Raclette with friends

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Raclette cheese being scraped onto a plate.These days, I find, food and friends go together like nightclubs and hangovers may have done way back when we were twenty somethings; hunting for soulmates and good times, with scant thought about what we were doing to our bodies. Yet with food, the pleasure derived does not guarantee a mind-numbing headache, panda eyes or dryness like the Kalahari the morning after. The pleasure of food is immeasurable and for me, a meal of memories is a bottomless cup.

In my 30s food has become a panacea (well, almost) and that seemed to be on my mind down in Borough market last weekend in the easy company of two Saffas (South Africans) and a Zimbo (Zimbabwean). No doubt, this market is a foodie heaven, and I love it, but I feel that with notoriety comes a slightly bloated sense of self that fame brings. But it’s not really the market’s fault. The faint sheen of celebrity seems to have created a hub of gastro wannabes, pseudo foodies, genuine foodophiles, culinary vultures and voyeurs of all things edible. But the energy is addictive and the delights hard to resist.

Raclette cheese being scraped onto a plate.After fighting the crush and tasting as many tiny morsels of cheese as we could, we gravitated towards a crowning glory of the dairy world – the much sighed about foodstand serving sumptuous Raclette. Without exaggeration, I heard more than one person say: “Let’s find the raclette.” or “Have you tried the raclette?”

Raclette is a dish that originated in Switzerland and involves a semi firm salted cheese made from cow’s milk. It has its origins in the Swiss canton of Valais but is now also produced in parts of France. The term raclette is derived from the French word racler, meaning “to scrape”. The raclette round is heated and the melted cheese is gradually scraped onto a plate. It is often served with baby potatoes, salted meats, gherkins or pickled onions.

RacletteThis version involved scrapping glorious soft cheese, melted beneath purpose-built gas-powered grills, over griddled new potatoes, served with cornichons. It’s a rustic fare, and like most things as simple, it was both delicious and comforting. Sitting in the neighbouring churchyard, we devoured our meals, Clayton telling a story about photographing a police incident involving a naked lunatic, Joanne filling us in on her recent trek in the Bhutan and me becoming reacquinted with Brigid after not seeing her for years, despite us both living in London all this time!

Nutty Granola Muesli

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Granola muesli

The granola that favours our kitchen shelf is a reciped adapted from something I tasted years ago as a student at a healthy breakfast stall at an art and music festival held in South Africa’s Drakensburg Mountains. The rest comes from Nigella, the Barefoot Contessa and my store cupboard.

Indressa’s Granola Muesli

400g rolled oats
100g porridge oats
50 oatbran
50 dessicated coconut
50 sunflower seeds
50g pumpkin seeds
50g sesame seeds
100g whole skin-on almonds
100g walnut quarters
3 tbsp runny honey
juice of 1/2 lemon
1 tbsp vegetable oil
3 tbsp golden syrup
pinch of maldon sea salt
1 handful each of sultanas, dried cranberries and chopped dried apricots

1. Except for the fruit, place all the ingredients in a large bowl and mix well for a few minutes. I use a large spoon and fold it all through thoroughly.

2. Line a deep roasting tin with grease proof paper before evenly spreading the mixture out in the tin. Bake at an oven preheated to 350F for about an hour, stiring the mixture around every 20 minutes or so. This will ensure the granola browns evenly thoughout, rather than just on the top, bottom and sides of the tin.

3. Once golden brown all over, remove from oven and leave to cool. Once it is completely cool empty the granola into a large airtight container, and stir in the cranberries, chopped apricots and sultanas. Store in a cool place.

A Raw Deal

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Life of PiCurrently reading Yann Martel’s Life of Pi, and roughly in the middle now, where the protagonist Pi, castaway on a survival raft with a man-eating Bengal tiger, describes at length and in vivid detail the killing and wild devouring of sea life – sea turtles, sharks, flying fish, algae, birds, mostly raw and unseasoned (well there’s salt) – in his bid to survive and one day be rescued.

The situation is so desperate that Pi doesn’t rule out ingesting tiger poo, if that staves off the sea-bleached hunger, even for a little bit. I gagged when he descibed this and speaks about drinking a generous helping of fresh, warm turtle blood – quickly before it coagulates, or feasting on the raw brains, lungs and heart of a seabird.

While I have eaten a few strange things in my life, like mopani worms, the caterpillars of the emperor moth, native to southern Africa, this by no means compares to gnawing at raw bird meat from a carcass, or drinking reptile blood (even if the story is fiction). I suppose you never know how far you would go until faced with two options: death by starvation or survival for a few more days if you eat your own foot.

Okay, okay, that’s getting a little bit too dark for a sunny London day, and I’m going to apply my mind to tasty dinner ideas. Nothing like thoughts of gamey bird flesh and reptile blood to make a mouth water.

