Thursday 31 January 2013

Preserved lemons for Paula

Preserving lemons happens to be one of my favourite pastimes. This year our large old tree is laden and ready to ripen and I can't wait to get preserving. I have saved all my large jars in anticipation of the event.
My friend Paula called me wanting to know my tried and true recipe for preserving lemons and was it on my blog? I thought it was but upon further investigation Paula was proved right and I was wrong, so here is the recipe that never fails to make me happy. They are inexpensive and effortless to create and they can make that extra difference to so many dishes.

Preserved Lemons
(from Made in Morocco – Julie le Clerc Pub 2004)
Pick heaps of lemons. 
Sterilise a number of jars (to sterilise lids place in boiling water).
Juice a pile of lemons (you are going to use the juice to fill the space in your jars)

Take clean lemons and cut into quarters without cutting all the way through (leaving the base intact).

Cram coarse sea or rock salt generously into the cuts of each lemon.

Pack the reshaped lemons into an appropriately sized jar, pressing down well. (I use tongs to do this and my little wooden pastry shaper to push them down as it is easy to burn yourself). 
Top with a little more salt (don't be afraid to be generous with the salt) and fill the remaining space in jar with lemon juice. 

Seal the jar and store in a cool dark place for one month before using.

Shake the jar every day for the first week.

Remove lemons as required with a fork so as not to contaminate the remaining lemons.

Before using, rinse lemons with water to remove excess saltiness before adding to food, remove the lemon pith before using preserved skin.

Refrigerate once opened.

Wednesday 30 January 2013

Stuffed Red Peppers

We still have the builders and painters here, banging, sawing, clanging away all day and the dust and mess just goes everywhere! I keep reminding myself it will all be worth it in the end. At the moment we are 'glamping' in the spare room, and luckily the kitchen is still fully functional.
Earlier on (once the builders had gone for the day) we liked to retreat into our (partly built) extension to relax and gaze out the new window (and of course the new view - am I getting old?).
Recently most of our lights were not working (turned out it was just a fuse, mmmmmm) and due to the disgusting weather outside things got a little dark inside a bit earlier than usual. I made some space amongst the builders tools and lit my Christmas present candle, perfect - it set off the quiet atmosphere beautifully while we enjoyed a wine and ate a dinner of Stuffed Red Peppers.Yum!
Red peppers are in season right now and therefore quite inexpensive, a good time to use them in your cooking. I really like them, especially baked and added to roast vegetable salads - so sweet and delicious.
This recipe was given to me by my cooking buddy, Elaine. She shares my enthusiasm for trying new recipes and swapping the ones that have worked well for us. Over the years we have spent many an hour together sharing and enjoying the fruit of our labours, with the odd glass of wine of course. We both love vegetarian food and this recipe is really filling as a main dish or a nice starter for a meat eaters dinner party, looks very fancy too!
Many dishes of this type use rice but this one is different - it uses Quinoa. I have mentioned this grain on my blog before. I am a great fan - as a grain it has highest protein content, is easy to cook and makes a nice change from rice or pasta. It is a little more expensive but well worth the investment. Wonderful with beetroot (see my June post - Quinoa & Beetroot Salad).
I have since played around a bit with this recipe. You can be as creative as you like as long as the flavour of the filling goes well with the red peppers. Today I saute`d diced eggplant and courgettes, threw in a can of Mexican Tomatoes, quick and so easy and was just as nice.  (I noted this week there is a new cookbook on the market called 'Cooking with Quinoa', might be worth a look).
I hope you enjoy this recipe,  thank you Elaine
Looks like a heart, must be good for you?

Stuffed Red Peppers  -  serves 4
4 red peppers cut in ½, remove seeds.
Spray with oil ( Dots Kitchen or olive oil)
Season with salt, pepper and a little Tuscan seasoning or anything similar (I used some Moroccan spice mix).
Put cut side up and roast about 10mins at 200°C

Cook ¾ cup quinoa

 Chop/dice 3 cups vegetables.  You can use red onions, courgettes, tomato and mushrooms - I used eggplant too. If you have more than 3 cups it doesn’t matter - the left over filling is great for a light lunch!
1 clove garlic - crushed
¼ cup flaked almonds
75gms feta, crumbled
Chopped parsley
Salt and Pepper and more Tuscan seasoning

Panfry the vegetables and garlic
Mix the rest of ingredients together with the cooked vegetables.
Stuff the peppers and reheat in a moderate oven for about 5 - 10 minutes until heated through
Serve with a green salad

Wednesday 23 January 2013

Drunken Chocolate Torte

Yip, I have a wonderful family and a fabulous bunch of friends - they know how much I love cooking and eating, so no surprises I scored a couple of recipe books for Christmas - 'Everyday Day' by Peter Gordon and 'Riverstone Kitchen - Simple' by Bevan Smith -   lucky, lucky me!! I also gave myself two books for Christmas, 'Real Food' by Nigel Slater and 'Jerusalem' by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi - it has been so much fun over the holidays, just having the time to pour over my books choosing recipes to try at a later date. I started out putting markers in the pages I loved the most but gave up in the  end - there was far too many.
Last week, we were off to a Saturday family lunch - a good opportunity to try something new - also a chance for a bit of a try out for a dessert to serve at my pending birthday party .
This recipe came Bevan Smith's book. Having never made a Chocolate Torte before - it looked easy and it included a large amount of rum (which reminded me a little of my twenties - it was a drink I enjoyed at that time - with a lemonade mixer of all things, yikes!) The outcome of my labours turned out quite well and as stated in the recipe I served it with the rum syrup and  rum and raisin icecream.
Just a few things I learned - it was quite a challenge to transfer the torte from the tin base to a cooling rack and then to a serving plate large enough. The recipe says to wait until the torte is totally cooled before attempting to move it - next time I will be just a little more patient.... and I was also disappointed when the top of my torte cracked a bit, after a discussion with another foodie, I decided it would be best to cook the next one in my fan oven at 160 (as stated in the recipe, not at 150), lesson learned... Plus, I wondered if you could just use ground almonds rather than blitzing whole ones, might try that one as I had to hold onto the food processor to stop it bouncing off the bench!
Being a bit of a greedy for chocolate I served myself a large piece. Boy! it was a bit of a challenge to finish - this dessert is quite rich, might be best to start with a small portion.....
The feedback from the table was very complimentary and it has now been added to the birthday party menu.

