Red Miso Slaw

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I am obsessed with slaw. Coleslaw, cabbage salad, crunchy salad- whatever you want to call it, any type of slaw in a slight dairy based dressing is my downfall. Spoonfuls stolen from the freshly mixed bowl, bright, vibrant and young; ladled onto the side of pretty much any other dished-up meal, or eaten days later after a slight fermentation in the fridge, however I end up eating it, I’m head over heels for the stuff. Of course, there are many ways to concoct this delight. I have, over the last 30 years, grated and chopped and sliced an mixed, all in search of the nirvana of slaws. This one is pretty close. I mean, it’s not going to stop me changing things about and experimenting even further, but this is one I am currently falling back on each week, especially with this glorious weather we are having.

Enjoy.

Serves 6 as a large side

Ingredients:

Half a pointed spring cabbage finely sliced or shredded- the large, darker outer leave removed and kept for something else. You want the paler green ones here.

Half a red cabbage (hard heart removed and discarded please) finely sliced or shredded

A quarter white cabbage finally sliced or shredded (again- no room for hard hearts here. Discard)

2 large carrots, peeled and grated

1 large at Jalapeño Chilli, deseeded and finely sliced

1 tsp Maldon salt

Good grinding black pepper

Pinch white pepper

1 large banana shallot, sliced within an inch of its life

1 heaped tbsp red miso paste

Juice of half a lemon

125ml (half a cup) good mayo

125ml sour cream

2 tbsp double cream

About 2 heaped tbsp chopped fresh dill, parsley and basil

2 tbsp or so freshly microplaned parmesan

Method:

Mix well- the miso paste will need a particular vigorous hand to ensure it is evenly distributed. You must, must must taste for seasoning and texture. You may need to up the mayo, or adjust the lemon, or pepper, or indeed the miso paste.

Party Tarts

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This is more of recipe for the best pastry ever, rather than for the actual tarts. I always tend to use the same type of filling for my tarts- well, at least the basic premise is the same, and I adjust fillings and flavours according to what I have to hand. I’m posting the recipe for the pastry here, and then have followed it with the filling idea: it is a fool proof concept, and I urge you to try your hand at it, and experiment with different combinations. As long as you remember the egg yolk, microplaned parmesan and creme fraiche, your filling should hold well and bake even better.

I made these for my dear friend Helen’s birthday on Saturday- Helen and I look rather similar, and are often mistaken for each other in town, or in fact wherever we go. We’ve only known each other for about four years, and were introduced by a mutual friend, who kept saying, “You’d get on SO well together”. And of course, we do. It helps that we both are English teachers, share a love of rummaging in thrift shops, and have the same sense of humour, among other things. We never co-ordinate our outfits, but often we’ll land up dressing in a similar fashion too: specs on, specs off, monochrome or dresses; somehow our attire and appearance is a source of total amusement for everyone, but, as we laugh at ourselves rather frequently anyway, we are more than happy to make people smile and provide entertainment. Meeting Helen’s parents was interesting- I think I freaked her family out somewhat! I love how there is a twin to be found out there in the world- for all of us, I’m sure. I feel very lucky to have found mine so early on in life.

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Here’s that gorgeous pastry recipe, followed by my filling suggestion.

Gluten Free Shortcrust Pastry

Makes 24 mini tarts (pictured) or 12 larger ones

Ingredients:

200g plain gluten free flour

1 1/2 tsp table salt

110g cold salted butter, cubed

1 egg yolk

Cold water to bring the mix together.

Cornflour to roll it out with (this is essential)

Method:

Place the flour, salt and butter into a large bowl. Rub the butter into the flour until it resembles fine breadcrumbs. this is a crucial part: it will take a while, but you must, must do it. There mustn’t be any butter lumps remaining. Once you’ve done this, add the egg yolk, and a few splashes of water, mixing thoroughly as you go. I use my hands, of course I do: they’re the best tools for the job. Keep adding water until you have a soft, pliable ball of dough- it mustn’t be crumbly at all. You may need to add more water than you initially think to the mix.

