked after too much use and washing, so it really wasn’t the best buy. I would love to have a few more Microplanes in my collection- their range has grown since I first purchased the tool, and they all look pretty impressive. My favourite thing about the Microplane is that it stays unutterably sharp throughout its life, and it doesn’t retain smells- I shave garlic cloves, only to rinse it under hot soapy water, dry it, and then zest a lemon for a cake- and there is no hint of the flavour that preceded the lemon. Invaluable. Buy one now. Number Two Hand Held Blender I’ve had a few of these in my time- as have most of us, I reckon. I know they are called stick-blenders too, but, like so many culinary phrases (pulled pork, and brunch, just to name two) I just don’t like the sound of it. So I opt for the rather more convoluted “Hand-held Blender”). I’m fussy with words and their sounds, and I am known to physically shudder at certain words when they are either written or uttered. I do not think I am alone in this. Don’t get me started on moist, or writhing, either. Back to basics. This particular blender has lasted me the longest- and it was from John Lewis. Fingers crossed it lasts me another 8 years… what I would say is please, please do not buy melamine/plastic ones- they crack, stain and are not worth it. Go stainless steel all the way. I use mine probably every day of the week: I blitz smoothies with it, pestos, milkshakes, salsa, seeds, herbs, dips, soups, sauces- the list is pretty infinite. I never submerge the half of the blender that has whizzed up the sauce in water- I only rinse the blades under running water- that front part of the implement is the only thing that is rinsed- and I think this has prolonged the life of my blender. I always do this- I never submerge any implement that I know is going to be plugged or inserted into another electronic device in water- partly because I shy away from electricity and water (I know it’s not actually ON, but in my mind the link is still there) but also that I think it’s not necessary- I am a “clean as you go” cook- on an everyday basis- I wash and stack as I have used something, as it is generally me who washes up (I use my dishwasher for large things and plates)- so it makes sense to clean and rinse as I go, if possible. You will never regret this purchase. I promise. Number Three Wooden Fork-Spoon Now, this is my own little weird amalgamation. I had, years ago (about 16 years, I’d say) some wooden salad servers, and one night while cooking I needed a fork to break up the mince for a ragu, and I was using a non-stick frying pan- I couldn’t use metal- so I reached for the closest thing in the drawer which was the wooden fork part of the salad server duo. It was perfect- utterly perfect- and it remained my sauce stirring companion from that day onwards. You can see just how knackered it is- I like how I have worn it down on one particular tine, I love how it is stained with the thousands of sauces and stews it has been a part of, and I love how it isn’t a proper thing- it was a make-do and mend sort of thing, and it has proved itself a hundred times over. It also, as I am using it, reminds me of Patti, my godmother. I have mentioned before that two of my strongest influences growing up after mum died were my godmother Patti, and my aunt Soozi- both homemakers, cooks, creatives and all round good-eggs. Beautiful women, strong women, and women who are with me (even though oceans are between us) every day of my life. Patti makes “Patti Mince”- you know those meals that make you feel safe, comforted and loved? Those ones that transport you back to the smells and sights of your most secure childhood places? That’s what Patti Mince does, and she has a similar spoon, which as I write, I can see before me. My spoon-fork is part of my life, and I hope will be a part of my future, too, no matter how knackered it gets. Of course, you can buy wooden forks from anywhere- try to spend a little more on them, otherwise they are liable to split, and of course, oil them well before use to discourage breaking and splitting. I have to say, I am rather pathetically attached to mine, and when I use it for a sauce or stew, I think it imparts something inexplicable and precious to the meal. I can hear you laughing at me already. Number Four The Silicon Spatula I have a lovely little family of these- they remind me of a squished flat skinny little Barbarpapa family- the wibbly wobbly silicon in their pastel colours, all at angles with each other in my utensil jars and holders. You do need a fair few of these- in differing sizes, it must be said. However, if you are to buy just one, please buy a mid-sized one such as this- it will do you very well indeed. Also, please do not buy a plastic handled and plastic