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.

Fantastic plastic (and leftovers)

Fantastic plastic!  Tupperware, Addis and other manufacturers of those useful plastic containers with tight-fitting lids are the saviour of the single cook and parent, or the workaholic who also wants to eat well in the office.

I’ve become a fan of the newer containers with the lids that include the tabs to lock the lid in place and a gasket to ensure that it does not leak.  They are (rather, were, when I was a wage-slave) very useful for taking prepared meals into the office.  I used to cook up meals like soups (gazpacho in summer, or vegetable in winter), curries (with rice), pastas or even flash-fried steak or chicken breast, and pack them into 400ml containers.  Some would get frozen, others would go straight into the office.  A few minutes in the microwave and I’d have a healthy, well-price lunch – often paired with fruit or nuts, or juice.

Earlier this week, Kitty and I had Thai green curry for dinner.  I cheated (again), using the Woolworths pouch of Thia Green Curry sauce as my base.  I started, however, with some olive oil, chopped onions and chillies, to which I added several spoonfuls of green curry paste.  Once that had warmed through and started to smell good, I added some prawns (thanks, again, Woolies, which provided de-shelled, de-veined prawn tails) and chicken thigh meat.  I poured the contents of the sauce pouch into the pot and added sliced mushrooms, snap peas and baby corn, some extra coconut cream and fish sauce.  Just before the end (it all only needed less than 10 minutes’ of cooking time), I stirred in some chopped fresh basil and coriander.  Served over some basmati rice, it made for a superb meal.  The left-overs, of course, went into those beloved plastic containers – rice first, followed by the curry – to serve as lunch the following day for Kitty (at work) and me.

Continuing the theme of left-overs, that roast pork belly from last Sunday is not quite finished.  In an earlier post I spoke of having some of it as sandwiches, on crispy fresh bread rolls.  Last night I felt like something warmer.  I sliced off the remaining crackling and put that under that battered old TV grill to crisp up (sadly, the TV grill has come to the end of its life, unless I can buy or have a new element made – it tripped the electrics twice, in spite of having had the cord repaired, so there is obviously a problem somewhere…)

Getting back to the pork – I chopped the remaining meat into chunks, after slicing off some of the fat that lay under the crackling.  The fat went into a little cast-iron saucepan along with some chillies (yup, these appear regularly in my diet), sliced red onion and some chopped chourizo sausage (to add colour to the gravy).  I left that lot to fry slowly for a while whilst I prepared a little salad.  Oh – and I had some brown rice on the go already.  Once the onions had softened, I added the pieces of cold pork to warm through.  The “cheat” arrived in the form of some instant brown onion gravy I had lurking in the cupboard – mixed with boiling water and added to the pork / onion mixture, I had instant sauce.  I served that over some of the brown rice, with the salad and some left-over red lentils – and there was enough left over to go into yet another of my favourite plastic tubs for lunch today.

If you like tuna, have a look at the “Sicilian-style Tuna” recipe I will post after this – the recipe is courtesy of B, my recently-ex-wife.  We made this a number of times when we lived in Moscow a few years ago.

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.

Bacon and eggs – with a difference

Breakfast this morning was bacon and eggs – with a difference.

Although we were pressed for time, we both wanted something hot for breakfast.  I made something I’d made once before, based on a breakfast my father had made several times.

I put the oven onto about 180C, lobbed a few rashers of streaky bacon into a frying pan on a low heat, to start them cooking and to allow some of the water and fat to escape.  On a separate burner, I melted some butter to which I added some harissa paste.  Whilst that lot got going, I chopped some shallots and fresh chillies, then greased two Le Creuset ramekins.

Before the bacon got close to crisping up, I removed the rashers from the frying pan and used them to line the sides of the ramekins.  The chopped onions and chillies went into the bacon fat to soften.  The butter-harissa mixture got poured into the ramekins and swilled around.  I broke two eggs into each ramekin, topped them with the onion and chilli mixture, seasoned with salt and pepper, and sprinkled over some grated cheese (grano padano and pecorino Romano).  The ramekins went into the oven for 15 to 20 minutes, until the eggs were cooked (when they stopped wobbling too much).

If you have sufficient ramekins, this is a great way to serve bacon and eggs to a large number of house guests, as everything is cooked at the same time.

It’s OK to cheat (occasionally)

Tom Yum soup

Tom Yum soup

Last night (Saturday) was one of those nights when I had little or no inspiration to cook from scratch – the hangovers from Friday night were still far too fresh in our memories, yet both Kitty and I needed to eat, wanted to eat, and, most importantly, wanted to enjoy eating something interesting.

