Chocolate Easter Tart and New Beginnings

With Easter just around the corner I thought I’d better get myself into gear and share a few ideas with you. For many Easter is a long weekend filled with chocolate, chocolate and more chocolate, but it represents so much more to so many and I find myself trying to focus on the true meaning of the solid and hollow eggs, bunnies and chickens. And that, for me, is all about New Beginnings.

Chocolate Easter Pie 1For many years now I’ve had a single wish, which has been to be blessed with another addition to our little family of three, but it hasn’t happened. We’ve had our share of disappointments, but I will be forever grateful for the beautiful child we have been blessed with. He is an absolute joy, our treasure and a gift from God. I feel for the many couples in this world that aren’t able to naturally become parents as it truly is the most fantastic journey I’ve ever been on.

The reason I bring this up now and relate it to New Beginnings, is that I’ve finally found the strength to move on. To accept my life as it is and to be happy. That means that over the past few months I’ve re-opened all the boxes of clothes, linen, toys and baby gear I had so lovingly packed away years ago with the full expectation that I would soon be unwrapping them and using them for baby number 2, and 3, and 4. It has been a long and sad process to come to terms with the “loss”, but I’m finally ready. It was incredibly painful at first and I have to admit I’ve cried buckets, but I have achieved a level of peace I hadn’t thought possible not too long ago. I’ve actually begun to sell some of the items and although an emotional time, I feel good being able to pass them on to new families who can enjoy them. Thank you to my special friends who have shared parts of this journey with me, many of whom have 2, 3, or 4 children but have always been a shoulder to lean on and only a conversation away.

So as they say, Onwards and Upwards! Here’s to the next chapter in my wonderful life. I am abundantly blessed in so many ways and thankful for every new day, especially when I get to enjoy delicious food with my special family and friends and, of course, you.

This tart is very rich, it’s indulgent so be aware that a little goes a long way. Play with it, milk chocolate or dark both work extremely well, but see what works best for your audience. These gorgeous colourful eggs are actually M&Ms always on sale around this time of year, but it can be enjoyed plain or with berries, or with hundreds of other styles of decorations. These particular lollies have a biscuit crunch to them and are so addictive! A whole bag doesn’t last very long in our home at all.

ingredients:
250 g shortbread biscuits, crushed
90 – 125 g butter, melted
400 ml double cream at room temperature
400 g milk chocolate
45 ml golden syrup
45 ml Amaretto, Cointreau, Kahlua, brandy or sherry (optional)
chocolate decorations or icing sugar and fresh berries

  1. Combine the crushed biscuits and melted butter and push into the base (and sides if you wish) of a 20cm loose-bottom cake or tart tin. Place into the fridge to set for about 30 minutes.
  2. Whip the cream until just before it starts to thicken and set it aside.
  3. Melt the chocolate in a double-boiler or in a glass bowl over boiling water on the stove or in the microwave and stir in the syrup and liqueur if using. If not using liqueur, replace with an additional 45 ml of cream. Stir in a little cream if the chocolate begins to set.
  4. Fold the remaining cream into the chocolate mixture and pour it over the biscuit crumbs. Spread it evenly. Chill overnight.
  5. Either decorate with Easter themed treats or dust with icing sugar and serve with fresh berries.

Enjoy!
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Mixed Mutton Potjie

This delicious one-pot meal is so traditionally South African I don’t really know how to begin describing it. A potjie pot (pronounced poy-kee) is a 3-legged cast iron pot available in different sizes and comes with a fitted lid. It is normally placed over smouldering coals and the heat carefully monitored and controlled over a period of a few hours to allow the stew to quietly simmer. Cooking over gas is an alternative, and although it would horrify most hard-core traditionalists, when the weather is bad or the situation doesn’t allow for an open fire, it is a great alternative allowing for an equally pleasurable and entertaining gathering.

