Friday, September 30, 2011

Quiche Recipe with Fresh Peas

Our veggie garden is in prolific spring mode – for a few weeks we have fresh peas in gluttonous abundance, it’s all or nothing, famine or feast; when it comes to petits pois, there is no such thing as moderation. Now the broad beans are all demanding to be picked too, the strawberries are revving up and picking becomes a regular duty rather than an occasional pleasure. ...

But this wonderful excess of fresh stuff, frees you up to experiment with new recipes. Usually peas are just a side dish in our house, quickly boiled with a few leaves of mint, to go alongside a roast chicken. Making quiches for our spring festival I decided it was time for the peas to star in their own show. I rifled through my Marcella Hazan recipe book (The Classic Italian Cook Book (The Art of Italian Cooking and the Italian Art of Eating)) for an Italian take on peas and found just what I was looking for – a recipe for peas cooked in olive oil with a little garlic and prosciutto. I tweaked a little adding onion for more bulk and sweetness, leaving out the ham, (though it would be a good addition to my final recipe – I just didn’t have any and was wanting it to be vegetarian) and adding a sprinkling of fresh chopped mint for spring life and zest.

The result was just what I was after – sweet, tender and meltingly spring flavoured. As Marcella Hazan says, you want just the sweet, tender peas, so leave out any that have gone too far and got that slightly bitter starchiness.

When I was podding peas with the girls, I was appointed official tester and had to taste one pea from every pod that was doubtfully fat and overstretched. I now can tell almost just by looking at the pod whether they are still sweet or gone to starch – a useful skill if I ever need a job in a pea sorting factory! The quiche can be made with frozen peas too, just cook them for less time and don’t add any water as they cook.

Pea Quiche recipe
1 medium onion
1 clove garlic
3 tablespoons olive oil
300g fresh peas, shelled weight
2 tablespoons chopped parsley
Salt and pepper
A sprig of mint
250ml / 1  cup cream
3 eggs
Shortcrust pastry to line a 23cm round dish or tin

Chop the onion and garlic finely. Cook them in the oil over a medium heat until they are soft and translucent, but not coloured.
Add the peas and the chopped parsley and stir to coat with oil. Season with salt and pepper. Add 2 tablespoons water, cover the pot and cook over a medium heat until the peas are tender. This can be anything from 5-15 minutes depending on the peas. If you use frozen peas, leave out the water and cook for about 5 minutes. Leave to cool a little while you prepare the pastry.
Line the dish with pastry. Blind bake for ten minutes at 190C.
While it is baking, beat the cream and eggs together and season with salt and pepper.
Tip the pea filling into the pastry case, sprinkling with torn mint leaves then pour the egg and cream mix over the top.
Bake at 190C for 40-45 minutes until set and golden.
The quiche went beautifully with a simple salad of tomatoes and steamed broad beans dressed with olive oil and a squeeze of lemon.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Ostrich Fillet and Butternut Kebabs - Braai the Beloved Country

When it comes to braai recipes, our family tends to go for the same old favourites again and again. Spicy chicken wings, marinated lamb chops, chicken in foil, chicken kebabs, boerewors and more boerewors and, for special occasions, a whole fillet of beef in sea salt and black pepper.

But I reckoned that Cooksisters  Braai the Beloved Country event called for something new, something to get my foodie creative juices flowing again in honour of Braai Day.

A friend suggested this ostrich steak and butternut combination and I gratefully grabbed the idea. My enthusiasm lasted all the way to the supermarket, where the price of a tiny packet of ostrich fillet horrified my frugal self. Prodigal self however won out and, with no better inspiration coming to mind,  I splashed out – these were going to be jewels of foodie braaidom.

The ostrich fillet is currently marinating in a simple bath of olive oil (extra virgin of course), rosemary, balsamic vinegar (so passé it’s almost retro, I know!), sea salt and black pepper.

I’m about to blanch the butternut, so that it cooks quickly enough to go with the meat and maybe some mushrooms can have their own little marinade too and join the party.

I’ve thought about lowering the tone by producing some braaied cheese sandwiches as a starter, but abandoned the idea after further thought. Otherwise all we need is a few herby potatoes, a salad, or maybe some freshly picked minted peas, if I can brave the miggies (midges of the fearsome variety, which are the bane of fine spring weather) to pick them in the veggie garden.

The breeze eventually chased away the miggies and the garden yielded loads of fresh peas

I’ll finish off the post once we've had our braai – I’m getting ahead of myself here writing up recipe before sampling it, but the deadline is looming and I’m squeaking in a the last minute as usual.....

