Category Archives: Cooking

Quickies – cheating again

Once again, far too many days have slipped past without a post.  This is going to be a quickie, too, because Kitty and I have a table waiting at Tsuyu for some sushi – the best in Jo’burg, many say…

Two quick meals to write up, both of which provided some tasty leftovers for lunch or dinner during the week.

First up, cheating with beef olives:  All the recipe books tell you how to make your own beef olives, and, I’m sure, all the purists would tell me that DIY is the only way to go.  This, however, is about bachelor cooking – so the odd cheat here and there is the norm.  This includes beef olives, which I buy in raw, but cook in a sauce of my own making.

For those of who in the northern parts of Johannesburg, the German butchery at Deco Park, Northriding (Tirolean Meat aka Berliner Deli and Grill) supplies superb meat, including beef olives.  Trusty Woolworths also sell great beef olives.  I usually allow two per person (plus a left-over allowance), as the meal tends to be rich and filling once you factor in gravy and starch.  A great winter dish.

Earlier this week, as I continued my quest to empty out my freezer (to make room for some new leftovers, of course!), I found some beef olives hiding under a cover of frost and decided that their time had come to be eaten.  I also found some gravy left over from my last beef olive cook-out, so thawed that out, too.  As you’ll see from the following write-up, this dish managed to consume a few more leftover-survivors before I was done.

I have used Gordon Ramsay’s “Angus beef olive” recipe several times.  He makes a simple gravy using flour, tomato paste, red wine and beef stock.  This time around, however, I felt like something different – and the leftover gravy was nowhere near enough for the frost-burnt beef olives I was seeking to eradicate.  I also had some carrots and celery lurking in the fridge.  A quick Google search turned up a BBC Food recipe (http://www.bbcgoodfood.com/recipes/1157635/beef-olives) that provided the desired inspiration.

Once again, my faithful Jamie Oliver / T-Fal sauté pan was hauled onto the stove.  I put the oven onto 180C to heat up whilst warmed some olive oil in which I melted some butter, then browned the beef olives.  The trick, I think, is to brown them quickly, but not at too high a heat, in the hope that they will not become tough (fat chance with this frosty survivors, sadly).  Whilst the beef olives kept warm in a casserole dish, I first fried up some bacon pieces, then sautéed some chopped carrot, celery and onion.  I’d also found some dried porcini mushrooms hiding in the fridge (yet another chance to clean out the appliance), and put them into some warm water to reconstitute.

Once the vegetables had softened a bit, I lobbed in half a tin of jam tomatoes (yet another find from the freezer compartment) and a big squeeze of tomato paste, and let things simmer a while longer.  I mashed up the tomato pieces, then added some glugs (very scientific measurements, these) of fine red wine and beef stock.  That was followed by the now-soft porcini mushrooms, as well as the water they had been soaking in.  A few more minutes on a low simmer, some salt and freshly-ground black pepper, and things were tasting very good indeed.  If I was going to leave the sauce as-is, I would probably have added some mustard earlier in the process.  This time around, however, I had that leftover gravy to use, so lobbed that into the pan to warm through. It already had some mustard in it.

Once the oven was up to temperature (180°C), I poured the gravy over the beef olives in the oven-proof casserole dish, put the lid on and popped it all into the oven for 20 minutes or so.  It was all rather delicious over some plain basmati rice, washed down with the remnants of the bottle of red wine that I’d opened to make the gravy.  I liked the slightly chunkier gravy, with the cubes of carrot, celery, onion and bacon.  Some recipes I saw online suggested pureeing things to get a smoother gravy, but I don’t think that would be necessary.  I enjoyed the remaining beef olives, rice and gravy for lunch today (no wine, sadly), sitting outside on the patio enjoying the winter sun.

The second dish I cooked recently (last Sunday, to be precise, although the preparations were made on Saturday) was Chicken Yassa.  Google tells me that Yassa is a West African dish – originally, it seems, made with monkey!  The Chicken Yassa recipe that caught my attention, however, was at the back of my Larousse Gastronomique (yet another epicunary gift from Kitty).  Of course, I could not bring myself to follow the recipe exactly, so made a tweak or two – and, when I repeat it, I will make further changes.  Google, again, informs me that there any number of variants on the theme.

Given that I had no monkey (not something normally found on the shelves at Woolworths, unless it is someone’s ill-bred and ill-behaved loin-spawn…) and I did not feel like jointing a whole chicken, I cheated (again, as usual, как обычна) by using chicken portions.  I had some chicken drumsticks and wings lurking in that freezer I somehow never manage to empty, and bought some fresh thighs and drums to extend the quantity (I think I cooked 2 thighs and 4 each of the drums and wings).

