Poultry En Pointe

When I get really excited about something, my brain kind of blacks out in little sporadic blips which is extremely annoying, because I later remember only little drips and drabs. The drips and drabs are often the insignificant or irrelevant details – which is exactly what happened when I recently spoiled myself with a ticket to see Swan Lake performed by the St Petersburg Ballet Theatre here in Jozi.

midflight

Now, I’d been to ballets before – mostly of the uncoordinated, plump 6-year old variety, or otherwise the alternate performance-arty type which can become a little frightening – but never a proper, classical ballet. This had been on my bucket-list for years, then suddenly I scored a hat trick –  I saw the ads for Swan Lake in the same week that I found the vintage mixer, just after I came back from Mozambique.

So off I tootled to the theatre in a state of great excitement and … it was AWESOME! So awesome that it was a total sensory overload, and one of the frustratingly arbitrary thoughts I was left with was this: I get that the swans’ costumes are floaty and meringue-y, which is why things like pavlova were invented – but that wasn’t as big a deal to me as the dancers’ muscles. Good grief! Their legs fascinated me: I didn’t really get a proper glimpse of their faces. There was a guy in a harlequin outfit who did a twirly manoeuvre that left me a bit cross-eyed; the girls’ calves were bigger than their thighs; they landed on their tippy-toes without squealing in pain. And I thought, well the pavlova is all good and well, but really it should have been more meaty somehow, to be truly indicative of a ballet.

twinkletoes

ms muscle

I used (and abused, a little) Ms Khoo’s recipe for baked fish dumplings (quenelles lyonnaise au four) to create this ballet-inspired chicken version; I was a little worried about the outcome as I’ve never eaten anything like it, and the thought of putting chicken fillets through a blender turned me a little green around the edges (I had a school-friend who announced one break-time that she had composed a new song, which she proceeded to sing: “Mouse in a blender, ching ching squish”. Funny how these things come back to haunt you many years later). I decided to try a lighter sauce than the original recipe called for, because I think a rich, heavy sauce would be a bit like that episode of the Vicar of Dibley when Dawn French did ballet (that was by far my favourite episode. WATCH IT). This recipe is far, far too much trouble to feature regularly in my kitchen but it’s not at all difficult and is absolutely divine – definitely one to file away for a shmancy occasion.

i can smell them just by looking at this

To impress 6 nose-in-the-air pinkies-out guests:

200g chicken breast fillets

75g soft butter

150ml milk

75g cake flour

3 eggs, separated

1 teaspoon salt

a hefty pinch of black pepper

a clove of garlic, crushed

Sauce of your choice – whatever you would normally use on pasta I suppose – bechamel, tomatoey, whatever tickles your fancy really.

Day 1 (yes, it’s one of those lengthy ones that requires a bit of planning):

bookmark

minion cheeks

yolks or bottoms

sticky icky

mushy mousse

First, get some Tchaikovsky going for atmosphere. Try not to pull any ballet stunts with a knife in your hand. Chop the chicken up roughly and throw it into the blender with the butter; blend to form a revolting, sickly pink paste. I know, it is gross. Bring the milk to a boil in a small saucepan, add the flour and beat hard over a low heat until it forms a strange, bouncy ball. Allow it to cool for 5 minutes before popping it into the blender, adding the egg yolks (all 3 – I just photographed 2 because I think they look like a minion’s bottom), garlic and seasoning, and blitz the whole lot together until smooth. It will look like porridge from your worst nightmare – this stuff is straight out of a Tim Burton movie. Avert your attention from the slimy pink mass and beat the egg whites to soft peak stage. Carefully fold the egg whites and chicken paste together, then gently spread it out onto a tray or shallow dish, cover and refrigerate overnight.

Day 2:

boiling blobs

all done

au four

dissected dumpling

Bring a large pot of salted water to the boil and carefully, using two large spoons, form the mixture into quenelle shapes. Or if you’re like me and prefer to take the “organic” route, use two tablespoons – one to scoop the mixture up and the other to slide it off into the water. They will be roughly oval – very roughly.

Just cook a couple at a time, so that they don’t bump into each other and cause damage and disaster. Cook them for about 5 minutes each, or until they float to the surface. Use a slotted spoon to transfer them to a baking dish – gently does it. At this point they will look completely unappetizing and you will start to wonder whether it would be safer for everyone to just order in from the Indian place down the road, but keep going, it’s worth it!

Cover the dumplings in sauce (white wine sauce is my favourite, and the recipe will appear soon – it is too good not to have it’s own blog post) and stick under the grill for a few minutes so that everything is hot and bubbling and everyone’s mouths are watering.