 After the braai

Ostrich fillet has us all convinced – it’s expensive but worth it for a special treat. Tender and full of flavour the cubes of meat were indeed foodie perfection!

The butternut worked fine – it turned out perfectly cooked after its pre-cooking phase, but it lacked that caramelised sweetness that makes baked butternut such a delight. Perhaps if I’d cut thinner slices, with thin ends to catch and caramelise on the fire it would have had more character.

Next time I might try soaked dried apricots to add a fruity note. The mushrooms were good though and not a scrap was left, even the picky eater devouring the meat and having seconds, though it was the adults that finished up everyone's veggies!

But all in all a worthy recipe to celebrate braai day, even if a little too fancy and minimalist to be a true South African braai! But then we had all been feasting at our spring festival yesterday, so minimalist kebabs of healthy lean meat was exactly what was required!

Recipe for ostrich fillet and butternut kebabs
Ostrich fillet
balsamic vinegar
olive oil
sprigs fresh rosemary
salt and pepper
butternut squash
melted butter
salt and pepper
button mushrooms
fresh orange juice
olive oil
lemon thyme sprigs

I haven’t put any quantities in – it all depends how much meat you have and how many you are feeding. My small packet of fillet made 8 kebabs with four cubes of meat on each and fed the five of us just enough for a family supper.

Cut the ostrich fillet into cubes.
Mix together a few tablespoons of olive oil with a splash of balsamic vinegar, a few sprigs of rosemary and a seasoning of salt and pepper. Marinate the ostrich fillet cubes in the mixture for a few hours or better overnight.
Peel the butternut and cut into cubes or chunks – mine were about 1.5 cm or so. Blanch them in boiling water for two minutes – they should still be firm but have slightly more give to them. Dunk them in cold water, drain and leave to dry off.
Marinate the mushrooms in a little freshly squeezed orange juice mixed with some olive oil and some lemon thyme springs and season with salt and pepper.
When nearly ready to cook, toss the butternut cubes in some melted butter sprinkled with cinnamon and salt and pepper.
Thread all the ingredients onto skewers and hand over to the  braaimaster, who will deftly cook them over a good even heat turning every few minutes, until the meat is perfectly cooked, about  10-15 minutes depending on the heat.

Enjoy the braai, savour the sunshine, the smokey aromas, the gathering around the fire all together, the start of a long summer season of good food cooked over a wood fire.

And check out Cooksister over the next couple of days for the round-up of all the entries into this annual braai blog event - there should be a rich source of braai recipes to last you the rest of the summer!

And here it is the round-up for  Braai the Beloved Country 2011. Check it out for some great looking and tasty braai recipes!

Monday, September 19, 2011

Beach and Pony Show -The Girls' Perfect Weekend

They say fresh air is good for a cold, and if so this weekend was perfectly suited – no sitting around on the sofa snuffling into a mound of tissues, if was off to the beach first thing to take part in International Coastal Clean up day. We joined up with friends and went in their combi, the girls in a line on the back bench, happy to be going anywhere with their best friends. The day was gorgeous – light breeze, sunshine, blue sky with picture perfect wisps of cloud.

After lots of milling around and doling out of snacks sponsored by PicknPay, we were issued with bags and set up off the beach. We were  on a beach that is part of Blaauwberg Conservation Area, a long, sandy beach that stretches all the way from Big Bay to Melkbosstrand, views back to Table Mountain all the way.

It looked fairly clean as we started out, strewn with shells and kelp, but it was amazing how much rubbish  was collected. Plastic bottles, bags, food containers, lots of little sweet wrappers, and sugar packets, all sorts of detritus, including bigger things like brushes and plastic crates. The kids hunted for the more satisfying finds like bottles, while I wandered behind them, scanning for the tiny bits of decayed plastic that are just as bad for the environment, as fish can end up eating them and they get into the food chain. Even after everyone else had gone through there was still stuff to find.

At the end we had to go through the bags, filling in a data sheet of what we’d picked up. The weirdest things – a bra and two cotton reels;  most numerous – plastic bottles. Between everybody – about 150 or so volunteers,  a lot of them kids, we had amassed a huge heap of bags in just 1 1/2 hours.


Yesterday it was up early again and out to the fun pony show at the riding stables. Youngest had entered the Jumpkhana event and both of the girls the team games. These involved relay style races doing everything from balancing a tennis ball on a bat, riding with a sword to pick up a stirrup from a barrel, riding backwards with four marshmallows in their mouths and so on - much hilarity, much swapping of horses, much running and leading and helping of the younger ones by the older girls.

