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I’ve learnt in the last weeks that the constant urge to write often stops you writing at all.

If I’m not cooking something I’m thinking about writing about cooking something and yet the fear of turning into the blogging equivalent of those people that tweet/facebook every time they brush their teeth, often prevents me from writing anything at all until I feel like I have something to share thats worth someone pausing to swap their usual comfort recipes for something different.

I was just circling my laptop and avoiding the inevitable writer’s block whilst determining to spend this weekend in the kitchen producing something new and innovative when I read a post from Jeanne of Cooksister and realised I already had something tucked away that for some reason I hadn’t to put to paper (or rather keyboard) until now.

Its not strictly new and innovative but if you know your boerewors from your biltong its a South African classic, and it will be new to those who didnt grow up standing bare foot next to the braai in their back garden so I think its worth breaking my blogging silence for.

The post that provided the inspiration is Jeanne’s rather cleverly titled Braai the beloved Country, which invites everyone to share their favourite  recipes, and the delicacy in question which I am submitting is the humble but delicious Sosatie, accompanied by Roosterbrood rolls.

At this point I should share a few South African culinary definitions for those of you wondering what the last two paragraphs were all about.

Braai – the afrikaans word for barbeque used by all South Africans when referring to this sacred cooking method. This is straying slightly into personal opinion but you’re not a proper Saffa if you cant light a proper charcoal fire and cook on it. Gas is for the weak.

Boerewors – Boer means farmer and wors means sausage in afrikaans. Its a South African sausage formed in a continuous spiral instead of links. Its usually made with a mixture of pork and beef and spiced with coriander, cloves and nutmeg amongst other spices. Have braai…must have boerewors (unless you have Sosaties).

Sosaties – lamb or mutton skewers with apricots and a spicy marinade. It comes from the words sate, for skewered meat and saus, for spicy sauce (I had to look that one up). It sounds a little odd to the uninitiated but trust me, its good.

Roosterbrood – bread dough roasted on a braai and served with the meat, slathered in butter or even drizzled with syrup. Warm, smoky bread. Need I say more.

Biltong – cured strips of meat which are marinated in vinegar and spices before being dried and eaten as a snack. Bil means rump and tong means strip. You need this to eat while the fire gets going and the Sosaties are cooking. I’ve found a recipe to make my own… but that’s another post.

Right, now that I’ve translated I’ll get on with the recipes. You’ll notice this post only has one picture of the finished article and that’s because this isn’t the sort of food you mess around taking endless artistic shots of. Its rustic and eat-with-your-hands-as-soon-as-it-comes-off-the-braai food. There also isn’t much time to fiddle with a camera while you are turning and shifting things to keep them cooking without burning over the hot coals. But then that’s half the fun of braaing.

Sosaties

  • 800g lamb meat, cut into large cubes
  • 1/2 onion, chopped
  • 1 onion, cut into quarters
  • 1 garlic clove, finely chopped
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 tbsp curry powder
  • 2 tbsp sugar
  • 1 tbsp tamarind paste
  • 2 cups white vinegar
  • 2 tbsp apricot jam
  • 2 tbsp cornstarch dissolved in 2 tbsp red wine
  • 220g  dried apricots soaked in 1/2 cup sherry (optional)

Season the lamb and place in a container. Heat the oil in a saucepan. Add the onions and fry gently for 5-6min, then add the curry powder and garlic and fry for another minute. Add the sugar, tamarind and jam and stir. Add the cornstarch mixture and stir until it thickens. Leave to cool, then add to the meat and leave to marinade for 1-3 days. Thread the meat, quartered onion slivers and dried apricots if using onto skewers and cook over the fire.

Roosterbrood

Makes 8 to 10 rolls.

  • 500g bread flour
  • 7g packet of instant yeast
  • 2 1/2 tsp sugar
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1 1/2 tbsp butter

Mix the flour, yeast, sugar and salt in a bowl. Heat the water, milk and butter in a pan until warm and add to the dry mixture. Mix and knead the dough until smooth and elastic. Cover with a cloth and leave to rise somewhere warm for about 2 hours, until doubled in size. Knock back down and divide into 8-10 balls. Flatten slightly, sprinkle with flour and cover and leave to rise to double again. Place on a grill above the fire (preferrably not to close or too hot – note my rough and ready method of raising the grill with bricks) and keep turning until golden on all sides and cooked through.