blade type one- one where the entire thing is made of rubber or plastic, and I’ll tell you why. Most often, through lots of use, the plastic blade part at the top becomes disengaged from the handle, and of course, not only is this a bit unhygienic as all sorts of detritus gets caught between the handle and the blade when you try to put it back together, it is quite the most infuriating thing when you are scraping your perfect mounds of pavlova-snow onto a baking tray, only for the blade part to rip itself away from the handle and lose itself in the mounds of sugary egg white. I lose all sense of humour when this happens. It’s not worth it- pay a little extra (as is, generally, the case) and your spatulas will last you for years and years. What do I use mine for? Everything. I hate waste, so I scrape off every last bit of egg mayo, pesto, sauce, stew, jam, cake mixture- anything- and the variety of sizes help with this. The little ones go round the curves of a mortar perfectly, the larger ones do their best in the bowl of a Kitchenaid. Go for it, and get the whole Barbarpapa family of coloured spatulas. Number Five Pestle and Mortar Of course, this comes as no surprise. I am sure you will all have one of these, from little tiny ones, which quite frankly are useless, to giant, cumbersome yet beautiful ones capable of making a pesto to feed the five thousand. Mine, however, is a compromise. It’s mid-way. But the most important thing is that it is made from rough granite- and this is what you need for speed and excellent pounding and blending. I used to have small little thing- and it was no good. I was glad when it broke, as it forced me to buy another. I’m a bit funny like that- and I suppose it’s a hangover (in a good way) from my very frugal mother. I use something, and make the best of it, until I really, really need to replace it, or it breaks, or the dog chews it. As I have grown older, I have realised that perhaps I do not need to masochistically torture myself (literally and figuratively) by using inappropriate implements, and I do now invest a little more regularly in tools- but the frugality, I have to say, stays with me. I love this pestle and mortar- I use it to pound seeds, crack open pods, pound fresh and dried herbs, grind peppercorns, smush up fruit- so very many things. If you are wary of spending a lot on yours, don’t forget that outlets such as TK Maxx often have such items at a greatly reduced price- it’s worth a look. Number Six A good peeler There are a plethora of these highly dangerous items for sale, and it can really, really be difficult to know just which is the best (and, ahem, safest). I go on about the safe bit because I have cut myself a thousand times with knives and peelers, but then again, I am not the most agile and co-ordinated of creatures, so perhaps it is just me. This is an OXO brand- and I think it far surpasses any I have tried. I have used stainless steel handled ones (heavy and cumbersome) I have used ones you slip on your finger (Well, seriously- is that not an accident waiting to happen?) And I have used exorbitantly priced, fashionable multicoloured numbers which do not swivel and therefore are not worth their salt. This little one is great- if it had a fault, it would be those little rubber gills you see on either side of the peeler- you can see where one side had been eroded, from where I use it so much. Washing the peeler and using it a great deal causes the rubber to perish. Perhaps they have changed the design recently- I don’t know. This peeler has been used almost every day for 16 years, and I love it. The blade swivels, so hugs the curves of a carrot well, the size of the blade means I can thinly slice courgette and the like, and it washes easily. It’s just perfect- although, because of the black colour, be careful of throwing the implement away with the vegetable peelings. It can become camouflaged. My little boy has used this peeler for years- it is safe for little hands too. Number Seven One good knife I have a very strange opinion about knives. And, I have a confession to make. I use Kitchen Devil knives a lot in my prep- which are completely frowned upon by the cooking world, I know, but I adore them. I remember walking into a Kitchen shop that thought itself way above its station, asked if they stocked Kitchen Devils, and the gentleman closed his eyes at me, shook his head disparagingly, and said, “Oh, we DON’T do THOSE here. Perhaps you could try Robert Dyas?” To which I curtly thanked him, left the shop, and of course bought my Kitchen Devils elsewhere. And then told everyone how awful the shop was, and continued, for the next ten years, to buy all of my kitchenalia from other, far friendlier places. Be kind, and be lovely, and be polite- it doesn’t cost much. Woe betide