Lamb and veggie potjieThe secret to a good potjie is that it must never be rushed and although many newcomers to this way of eating don’t immediately see the sense of spending hours outside around a pot, once they’ve experienced the ambience and delectable flavours a few times, they realise the joy is not only in the eating, but in the preparation, the comeraderie or quiet contemplation which accompanies the potjie pot.

The history of potjiekos (small pot food) dates back to the Voortrekkers (Pioneers) who landed at the Cape of Good Hope in their hundreds and spent days, weeks, months journeying into South Africa’s hinterland by ox wagon, relying on whatever foraging or hunting could produce to fill the pot along the way. My brother-in-law is a master at making potjies and scorns a recipe, saying that there is no set way of making a potjie; it can include anything and everything, but it is to be treated gently, NEVER stirred and all ingredients are added in layers in the order in which they take the longest to cook.

This particular recipe is one of my favourites and these days, we are fortunate to be able to decide the meat, vegetables and other accompaniments without relying on what Mother Nature will bestow upon us in our struggle through a harsh but beautiful land. Another positive is that because it is cooked slowly over a few hours, cheaper cuts of meat are better, making it a very affordable meal option for large gatherings of people. A tip to anyone planning on making a potjie? Don’t wait until your guests have gathered before you begin, unless you plan on spending a long time together before the meal is to be consumed – many have learned that lesson the hard way. We normally get ours set up and simmering away well before guest arrival, allowing plenty of time to spare as hungry guests don’t make a good party!

The pot needs to be seasoned and prepared before cooking commences. This means giving it a good wipe out and oiling, including the sides and base. The pot is then placed over the hot coals while still empty, adding only a little more oil. Once the oil is sufficiently hot, the meat is added a few pieces at a time to allow even browning. Remove and set aside as they are ready. The meat will more often than not have rendered it’s own fat so it isn’t always necessary to add more oil, but you’ll need to decide. The onions are generally added at this stage and the meat is then returned to the pot. The lid is then placed firmly on the top and the meat left to cook for a while. Then the layering begins, with the veggies that will take the longest to cook like carrots, being placed closest to the meat. Raw rice or pasta can be added to potjies, but I have to admit I prefer mine served separately. Potjiekos is ALWAYS tastier the day after cooking as the flavours have had even longer to develop, but you don’t often have the luxury of leftovers.

Also, when planning your catering, generally allow between 200 – 300 g of meat per person, on the bone. Bones in the potjie, as with a stew, add more flavour and thicken the juices. They can be removed just before serving if you prefer, but some people enjoy sucking the juices and remnants off the bones – yes, sadly, one does forget their basic manners a little when partaking of a well prepared and beautifully flavoured potjie. If adding green beans or peas, add them a few minutes before serving as they will cook very quickly.

I took this recipe from a 1987 Huis Genoot Potjiekos recipe book, but as I’ve said, a recipe isn’t necessary.

ingredients:
butter or oil
2 kg mutton (shanks, neck, ribs)
2 medium onions, finely chopped
20 whole baby potatoes, peeled (or larger ones chopped into 2 cm cubes)
3 large carrots, peeled and chopped into 2 cm cubes
3 medium sweet potatoes (kumara)
salt and freshly ground black pepper

Gravy:
500 ml warm water
2 beef stock cubes
250 ml dry red wine
50 ml chutney
50 ml tomato sauce
50 ml Worcester sauce
30 ml cornflour
30 ml oxtail soup powder
25 ml soy sauce
15 ml brown gravy powder (e.g. Bisto)
10 ml garlic flakes (I prefer to use fresh garlic)
a pinch ground cloves (optional)

  1. Grease the pot well with butter or oil and heat until very hot. Brown the eat a few pieces at a time and set aside.
  2. Fry the onions in the meat fat and oil mixture until just tender. Return the meat to the pot and arrange evenly.
  3. Dissolve the stock cubes in the warm water and mix the remaining gravy ingredients with the water and wine. Pour the gravy over the potjie. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
  4. Arrange the potatoes, carrots and sweet potatoes in layers on top of the meat. Cover and simmer for approximately 2½ hours.
  5. Do not stir and try not to open the pot to take a look as you release steam and flavour). The liquid needs to stay in the pot and will be a beautiful gravy once finished. Definitely no stirring!
  6. Serve with rice (yellow rice and raisins if you’re feeling fancy) and freshly baked bread or muffins to soak up all the gravy.