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I know…I’ve been gone rather longer than a month. Sadly not because I got stuck in Sicily. Things have been a bit crazy since we got back and I didn’t want to rush just to get a post out but I have been feeling a bit guilty about not writing.

This morning I finally sat down to go through our holiday snaps and gather together all the photos of food which I had greedily hoarded as we ate our way through Cefalu and Taormina.  I love that photos trigger the visual memory but  a memory of the smells and flavours as well. Although, its a little depressing sitting in front of a rainy window in scotland when your stomach is sitting thousands of miles away in the sun in front of a plate of crispy lemon anchovies.

(I’m having a warm buttery croissant with sweet cactus jam and a creamy coffee to make myself feel better)

Anyway, back to holiday food. Don’t panic. Endless adjective heavy passages about the scenery and dishes of Sicily are not about to follow (you can buy a guide book for that), but I can’t resist writing about a few dishes that I’m still getting hunger pangs over.

Besides discovering Piadine – (an Italian flat bread similar to a tortilla) which we made into toasties nearly every day with  local cheese, tomatoes and thin parma style ham – we ate out a lot so the only dish I actually cooked in Sicily was crispy anchovies and aubergine fritters. I couldn’t resist the fishmonger in Cefalu with its piles and piles of fresh fish and I have a particular soft spot for anchovies so we bought a few large handfuls and grabbed an equally irresistible looking purple aubergine from one of the vegetable stalls and headed back to our little apartment with a view of the mountains and the sea.

Everyone always says there’s no point in trying to recreate something you ate in the Mediterranean because it will never taste the same at home but although I know the aubergines will never be as sweet and firm and the extra ingredient of fierce sunshine will be lacking, Scotland has pretty good seafood so I’m not scared to make these anchovies again. Obviously I was quite limited in my access to cooking utensils so this recipe is all handfuls and pinches and its extremely simple. It doesnt really need exact measurements to work and I think that goes against the idea so I haven’t converted everything into grams and teaspoons.

Crispy Lemon Anchovies with Aubergine Fritters

  • 2-3 large handfuls of anchovies (roughly one handful per person if serving as a meal)
  • 1 aubergine cut into  slices
  • About 2 cups of plain flour (this is a lot of flour but I found it easier to work with more)
  • 2 generous pinches of salt and pepper
  • 1 lemon
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten (you might need another one depending on the size of your eggs)
  • oil for frying

First gut and prepare the anchovies. Make a slit down the belly of each anchovy, remove the guts and cut off the head just behind the gills. Place the anchovy flesh side down and push down the spine to flatten. Turn it over and pull out the spine, including the tail fin.

Split the flour into two bowls and season well. Zest the lemon and add to the flour for the anchovies. Heat two frying pans with a couple of centimetres of oil in each (you could also use a deep fat fryer).

In batches, toss the anchovies in the flour, dip in the egg and then toss in the flour again. Drop them into the oil. For the aubergines, dip each slice in the egg and then in the flour and drop straight into the oil. Fry both anchovies and aubergines for a couple of minutes each side until golden and crispy. Drain on kitchen paper and serve with wedges of lemon and a green salad.

My favourite meal of the whole trip was on our last night in Taormina at a little terrace restaurant called Trattoria don Camillo. When I think of meatballs I think of a heavy tomato sauce but I took the advice of our waiter and had their Polpette arrosto nelle foglie de limone (meatballs cooked in lemon leaves) and Insalata di patate con capperi e cipolle (potato salad with capers and red onion).

Words wont do it justice but the meatballs were heavenly lemony and juicy despite not having a sauce and the potatoes just perfectly balanced against the salty capers and crunchy onion.

Polpette arrosto nelle foglie de limone

Meatballs cooked in lemon leaves. Serves 3-4.

  • 400g veal or beef mince
  • 100g white breadcrumbs
  • 100g grated caciocavallo or parmesan cheese
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten
  • salt and pepper to season
  • 16-30 lemon leaves depending on size (you can either wrap one around or use two per meatball)
  • olive oil

Mix the mince and breadcrumbs in a bowl, then add the egg and the grated cheese and mix by hand. Season with salt and pepper. Divide and shape into plum sized balls and flatten slightly. Wrap in the lemon leaves and place on a baking tray (if roasting) or rack (if grilling). Brush with olive oil. Either cook the meatballs in 200°C oven for 10 minutes each side or on a hot grill for 3-5 minutes each side until cooked through. Serve with a light salad or green veg.