those who can’t abide by this basic human principle, I say. The one pictured above isn’t a Devil- it’s an expensive, good knife, and again, their are so many excellent brands out there that it’s up to you really as to what’s best for you. Most of my Kitchen Devils are serrated- and I will be writing about them in a second post, but this little number in the picture is a great non-serrated knife, which I use for everything- chopping veg, of course, but it’s the best for finely chopping herbs- which I do every day. I use it to slice rare steak, carve a chicken, debone a lamb, and fillet a fish (I am rubbish at that last one- but I try). It may not be the exact, precise tool for each job, but, in a daily cook’s kitchen, it does the trick. Buy well- please. Spend a huge amount on one good knife, and then, as I will explain in a later post, buy Devils. Number Eight Kitchen Scissors Or, “Soozi Scissors”. Scissors are Soozi’s favourite kitchen utensil. And, now they are mine, too. You will never, ever, chop bacon again. As I mentioned with Patti, Soozi was my other mum growing up, and really, in Soozi’s books, if scissors could do it, why in God’s name would you use anything else? The funny thing is, and I suppose this is why Sooz loved scissors, is that she was a designer, and seamstress- the sewing, quilting, making, tapestry, embroidery, bloody everything that came, and still comes out of this woman’s home is unbelievable. She helped me make my Matric (Prom) dress and teenage fixations (mattress ticking fabric skinny jeans, anyone, with copper zips at the ankles? I thought not). She made my wedding dress. She made my baby’s quilts. She taught me, a million times, how to join the groin part of a shorts and trousers pattern together properly. Although, it must be said, I sewed them together wrong far too often, and she made me unpick them every time. Scissors are one of our lifelong tools in our family, and I think all of us have a myriad of Fiskars lying about the place. Woe betide anyone who used my mother’s (or Patti, or Soozi’s) scissors. “DO NOT use my sewing scissors!” was always the yell at my father, my brother, my cousins, anyone: those of you who are makers will know the sacrosanct nature of scissors. If you use them for the function they are not generally used for, you blunt them and ruin them, and you are in deep, deep trouble. These scissors of mine in the kitchen are “cheapies”. They are not Fiskars or any other very good brand, and I will tell you why. I have a young son, who loves to make, do and help around the kitchen, and he uses the scissors for anything and everything. I have decided that, for the last 7 years and next few too, these are my kitchen scissors which I’m quite happy that he uses too. We sharpen them on our slipstone (more about that little number in another post) and they are perfect for slicing bacon, spatching a chicken, and, using tips facing downwards, chopping herbs in a bowl or tub. I use them to chop marshmallows and chocolate bars and to open Tetrapaks and parcels and silly food nets. If you haven’t ever prepped bacon using scissors- do it now. You will be amazed at the speed and excellence of the things. Number Nine Metal Whisk Now we are starting to think about not really-everyday cooking, but, perhaps, weekly cooking and prep. I adore my whisk- I have another, bigger balloon silicone whisk, but truth be told, it is rather cumbersome, and I don’t think gives the clean whip this one does. Try to find one with a heavy stainless steel handle, so that you get a good grip on it. It must be all steel too- very important, and good for cleaning too. I use mine for white sauces (I make a lot of these), cream, dressings, egg whites (I use the Kitchenaid for most of these egg-white situations, but sometimes, I go back to a whisk). Pancake batters, omelette and frittata prep, a whisk is a failsafe tool for ensuring a lump free sauce- and a good custard too. I often whip cream in this way- and ask Andy to help me along the way, as it can be quite a tiresome and strenuous job whipping a large bowl of cream by hand, but, if the Kitchenaid is already in use- I often have to go this route. Andy overwhips the cream every single time I ask him for help- and I don’t blame him one jot, although I do laugh at him every time. He looks at me aghast and says “I don’t know what I did!” And of course, that’s the case with whisking: one extra whisk or turn of a strong hand, and its overwhipped. Of course, all is not lost- all you do is loosen the cream with milk or thin cream, and it’s perfect. But I do laugh at the overwhipping- it happens in the blink of an eye- be careful! Number Ten Tea Strainer I again, may, just once, have mentioned it, but tea, along with good wine, is one of my favourite things to drink. And I