Dust your work surface with cornflour and roll the dough out: unlike gluten based doughs, this one doesn’t need to rest in the fridge before use. I use scone and biscuit cutters, and I cut little rounds of pastry. I carefully line my tins with the discs, ensuring that if the bottom of the little tarts look to thin, I patch the bottoms up with extra little bits of pastry: you don’t want the filling to leak out, so ensure the tins are well padded with pastry.

Pop a little circle of baking parchment in each pastry tin, and top with baking beads (like in the picture).

Bake at 180 degrees celsius for 6-8 minutes. Remove from the oven, remove the parchment and beads. Spoon your filling into each receptacle, top with grated cheese, and bake for a further 10 minutes or until golden brown on top.

Filling:

I base every filling for these little tarts on the same sort of idea: I saute shallots or onions and garlic in a little butter and olive oil for 7 minutes or so. I then add chopped chorizo, or prosciutto, add finely chopped mushrooms, or peas to the pan, add microplaned parmesan, an egg yolk, a few tablespoons of creme fraiche, salt and black pepper and chopped herbs (basil and parsley, usually). I remove the mix from the heat and spoon it carefully into the cases, topping with extra cheese (cheddar, little lumps of goat’s cheese, or parmesan).  I am sure the idea would work were you to use the pastry idea to make a large tart for lunch, or some other occasion. The little tarts keep very well, and can be heated up just before serving.

 

Cauliflower Puffs (or Blomkool Poffertjies)

The plain kitchen cauliflower puffs

As you know, I have a few of my mother’s recipe books: she was a meticulous organiser, and also enjoyed cooking a great deal. It certainly was the norm in those days to handwrite your favourite recipes in your notebooks, or, as my mum also did, cut out the exotic sounding ones from magazines and the newspaper, and then, using sticky-tape, pop them into an A4 ring bound scrap book of sorts. I do love looking at these, although these days I have to be very careful with them: they’re quite fragile, and the little cut-out recipe squares now slip from the pages, leaving yellowed strips where the tape once was. What mum also did, of course, was name the recipes using the name of whoever had given it to her: so, we have “Rose’s Trifle” and “Kinky’s Date Pudding” (yes, Kinky and Des were our next door neighbours in Cape Town…), and “Patti’s Paella”, and so on- a wonderful testament to my mum’s wide circle of friends.

Sometimes, the friend in question would be asked to write the recipe in mum’s book: and so it was with Granny Sue’s Blomkool Poffertjies. Granny Sue wasn’t our Granny: rather, she was the mother of one of my mum’s best friends, but we called her Granny Sue. Sue and mum were very close, and mum adored her. Sue even travelled across South Africa all the way from Cape Town when we moved to Kwa-Zulu Natal, and came to stay with us on the farm. I remember her with great affection. Sue was Afrikaans, so all of her recipes were written in Afrikaans too. When it came to translating the Cauliflower Puffs, I was terrified to realise that my Afrikaans is more than a bit rusty- I was once a fluent speaker, and in fact trained to become an Afrikaans teacher many years ago. I suppose if I were to be immersed in it for a few months, it’d all come back quite easily, however, reading Granny Sue’s entries in mum’s book did take a little decoding!

It’s a really easy recipe, and I have altered the original quantities a little. We had these as little starters before Sunday lunch, and I made a very quick dipping sauce of Greek Yoghurt mixed with a little Sriracha. They were utterly delicious- the boys wolfed them down, and I think they would make an excellent light supper for small children too. These are, as Granny Sue said of all her recipes, written in capital letters at the end, “Heerlik!”

