Thursday, July 28, 2011

Make a Difference

I can't just stare at the photos in the news of the starving children in the Horn of Africa and feel helpless anymore. I need to at least feel like I've done something to help.

And since this blog is (mostly) about food (and not always the food that's strictly necessary for living either), it seems apt that the United Nations World Food Programme be my donor recipient of choice for the next few months.

The life of my tastebuds as dictated by my cravings very often revolves around comparisons to dark chocolate, so do the maths with me here on this shock fact:

A 100g (3.5 ounce) slab of good quality dark chocolate
= ZAR 30
= USD 4.50
= 18 children fed 1 cup of food
(which is probably their only meal for the day)

Can you say frack?!?!?

Please consider donating, or at least grabbing the picture above and linking to this worthwhile cause.

And if I may ask a favour (from a South African to the great, big blog reader geographical world), if you do donate, please designate it to the Horn of Africa...the place where Mom's are relinquishing their dying babies on the side of the road, and militant rebels enlist children into their armies by bribing them with food.

Hey you still think we live in a beautiful world?

Monday, July 25, 2011

The Duality of Citrus Cake

Light as a cloud.
Dense as a London fog.
Can it be both?
Yes it can.
Let me tell you...

Pogue Colonel: Marine, what is that button on your body armor?
Private Joker: A peace symbol, sir.
Pogue Colonel: Where'd you get it?
Private Joker: I don't remember, sir.
Pogue Colonel: What is that you've got written on your helmet?
Private Joker: "Born to Kill", sir.
Pogue Colonel: You write "Born to Kill" on your helmet and you wear a peace button. What's that supposed to be, some kind of sick joke?
Private Joker: No, sir.
Pogue Colonel: You'd better get your head and your ass wired together, or I will take a giant shit on you.
Private Joker: Yes, sir.
Pogue Colonel: Now answer my question or you'll be standing tall before the man.
Private Joker: I think I was trying to suggest something about the duality of man, sir.
Pogue Colonel: The what?
Private Joker: The duality of man. The Jungian thing, sir.
Pogue Colonel: Whose side are you on, son?
Private Joker: Our side, sir.
Pogue Colonel: Don't you love your country?
Private Joker: Yes, sir.
Pogue Colonel: Then how about getting with the program? Why don't you jump on the team and come on in for the big win?
Private Joker: Yes, sir.

- Full Metal Jacket -

(adapted from Cakes to Celebrate Love and Life by Maritz and Guy)
("Our Gran's Famous Orange Cake", pg. 123)

  • 185 grams (6.6 ounces) unsalted Butter (NB: at room temperature)
  • 280 grams (9.9 ounces) gluten-free all-purpose Flour (e.g. Nature's Choice Cake Flour)
  • 200 grams (7.1 ounces/a whole cup) Sugar
  • 125 ml (4.2 fl. ounces/a half cup) full-cream Milk
  • 3 large eggs (NB: at room temperature)
  • 45 ml (1.5 fl. ounces/3 tablespoons) Orange Juice
  • 2.5 ml (a half teaspoon) Orange Zest (finely grated)
  • 5ml (a whole teaspoon) gluten-free Baking Powder
  • 1.25 ml (a quarter teaspoon) Salt
  1. Preheat the oven to 180 degrees Celsius (175 to be safe...that's approx. 347 Fahrenheit).
  2. Grease and flour a bundt cake pan, or grease and line 2 x 18cm (2 x 7 inch) round cake pans.
  3. Beat the sugar and room-temp butter together till light and fluffy.
  4. Mix in the room-temp eggs and milk.
  5. Add in the rest of the ingredients and mix until there are no visible lumps.
  6. Pour the batter into the bundt cake pan, or divide it equally between the two round pans.
  7. Bake on the centre oven rack for 18 - 25 mins (bundt cake pan) or 20 - 30 minutes (round cake pans). The times vary greatly depending on the size of the cake tin you use, and your individual oven, so here are the signs to look for that the cakes are done: (a) a cake skewer inserted comes out clean; and (b) the centre of the cake springs back when pressed lightly.
  8. Let the cake cool for 10 minutes in the pans before turning out.
  9. Citrus cake for the win! And then onto frosting...
Milk Chocolate Ganache

I'm not a fan of buttercream frostings, so zesty ganache it shall be (and not death by tray...)
  • Spare the Ina jokes, but get yourself a GOOD bar of gluten-free milk chocolate (100 grams = 3.5 ounces). 
  • Melt it over low heat (or in the microwave) with a tablespoon or two of cream (depending on desired thickness).
  • Frost the cakes and then sprinkle with grated orange zest.
  • Serves 8 generously.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Rebooting Purity of Taste

The year was 2001.
I was in my senior semester of the 18-month diploma for professional cookery at the (then) Prue Leith College of Food and Wine at the start of my menu week.