like a blend. A blend of Assam and Earl Grey leaves. I like about 5 cups a day (mugs, to be perfectly honest, large, thin lipped, Tintin and Haddock themed mugs), and the only way to get this is with the use of a tea strainer. This one is (as you can see ) wonky and well worn, and is a little heavy one the handle, but it does the job. It rests on cups and makes wonderful teas, and doesn’t let any stray leaves through either. However, as I have mentioned before, a utensil is made all the more worthwhile if it has more than one use. I use this for sifting icing sugar, coffee granules, cocoa and the like over puds and cakes- and it works perfectly. There are, of course, tea bags in our house for those who prefer them, but most people will either endure or enjoy the mix of tea we offer them. I would love, love to hear what your favourite items in the kitchen are. Please leave a comment, or email or text or phone. I hope this little list has been useful, or at least, has made you smile. Happy cooking in these Summer days, everyone. Puff Pastry Swirls and Tarts 10th July 20165th August 2016 ~ theplainkitchen ~ Leave a comment Parmesan and Pecan Swirls Date, Blue Cheese & Walnut Puffs These little puff pastry tarts and swirls are super easy to make- and I really do not apologise for using ready rolled pastry. I always try to have a pack of ready rolled butter puff pastry to hand, as I find it an invaluable staple when entertaining, particularly if you want quick, easy but pretty little snacks. These puffs and swirls are perfect with a glass of something like a brandy, or similar- I often find that folk are still quite happy to eat delicious little things towards the end of an evening, and these fit the bill perfectly. I work on quantities for one roll of 375g puff pastry here: the quantities given for each recipe will make 24 little date and blue cheese puffs, and 24 parmesan swirls. Please ensure you use butter puff pastry: the other sort has awful stuff in it- the butter one is the one to seek out, please. Although these can be made ahead of time, I tend to serve mine pretty swiftly, as I do think they are better eaten immediately. Of course, these are not gluten free- but I don’t feel my guests have to go without delicious little nibbles in the form of puff pastry just because I can’t enjoy them! I work on about 3-4 snacks per person, so I reckon each recipe will serve 6 people. Preheat Oven to 180 degrees Celsius Date, Walnut & Blue Cheese Puffs: Ingredients: 1 pack ready rolled butter puff pastry (375g) 90g Danish Blue cheese, or similar Good squeeze of runny honey ? cup walnuts, chopped About 10 Medjool dates, pitted & finely chopped Good grinding black pepper 2 rashers smoked streaky bacon, cut into 24 little pieces 30g melted butter Method: Please ensure that the pastry is cold before you work with it. Mix the cheese, honey, walnuts, pepper and dates together well. Line 2 baking trays with baking parchment. Place the sheet of pastry on a lightly floured surface. Use two different scone cutters, one 2cm in diameter, and another slightly bigger- 3 cm in diameter. Use the bigger scone cutter to cut rounds from the pastry, and then use the smaller one to lightly imprint a circle within each cut round: you want the filling to sit in the inner circle, and the edges to puff up, and by lightly scoring a smaller circle inside the bigger one, you will allow this excellent rise to happen. Brush the entire puff with the melted butter. Once you have done this, place a little of the cheese mixture into each puff- try not to go over the edges of your scored circle. Top with a little piece of the smoked streaky bacon, and place 10-12 puffs on each baking tray- don’t crowd them too close together. Bake for 12-15 minutes in a preheated oven until golden and puffed- I place mine on the top shelf as it is the immediate intense heat which will give a very good rise to your puffs. Serve immediately. Parmesan Pecan Swirls Again, quantities will work based on a pack of 375g puff pastry here. Instead of cutting little tarts using a scone cutter, you will be cutting the rectangle in half, then rolling each half up into a sausage type shape, then cutting the rolled sausage into pieces. Placed on their little whorled sides, sealed with melted butter and dusted with a few extra parmesan sprinkles, baked like this, they will retain their shape and bake themselves into the prettiest, golden swirls. Line two baking trays with parchment. Ensure the oven is preheated to 180 degrees. Also ensure that the pastry is cold. Ingredients: 1x 375g ready rolled puff pastry ? cup grated parmesan ? cup grated cheddar (use the small side of the grater, please) 1 small clove garlic, microplaned 1 cup pecan nuts, toasted lightly and then finely chopped Good grinding black pepper