The result is incredibly light but at the same time substantial – just like those buoyant ballerinas :-).

poulet ballet

 

PS: One of my favourite books ever is Nicholas Nickleby by Charles Dickens, and this is one of my favourite lines in the book where Mantalini, the shameless gigolo, is trying to placate his wife after making a comment about Nicholas’ pretty young sister:

‘Do you wish to break my heart?’

‘Not for twenty thousand hemispheres populated with–with–with little ballet-dancers,’ replied Mantalini in a poetical strain.

This has nothing whatsoever to do with chicken dumplings, but I doubt there will be any further ballet-related posts so it was now or never ;-).

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Al Green (Beans)

How’s this for a coincidence? My sister dreams of opening a restaurant in which all the food names are derived from celebrity names – one of them being Al Green Beans.  And a friend’s husband, Al, likes these beans. Clearly, my green bean stars are aligned, or something? Awesome!

These green beans appeared alongside bouef bourgignon with mash (ah! potatoes *atkins-followers drool in unison*) when it was my turn to do bookclub dinner this year, in midwinter. Of course I forgot to post the recipes and it doesn’t seem right to wax lyrical about stodgy rib-sticking beef stew on such a nice warm spring evening (will someone please remind me next winter?), but this would be great in any weather. Plus, it really is healthy. Not like most of the stuff I post which I try to tell myself is healthy because glucose is “brain food” and so fudge must make you smarter – no seriously, this is healthy:

images

I’ve never been a green bean fan. Or an Al Green fan, actually (that tremulous drawn-out caterwauling about broken hearts just isn’t for me). My experiences of green beans as a kid were either that they were cooked to a yellow-tinged death and mashed up with something else, which disguised the beans; alternately, they were tough stalks with a fine layer of fuzz, a little stringy bit down one side, and squeaked between your teeth worse than nails on a chalkboard. Someone has even created a whole “factors to success” concept based on a similar childhood green beans experience – the picture of the author alone is worth a quick visit to this hysterically-named site. Then a friend happened to mention that she loves them and I couldn’t understand why – which meant I had to investigate this more thoroughly. I re-discovered green beans and, boy, was it a joyous reunion! I must have tried them a hundred different ways (with roasted baby tomatoes, sesame seeds, toasted almond slivers, garlic chips, fried breadcrumbs, lemon). I was like Forrest Gump’s friend Bubba with the shrimp – until I finally settled on this recipe.

The pecorino adds a creamy note without being too rich, just takes the edge off all the greenery happening on your plate. I stumbled across the Elbows Up market (off Beyers… you have been warned. Between Elbows Up and Westpack you will emerge a poor, poor person). Anyway, the market. Right at the back was a flashing neon light: CHEESE. I was like a moth to a fromage flame.

{i'm 100% certain that i was a very greedy mouse in a past life}

{i’m 100% certain that i was a very greedy mouse in a past life}

The guy manning the stall was great, he let me taste a bit of everything (so I felt obliged to buy a bit of everything) including this super mature sheep’s milk pecorino – it came off an enormous barrel-shaped cheese, and the way wedges had been cut off the top half made it look like a divine savoury, smelly wedding cake. It was magnificent. Magnificent. It was so mature that there were little crunchy salt crystals, and it didn’t have that goatsmilk mucky farmyard taste. I have fond memories of that cheese. I miss that cheese.

The mangetout happened because I think it has a very similar flavour profile to green beans, but with a nice crispy crunchy texture element. I found the most gorgeous purple “shiraz” mangetout – tastes just like the green ones, but oh so much prettier.

in the sauna

lusciously lovely

 

*my photo’s do this dish absolutely no justice – the mangetout is not very photogenic, it’s far more glamorous in real life.

For about 6 servings of lovely green beans worthy of Al Green’s wailing:

400g green beans, topped but not tailed (the taily bit is pretty) – any slender bright green ones will do, doesn’t have to be those fine french ones – avoid the overgrown furry tough ones *theatrical shudder*

120g Shiraz mangetout

1 small red onion, finely sliced

A tiny dribble of olive oil. A tablespoon, possibly.

About 60ml (a generous splash) of balsamic salad dressing (I use Ina Paarman’s) – or when I’m out of stock I use a splash of balsamic vinegar and a tiny bit of sugar

Pecorino, shaved. You will notice that it’s so mature that chunks fall off as you use a potato peeler to make pretty shavings. Those chunks would just RUIN the appearance of the final dish, and it is your duty to eat them IMMEDIATELY.

Righty-o, Bring a pot of water to a nice rolling boil on the stove. Pop the green beans in, and start the timer – 3 MINUTES. Not a second more. Add the mangetout in and keep boiling for a minute more, then immediately pour the hot water off and fill the pot up with icy-cold water to stop any further cooking.

