29 July, 2008

Restraint required

I’ve only recently been educated in the time-honored ratio of traditional shortbread: one part sugar, two parts butter and three parts flour. This recipe deviates a little from those strict proportions, but the result is delicious, crisp, crumbly and rich. All I can say is that it was a very, very good thing that most of these were destined for Jorn’s Opa’s birthday present. And if I can restrain myself for long enough the next time I bake them, I’m convinced they’d make the perfect base for a chocolate cheesecake.

Essentially, this is Nigella Lawson’s recipe for Granny Boyd’s Biscuits, to which I’ve added orange zest and a touch of vanilla. If you’d like the chocolate flavour stronger, almost verging on bittersweet, remove a teaspoon or more of the flour and replace with an equal quantity of cocoa powder.

Chocolate orange shortbread biscuits

125 g castor sugar
250 g lightly salted butter
finely grated rind of two oranges
300 g self-raising flour
30 g cocoa powder
¼ tspn ground vanilla pod

Preheat the oven to 170ºC

Cream sugar, butter and orange zest together until pale and soft. Sieve the cocoa powder, flour and vanilla together, add to the butter mixture, and stir gently until combined. Roll heaped teaspoons of the dough into walnut-sized balls. Place, generously spaced, onto baking trays and press each with the back of a fork to flatten. There is enough dough to make at least 35.

Place the baking trays in the preheated oven. Bake for 5 minutes. Turn the temperature down to 150ºC, and continue baking for 12-15 minutes. Remove from the trays from the oven; the biscuits will appear slightly soft, but will harden as they cool. Transfer to wire racks.

22 July, 2008

Better with time

Some things just get better with time, and this red lentil soup is a prime example. Warm, spicy and sustaining, it’s my idea of a perfect winter lunch. And if you make a double batch for a double family supper (including both parents and in-laws), you’re bound to have leftovers for a few meals beyond.

We were given beautiful fresh ginger in our organic vegetable box last week, but of course you may use dried and powdered if it’s more convenient. This recipe is adapted from Deborah Madison’s yellow spilt pea soup, courtesy of The Greens Cookbook.

Spicy red lentil soup

25 g butter
1 large onion, diced
2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
3 cm fresh ginger, peeled and finely chopped
1 tspn ground cumin
1 tspn black mustard seeds
2 bay leaves
300 g split red lentils
2 carrots
1 large red sweet potato
1¼ litres vegetable stock
400 ml can coconut milk
freshly ground black pepper
1 lemon
30 g parsley

Soak lentils for 30 minutes, rinse well and drain.

Sauté the onion, garlic, ginger, cumin, mustard seeds and bay leaves in the butter. Keep the heat medium-low and stir for 5 minutes. Add peeled, chopped carrots and sweet potato, stir in the lentils, and cover with the stock and coconut milk. Simmer gently for 30 minutes or until lentils are soft and the vegetables tender.

Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper; add coarsely chopped parsley, grated lemon rind and lemon juice to taste. Cool briefly before puréeing with a stick blender until smooth. If necessary, add more water to thin the texture of the soup.

The soup is delicious served with spiced yoghurt: mix plain yoghurt with a little turmeric, paprika, cumin, sugar and salt.

15 July, 2008

Eggier & richer

I love it when people ask me to make food for a party, although perhaps it's a little silly to post my enthusiasm online! I feel entirely innocent making sweet treats that have a purpose. So, when asked to make milk tarts (quintessentially South African) for a farewell party for two friends who’re heading to Oxford, of course I leaped into action.

A traditional South African milk tart is a pale specimen; the milk to egg ratio is higher than in other nation’s custard tarts, and invariably finished with a dusting of cinnamon. I’m all for tradition, but I like an eggier, richer custard. This simple recipe uses Ina Paarman’s tip of infusing the milk with cinnamon and citrus in the initial step.

Farewell milk tartlets (makes approximately 12, depending on size)

1 cinnamon stick
grated rind of one orange
½ tspn vanilla essence
600 ml milk
4 tbspn corn flour
4 egg yolks
600g homemade or ready-made puff pastry
1 tspn ground cinnamon mixed with 1 tbspn castor sugar, to sprinkle
Standard muffin pan, buttered

Place 500ml of the milk into a saucepan; crumble in the cinnamon stick, add the orange zest and vanilla essence. Bring to the milk to the boil. Switch off the heat, and leave to infuse for 10 minutes.

Mix the remaining 100ml of milk with the corn flour, and whisk into the egg yolks. Still whisking, strain the milk infusion and add to the egg yolk mixture. Return to the saucepan and bring to the boil, stirring continuously until thick. Allow to cool.

Preheat oven to 210°C.

Cut the pastry into rounds bigger than the hollows of a muffin pan and cover the base and sides of each hollow with pastry. Fill with cooled custard, sprinkle with cinnamon-sugar mixture and bake for 25-30 minutes. Allow tarts to rest for 10 minutes before transferring them to a wire rack.