Pinch white pepper Good pinch Maldon salt 40g melted butter Method: Mix the cheeses, chopped pecan nuts, garlic and seasoning well. Ensure the garlic is rubbed into the cheese- as though you would butter for scones. Unroll the sheet of pastry onto a floured surface, and lightly brush the edges of the rectangle with the melted butter. Sprinkle 70% of the cheese mixture over the whole unrolled sheet of puff pastry- you need to reserve 30% of the mixture to dip the edges of the swirls in later. Using a sharp non-serrated knife, slice the large rectangle in half, so that you have two smaller rectangles. Now roll each one up- you want long thin sausage shapes, so roll from the longer ends, not the shorter ends. Once you have tow long thin sausage shapes, pinch the long edge to seal the sausage down the side- otherwise the roll is liable to pop open. A gentle pinch is all you are after. Brush the sausages with more melted butter, and sprinkle each sausage with the remaining cheese and nut mixture. It’s a fairly messy process, but worth it. Now, again using a very sharp non serrated knife, cut each sausage into 10-12 pieces each, and place each swirl onto a baking tray, with the little whorled sides facing upwards. Bake in a hot preheated oven, on the top shelf, for 12-15 minutes, until golden and puffed. Serve immediately. Bunny Chow 7th July 20162nd August 2016 ~ theplainkitchen ~ Leave a comment Today’s post is the final one in my 365 day culinary challenge. Here goes… I know I have said it to you all before- but thank you. Thank you for encouraging me, for reading these ridiculous posts, and for cooking the meals and for responding to me. I have loved chatting to everyone, I’ve loved meeting new people, and reconnecting with old friends, and I have really enjoyed the fact that some of these recipes are in fact now being cooked by people on a regular basis. That, for me, is the best thing ever. I have always said that having people stay with us, and cooking for them, is one of my favourite things ever. I love the preparation, the ritual, the organisation, and, most important of all, the sitting down and eating and drinking, the chatting, the laughing, the being silly and making, most of the time, complete fools of ourselves, is a good way to spend a weekend. Friends, food, and just being together: I really don’t think I could spend a weekend in a better place. When you are with those you love, you find that once you’ve left them, or they’ve left you, you’re utterly, ridiculously exhausted. Exhausted from all the talk, the laughing, the everything. But you know what else happens after you see your friends? You’re energised. You come away feeling happy, and smiling, and, even though you are literally crawling into bed with tiredness, you feel ready to take on the world with the energy and positivity you’ve gained from being with them. And this is what I have taken away from The Plain Kitchen. It has exhausted me, it has drained me of the ability to speak at times, but it has also inspired me and imbued me with a new found creativity and excitement which I haven’t felt in a long time. Parameters, and constraints are a good thing: I am not very disciplined, and as I said to a friend recently- this discipline has been good for me. I can only recommend this manner of work to anybody who may be in a similar situation to me: I was entering into a year of memories, many of which were not that positive. As I have said before- when you reach the age of the age your parent was when they died, a lot of stuff goes through your head. It just does. It’s normal. And, at 42, I wanted to focus on the positive, and I wanted to celebrate. I think I have done that, a little. And so I end the year with one of my best things in the world. Today’s post, for Bunny Chow (or, a quarter Lamb Bunny, to be precise) represents so much. I am South African; I am African. My country of birth, and the country I lived in for 23 years is in my blood, and in my life, and it will never leave me; it will soar through my veins, its music will take me over, my tears will fall at the most unexpected of times, and I will only really feel alive under the African sun. I am, though, also British. I am wildly, fiercely, defensively British. This is my country, my home, my love. It is the country that has welcomed me for the last 19 years, it has loved me, and it has enveloped me into its tightly knit heart- it has seen me change from awkward twentysomething, to a grown-up (or so I thought) thirty something, to now (really grown-up; I think) forty-something: and I am in love with this island, and I never want to be parted from it. We are what we make of ourselves; we are where we have been; and the world is a good place. We all have to hold this in our hearts; we all have to remember