The answer lay in my store cupboard – and the willingness to cheat, as a cook, by not starting from scratch…

Just a day or so before, I had bought a sachet of Tom Yum soup from Woolworths (our premium grocer here in SA).  Almost ready to heat-and-eat – but it needed some extras.  We poured the contents of the sachet into a saucepan, fired up the gas hob, then added some diced chicken (thigh meat is the tastiest), de-shelled prawns, sliced mushrooms, baby corn and mangetouts (snap peas or snow peas), thinly sliced, de-seeded chillies and fresh coriander.  Within about 20 minutes we were feasting on delicious, warming, filling soup.  We’d picked up a miniature loaf of beer bread at our lunch stop, and that served to mop up the leftover sauce.  Just what we needed on a cold winter’s night.

It’s OK to cheat and to use ready-made sauces or packs – but, with a little effort, they can be jazzed up into something special.

Who, what and why?

Who are you, what on earth possessed you to start a blog, and why?

I’m a single (recently divorced for the 2nd time, although this time around it was very amicable), late-40s, part-time father of two who enjoys cooking.  I enjoy cooking not only because I enjoy good food and the process of making food that I have fun eating, but the process of cooking helps me to relax and to stay sane in an otherwise stressful life.

I’ve been posting photos of some of my cooking on my BlackBerry Messenger status page for a while.  A special friend, Kitty, suggested that I try my hand at blogging about my cooking – I’m going to write about other stuff as well, just to keep things flowing and interesting.

I mainly cook for myself – partly, as I have said, because I enjoy cooking and I find it relaxing, but certainly because it allows me to eat healthily (most of the time, but more of my love for the trashy dishes in life later), which complement my attempts to exercise and manage my stress levels.  All of that, of course, is driven by a need and a desire to get my cholesterol levels down to safe levels, after they got out of control during a particularly sybaritic period of my life.  I enjoy cooking with and for the special ladies in my life – that sounds terrible, when, truth be told, there are really only 3 special ladies:  my recently ex-wife, B; my girlfriend, Kitty, and my daughter.  I love cooking for friends – and I enjoy cooking for my two children, who already have broad palates, to expose them to new tastes and to feed them healthily.

Having been persuaded to at least start this blog, I know that I will need to keep it going, with regular updates, if it is going to be anything more than an outlet for my repressed creative streak (isn’t that an oxymoron? a “creative accountant” or “creative banker”?  Not as bad as “honest politician”, of course…).  In addition to writing about some of the cooking I do – the primary purpose, after all, of this blog – I will spout forth about topics such as South African music and musicians – among the best in the world! (did I mention yet that I live in Johannesburg, South Africa) – kitchen equipment (buy good knives and keep them sharp!) and why “slap chips” (french fries) are an essential food group all of their own.

6 months ago, I would never even have considered blogging – primarily, because I was working far too many hours for far too many days of each week.  Fate, who has intervened in my life in the past, always with good  outcomes, stepped in again and forced a change of mindset and pace.  For the past 3 months or so, I have been fortunate enough to enjoy the benefits of a change of pace – sleeping a little longer, getting up without an alarm (um, mostly), walking in the fresh air, talking to the neighbourhood cats, exercising regularly, and cooking more.  I am determined to try and maintain this more-balanced lifestyle – hopefully, in doing so, I will find time to keep this blog going.

[Mmm – just took a quick break to enjoy some new cheese I bought today – “Marisch”, from Anura Estate near Cape Town, bought from Woolworths.  Described as “a delicately flavoured semi hard cheese with a mild but spicy flavour” – due, no doubt, to the Cajun spice that the cheese had been rolled in.  Yummie!  Very tasty on a crisp cream cracker, washed down with some Cabernet]

That reminds me – in addition to the cooking, SA music and kitchen equipment, I am likely to comment on food in general, restaurants (I enjoy letting someone else do the work, provided they serve something I could or would not attempt at home), cheese, wine and other alcohol.  As I write this, the moving lyrics and superb sound of Tailor’s “The Dark Horse” are keeping me company.  Read more about this Cape Town-based artist at http://thisistailor.com/.

What else? I grew up cooking, mostly basic stuff, or boy-food, cooked at home or during the many, many hikes and camps I went on as a Boy Scout.  After I married (for the first time), I became more adventurous – to be honest, I probably got too complex in my dishes, mixing up too many flavours.  My second life-partner, later wife #2, B, taught me to simplify my cooking, to allow the ingredients time to soften, to mellow, to “love each other”.  She also taught me several Mauritian and French dishes.  I have lived alone for most of the last 3 or so years, cooking (as I said at the beginning) for myself, my kids (when they come to spend every 2nd weekend with me), and those 2 special women in my life.  I don’t just cook to survive or eat – I cook because I enjoy eating good food that I have prepared, because I enjoy cooking for those people around me who appreciate good food, and because it is a form of relaxation.  As time goes by, I have become a little more adventurous and a little more confident in my cooking – some of which I hope to share with anyone who takes the time to read this blog – assuming I manage to sustain it.

I’m ending this, my first posting, listening, for a change, to a superb musician who is not from South Africa:  Xavier Rudd, who hails from Australia, is a most amazing and accomplished musician, who plays any number of instruments, including the didgeridoo.  The opening track of his “Spirit Bird” album is playing now – and I’m likely to repeat the track several times.