I had some fresh limes lurking in the fruit bowl, so zested and juiced 3 of them.  The juice plus some of the zest went into the mixing bowl (the original recipe did not call for zest, but I feel that it adds a spark to dishes) along with a glug of peanut oil, two chopped chillies (again, a not-so-slight increase on the recipe’s quantity), salt, freshly-ground black pepper and three onions, sliced.  Next time around, I think that only 2 onions will suffice.  I sliced them into rings but, next time, I would halve them before slicing, or cut them across the rings into little wedges (much like one would cut them for Thai cooking, or stir-fries).  I think that, next time, I might add a crushed clove of garlic, too.

I put the chicken pieces into a large freezer bag, inside a bowl, poured in the marinade, then squeezed out the air and knotted the top of the bag.  The bowl with the bag of marinating chicken went into the fridge around lunchtime on Saturday, and sat there until Sunday lunchtime.  Every few hours I would work the bag and move the chicken pieces around, ensuring that everything got covered in the marinade.

On Sunday, I lit a fire in the Weber and let burn down to a nice set of hot coals, then emptied the contents of the marinade bag into a colander over a bowl.  I picked out all the chicken pieces, which I browned over the coals of the fire.  Importantly, you’re not aiming to cook the chicken all the way through – you’re just aiming to brown the skin and impart that lovely, smokey fire flavour to the meat.  The onions went into that reliable T-Fal sauté pan, with a little oil, to soften and brown, and the marinade went to one side.  Once both the chicken and the onions had browned, they were reunited in the pan, along with the marinade.  The lid was popped on and they were all left to simmer for 20 minutes or so, whilst the rice finished steaming.

Lunch was then served: the chicken pieces placed on a bed of steamed basmati rice, with the onions forked on top and a few spoonfuls of the sauce poured over the whole lot.  Delicious! (the leftovers served as dinner during the week).

Bits and pieces – catching up

It’s again been a while since I last found / made the time to try and catch up with the many notes I have made of ideas for this blog.  This posting comprises a number of bits and pieces, covering various meals and dishes, some of which I’ll write up in detail in separate posts.

I’m writing this late on Sunday afternoon, outside on my patio enjoying the last of the winter sun’s warmth.  Johannesburg has superb weather in winter, but it can be a little chilly. Lunch today was some of that soup I wrote about in my last post, “Winter food – time for soup”, jazzed up with some of Dave’s Devil Juice (more of that shortly), and a slice or two of the focaccia bread I made yesterday.

I spoilt myself earlier this week and bought a KitchenAid mixer.  Until now, I have made do in the kitchen with a liquidiser, an old food processor (with a few slicing / chopping blades), a handheld mixer and a mini food processor (very useful for preparing sauces or chopping up a handful of ingredients).  I had been wanting to make bread for a while and had tired of all the hard work in making pasta dough, so wanted a machine with a dough hook that could do the hard work for me.  I also wanted to get back into baking, which I had largely ignored since my childhood (when I learnt to bake out of sheer desperation, because my mother was not that good at baking cakes or anything that involved yeast or dough).

My new kitchen toy, complete with accessories

My new kitchen toy, complete with accessories

The little orange Le Creuset pan to the right of the picture was a gift from Kitty this week, as a thank-you for some DIY I’d done at her place.  I’d seen a mate using a similar small pan to make some sauce for dinner last Saturday, and had told Kitty I’d like something similar.  (I also bought myself a mandolin, which I have to even unpack, but I have some ideas for its use shortly).

Rosemary and olive oil focaccia dough

Rosemary and olive oil focaccia dough

I put my new toy to work on a recipe for rosemary and olive oil focaccia bread, which I had seen in a recent newspaper article (http://www.iol.co.za/lifestyle/food-drink/recipes/impress-with-olive-oil-recipes-1.1530052#.Ub3ENPmno4c).  I cannot recall when I last (if ever) cooked anything involving yeast – I am sure I must have cooked with it before, but cannot recall when.  Anyway, when I saw the recipe in the ‘paper I decided to give it a bash – an expensive bash, given the cost of a KitchenAid…

The focaccia bread, drizzled with olive oil, ready to go into the oven

The focaccia bread, drizzled with olive oil, ready to go into the oven

Making the dough was a pleasure, thanks to my new toy and its dough hook.

The focaccia bread, hot out of the oven

The focaccia bread, hot out of the oven

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A large paint scraper or putty knife makes short work of cleaning flour off the work surface after making dough or pastry

A large paint scraper or putty knife makes short work of cleaning flour off the work surface after making dough or pastry

 

Here’s a tip for cleaning up after making dough or pastry:  a large flat paint scraper or putty knife makes short work of scraping all the flour and dough / pastry scraps together.