Enjoy!

 

Nut-free Energy Slice

I never fully understood the ramifications of food allergies in children and have had no reason to, personally, but a friend’s youngest son is allergic to tree nuts among other things, which makes feeding him quite a challenge. Over the years she’s learned which brands prepare foods on nut-free lines so are safe to use and has to buy certain foods from specific supermarkets or stores, so grocery shopping isn’t a simple 1-hour dash, but she is one of the most organised people I know and not much gets her into a flap.

Energy SliceRecently her littlest man started school and I was terrified for him on her behalf. Just knowing how the kids sit together and share lunches or have traces of food on their hands when touching toys or pencils, his Epipen is never far away and you pray daily that everyone involved with him abides by the few simple rules she’s had to work with the school to enforce.

Of course these days there are nut-free flours, cocoa and chocolate, so as long as you know what’s what then baking can still be a treat, but finding snack bars for the lunch box has been a bit frustrating.

This is an energy slice I’ve made for my family many times, but it only dawned on me recently that it has no nuts in it so provided she can find seeds packaged in places that are officially “nut-free”, this may be something to add to the list. Another great thing about this recipe is that you can adapt it in so many ways. The original is taken from the Edmonds Cookery Book, but I’ve changed it so many times I’m not quite sure what the original is anymore! It is one of those recipes where the outcome depends on what I have in the pantry at the time.

I’ve also added a chocolate ganache layer on the top, which is obviously optional, and provided you use nut-free chocolate (like Sweet William or similar), then you’re home-free. But I’d always advise checking with the parent/care-giver of a child with such serious allergies before making something they could potentially eat because using the incorrect brand or ingredient could be fatal.

ingredients:
1 cup brown sugar
100 g butter
½ cup raspberry jam (apricot tastes great too – try any jam you have on hand)
¼ cup golden syrup
3 cups rolled oats
½ cup sunflower seeds
½ cup pumpkin seeds
½ cup sesame seeds
1 tsp mixed spice (I’ve never included this)
½ cup coconut (I prefer desiccated to shredded)
1 tsp vanilla essence or extract (no need the expensive stuff here)
1 cup sultanas, cranberries or raisins (I prefer the chewiness of cranberries)

Chocolate Ganache:
200 g dark chocolate (semi-sweet works best)
½ cup cream

  1. Pre-heat the oven to 180°C (standard) or 160°C fan-forced. Line or grease a 20 x 30 cm sponge roll tin.
  2. Place the sugar, butter, jam and golden syrup into a saucepan and melt gently on the stove top.
  3. Combine the rest of the ingredients in a large bowl and mix well.
  4. Pour in the melted mixture and stir until the dry ingredients are completely coated.
  5. Press the mixture firmly into the prepared tray and bake for about 25 minutes until the top has a gorgeous golden colour.
  6. Cool slightly and cut into bars (if not using the ganache)
  7. If you have made the ganache, allow the bar to cool completely and the ganache has set slightly before spreading it over the top. Once set, cut it into slices.

To make the ganache:

  1. Heat the cream in a microwave proof bowl or small sauce-pan stove top until small bubbles form around the edges which is just prior to it beginning to boil – we DON’T want it to boil.
  2. Remove it from the heat and pour over the chocolate in a separate heat proof bowl. The cream will begin to melt the chocolate.
  3. Stir gently to combine and allow to cool. It will thicken as it cools. I sometimes pop it into the fridge to hasten the process but it needs to be of a spreadable consistency so don’t let it set too hard.

Enjoy!