Drain the beans, while you heat up that dribble of oil in a frying pan to a nice high heat (the blanched beans make a good snacksicle while waiting for the oil) (as an alternative to eating all the cheese, I mean). Pop the drained veggies and the thinly sliced onion in and toss around for about two minutes – the idea is to toast them, not cook them all over again. Splash the balsamic dressing over the contents of the pan – it will sizzle and disappear very quickly, leaving a lovely shiny tangy residue on the veggies. As soon as this has happened, decant all that yumminess into a suitable receptacle. Serve hot or lukewarm (or cold – it is spring, after all) scattered with pecorino shavings.

So after all of that, I feel like I owe green beans a bit of an apology for turning my nose up at them for so long. And so, beans, all I can say is:

I(iiii)’m… I’m so in love with you
Whatever you want to do
Is all right with me-eee-e-ee-e…
‘Cause yoooooo… make me feel so brand noooooo…
And I-iiiii-i… want to spend my life with you…

Ooo baby…
Leeeeeet’s, let’s stay together…
Loving you whether, whether
Times are good or bad, happy or sad
Ooooo… Oooo… Yeah…

PS: Or you could just leave out the beans, mangetout, onion and dressing and just have the pecorino.

PPS: Look what I found!!

{green bean pens! the stationery obsession lives on}

{green bean pens! the stationery obsession lives on}

{purple is the new green - although purple beans doesn't have quite the same ring to it}

{purple is the new green – although “purple beans” doesn’t have quite the same ring to it}

 

Five Things: Stationery Like

Happy (one day belated) Secretary’s Day to all the secretaries! Such cheerful, helpful souls (for the most part) despite the fact that most of us think all they do is make hair and nail appointments and play Solitaire :-).

If it wasn’t for food and science, I would have loved to be a secretary just so that I could be in charge of the Stationery Cupboard. I’d hate all the other bits – making bookings and making sure people get to places on time and putting up with all those same horrid people who think all I do is play SomethingVille games on Facebook – but I do admit to a sick obsession with stationery. One of the reasons I love the movie You’ve Got Mail so much is because of this line:

I would send you a bouquet of newly sharpened pencils if I knew your name and address. 

I, personally, would love a bouquet of stationery. I bought five beautiful pens that looked like pencils, from Typo (my new gigantic weakness; their website has a page called “Things You Didn’t Know You Needed”) – kind of like a little pen posy.

{write sweet little notes...}

{sweet little notings…}

 

{erasers! and there are little peanut ones too. and pizza ones. and cheeseburger ones}

{erasers! and there are little peanut ones too. and pizza ones. and cheeseburger ones}

{twinkiechan is killing me here - first the toast scarf, now these candyfloss pen cosies}

{twinkiechan is killing me here – first the toast scarf, now these candyfloss pen cosies}

{i love creepily-realistic fake food - this one's at Typo}

{i love creepily-realistic fake food – this one’s at Typo}

I have saved the best for last:

{my dream pencil! must. have. now.}

{my dream pencil!}

 

 

 

Spring(form) Has Sprung

Happy Spring Southern-Hemisphere Dwellers! Spring sprung a sneaky cold-front on us in Jozi at the weekend – four degrees when I left the house in the morning! I soldiered resolutely on though, because I was on a Mission: to purchase my first ever Springform Pan *cue culinary angel song*.

$RI7Z6WR

Why a springform pan you ask? And I answer: I have the world’s smallest kitchen with the barest minimum of storage space, and is quite literally bursting at the seams. I would love to own such things as fluted tart tins, dariole moulds, avocado slicers and cucumber glasses (they’re not what you think they are) but space is at a premium, and where possible I opt to have dual-purpose gadgets (did you know that a melon-baller is a fantastic apple-corer too? Now you do). The springform pan is going to be cake tin as well as tart tin, as well as deep-dish pizza support-mechanism – awesome!

springform has sprung

The reason that the need for a springform pan suddenly became so pressing was due to superfluous apples; I buy fresh fruit weekly but demand wasn’t quite keeping up with supply, and an apple tart was called for. While searching for recipes online, I came across a fantastically-named one – Affy Tapple Pie. Of course, this meant that I wanted to make it so that I could call the blog post “Mucking Afazing Affy Tapple Pie” – but the recipe required actual toffee apples, which would have rendered my little stockpile in the fridge useless. Also, my end of deepest darkest Africa doesn’t seem to have carnivals, which is the natural habitat of toffee apples. I also tried individual salted caramel apple tarts – beautiful, but the caramel took three tries. That means three pots of oily burnt sugary gunk.