 

 

 

 

I mentioned “Dave’s Devil Juice” in my last posting, about the soup, and earlier today.  Like the soup, it is named after B’s father, Dave.  When I first met B, I enjoyed a bit of heat and some chillies, but her family introduced me to the “habit” of chewing on fresh chillies, as a quick accompaniment to a snack, or a curry, or something else needing spicing up.  Another thing they had was this fearsome chilli sauce – so hot that a mere drop or two would blow a bowl of soup up the taste-bud Richter Scale!  Dave’s recipe was deceptively simple:  a few handfuls of dried bird’s eye or peri-peri chillies, which he ground to a fine powder, mixed with Old Brown Sherry, and bottled for several months.  He would then filter the resulting flame-red sauce through a fine sieve before bottling it in a little decanter.

A bottle of Dave's Devil Juice, lurking oh-so-innocently in the sun...

A bottle of Dave’s Devil Juice, lurking oh-so-innocently in the sun…

The alcohol in the sherry extracts all of the lovely heat from the chillies.   I made some a few months ago.  Sadly, I could not get the very hot, dried chillies, so bought a few packs of fresh red chillies which I dried in the Jo’burg summer sun.

The resulting sauce, depicted alongside, is not as hot as I remember Dave’s being, but still has a superb kick.  As you can see, it is being consumed – this decanter started out full a month or so back.

Kitty and I made pelmeni for dinner last night.  B and I grew to love pelmeni when we lived in Moscow, and it was a dish we both missed after returning to South Africa.  Of course, there is no chance of finding a bag of frozen pelmeni in one of our local supermarkets, so, for the first few years after coming back, the only place we enjoyed pelmeni was during trips to Moscow.  Last year sometime I tired of that, so did some research on the ‘web, where I found a vast number of pelmeni recipes, and started making my own.  I’ll post my recipes for the dough and filling one day soon.  After I introduced Kitty to pelmeni, she also wanted to make them.  Her boys are now also big fans of pelmeni, served with “smetana” (sour cream or creme fraiche), vinegar and some chopped herbs.  She follows a dough recipe from Natasha’s Kitchen (http://natashaskitchen.com/) and has adapted my meat mixture as well.  As I said, I will write it all up in a separate posting, soon…

Last weekend I was hankering after some roast chicken.  Kitty and I were busy with a number of chores and DIY tasks across our respective houses, so we needed something that did not involve a lot of effort.  Thankfully, a charcoal-roasted Weber chicken fits the bill nicely:  cover a suitably-sized chicken with peri-peri marinade or sauce, pop it into a roasting bag, and put it into a Weber kettle braai / barbecue (using the indirect method) for an hour (cutting the bag open 10 minutes from the end so that the skin can crisp up).

Kitty also cooked dinner on Wednesday night, trying a new and tasty dish which she’d eaten previously in Egypt.  She made some small meatballs (using seasoned lamb mince, I think, with some chopped onions and herbs), which we grilled under that (in)famous TV grill.  The mealballs were served wrapped in chickpea pancakes, with spoonfuls of cucumber / yoghurt raita or tzatziki.  Very yummy indeed, and certainly a dish to be repeated.

Another new dish I tried during the week was pilau rice.  I did cheat, however, as I used a pack of pilau seasoning that I’d bought from Woolworths some time before.  I made a half-batch, to try, and quite enjoyed it.  When I cook it again, however, I think I’ll saute some onions, perhaps some peppers, and definitely some chilli to put into the mixture before adding the water.

Something else I’ve eaten recently is sweetcorn, on the cob.  Boil them for 8 to 10 minutes, slap on some butter and sprinkle on some salt, and eat with your hands – preferably in the sun somewhere.  Lovely as a quick lunch or snack – and my kids love it, too.

I have taken so long to write this post that the sun has gone down, it has got distinctly colder, and I have retreated indoors, where the fire is now lit and the sherry bottle is calling.  I still have lots to write about, so will put up another post or two during the course of the evening (hopefully).

Before I go, a punt, if I may, for my favourite Japanese restaurant – one which many rate as one of the best, if not the best, Japanese restaurant in Johannesburg – Tsuyu, in the Pineslopes Shopping Centre in Fourways.  Roger and Sandi run a small but great operation.  Their sushi is excellent and their teppanyaki table turns out one treat after another.  Find them on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/tsuyu.za?hc_location=stream.  When B and I lived in Moscow, we would fantasize about the Tsuyu sushi, and made a point of going there on every trip back to SA.

 

 

Winter food – time for soup

I’m not sure where the past 2 weeks or so have disappeared to, but, in spite of my best intentions and many notes about the various dishes and meals I have cooked, I somehow failed to post anything on this blog.  I hope (those intentions again) to rectify that over the next 2 or 3 days…

As a kid, I was never a fan of chunky soups – I preferred my soups thin and without too much “gunk” in them.  There is probably a link there to my simultaneous dislike of all manner of cooked vegetables (excluding potatoes, of course, which I love in many forms – chips / fries, crisps, roasted, oven-baked, mashed, salad, gnocchi – you get the picture).  Whilst I am still not a fan of cooked vegetables, I have come to appreciate heartier, chunkier soups.