Serves 4 as a snack

Ingredients:

1 head cauliflower, stem removed and broken into small florets

250ml full cream milk

2 eggs

1 tsp paprika

1 tsp table salt

Pinch white pepper

Good grinding black pepper

1 ½ cups finely grated cheddar cheese

8 tbsp plain flour

500ml sunflower or other flavourless oil, for deep frying

Maldon salt for serving

Method:

Steam the cauliflower on a fast steam for 2 minutes- no longer. Mix all of the ingredients for the batter well- I use a little whisk for this. Heat the oil in a shallow saucepan or frying pan: you do want at least 7-10 cm oil at the bottom, so that the florets will fry quickly and evenly. Heat the oil until it is at hot frying stage: test a little piece of battered cauliflower first: it should puff up and brown instantly. Place the florets in the batter, and using your hands, coat them well. Then very carefully, place the florets, a few at a time into the hot oil. Fry for a minute or so on one side, then using tongs, turn the, until golden brown on the other side. Drain on kitchen paper, and sprinkle with Maldon salt. Continue until all the florets are done.

Serve immediately.

And, because I am feeling super organised myself today, here’s another little recipe for you all: I came up with it last week, and it’s perfect stuff for the chill we are having: spicy, warm and so full of magic, golden turmeric that it really makes you feel better even just by looking at the golden bowl of goodness.

Cauliflower, Turmeric & Chilli Soup

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Serves 2, generously for lunch, or 4 as a starter

Ingredients:

1 head cauliflower, chopped up into smallish pieces

50g salted butter

2 tbsp olive oil

1 medium white onion, chopped

1/2 stick celery, chopped

2 cloves garlic, microplaned

1 tsp dried chilli flakes

3 tsp turmeric

2 tsp Maldon salt

Pinch white pepper

2 tsp red miso paste

600-700ml full cream milk

Coriander to serve

Method:

In a heavy bottomed saucepan, saute the celery, onion and garlic in the olive oil and butter for about 8 minutes or so. Don’t let it brown or catch. Add the cauliflower, and the spices and seasoning. Keep sautéing on a medium heat, stirring constantly to ensure the cauliflower becomes coated with the buttery spices. Pop the lid on the saucepan, and allow to cook on a medium heat for another 10 minutes, but: and heres the trick: every minute, remove the lid, and give it a good stir. Then pop the lid back on again, and repeat. You’re ensuring the cauliflower cooks well, and creates a good steam in the pot, but you are also ensuring it doesn’t brown too much. After ten minutes of doing this, pierce the cauliflower with a knife- it should be soft and giving, and if not, cook for a few minutes longer. Turn the heat down, add the milk, and stir slowly until steaming- it mustn’t boil or bubble other wise the milk will curdle. Once the soup is steaming, remove from the heat, and whizz until smooth using  hand held blender. Taste for seasoning- it will need more salt- and serve with chopped coriander and many slices of hot, buttered toast.

The Last Hurrah

The Plain Kitchen Party Food

I am prone to make rash decisions when I’ve had a few too many glasses of wine- I’m sure I’m not alone in that. Luckily, my impromptu decisions are usually very upbeat and happy ones, and so it was on Saturday night. On New Year’s Eve, returning home early from a lovely party at a friend’s house, our neighbour popped round to wish us Happy New Year- we were all full of New Year’s spirits, and I decided then and there, at 12 o clock at night (loudly, enthusiastically, and gesticulating like only the sozzled can do), that they were to all come round the next day to ours, for drinks and snacks, following their New Year’s day pub lunch. I decided this in full knowledge that I’d not been to the supermarket for six days post the huge Christmas shop, and yet I happily offered to feed and entertain 8 adults and 6 children for a few hours. In my over-excited state I saw an almost empty grocery cupboard and fridge not, of course, as an obstacle, but as a tiny challenge which I could of course quite easily overcome. The Plain Kitchen food blog

Sunday dawned, with, strangely no headache, but quite a large amount of exhaustion. After a few breakfasts (we eat rather a lot in our house) I began tackling the food scenario- what the hell I was going to feed my friends? As you by now may have guessed, the little foraging mission was quite a success- so much so that I decided to write a little bit about what I got up to, and what I made, which I hope will inspire you: proof that one really can make do and be inventive when one has made huge promises to people while under the influence of a lot of wine. Here goes…