Pesto and Chilli Chicken with Cauliflower au Gratin

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Chicken is almost a stable in our hacienda. While we often end up making similar kinds of things for weekday dinners, finding two chicken breasts lurking about in the fridge, I was determined to try something different yet make it as quick and painless as possible.

 

There was a half-used jar of green pesto from earlier in the week, and decided to marinade the breasts in this for a few minutes, with a few grinds of dried red chillie and black pepper before wrapping them in foil, scraping the extra marinade over the top and baking in a hot oven for about 20 minutes.

 

Was also making a cauliflower au gratin, using up the pale-fleshed beast that has also been lurking about in the fridge, a few shelves below the chicken. Making the white sauce, or should I say Bechamel sauce, for this dish  I always think of my grandmother, seeing as this is one of the first things I ever made, following her instructions which she called out from across the kitchen, letting me arrive at a creamy, lump-free sauce all by myself. However, her technique was not as swift as the one I now use, courtesy of Delia Smith. Throw in all the ingredients – flour into softly melted butter, add milk; start to whist. Whisk constantly, turning the heat down once the milk heats up, and keep whisking until the sauce thickens. It’s almost like magic.

 

Anyway, I chucked in a generous handful of grated extra mature cheddar, and season with salt and white pepper to taste. Always white pepper. I poured this over the boiled cauliflower sitting in an oven proof dish, top this with more grated cheddar and pop it in the oven below the chicken. Seeing as most of it is already cooked, it just needs to be in there for about 15-20 minutes to bubble a little and brown on top.

 

 

A rant about meat

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Pork dinnerUnlike some members of my family, and hoards of folk who are more devout followers of their respective faiths, I attach no religious significance to what goes into my belly. I was brought up to respect the cow and not eat the pig. But what did the lamb and goat and sheep and chicken do wrong in the presence of the cosmos? How come we eat those without guilt?

The brahmin I stubbornly asked this burning question of my youth patiently explained that all other animals are holy too and hence, the true Hindu is meant to be vegetarian, which in all fairness, a lot of Hindu people are.

However, when those who see me biting into a juicy New Zealand beef cheese burger (well done, and accompanied by a potent garlic mayo and chunky chips) or buying pork chops give me the evil eye – or someone in my family purses their lips at any allusions to beef eating tendencies, I say [cow’s] bollocks to you. There are more important, and less hypocritical things in life, and it is pointless following the black and white without questioning, or just following. You may eat sheep and still be able to sleep at night without a nice cup of horlicks, but that does not mean you have to be one.

I believe abstaining from pork or beef does not bring eternal happiness and forgiveness from the universe, nor will it ensure the next life will be any better than a rat’s. It does not make one a better person and it certainly does not define one, or make one a more devout Hindu (I’m non-practising, by the way). It just means you’re a really fussy eater.

Now if you chose not to eat something because you didn’t like to taste, or not used to eating it and it made you gag slightly (like me with what is almost a Scandinavian staple – salt licorice), or are indeed allergic to it, then that’s a whole different story.

Anyway, the reason for all this word sprouting is that we had pork cutlets last night with a warm potato salad and fresh ribbons of lettuce, carrot and apple. Served the meat with a spicy garlic and red onion butter -it was truly delicious, and I slept like a baby.

Feeling Blue

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Broccoli, mushroom and blue cheese rigatoni.There are times in London when I miss my family and friends that used to live in London but have since moved back to SA or gone to live in other parts of the UK and the world. This makes me want to eat or cook or bake, or do all three at once.

Claire, a South African friend of mine, used to make a Broccoli and blue cheese pasta, and this is one of the most delicious things a pasta lover could eat, and I find  the dish intensely comforting and imbued with fond memories of a shared time in South London. So come Easter, when my family in SA had gathered for the weekend, and with the other half having had to work for most of it, I was craving some sort of company, and I realised this blue cheese pasta would be better than what any doctor or alternative health practitioner could order.

Broccoli, Mushroom and Blue Cheese Rigatoni
(2 servings)
100g creamy blue cheese (Dolcelatte or St Agur)
8 large broccoli florets, broken up into smaller florets
6 medium button mushroom, sliced finely
2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
125ml fresh single cream
250g Rigatoni
Olive oil

1. Boil the rigatoni in generously salted water until al dente.

2. Fry the garlic in a little olive oil in a large pan or wok, add the bacon first, fry this a bit then add the mushroom and broccoli and fry gently until softened. If you like broccoli with a bit of crunch, only add this only once mushrooms have had a bit of a go in the pan. 3. Once these are done, turn the heat down, cube the cheese and crumble it into the pan.

3. As the cheese starts to melt, pour in the cream, and let it simmer gently on a very low heat for about 10 minutes. If it looking a bit dry, add a dash of milk, or hot water even to thin the sauce slightly.

4. Season to taste and enjoy with some crusty bread.