Another recipe I acquired from B is what we call “Dave’s ‘vegetable’ soup” – based on the soup her father makes regularly and keeps in a plastic (Tupperware) container in the fridge. ‘Vegetable’ in quotes because, more often than not, it has some meat in it to add flavour.  My version of it most certainly has meat in it – as well as “meat” stock cubes or powder – which may or may not have any form of animal product in them at all, if some of the recent press articles are to be believed.

I have been meaning to make soup for a while now, as the weather has got colder and I have looked for something decent and easy to eat for lunch.  A day or so back I finally decided to do something about it, and stocked up at the supermarket:

  • Some “soup meat” – beef or lamb shin works well, as the meat is full of flavour and the bones can go into the soup, too (see below) – not much is needed; for my latest batch, I bought 2 packs which each held 2 thin slices of beef shin
  • Some veggies – cabbage (¼ head, max), carrots (2 or 3), celery (2 or 3 stalks), onion (1), potato (1 large), turnip (2)
  • Lentils (red or black, or both), pearl barley – about a ⅓rd of a cup of each, or 1 cup in total
  • Some herbs – oregano, thyme, bay leaves
  • Stock – ideally some home-made stock that has been lurking in the freezer, but commercial cubes, powder or liquid will do (the equivalent of 2 or 3 cups or cubes)
Trimming the soup meat - use a sharp deboning knife

Trimming the soup meat – use a sharp deboning knife

Brown the trimmings from the soup meat along with the bones - it all adds flavour

Brown the trimmings from the soup meat along with the bones – it all adds flavour

My neatly cubed soup meat

My neatly cubed soup meat

Browning the cubed soup meat - briefly

Browning the cubed soup meat – briefly

Finely chopped onions and celery - you can also add the celery leaves

Finely chopped onions and celery – you can also add the celery leaves

Softening the chopped onion in the fat from browning the meat

Softening the chopped onion in the fat from browning the meat

Softening the other root vegetables - carrots, turnips, potatoes

Softening the other root vegetables – carrots, turnips, potatoes

Softening the other root vegetables - carrots, turnips, potatoes

Softening the other root vegetables – carrots, turnips, potatoes

Stock added to vegetables and meat

Stock added to vegetables and meat

Put the meat and the bones back into the vegetable mix - along with any juices!

Put the meat and the bones back into the vegetable mix – along with any juices!

Everything in the pot - time to put the lid on and get the pressure up.

Everything in the pot – time to put the lid on and get the pressure up.

A bowl of the finished product - with chilli sauce on standby

A bowl of the finished product – with Dave’s Devil Juice on standby

I use a pressure cooker to make the soup, as it speeds up the cooking time – useful when you add lentils and barley to the mix, or tougher cuts of meat.  Whenever I use it, however, those in the know (B and Kitty, mainly) tend to steer clear of the kitchen for fear of being engulfed in a domestic accident.  Although we have quite a good brand or pressure cooker, it has a nasty habit, when used on the high pressure setting and being warmed up, to “pop a gasket” with a bang and a hiss, and to blow steam and boiling stock, soup or other fluid all over the stove (at which point B has been known to let rip with a scream as she exits the kitchen…).  Once it has done that once, thankfully, the lid and the body seem to be aligned and it usually settles down to cooking as it is supposed to, and to relieve any excess pressure through the proper valves rather than via the pressure-relief slots around the edges of the lid.

The meat and the vegetables need to be cut into little pieces or shredded with a food processor.  If you do everything manually, with a knife, as I like to do (I find it strangely therapeutic to have a large, well-balanced high quality kitchen knife in my hand, and to chop defenseless vegetables into little pieces…), it helps to cut everything in advance, before you start cooking.  I find that a knife allows me to cut everything into similarly-sized little dice.  The smarter way, of course, is to simply use a food processor with a shredding blade – the resulting soup tastes just the same, even if the pieces look slightly different!

I start by trimming the meat – I separate all the decent meat from the surrounding fat, sinews, bones, etc.  I love my Wusthoff de-boning knife, which I keep razor-sharp for just this sort of activity. Being an “anal accountant”, as I have been both fondly and otherwise described, with smatterings of an obsessive-compulsive disorder (so I am told, similarly fondly and otherwise), I like to cut my meat into nice, regular little pieces so that it is nicely distributed across all the servings.  Whilst I trim the meat, I lob the trimmings and bones into the pot or pressure cooker over a low heat, so that some of the fat can render out.