Rain threatened but held off till later except for a light drizzle now and then. Middle Daughter was on the winning team and so at last received the coveted red rosette that she has been wanting for ages.

Then it was back home to collapse in a heap on the sofa at last and see whether the fresh air had helped that cold!

As for our son – he had a busy time with Dad at home, watching several matches of the World Cup and making sure ‘we’ won, then creating spaceships out of toilet roll inners for a school Entrepreneur project... he has to try and sell them to the primary school kids. I’m slightly dubious about the profit margin on these, considering the amount of super glue and paint used in the construction...! Most of the other kids are including sweets in the package of what they are making, so he is going to have a baking day and make crunchies, muffins and cookies (from the girls' market stall heart biscuit recipe) to try and attract sales.

And now it's Monday.. time to take a deep breath, get back to work and gear up for next weekend's Spring Festival, which coincides with National Braai Day... and I still plan on putting together a braai recipe post for Cooksister's Braai the Beloved Country blog event before then... so much to do!

Wednesday, September 07, 2011

The Cat That Loves To Shower

As soon as I switch the sprinkler on in my herb garden this evening a little black shadow comes scurrying. Horry runs into the gentle mist of water, positions herself to her liking in the stream of droplets and starts to wash attentively.

She spends about ten minutes thoroughly licking her fur from every angle and seems to actively enjoy getting soaked to the skin.

Horry, or rather Horror, as she usually gets called, is old now, fifteen, one of our original two cats that preceded the children in our family. Cats of character. She has outlived the vet's predictions by more than three years, although she walks and runs with a swashbuckling wobble.

Here's the cat 'Horror's story Part 1 and Part 2.

So there!

Monday, September 05, 2011

Heart Biscuits

Middle Daughter's first attempt at icing writing
There’s something about heart shapes that automatically warm the...  um... well... heart! Not that I’m a soppy romantic or anything but they just have a special energy that appeals to everyone, kids or adults. Maybe there are some stony-hearted  sceptics who can’t stand them, but I’ve yet to meet anyone who wasn’t a sucker for a heart biscuit. Especially when they taste good, as well as looking delectably pretty.

Ever since my Middle Daughter was given these heart shaped cookie cutters as an inspired Christmas present, she has been making this recipe – for birthdays, for gifts and for selling at our monthly local market. The great thing is that the basic cookie dough tastes great, so the biscuits don’t need to be smothered in icing, just a few strategic drizzles or dots and some fancy sprinkles and they are already tasty works of art.

She has varied the shapes over the last few markets. The gingerbread man shapes went down a storm at our last market, yesterday. There were boys in trousers and girls in glitter bikinis. Other times we have had hearts with writing on.

The girls at their market stall in June

Anyway here is the recipe, which originally came from Nigella Lawson’s Feast: Food to Celebrate Life, a book well worth investing in.

Heart Biscuits Recipe
90g / 3oz soft butter
100g / 3 1/2 oz caster sugar
1 large egg
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
200g / 7oz plain flour
½ teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon salt

Preheat oven to 180C / 350F
Cream together butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in the egg and vanilla. Sift together the dry ingredients. Fold them into the butter mixture gradually until you have a soft dough that holds together well. If it still feels too sticky to roll, you can add a little more flour, but don’t overdo it or it will make the biscuits too dry. If you have time, rest the dough in the fridge for an hour covered in clingfilm. Otherwise get straight on to rolling out the dough.
On a floured surface, roll the dough out to about 1/2 cm / 1/4 inch thickness. Use whatever shaped cookie cutters you like to cut out shapes.

Put bigger ones together on one greased baking tray and smaller shapes on another. That way when the smaller ones are cooked first, you can whip them out and let the bigger shapes have another couple of minutes. Allow 8-12 minutes. They are cooked when the edges are golden and middles are still quite pale. Remove onto a wire rack to cool, then decorate any which way you like!

Biscuits made for her grandmother's 88th birthday gift

More hearts in our life.. our Valentine's Day tradition has always been a simple one - instead of cards or flowers or gifts my husband and I have always just drawn little red hearts in pen on the back of each other's hand. The girls nowadays want their own hearts too, so it's a family thing... our 13 year old son however is happy not to be included these days!

Youngest on Valentine's Day 2010 heading off to school with her heart on her hand

And just because I’m not at all soppy I’ve just started collecting heart shaped gifts and products from around the internet into our new Red Velvet Heart blog. I especially love the hand blown glass heart and there’s a gorgeous wooden one from Etsy that I will be adding soon. Anyone else out there a closet heart romantic?