As if this wasnt enough to send me into raptures, our waiter then offered me Marsala mousse for dessert – a light and fluffy vanilla mousse delicately flavoured with Marsala wine. I could have quite happily had a second helping and I’m dying to recreate this at home with the bottle of Passito that I brought back.

If I could keep only two recipes from Sicily these would be them, well… these and Cannolli but that’s another post…

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It’s nearly time to go…

I’m finally off to get married in Gozo and then use my honeymoon to eat my way around Sicily. So because I might not be able to post anything for a month I decided to write one final bumper post – a collage of pictures and recipes from the last two weeks of last minute chaos which have stopped me writing all the things I wanted to post on their own.

I did somehow find time in amongst work and wedding preparations to eat a lot of delicious things and even make a few of them myself. So this is my week in pictures…

Roseleaf – Ruby red risotto and a Madhatter!

Great little restaurant down near the docks in Edinburgh which has hats all over the walls, serves cocktails in teapots and produces some seriously good food. The Madhatter cocktail is brilliant!

Cheese and Cherry Scones (adapted from Goodfood magazine)

Not together, a batch of half cheese and the other half cherry. Remember that amazing scone recipe I mentioned…

  • 450g self raising flour
  • 1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • 1 1/2 tsp salt
  • 100g cold butter, diced
  • 284ml buttermilk, halved into two portions
  • 2 tbsp milk plus extra for glazing
  • 2 tbsp caster sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 50g glace cherries, chopped
  • 50g mature cheddar, grated
  • 1/2 tsp sweet paprika

Preheat the oven to 180°C. Combine flour, 1/2 tsp salt and bicarb and rub in the butter until it resembles breadcrumbs. Put half this mixture in another bowl.

For the cheese ones, add the rest of the salt, cheese and paprika. For the cherry ones, add the cherries, sugar and vanilla. Now mix in half the buttermilk and milk into each one and bring together to form a soft dough. Press out on a lightly floured surface to about 2cm thick and cut out with cookie cutters to form rounds. Place on a floured baking tray, brush the tops with milk and bake for 12-15min until golden and risen.

Chocolates, Calissons, Marzipan Fruit & Marron Glacé

A very generous gift of Puyricard Delicacies in return for the cakes I bring in to work when I’m in the mood bake.

Cherry & Coconut Cakes – made these as a birthday cake for Dawn last week

  • 225g butter
  • 225g self  raising flour
  • 225g caster sugar
  • 4 eggs, lightly beaten
  • 50g glace cherries
  • 1 tsp vanilla essence
  • 4 tbsp warmed cherry or strawberry jam
  • 100g desiccated coconut
Preheat the oven to 180°C. Butter a 12 hole muffin tin. Cream the butter and sugar and beat in the eggs one at a time. add the vanilla. Fold in the flour and chopped cherries and pour into the muffin tin. Bake for 20-25 minutes until golden and cooked through. Remove and turn out on to a wire rack to cool. Dip the tops into the warmed jam and then the coconut.
And last but not least… The Daddy Steak Sandwich
  • 2 large rump steaks
  • 2 long ciabatta rolls
  • 1 punnet of chestnut mushrooms
  • 1 red onion, sliced
  • splash of balsamic vinegar
  • 1tsp english mustard powder
  • 1tsp wholegrain mustard
  • 2tbsp mayonnaise

Fry the onions and mushrooms together until soft. Add a splash of balsamic vinegar and continue to fry gently until the liquid has evapourated. Season and fry the steak until medium rare (usually a couple of minutes each side, depending on how thick your steak is). Combine the mustards and mayonnaise and spread on both halves of the warmed rolls. Add the steak and top with mushrooms and onions. Ta da!

Speak to you all in a month, wish me luck!

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Bung-it Pie

Yesterday was my birthday. I had planned to make this meal yesterday but I dragged a very patient fiancé shopping to turn my birthday money into a pile of loot so we landed up at Nandos for an evening feast instead.