Once you have chopped the meat up (and the onions, carrots and celery), remove the bones, fat and other trimmings from the soup pot.  Keep the bones, because they go back in later, but dispose of the trimmings (into the dog, if you have one, otherwise the bin…).

Fry the meat pieces in the hot fat, but quite quickly / briefly – enough to add colour, but not long enough to remove all the meat juices and make the pieces tough.  Remove the meat pieces and keep them with the bones, to go back in later.  Add the chopped vegetables, starting with the onions and celery, which can be sautéd in the juices and fat from the meat, then the carrots, turnips and potatoes. The fresh herbs and the shredded cabbage go in next.

I found several little containers of beef and lamb stock in my freezer – which, of course, I had made some time before, when I had bones or meat to use for stock.  I defrosted those and put the stock into the soup, along with a stock cube or 2 (beef, lamb or vegetable – you choose).  You need to taste the soup once it has cooked for a while to see if any more flavour needs to be added.  Don’t add salt until the very end, however, as the stock will have lots of salt in it already.

Add the liquid stock, or soften the cubes / mix the stock powder in boiling water, and add that to the vegetables in the pot.  The browned meat cubes and the bones can also go back in at this stage.  Add the lentils and / or pearl barley, if you wish, and add more boiling / hot water (depending on how much fluid you want in your soup and on the capacity of your pot)

I don’t usually put fresh tomato into the soup, but you could certainly do so.  What I did add to this batch of soup was some tomato paste, which lifted the flavour very nicely (thanks, Kitty, for the suggestion).  If you want to add things like garlic or ginger, you should do so upfront, with the onions or the meat, to soften the harsh flavours.

Once all the ingredients are in the pot and you are happy with the volume of liquid, it is time to let it simmer away, or to put the lid on the pressure cooker and let it hiss away.  I did not feel like battling the spitting monster cooker, so left it on the low pressure setting and just cooked for longer.  30 minutes on high should be fine (from when the valve pops up), but I gave this lot about 90 minutes on low.

Once cooked, turn the heat off, check and adjust the seasoning, and let things cool.  If you threw in a handful of thyme (as I did), you’ll need to fish out the stalks, along with the bones.  I put the whole pot into the fridge overnight, after which it was easy to skim off the fat that had risen to and solidified on the top of the mixture.  This batch needed a little more depth, so it went back onto the stove to warm up, after which I added another stock cube and the tomato paste I mentioned earlier, and cooked it a while longer.  All that remains now is to put it into plastic containers, some of which will be frozen for meals over the next few weeks, whilst the others will serve for lunch sometime this coming weekend.

The soup is delicious by itself, or with some fresh, crusty bread, or with croutons.  I like to add a splash of chilli sauce – “Dave’s Devil Juice” – which is a recipe I also need to post this weekend.

UPDATES 30 APRIL 2017

I spent most of today making another batch of this soup – possibly for the first time in two years… Made 2 changes to the process:

  1. Instead of putting the browned bones back into the soup, I put them and the browned trimmings into a separate pot with a whole pile of vegetable trimmings and herbs, and made a new batch of stock.  After straining and reducing it, I used that stock in the soup.
  2. I did not brown the meat cubes, but rather added them into the vegetables with the stock.

Reworking leftovers – oxtail to ragu

As I have discussed previously, I often cook more of a dish than I need for that meal, so that I have something left over to go into a plastic storage container for another meal in a day or two’s time.  Whether, technically, those are leftovers or the product of strategic planning, is perhaps a topic for discussion around a table of anally-retentive / obsessive-compulsive types who have already had one too many glasses of wine…

Kitty made some oxtail (my father’s warped name for the same dish is “beef bum-wiper stew”) a week or so back, which she served with polenta. It was delicious and, according to her, came the closest that she had ever done to her late mother’s version of the dish.  We ended up with leftovers, for which I already had a cunning plan… I would rework the oxtail into ragu, which could then go over pasta one night.  Another option is to put the de-boned oxtail in ravioli – B had enjoyed just such a dish, which was stunning, at the Ten Bompas restaurant some years back.

The following recipe is based on something B did recently with some oxtail that she had made for me prior to one of her extended trips to Moscow, after she had returned to find the oxtail still lurking in the freezer.  I suspect there is also some influence from her recent Tuscan cooking course.

Reworking oxtail into ragu

The messy part involved deboning the leftover oxtail, separating the already-tender meat from the remaining bones.  The bones went into a stock pot with the leftover herbs, to be boiled a while longer so that I could extract the remaining meat and have some stock to enrich the ragu.