The format of the college required one day per week of "theory", with the other four days worked in either the hot or cold kitchen, churning out a piece of that weeks changing menu for the on-site restaurant (then The Odd Plate).

While their were numerous examinations standing between me and graduation, a large proponent of that semester's marks came from menu week, a five-day cycle where a partner and myself got to set up the menu (3 starters, breads, 1 soup, 4 main courses, 3 desserts, petit fours) for the restaurant and play "head chef" in our respective kitchens (and all that entails).

At the same time, some where in London, Jamie Oliver was "Nakedly Cheffing" his way into hoardes of peoples' hearts the world over with his TV program and cook books, one of which featured a delightful little recipe for Chocolate Pots.

While my menu week partner and I were as flamboyant and inspired with our flavour combinations as an inexperienced 19 and 20-year old could be, we knew we wanted one thing on the menu which was simple, elegant and entirely refined in its tastes. An item which stood out for being nothing other than a better version of itself....the sum of perfect ingredients, so to speak.

Jamie's chocolate pots fitted the bill.

Since the ingredients were simple, we decided to make the presentation quirky, serving the dessert item in a small demitasse cup with saucer and diminutive demitasse spoon. The chocolate pot itself was topped with a meltingly soft coffee-flavoured meringue the exact circumfrence of the demitasse cup, fashioned to look like the swirl of cream on top of a cappuccino. We thought it was adorably kitsch (the real head chef thought it was just kitsch), but it flew off the menu at a blistering rate and taught me a valuable lesson.

Most people seek purity of taste.

A conglomeration of flavours and textures can be confusing to the taste buds, and aren't always welcome when what you're seeking is something uncluttered and comforting (and not, necessarily, entirely deconstructed).

It's with interest that I notice time and again the empty spaces on super market shelves in the chocolate section where the plain chocolate selections should be located...the milks and 70% and 85% bars. Standing next to these empty spaces in their undiminished glory are the chocolates where a flavour has intervened...chilli or salt or blueberries or crunchy espresso beans. And while these are taste sensations, to be sure, the buyers evidence speaks for itself.

It just so happens, the chocolate pots were a brilliant idea for another reason as well.

By the evening of the fifth day of menu week, my partner and I were so dog tired from working split shifts (arriving long before anyone and leaving only after the kitchens and restaurant were spotlessly clean) that while we were going through the menu with that evening's wait staff, we started laughing uncontrollably. I'm talking entirely hysterical and unstoppable belly laughter that left us crying and gasping for air, while the waiters and waitresses looked at us as if we had lost it completely!

We knew there was only one thing for it: 
we went and stood in the walk-in fridge, shutting the door behind us. We took the tasting spoons stored in the special little pockets on the sleeves of our respective chefs' jackets, and we dug in to a shared chocolate pot from that night's stash.

And we were the better for it as, I believe, the world is the better for having chocolate!

Modified Chocolate Pots

Level: Easy
Time: 15 minutes to make (plus at least 3 hours for setting)
Yields: 6 (using ramekins/espresso cups)

On the night my family visited the restaurant for dinner, my Mom ordered this item off the menu, which unleashed an annual craving.

Every year since 2001, she requests I make a batch of chocolate pots for her birthday. And while I have tried a few different combinations of quantities and flavours over the years, it is to this version I always return, as it receives the greatest number of compliments in the form of: "Hmmmm's!" :-)

P.S. If you're looking for the Naked Chef's original rum filled, egg yolk heavy recipe, it is all over the internet. Just search for Jamie Oliver's chocolate pots.

  • 250 milliliters of cream (1 cup)
  • 200 grams of dark chocolate (68 to 70% cocoa solids)
  • 2 large egg yolks
  • 100 grams good quality butter (a brand you like the taste of so much that you could eat it with a tea spoon by itself)

Heat the cream in a pot over low to medium heat until steam starts rising from the surface, and a tiny simmer emerges, at which point you must remove it immediately from the stove.

Allow it to calm down for a minute or so, and then break in the chocolate pieces and watch them melt, stirring occasionally.

Now stir in the butter, until it's melted through.

Last to go in (to save you from scrambled egg flavoured chocolate pots) are the egg yolks, which you stir through.

Pour into 6 ramekins or small espresso cups standing on a tray. Cover the tray with cling wrap (so your chocolate pots don't taste like your fridge smells), and refrigerate for at least three to four hours (overnight is best).