Having stuffed our faces with peri peri chicken wings and sweet potato mash we came home and I decided to pre-prep my original menu for tonight instead (partly because I had all the  ingredients and partly because one of my purchases was a set of le  Creuset bean pots that I’ve been coveting and they are so pretty they had to be used). This recipe is actually based onSophie Dahl’s Shepherd’s pie with champ but the beauty of this dish is that you can use it to finish off any veg you have, hence the title (you can bung anything in the cupboard in it).

Bung-it Pie

I had tomatoes and a courgette that needed to be used but you can put any veg in and change the ratio of veg to mince to suit. I’ve noted where an ingredient can be swapped for something else or removed as a guide.

Champ topping

  • 3 floury potatoes
  • small handful frozen peas
  • knob of butter
  • 3 spring onions, chopped
  • 30ml milk
  • 75g extra mature cheddar, broken into chunks
  • pinch of smoked paprika

For the filling

  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 red onion, peeled and roughly chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
  • 2 carrots, peeled and chopped into small pieces
  • 2 celery stalks
  • 1 courgette chopped into small pieces (optional)
  • 400g tinned tomatoes (or 4-6 fresh tomatoes, chopped and a tbsp of tomato puree)
  • 1 tsp Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 medium red chilli chopped (or ½ tsp tabasco)
  • 1/4 tsp smoked paprika
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 80ml red wine
  • 100ml veg stock
  • 1 sprig fresh rosemary (or 1/2 tsp of dried rosemary)
  • 1 tbsp balsamic vinegar (or red wine vinegar if you don’t have any balsamic)
  • 250g beef mince (or lamb mince)
  • sea salt and pepper

Preheat the oven to 200 degrees. For the champ topping, heat a pan of salted water, add the potatoes and bring gently to the boil, then simmer until the potatoes are nearly cooked through, about 15-20 minutes.

For the filling, heat the olive oil in a large frying pan over a medium heat and gently fry the chopped onion, garlic, carrots and celery for 5-10 minutes, until softened. Turn the heat up and add the mince. Fry until browned and then add the courgette, chilli and garlic and fry for a further minute.  Add the  remaining filling ingredients, turn down the heat slightly and simmer until the sauces has reduced and veg is soft.

When the potatoes are almost cooked, add the frozen peas and cook for a few more minutes until the peas are tender (you can make your mash ahead or use left over mash in which case you can just boil the peas separately). Melt the butter in a small saucepan over a low heat and fry the spring onions  for 2min. Add the milk and heat through. Drain the potatoes and peas and mash roughly. Add the warm milk mixture to the potatoes and continue to mash until combined but still chunky. Spoon the beef mixture into a medium pie dish or individual pie dishes and top with the champ. Poke the bits of cheese into the mash and sprinkle with smoked paprika. Bake the pie for 25-30 minutes, or until the potato is golden-brown. If you have made the filling ahead of time and its cool it make take slightly longer to heat through (test the middle by inserting a butter knife and touching quickly against your lip to make sure its hot).

For the pudding half of my birthday menu I decided to try a Pannacotta recipe from Gordon Ramsay’s Healthy Appetite.  Its light and refreshing after a heavy meal which is a refreshing change from recent sweet things I’ve made and as a result is going on my list for Christmas pudding options! The original recipe has a blueberry sauce but I had some strawberry sauce in the freezer which I used instead.

Strawberry Pannacotta

Serves 6

  • 600ml semi-skimmed milk
  • 1 vanilla pod, split and seeds scraped out (keep pod)
  • 125g castor sugar
  • 4 sheets of gelatine
  • 200ml natural yoghurt
  • 250g strawberries
  • 3 tbsp honey/syrup/sugar
  • squeeze of lemon juice

Put the milk, sugar, vanilla seeds and pod in a saucepan and heat gently until the sugar dissolves and then bring to a simmer. Soak the gelatine leaves in cold water to soften.

As soon as the milk starts to bubble remove from the heat, drain and squeeze the gelatine leaves and add to the milk. Stir until dissolved and then leave to cool. Strain through a fine sieve (must be fine otherwise you will have bits of vanilla pod which doesn’t affect taste but looks a bit odd).

Once completely cool, add the yoghurt to the milk and pour into 6 pannacotta moulds (I used ramekins as I didnt have these). Cover with cling film and chill for a few hours or overnight.

Boil the berries, sugar/honey and lemon juice until syrupy and cool. To serve, turn the pannacotta out or serve in the moulds with the sauce.

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