My trusty JamieO / T-Fal deep frying pan went onto the gas hob with a few glugs of olive oil and 1 or 2 sliced garlic cloves.  As I have described previously, I let the oil warm through slowly, extracting a subtle garlic flavour from the sliced cloves, without the potential harshness of crushing the cloves into the sauce.  Once the slices turned golden brown, they came out (once drained of the oil, they make “interesting” nibbles for those who don’t mind garlic taste and breath for an extended period, but I usually just bin them).  Whilst the oil was chatting up the garlic cloves, I had finely chopped some brown portabellini mushrooms – those went into the warm oil along with a knob of butter and a few sprigs of thyme to simmer and soften.

After 5 minutes or so, I added the oxtail meat and leftover gravy to the pan, stirred them into the mushrooms and let things warm up again.  I then added a big dollop of tomato paste (I keep a tube of tomato paste in the fridge for just such flavour-enhancing moments) and a spoonful of whole-grain mustard.  Once those had started to get well-acquainted with the meat-mushroom mix, I poured in some red wine and a glug or two of port.  I left the mixture for a few more minutes, allowing the alcohol to evaporate and the fluids to reduce a little.  I then added a stock cube, which I had dissolved in some boiling water, stirred it all up, and left it simmering slowly until the fluids had reduced and the gravy had thickened up again.  Oh – when I was stirring, I also broke up the larger chunks of meat.

On the neighbouring gas ring, I still had the stock pot going, with the leftover bones.  When that had reduced nicely, I pushed the whole lot through a sieve over a bowl, so that I could extract the stock.  By then, I had run out of time (this was the same afternoon that I made the basic tomato pasta sauce and planned on cooking the Sicilian-style tuna for dinner), so I turned off the ragu, decanted it into one plastic container, put the stock into a separate container, and left both to cool before putting them into the fridge.

The advantage of allowing the stock to cool in the fridge was that, a day or so later, I could easily remove the layer of fat that had settled on top of the rich stock.  The stock and the ragu went back into that famous pan and onto the stove to warm up and reduce a little further.  A word of caution – with all the reducing, based on a dish that had already been seasoned and to which I had added a stock cube, there was no need for any further seasoning.

The ragu would be delicious over some penne or tagliatelle, or as filling in some homemade ravioli (which remind me, at some stage I need to post my pasta dough recipe) – or, even better, as pelmeni filling (pelmeni are Ukrainian or Russian pasta parcels, similar to ravioli – I will post that recipe at some stage, too).  The ragu would even work on a slice of toast, as a real bachelor meal!  This batch of ragu, however, went straight into one of those ubiquitous plastic containers, clearly labelled (I put a strip of masking tape on the lid and write on that with a permanent marker), and into the freezer.  There was enough to make a warming meal for two on a cold winter’s night when I don’t feel like cooking from scratch, or don’t have time.

I have some baby leeks in the fridge, surplus from a chicken pie I made recently.  Later today or tomorrow I am going to use those leeks, with the meat from some pork sausages and some crème fraîche that I found in the freezer, to make yet another pasta sauce – but that is a topic for another posting.

Frozen pasta sauce to the rescue – sooner than planned

Those plastic containers I fill with leftovers or prepared sauces or meals and pop into the fridge or freezer often come in handy – and not just for healthy meals in the office (when I go to one…).  That basic tomato / chilli / chourizo pasta sauce I made and froze just 2 days ago served as the basis for dinner tonight – a little sooner than I had originally planned.

We woke this morning to find the power off (before 8am), so I spent most of the day out.  It was a busy Sunday, running around the shops and doing DIY at Kitty’s house. I eventually got home just before dark to find that there was still no electricity.  There were, however, the siren calls from that pasta sauce in the freezer, along with the remainder of a box of tagliatelle.  I pulled the plastic container out of the freezer and popped it into a sink of water (just up to the lid), which speeds up the defrosting.  I also found a handful of frozen prawn tails taking up far too much room in the freezer, so lobbed those into a ziplock bag and put them into the same sink of water to defrost.

The City of Jo’burg likes to bill itself as a “World Class African City”.  When it comes to potholes, malfunctioning traffic lights (or “robots” as we Saffers call them), corrupt traffic police and regular water and power failures, however, Joburg is almost as bad as many other African and developing world cities.  I’ve not yet sprung for a generator, but I am thankful B and I installed a gas hob and gas fireplace some years back.  I also keep several torches and fluorescent lanterns handy, along with 6 or 7 5-litre bottles of drinking water.  During sustained water outages, the swimming pool can be used to flush toilets and, worst case, provide water to be boiled for washing.

Tonight I was thankful for that gas hob, along with the lanterns and, most useful of all, my son’s Petzl headlamp torch.  It left my hands free to cook and work, whilst providing great lighting just where I needed it.  I’ve been wanting one of those torches for myself for a long time now, and tonight persuaded me that it was definitely past time that I bought one!  A present from me to me…

I started with a salad, which I cobbled together from the veggies in the fridge (which, thankfully, was still cold).  The ice cubes were also still frozen, so my Scotch was the right temperature, too.  I ate the salad before I even started warming the pasta sauce, so that I would have a reasonable idea of my appetite.