Drunken chocolate torte with vanilla rum syrup
330g whole almonds, blanched
330g dark chocolate(I used Whittaker's Ghana Dark)
330g castor sugar
1 ½ cups of dark rum
330g unsalted butter
9 free-range eggs, separated
Vanilla rum syrup, to serve
Rum and raisin ice-cream

Preheat oven to 160°C. Grease and line a round 28cm cake tin with a removable base with baking paper. Place almonds and chocolate in a food processor and blend until completely ground.
Add sugar and continue to process for a further minute before adding the rum while the machine is still running. Continue to process until mixture forms a smooth paste. Leaving the machine on, add butter processing to combine, before adding egg yolks one at a time. Remove chocolate mixture from the food processor and place in a large mixing bowl. Whisk egg whites to a firm peak and fold into chocolate mixture. Pour into prepared tin and bake for 1 ¼ hours until just set. Remove from oven and allow to cool completely before serving with a drizzle of vanilla rum syrup and some rum and raisin ice-cream.

Vanilla and rum syrup
1 cup of castor sugar
¾ cup water
½ tsp vanilla bean paste
1 tbsp dark rum
 Place sugar and vanilla paste in a small saucepan and bring to boil over a medium to high heat. Remove from heat and allow to cool completely. Stir in rum and store in an airtight container fro up to one month. 

It serves about 12 people.

Sunday 20 January 2013

Having time and loving it

These past few weeks have been so relaxing and fun, finally time to read, experiment with cooking, eat lots, attend the odd movie, sit and think and generally loll about. I forget to relax sometimes and when I do - I find it is quite a pleasant exercise.
Other things I am loving right now......
I have completed my photography 365 Project, now I need to sort the photos into a book for myself - be great to look back on - do I sort by month or do I sort by subject - mmmmmm?
Seeing our new space finally come together - builders have packed up their tools, now the painters are busy.
Catching up on my reading on my new Kindle - finished 'A Casual Vacancy' - can't quite put into words what I thought about it except it kept me reading until 1.30am - now for my next book.....
Trying new concoctions- blitzed a bucket of rocket (I have heaps of it growing in our garden), added toasted pine nuts and preserved lemon plus salt and pepper, blitzed some more, garnished with summer tomatoes  - verdict - "it's ok.... quite sharp, different" mmmmmm.......

Really enjoying
Delicious corn on the cob - drizzled with butter

Lovely vegetarian lasagne

Having lunch made for us

Time for chocolate on and in everything - gosh at this rate that new dress may not fit next month!!
My first chocolate torte
Happy New Year to me!

Tuesday 15 January 2013

What to do with those leftovers!

We purchased a ham for the holidays, I am not sure why as we struggle (every year) to get through it all before we are heartily sick of it! We are not huge meat eaters in this house but I think my rationale for buying said ham was so we had something quick and easy in the fridge during the holiday break if we had unexpected friends or family drop in to visit.
It was a nice ham but having it for nearly every meal and every sandwich for 2 weeks it was really time to call it a day and use what was left for a big main dish - and I fancied a risotto.
A search through all my books and files produced little, interestingly I could not find a single recipe using up ham in this way. Rather than Google for inspiration  I decided to experiment and produced a simple dish that used all the chunks of ham I cut off the bone. (I boiled the bones with the remaining meat to freeze for Pea and Ham soup at a later date).
You could use this basic recipe for any sort of risotto, chicken (left overs again?) and/or mushroom and by using summer and spring vegetables such as zucchini, carrots or even pumpkin. The most important part is to use a good risotto rice - I use Arborio. You can easily buy it from a good supermarket or from a speciality store.

 It is also important to use a good lightly seasoned stock (not the powdered stuff)  - vegetable or chicken. Here I used homemade chicken stock (not my ham stock - might make the dish too salty). Have it simmering on the cook top in a large pot, use a ladle and add the stock to the dish as it is absorbed by the rice. With my ham I did not need to add extra seasoning but if using other meat or vegetables check for flavour and add salt and pepper as desired.
This is not a dish you set on the stove and walk away and leave, you have to lovingly watch its progress and add the stock as needed.
apologies for date in photo - now removed from my camera!
 Ham and Pea Risotto  (serves 2-4 people depending on your serving size)
1 onion -  finely chopped 
a little vegetable oil
Chopped ham
1 cup of Arborio rice - rinsed until cold water (use more rice if feeding more)
1 cup of frozen peas (add a little more if wanting a larger dish)
2 - 5 cups of chicken stock

In a large frying pan or large wide shallow pot ( my one is called a 'cooking kettle'), lightly cook the onion until translucent.
Add the rice and 1 cup of stock, stir and simmer gently until absorbed - add another ladle of stock.
Continue in this way for about 20 minutes or until the rice is cooked.
Add the ham and peas towards the end of the cooking to heat through.
Serve while nice and warm.

Humble but delicious on a wet Sunday night.