{burnt sugar is not}

{burnt sugar is not}

Then, a solution came in the form of a Jamie Oliver recipe. His recipe’s are always optimistically short and sweet, no fuss. But this time I was a bit worried about the lack of fuss – especially since here in South Africa we get Caramel Treat in a tin, and don’t have to boil up condensed milk for three hours while praying that they do not explode all over the kitchen. And I think that’s the reason the tart wasn’t THAT amazing – caramel isn’t exactly an exotic treat here (shame, you poor sad caramel-less first worlders *giggle-snort* – go find your nearest South African shop – that’s the one with Mrs Ball’s Chutney and Ouma’s Rusks – or ask your local friendly South African, we’re all over the place these days).

$RIX269O

In mildly modifying the recipe, I’m in no way dissing Mr Oliver – I’ve just fine-tuned it to suit my tastebuds a little better. I’ve increased the proportion of apple to caramel quite drastically. I was concerned that the caramel would form sticky toffee which would be a danger to dentures, but it didn’t change at all – weird. Generally I prefer things to be serving-sized (cupcake obsession) but for this kind of dessert it’s best to let everyone decide just how big their serving will be – it is SWEET.

3mm. STAT.

$R36OZ6G

pour some shooga on me

$RWNUYUG

My lovely new heavy-duty springform pan did a beautiful job, and I can’t wait to put it through it’s paces again. Next up – savoury cheesecake!

For a lusciously large toffee apple tart:

About 450g sweet shortcrust pastry – buy it if you’re lazy, but homemade is significantly superior – recipe coming soon

1 can of Nestle Caramel Treat. Go ask your local Saffa. We’re the ones who will shout “EINA!” if you kick our shins.

4 medium-sized apples – I used Fuji and Golden Delicious; Granny Smith would have been a good addition.

2 heaped tablespoons of icing sugar

Roll the pastry out – 2 or 3mm maybe? I don’t know. I always get this wrong, and one end will be 3cm and the other will be completely transparently thin. I know those clever people at Wilton say to use skewers of the correct diameter on either side of the pastry while you roll, so that you can’t possibly roll it any thinner. But I’m the kind of person who believes life is too short to try to work out the diameter of a kebab stick. Jamie says to slice off slivers of pastry and squash them together in the tin, but I have a marvellous marble rolling pin that needs to earn it’s keep.

Anyway, line your 23cm tart tin (or springform) and trim the edges; you will need under a centimetre of border-height, just enough to keep the caramel at bay. I forgot to do this, hence an ugly crust. Oh well. Stick the tin into the freezer for an hour.

Next, preheat the oven to 180 degrees Celsius; prepare your pastry case for blind-baking by putting a sheet of baking paper into it, and throwing dried beans or those fancy glass baking beans (coins will work too I’m told, but I never have enough money) into it. Bake blind for 10 minutes. Jamie said 15 but the edges were browning too much. After turfing the beans and paper, I poked a few holes in the base and stuck it back in the oven for a few minutes, as it still looked seriously undercooked.

Next is the fun part. Grab a spoon. Open up the tin of caramel. Taste it carefully, to make sure it’s right. Yes. It is, isn’t it? Using a tablespoon, blob some into the crust and spread it out. Do not spread it to the same depth as what is shown in Jamie’s picture. Less is more – it’s like hot English mustard in a ham sandwich. But better, since you can clean out the tin (carefully, with a spoon) after. 2mm MAX.

Peel and quarter the apples, one at a time (because I prepared way too many upfront, and had to throw quite a lot out – rather do them ad hoc). Carefully cut out the part with the core/pips. Slice each quarter into 4 or 5 slices – mine were sliced way too thinly and the caramel overwhelmed it. It is an apple tart after all, not a caramel tart with an apple garnish. Mix them up with the icing sugar. Lay them out in a pretty pattern on the caramel. I fully meant to do the rose-petal type pattern, but I’d been looking at My South African Cookbook earlier that day and accidentally did the spiral pattern they have on the French apple tart gracing the cover. Dang nabbit. Do whatever you like, fling them on with gay abandon, making sure that the apple covers the caramel. Pour over any juices that may have happened.

Pop the tart into the oven for 30 to 35 minutes. Remove from the oven and marvel at your handiwork if you did the spiral or petal pattern. If you did not, then marvel at the lovely homey smell instead, with your eyes shut. Serve warm, with great big blobs of sweetened whipped cream or vanilla ice-cream – yum! Pretend that it’s one of your five-a-day and have lots and lots – it may result in a trip to the dentist but I’m pretty sure it’ll keep the doctor away. All in the name of kicking off Spring on top Form (see what I did there? *snort*).

$R07XLZ0

PS: Have you been to Call It Spring yet? Go! Go!! It’s shoes, by the way.

PPS: Admission – I do not eat actual toffee apples. They are always too big, and the sour apple and tough apple-skin is a let-down after that lovely tooth-destroying toffee. I don’t think I’ve ever told anyone this before.