The gas hob soon had the pasta water heating nicely.  Once the pasta sauce had defrosted a little, I popped it into that awesome T-Fal / Jamie Oliver frying pan to warm.  I cut the prawn tails in half, as they were quite long, and grated some cheese.  Apart from my usual Grano Padano, I also grated some 5-year-old Cheddar that Kitty and I had bought at the Farmers’ Market in Pretoria on Saturday morning (more on that below).  The Cheddar was hard and crumbly, like mature Parmesan, but with a delightful “twang” on the tongue.

When the pasta water was boiling, I popped the tagliatelle into the salted water, and the prawn tails into the sauce.  The pasta needed only 5 minutes to get to the al dente stage, then I added it to the sauce along with several spoonful’s of the pasta water.  That’s another trick B brought back from her cooking course in Tuscany – finishing the pasta in the sauce, with the cooking water helping to make a beautifully silky pasta.

Finished pasta - prawns, chourizo, chill in a basic tomato sauce (and that frying pan I love so much)

Finished pasta – prawns, chourizo, chill in a basic tomato sauce (and that frying pan I love so much)

The power came on at last during the cooking process – then went off – came on – went off – came on – went off – and, eventually, came on and stayed on (so far).  I got tired of taking that headlamp torch off and on, so simply left it on and just turned it on and off as the lights did their slow-motion disco dance.  The pasta, thanks to the gas hob, was hot and yummy.  There was even enough left over for a second meal – so it went into another of those trusty plastic containers and into the fridge, along with the leftover grated cheese.

I mentioned the Farmers’ Market earlier.  About a week or so back, Kitty put an intriguing appointment into my online calendar:  called “An early morning Autumn adventure”, it booked out my Saturday morning from the frightful hour of 5am to a slightly more pleasant 8am.  The alarm dragged us from sleep just after 4h30 and we were on the road just after 5am.  Our destination, as I eventually discovered, was the Boeremark (Afrikaans for Farmers’ Market), at the Pioneer Park in the East of Pretoria, a city about 50km north of Johannesburg.  I knew that we had crossed the “boerewors curtain” (another “Seffricanism” – boerewors is our local sausage, literally translated it means “farmers’ sausage”) when we were directed in the pitch dark parking area by a young man clad in a t-shirt and shorts, barefoot and sporting impressive facial hair for his tender age – with the outside temperature just above 6 degrees (C not F).  For such an ungodly early hour of the morning, the market was buzzing with people – most of the stallholders had probably slept there overnight, or been going since about 4am.  Lots of fresh produce from farms in the surrounding areas: vegetables, fruit, eggs, honey, meat, preserves; also crafts, hot coffee (thank you!), cheeses and many other interesting and yummy things.  Kitty came away with some vegetables and we both bought some lovely cheese.  We were on the road back to Johannesburg when the sun peeked over the horizon.

Lunch today was sushi at Tsuyu (https://www.facebook.com/tsuyu.za?ref=stream&hc_location=stream), rated by many as the best Japanese restaurant in Johannesburg.  Located in the Pineslopes shopping centre, just across the road from the Monte Casino complex, Sandi and Roger run a bustling little restaurant that has been a favourite of ours for a number of years.  Highly, highly recommended.  We had their new Salmon Tataki dish alongside our regular selection of salmon nigiri (for me) / salmon roses (for Kitty), dumplings and Ika calamari, all washed down with some saki.

Avoiding waste – basic pasta sauce

Anyone who knows me knows that I am not a fan of tomato – particularly fresh tomato, which I refused point blank to eat for over 40 years. I eventually changed my mind, but only after discovering the mind-blowingly tasty tomatoes in Russia (where B and I lived for just over 2 years).  That said, I have been cooking with tomatoes (fresh and tinned) for quite some time, and I periodically buy fresh tomatoes for my favourite ladies and my children (who love fresh tomatoes and, thankfully, have not inherited that particular idiosyncrasy of mine – my son eats those little Rosa or cherry tomatoes like sweets).

All of that is a long way of explaining that, by yesterday, I had some tomatoes lurking in the kitchen that were decidedly past their best.  The only solution was to turn them into a pasta sauce, to  be stored in that fantastic plastic in the freezer, ready to be defrosted for a quick ‘n easy simple pasta meal, or to form the basis for a more complex dish (by just adding some de-shelled prawn tails, for example).