The Plain Kitchen Justine WallChicory & Gem with Bacon & Walnuts

Look, the best-by date on the leaves had of course gone over a while back, but, once the outer leaves were discarded and the funny bits removed, I was left with a perfectly acceptable platter of crisp green boats. I decided I’d do the usual, a bit of blue cheese, bacon and walnuts, but upon opening the fridge, a rather hirsute Gorgonzola greeted me. If it were just me tucking into my canapés, I would have probably shaved the fur off the cheese and risked this, but I didn’t want my guests to- so I sadly discarded the forlorn bit of blue. What to do? I arrived at the ingenious solution of mixing soft cream cheese, with a little finely chopped basil and parsley, a little lemon zest and a good dollop of smoked paprika together. I popped a little of this at the ends of the gem and chicory, and topped with very crispy bacon and toasted pecans (yes, yes, the idea was walnuts, but I couldn’t find those…)

Lemon Artichokes

Well, I’ve posted the recipe for these before and they are quite the easiest things in the world to make, and, I think, utterly delicious. Always keep tins of artichoke hearts in your cupboards- they are just the most versatile things, for using in bakes, on top of pizzas, whizzing into dips, and, of course, for eating on their own. The recipe for the artichokes is here– you’ll need garlic, lemon juice, parsley, salt and black pepper and very good grassy olive oil.

Chorizo Tarts

I always have a pack of ready rolled puff pastry or shortcrust pastry to hand, and those who know me well know that cheese nut garlic puff things are my usual offering, either at our home, or taken as a little gift when we visit others. So, it was with great relief that I found the shortcrust pastry lurking in the fridge: I cut little circles from the pastry, popped these discs into a shallow fairycake type of tin, and then topped each disc with my chorizo mix- again, this is an old reliable mix and does very well for any sort of pastry canapé. Saute a small, finely chopped red onion with a large microplaned clove of garlic in olive oil, add finely chopped chorizo, then, after 10 minutes or so, remove from the heat and stir through an egg yolk, a good dollop of sour cream or soft cream cheese, black pepper, and finely chopped parsley. Dollop a teaspoonful onto each disc as I said- and grate over a little hard cheese- whatever you have to hand. Bake at 180 for about 15 minutes, until golden brown and bubbling on top.

Jalapeno Baba Ghanoush and Pastry Nut Sticks

I am laughing at my ridiculous descriptions here: apologies. These are more ideas of what to do, than exact, refined recipes- I do hope you find them helpful!

The aubergines in the fruit bowl were not looking their glossy rotund best, it had to be said, but I soldiered on, and removed the rather unappealing bits. I made a mix of olive oil, garlic, dried chillis, salt, pepper, cumin, coriander, and paprika, scored the aubergines, rubbed the mix into them and roasted them on a high heat for a good 45 minutes. I had leftover pastry remaining from the little chorizo tarts, and I didn’t want this to go to waste, so I toasted some pecan nuts, garlic and olive oil, and mixed this garlicky nutty mix, along with salt and pepper, into the pastry. I made funny, knobbly looking sticks and baked these until golden brown. Once the aubergine was done, I scraped out the spicy flesh, and whizzed it up with lemon juice, jalapenos, olive oil and a little more garlic.

Blinis

Well, these are a doddle aren’t they? I had made lots for Christmas, and still had salmon leftover, a forlorn bunch of rather withered dill, and, of course, there was a tub of everlasting sour cream in the fridge. In fact, one of our lovely friends Carly brought over a pack of salmon too- so we ended up using hers for this particular platter! I chopped the dill finely instead of using the individual feathers, as they really were rather sad: and a little dollop of that ersatz caviar we all buy at Christmas time ensured that these looked acceptably pretty. Sadly I left the platter of unadorned blinis on top of the warm Stanley, so when served were slightly crispier than they perhaps should have been!