this; for else we will implode. Back to today’s final little lovely recipe. Bunny Chow, ladies and gentlemen, is a South African take-away favourite. The basic premise is always the same: a quarter or half loaf of (shop bought, generally cheap) white bread, the inside hollowed out, the cavity filled with curry or a stew of sorts, and served with the hollowed-out chunk of bread on the side. No cutlery, no nothing- and usually served in newspaper or a chip-type greaseproof packet (note I have used the South African word ‘packet’ here- not bag- which confused the hell out of me when I arrived on these shores). You eat with your hands, and you wipe your hands wherever you can find a place to wipe them: your jeans, a paper towel, the dog: wherever. One of my favourite bunny chows, ever, was one that we used to eat at about 3 or 4 in the morning, heading home after a night out, and bought from a very dodgy roadside van just outside Pietermaritzburg. It was a Spicy Chicken Giblet Bunny Chow: and yes, that’s just what was in it. Blow-your-head-off-chilli-giblets. In a loaf of bread. God, we loved them! Giblets were very common things to eat in South Africa, and when I came to live in England, I couldn’t believe that every chicken I bought was devoid of the giblets- why, oh why, would one do such a thing? They are the most wonderful things to cook, and to eat- but no British chook had its giblets, and they still don’t. The Bunny Chow therefore has a fond place in my memory as part of these late night spiced visits- it may be due to the state I was in at the time, but memories are strong things, and, like love, they override common sense at times. Here a little recipe is for you: I have used a shoulder of lamb, and I cooked it for a long time… you must use cheap, white bread. I, of course, as pictured, used a brilliant large white gluten free loaf from Bath Bakery, because that’s what I can have! But, the rest of you: tuck in to the supermarket stuff. Now, the thing is, with our mixed culture and influences in South Africa; Bunny Chow has its roots in our Indian cooking. However, as I write, I am overtaken by the most African of flavours; we are a country of mixtures: and none more so in our cooking. As I write this recipe, I am listening to my beloved Ladysmith Black Mambazo (Shaka Zulu, if you’re interested is the album: not a popular one, but my favourite). If anything were to reduce me to tears, this is it. Listen to them, feel the crazy mix of culinary influence Africa has to offer you, make this recipe, and feel a little of Africa inside you. Serves 2, very generously Ingredients: 1 loaf of white, unsliced bread For the curry: I small shoulder of lamb, about 500g meat in total cut from the bone 2 tbsp ghee, or, if you don’t have, a combination of salted butter and vegetable oil 2 white onions, sliced thinly 3 cloves garlic, microplaned 1 knob ginger, about 5 cm in length, peeled and microplaned 1 tsp ground cumin 1 tsp ground coriander ? tsp fenugreek 1 tsp mustard seeds, ground to a powder 1 fat chilli, seeds retained, chopped 1 tsp turmeric 1 star anise 2 cardamom pods, pods discarded and seeds crushed 1 tbsp stock powder: Marigold, or lamb stock, whatever you have to hand 1 tin plum tomatoes 1 tsp caster sugar Maldon salt and pepper Fresh coriander and parsley to serve and stir through the curry at the end Method: Make the curry, if you can, the day before. It will be very good if you cook it for 4-5 hours on the day of eating; of course it will. But- it will be fantastic cooked for those hours, and then kept, and reheated for a few hours the next day. I have to say, it will not be good with two hours of cooking: I am being honest with you here, just don’t do it. Good old fashioned stew, or curry, with a cheaper cut of meat, needs time. Don’t do the meat a disservice. So, going on this rather draconian advice of mine, please sauté the onion, garlic and ginger in the oil or ghee, or whatever you’re using, AND the shoulder meat, for 5 minutes. Do this on a medium high heat, but carefully. Add the spices, and stir about for a few minutes. Turn the heat up, and begin to brown the meat further- for only a few minutes, but to ensure those gorgeous flavours permeate the meat. Keep stirring for about another 5-10 minutes. Add the tinned tomatoes, sugar and the salt and pepper. Now, you need to simmer this for a long time: 4 hours is good, or, as I said previously, make it earlier, and then reheat when you are ready to eat. Ensure you remove the star anise from the curry before serving. Pour into the halved loaves, and serve with the extra bread on the side. Posts navigation Previous Follow Enter your email address: Search for: Proudly powered by WordPress ~ Theme: Penscratch by Whois

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