It had been a busy week and, by Friday afternoon, I was in the mood for some cooking.  Dinner was going to be that Sicilian-style tuna I posted recently, and I also had some of Kitty’s leftover oxtail from earlier in the week that I wanted to turn into ragu (I’ll post on that later in the weekend).  First, however, I needed to get rid of those sad tomatoes…

Basic tomato pasta sauce

Apart from the tomatoes, you need some good olive oil, some garlic cloves, anchovies, fresh chillies, tomato paste, salt and black pepper.

B taught me a trick that she’d learnt on a cooking course she went on in Tuscany last year – instead of crushing fresh garlic into a sauce, you put the garlic cloves into the cold olive oil, which you heat slowly.  Once the cloves start to brown, remove them and continue with the rest of the recipe.  You get a milder garlic flavour than you do with the addition of crushed garlic.

Warming the garlic slices in the olive oil (from cold)

Warming the garlic slices in the olive oil (from cold)

After removing the garlic slices, add the anchovies and diced chourizo

After removing the garlic slices, add the anchovies and diced chourizo

Chopped red chillies added to the garlic / anchovy / chourizo flavoured oil

Chopped red chillies added to the garlic / anchovy / chourizo flavoured oil

 

Just after adding the tomato purée to the oil mixture

Just after adding the tomato purée to the oil mixture

Of course, I cannot resist trying to improve things, so, instead of lobbing whole cloves into the cold olive oil, I prefer to slice the cloves first: the theory being that more surface area is exposed to impart flavour to the oil.  When it comes to pasta sauces, I love using my Jamie Oliver / T-Fal stainless steel frying pan, which has deep sides and heats evenly.  As already discussed, I started the sauce by slicing a few fresh garlic cloves, added them to a puddle of olive oil in that pan and put it onto a low flame to heat (I do so enjoy cooking on gas!).

I then trimmed the green and white bits from the tomatoes, cut them into chunks and blitzed them (skin, pips, the lot!) to a fine purée in the Moulinex mini-blender (yet another useful kitchen gadget I use often).  Once the garlic slices had browned, I removed them from the hot oil and threw in 2 or 3 anchovies, which I broke up using my trust wooden spatula.  That was followed by some diced slices of chourizo sausage and chopped fresh red chillies.  After I had left that mixture to sizzle quietly for a few minutes, I poured in the liquidised tomatoes and mixed it all up.  The smell of fresh tomatoes quickly filled the kitchen, replacing the anchovy / chourizo / chilli scent of a few minutes before.  To add flavour, I squeezed in some tomato paste from the tube that I keep in the fridge for just such occasions.  I left the whole lot to bubble away quietly until the fluid reduced and it thickened up.  The herb pots outside the kitchen door yielded some fresh basil leaves, which I chopped coarsely and stirred into the sauce towards the end.  The addition of some Maldon salt and freshly ground black pepper finished it off (after a taste check).  I left the pan to cool for a while, then poured the sauce into one of those plastic containers I love so much, labelled it (so I know what is in there in 3 months’ time – time and alcohol seem to be playing havoc with my memory…) and popped it into the freezer.

As I said earlier, the sauce will be delicious by itself over some tagliatelle, for a quick ‘n easy meal, or jazzed up with some of the frozen prawn tails I keep handy.

Mmmm – I’m getting peckish again, and I have not made any progress since lunch on those chores, so definitely time to ignore the keyboard for a few hours.

“Found” lunch

Somehow the week ran away with me and I did not post anything… that does not, however, mean that I was not cooking, eating or writing notes for blogging.  I hope to catch up sometime this weekend.

It’s a beautiful winter’s Saturday here in Johannesburg – warm, clear and sunny.  I’m trying to work through a long list of chores, so had limited time for lunch.  Fortunately, I found some leftovers and partly-used ingredients lurking in the fridge and assembled a delicious snack in double-quick time.

The foundation was the remnants of a baguette (french loaf) from last night’s dinner (Tuna, Sicilian style – see the recipe I posted last week) – I’m a sucker for crusty fresh bread and to hell with the carbs… Then there was the remains of a packet of bacon, with a few lonely rashers just calling to be paired with the grill (yup, trusty TV grill crisped those rashers in no time), the beautifully ripe avocado, a sad half red onion and, of course, some chillies.  Whilst the bacon crisped up, I lobbed some sliced onion and chopped fresh red and green chillies into a frying pan with a little butter, sliced the avocado, and prepared the baguette.

Assembled – ready to be folded over and enjoyed out on the sunny patio with some fresh juice and the Saturday newspaper:

Crispy baguette, bacon rashers, slices of avocado, fried chillies & onion

Crispy baguette, bacon rashers, slices of avocado, fried chillies & onion

Yummy! Now I need to get back to those chores, much as I’d like to write about that tuna last night, or the chicken pie last weekend, or the “trashy” bangers & mash, or turning leftover oxtail into ragu for pasta…