Category Archives: Recipes

Posts of specific recipes (as opposed to posts that describe something I’ve cooked)

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.
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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.

Recipe: Tuna, Sicilian-style

Perfect for a quick sophisticated dinner as it’s ready in a few minutes with minimum preparation… The only real prep is cutting the cherry tomatoes in half and de-pipping the olives, but then you can buy them already done.

Ingredients: (serves 2)

2 Thick cut fresh tuna steaks 25 – 30 mm

About 800g Cherry tomatoes

A fistful of good quality soft juicy calamata olives, de-pipped

Half a fistful of capers

Enough Extra Virgin Olive oil to generously cover the bottom of the frying pan and then some.

You also need:

1 griddle pan – don’t even think about grilling the tuna without this.

1 ordinary frying pan. I use a large heavy bottomed, or a large non-stick with a lid.

A jolly good extractor fan.

Crispy baguette to mop up the juice if you like…

Easy-peasy:

  1. Rub tuna steaks in olive oil and generously season with Maldon salt and freshly ground black pepper (I prefer to use black peppercorns that I’ve previously crushed in a mortar and pestle for a fresher more aromatic peppery taste).  Set aside.
  2. Glug a whack of olive oil into the frying pan and add the cherry tomatoes to the cold oil.  – Note: cut the tomatoes in half (this stops them from bursting when you poke them with your fork and covering yourself in tomato pips at the dinner table, turning your dinner party into a less sophisticated affair.  It also helps to let some of the juices of the little tomatoes out into the playground where the olive oil languishes in wait).
  3. Add de-pipped kalamata olives and the capers. 
  4. Slowly warm up the olive oil, tomatoes, capers and olives together. It should just warm up slowly and heat through and slowly make the odd bubble, without getting to a furious simmer.
  5. You want the tomatoes to soften and the juices to combine with olive oil and play nicely together.
  6. Whilst your sauce is warming through, heat up your griddle pan so it’s nice and hot.  Switch on the extractor and add your tuna steaks. You barely need a minute on each side. And then flip them 90 degrees so that you get a checked grid design on the steaks. Be careful not to over-cook.  The steaks should be pink inside. 
  7. Put them onto a heated platter to rest for a few minutes.
  8. Transfer to warmed plates and half cover with the sauce.

You can add red chilli if you want – to the tomato sauce, or to serve.

Tip:  Make double the quantity and then flake the left over tuna into the left over sauce and serve with pasta.

Source:  The wording of this recipe is courtesy of B, my recently-ex-wife, in May 2013.  The dish was first cooked for us by her friend, Cheryl, during a trip we made to the UK in October 2007.  My apologies to all concerned if I don’t credit the original creator of the recipe, but that is all the background I have.

Roasts = leftovers = sandwiches

Although South Africa is heading into winter, the days here on the Highveld (in Johannesburg, Gauteng) are usually clear and sunny, even if they start out cold.  There was a nasty cold wind blowing this weekend, but, fortunately, yesterday (Sunday) was pleasant enough to sit out on the patio in the sun.

Lunch was simple – a roast, rolled pork belly (from Woolworths, where else?), roasted to perfection (hey, I never said that I would be too humble in this blog…), with roast potatoes and veg, washed down with some superb SA wine (ugh – was still slightly hungover from Friday night).

The trick to crispy pork crackling, I think, is to score the skin first, deeply, with a very sharp knife. Then you pour some boiling water over the skin, which starts to open up the cuts.  Dry it off with paper towel, drizzle on some olive oil, then season with Maldon salt, ground black pepper and, if you enjoy some spice, perhaps some 5-spice, peri-peri or paprika.  SA pork is usually very good, which means that you just need to cook the meat until the juices run clear – rather than drying the meat out entirely.

I think I have mentioned my love of potatoes… the trick here is a deep Pyrex or similar dish, which you fill with enough sunflower oil to cover the potatoes you intend cooking.  Heat the oil in the oven whilst it warms up, or once the roast has started.  Peel the spuds, halve or quarter them, and pop them into the hot oil just under an hour before the roast is supposed to come out.  Turn the spuddies every 15 minutes or so – which may lengthen the overall cooking time of the roast by 5 or 10 minutes as the heat escapes each time you turn the potatoes.

If you like, you can roast some vegetables around the meat – we did some carrots, bell peppers, an onion and a few chillies.

Now, since this is, after all, a blog by a bachelor cook, we get to the real point:  the leftovers!  Kitty and I did not finish the roast, so there was a nice piece left over.  This morning, I picked up some fresh, crusty bread rolls for lunch (guys ‘n girls, some fresh bread would have made just-as-tasty sandwiches).  I filled them with thinly sliced cold pork, slices of cucumber and onion.  Because I love chilli, I smeared some mazzavaroux (a Mauritian condiment made from fresh red chillies blended with some Maldon salt and olive oil) onto the roll.  Today was an even nicer day than yesterday, so I sat out on the patio in solitary splendour (it was, after all, Monday, a working day) and savoured that roll.  Oh – cold crackling is not so lekker (Afrikaans for nice), so I trimmed some off the roast and popped it under the TV grill (see below) along with the left-over roast spuds – allowing both of them to warm and crisp up again.  Yummy!

Ah, yes – the TV grill (see the pic).

TV grill - old and battered, but IT WORKS!

TV grill – old and battered, but IT WORKS!

A trashy, cheap, ancient and, yet, oh-so-useful kitchen appliance.  Nothing much more than a frame with some horizontal bars to support the pan and grill, hanging under a bare grill element, covered by a simple steel top (which doubles as a warming plate). My  father won it in a bowls (lawn bowls) competition or draw many years ago, and it got passed onto me when I left home and got my first house.  It is a most useful little appliance, especially for a bachelor cook – or even cooking for 2!  It does chops and sausages to a turn.  It crisps up bacon (and pork crackling). It makes an awesome open sandwich.  It is very low-tech, cannot be left unattended, and would certainly have the health-and-safety fun-police complaining bitterly, but IT WORKS! (unlike most politicians).

Today, it worked a little too well… Just as the pork crackling was almost ready, the electricity went off.  That’s not unusual here in SA, where the national electrical parastatal, Eskom, is a monument to incompetence and corruption.  I assumed it was another power failure.  I enjoyed my lunch, and spent the afternoon relying on the laptop batteries to continue working (and the gas hob for coffee).  When they ran out, I got stuck into some real paper-work.  It was only went I ventured out for a walk and a chat with the neighbourhood cats towards sunset that I realised that my neighbours had power.  Proving that one should not make assumptions, and that it is always worth checking the trip switch when the power goes off, I found that the beloved TV grill had, indeed, tripped the power.  The power cord had been looking for attention for some time, so that is what it received, immediately.  Suitably repaired and tested, I hope to continue using the grill for years to come.

Dinner was definitely classic bachelor stuff:  poached salmon and mashed potato (see, spuddies again…) fishcakes from Woollies, heated in the oven and served with a humble salad. Quick (30 minutes or so from turning the oven on to eating) and healthy (ok, the leftover Malva pudding and custard from yesterday was not so healthy).  Better for me than greasy take-aways, and tastier than sardines on toast (although I do eat those from time to time as well).

Music!  Almost forgot – Shannon Hope (http://www.shannonhope.co.za/) has been keeping me company for the past hour or so – right now, it is her 2009 album, Still, spinning in the CD player (preceded by her latest studio album, Fight A New Day).  Folks, this lady can sing! Her original material is simply superb and she writes and sings from the heart.  Check her out on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/shannonhopemusic), or Google her.  I’ve had the pleasure of watching her play live several times.  Yet another amazing, talented South African musician.