Serve lightly garnished with chocolate swirls, orange zest or the like...whatever takes your fancy (and then the person eating it can scrape off the topping if it's too adventurous, just like my Mom did, thereby proving my point perfectly that most people don't like their chocolate fix tinkered with too much) :-)
Orange Zest
Dark Chocolate
Fresh Rosemary
Chocolate Covered Peanuts
Fresh Lavender

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Christmas in July

I've always loved the idea of Christmas in July...especially in SA, where the chilliness of Winter lends itself to story book style roaring fires and turkey dinners much more than our sweltering Summery December Christmas does!

To celebrate, I'd like to offer a special discount to my blog readers for the next two weeks in my Etsy shop. I'd also like to launch a new, funny product I created this weekend:

His name is Lou. You can read more about him here.

Use the coupon code LOUSDISCOUNT at checkout to receive 15% off Lou the frog or any other item in my shop for the next two weeks (discount ends on Saturday, 23 July).

There are more Christmas in July sales items, which will be marked down till the end of July (use the code for double discount up to 23 July...woot!).

So ho.ho.ho. and Merry Pretend Christmas! :-)

Tuesday, July 05, 2011

It's Make-A-Pie Tuesday

Choose to make a pie day!
This post over at Gluten-Free Girl and The Chef.
Why else?
Because I haven't baked in a while. And baby, because it's cold outside.
So this pie has a job to do...warm us up from the inside out.

Now here's the crunch (and it's not just the apple in my pie)....the thermostat on my oven is broken. Therefore, you THINK you are putting it on 180 degrees Celsius, and twenty minutes later, your yoghurt cake is cremated on the outside and raw on the inside, because the oven is ACTUALLY at, like, 250 degrees Celsius (or something like that).

A challenge, yes. Did it stop me, no. It just meant I had to play eagle eye baker and watch the damn thing like a hawk. Yay, just the way you want to spend a half hour...squatted in front of the oven.

Anyhoo, I didn't feel like following a recipe, so I made it up by feel and taste as I went along.

And here's what popped out the oven...
Home made cinnamon-apple pie
My pie crust:
  • 120 grams gluten-free cake flour
  • 120 grams salted butter
  • 60 grams sugar
  • 1 Tbsp water

I used one of those half-moon pastry cutter gadgets to make a crumbly dough that I pushed into the bottom of a buttered foil pie dish (keep some aside for a crumble topping).

I poked some holes in the bottom of the pastry with a fork and tossed the dish in the *freezer for 30 minutes while I made the filling.
* I remember hearing Jamie Oliver saying that it helps prevent shrinkage of the crust if you don't feel like tossing stinky legumes in the crust when you're blind baking it.
    My apple pie filling:
    (it's Winter....there's not much choice on the fruit front, and apples are about as crisp and fresh right now as they're going to be for the whole year)
    • 4 large red apples
    • 4 cups water
    • 1 Tbsp orange juice
    • 1 small Calamondin orange, cut in half
    • 200ml sugar
    • 1 tsp cinnamon
    • Slice the apples into crescents of 3mm thickness.
    • Simmer them in the water, orange juice, sugar, cinnamon for 25 minutes, or until al dente. Allow to cool slightly.
    • Take the pie crust out the freezer and bake it at 150 degrees Celsius for 10 - 15 minutes, or until golden around the edges. 
    • Fill the pie crust, and sprinkle over the remaining pie crust dough as a crumble. Bake for 5 minutes at 150 degrees Celsius, or until just lightly touched by a golden hue.
    •  Slice, then go forth and appease thine taste buds!

      Sunday, July 03, 2011

      My Cereal Reality

      I was watching an episode of "Unwrapped" on the Food Network while on holiday recently, which showed a chain food bar featuring cereals which you could mix to your heart's content and munch on the go (Cereality).

      This got me to thinking when last I had eaten a great bowl of cereal (years and years ago!) While there are many, many wheat-free muesli options, there are very few gluten-free cereal options that are also corn-free. And the gf ones that are available, you would not really want to eat "just" as they are (no kidding, I once tried a gf fruit muesli about 4 years ago that tasted like parmesan...)

      So I decided to use my proximity to a fantastic (and massive) health store in Cape Town, Wellness Warehouse, to so shopping for my own version of a cereal bar mixed cereal.

      O.K., confession time...
      This is where I admit that on the morning I created my cereal reality, I ended up eating a bowl of this blend for breakfast, lunch and supper.

      Yes, I ate cereal THE ENTIRE DAY!

      Bless me, Father, for I am cereally addicted :-)

      I made cereal magic with:

      • Enviro Kidz Koala Crisp
      • Entice Rice Flakes (with rice flakes, cocoa powder, cinnamon and sugar)
      • Coconut Flakes
      • Chia Seeds
      • Aussie Dream Rice Milk

      For those of you celebrating Independence Day, happy fourth of July and enjoy the government mandated day off!