Rum Cocktails

Everyone was feeling a little fragile, and we all admitted we were a bit over the wine scenario. I don’t generally make cocktails, and, as I said, I hadn’t been to the shops for a good week or so, so I really had to make do with what I had to hand. I boiled soft brown sugar and a large knob of ginger down to a syrup (caster would’ve been my choice, but we were out of that). The cocktails were simply a tablespoon of syrup, good squeeze of lime, shot of rum and topped with ice and fizzy water and another wedge of lime.

The children snuck what they liked from the snacks (mostly the salmon), but I ensured they didn’t kill each other by making plates of little cheese and ham sandwiches (the ham that kept on giving- it truly was like Button Soup!). There was no bread in the house- but we do have a breadmaker- which comes into its own at times like these. Children do eat a lot- and I always ensure there is more than enough for them to tuck into.

It was a really last minute, cobbled together affair, but worth it to see 2017 in with good friends, before we all went our separate ways to early beds, and promises of a healthier start to the rest of the year. And it made me think that even those of us who love order, planning, and control would do well to be a little more spontaneous at times: as long as you’ve a tin of artichokes in the cupboard and some ready rolled pastry in the fridge, that is. dsc_0045-1

 

Chard & Kale Mozzarella Bake

Chard Kale bake the plain kitchen

As I write this, the leaves from next door’s Sycamore tree are falling on our lawn. This morning I unpacked wood into the woodstore, and then stood on a wonky little chair to shake a few cookers off our tree in time for a lunch time crumble. The vegetable garden is bedraggled- and worn, and tired, and in need of a jolly good rest, which is, quite frankly how I feel at this time of year. However, what the vegetable garden is still providing in great vibrant numbers is kale, and rainbow chard- and beetroot too, which, safe from the slugs, I am going to leave in the ground a little longer this season, in the hope that they grow fatter before I pick them.

Today’s bake is a bowl of fragrant and heady comfort, of sharp and warming pimenton cheese sauce, dark greens and bubbling mozzarella & cherry tomatoes. It is easy, and goes with pretty much anything: we are having ours today with a lemon roast chicken, orange & sage carrots and rosemary roast beetroot (ok, I MAY have picked a few beetroot today- just a few though. I couldn’t resist). Of course, Cavolo Nero, or baby spinach can be used in place of my chard and kale- just use 200g of whatever greens you have to hand, to the proportions of my sauce.

I serve this with toasted pine nuts as well.

Serves 4 as a side

Preheat oven to 180 degrees

Ingredients:

200g kale and chard, washed and drained and roughly chopped

60g salted butter

1 tsp olive oil

1 tsp Maldon salt

Good grinding black pepper

1 heaped tsp Pimenton

1 red onion, finely chopped

1 clove garlic, microplaned

1 heaped tbsp flour

1/4 cup microplaned parmesan, and a little extra to sprinkle over just before grilling

1/4 cup grated cheddar

500ml full fat milk

220g mozzarella, ripped up

10 cherry tomatoes, halved

Toasted pine nuts, to serve.

Method:

Steam the chard and kale briefly: for about 4 minutes, on a hot fast steam. Remove from the heat and place in an ovenproof dish.

Make the cheese sauce. In a large heavy bottomed saucepan, melt the butter and oil, and sauce the garlic and onion for 8 minutes or so. Add the Pimenton, and flour, and stir until it is slightly bubbling. Begin to add the milk slowly, whisking as you go. Add the cheeses, and salt and pepper, and the rest of the milk, and whisk on a medium heat for about 5 minutes.Pour the sauce over the chard and kale, and mix well. Dot the ripped up mozzarella over the top, and the halved cherry tomatoes. Sprinkle with a little microplanes or grated parmesan cheese, and pop under a hot grill, or in that preheated oven, for 10-15 minutes until golden brown and bubbling on top. Allow to rest for about 5 minutes before serving.

Sprinkle with toasted pine nuts when you’re ready to serve.