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Gem Squash with peas and butter

I absolutely love Gem Squash and was very disappointed on arriving in NZ many moons ago only to discover that they weren’t grown here. On the very odd occasion in our early years here I came across them in fruit and veggie shops, but you couldn’t rely on them being around in season, which is mid January to April/May depending on the climate. So I get really excited every time I find these little gems (pun intended). I remember storing the seeds and trying to grow my own, but wasn’t very successful.

Gem SquashI recently discovered that they are now being grown for the New Zealand market on a farm near Napier, a beautiful little town on the east coast of the north island so the price may come down as availability and demand increases. Another bonus is that my son adores them and will happily wolf down a whole one if I’ve prepared enough.

Now I know that some people may not have a clue what I’m talking about, but if you happen to see a small, round, green, hard ball a little bigger than a tennis ball or grapefruit in the veggie section of your supermarket, they just may be gem squashes. I even had a green grocer ask me once what to do with it as he didn’t know how to cook it…ah bless! Most South African expats will know exactly what I mean, but if you haven’t yet tried them, now is the time!

They are slowly becoming more mainstream and I see that even Simon Gault, a well known Kiwi chef, has trialled them in his garden and can’t compliment them enough so there you are – now it’s your turn to try them. The outer skin/shell is very hard, so be careful when you cut them in half, which you will need to do in order to scoop out the seeds. The bright yellow inner flesh brings sunshine to any plate and they can be stuffed with savoury mince, covered with a sprinkling of cheese and baked in the oven. Or filled with a tomato-ricotta and Italian herb mixture; or another option could be bacon and fried rice, but one of my favourites is to keep it simple. Boil until the flesh is soft, add a blob of butter and a sprinkling of salt and freshly ground pepper and it’s ready – may be a little strange if it’s your first taste but as it is part of the squash family, it won’t be too far from what you’d expect.

I sometimes fill them with peas as the shape makes a natural bowl. Something I’ll share with you another time is to cook them and then scoop out the flesh. Add all manner of delicious ingredients to it and bake it in the oven.

ingredients:
1 squash per 2 people (unless you are like my son and will eat a whole one)
butter
cooked peas (optional)
salt and freshly ground black pepper

  1. Carefully halve the gem squash and scoop out the seeds, taking care not to remove too much of the surrounding flesh.
  2. Place the halved gems into a large pot and cover with water. Bring to the boil. Turn the heat down to a gentle simmer and leave for about 10 – 15 minutes depending on how many you’re cooking at a time. Check occasionally by prodding the flesh with a fork.
  3. When cooked, discard the water. Fill with the cooked peas and place a tiny knob of butter on the top. It melts.
  4. Sprinkle with the salt and freshly ground black pepper and serve hot.

Enjoy!

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Crusty Health Bread

Family activities are the best. I love finding new things to do and share with my family and as your kids get older, the list of activities open to you just gets longer and longer. We’re lucky enough to have a few of the Cricket World Cup matches being played in Auckland, so yesterday we went to watch the SA vs Pakistan game. Not quite the ending or score we had hoped for, but it was a fun day out, albeit it a rather long one.

Crusty health bread loaf

The stadium in Auckland is set in the middle of a suburban area, oddly enough, and there were discussions about it being moved or a newer more modern one being built in the city on the water front a few years ago which I personally think would have been ideal, but that idea was poo-pooed by many as a complete waste of money and it was decided to upgrade the existing one.

It isn’t one of the biggest in the world, and certainly not the flashiest, but it seats just on 50,000 and is, I have to admit, money well spent. It looks great too and has really nice facilities. The only thing I might complain about is that because it is in suburbia, many roads are closed around it’s perimeter so if you plan to drive there then you end up parking miles away and having to walk and walk and walk with your bags, jackets, etc. Not great when this is supposed to be an exciting day out for a young family.

But I have to say that we were super impressed with the public transport arrangements. There were event buses from various centres around the city that operate on a park-and-ride basis, with your event ticket being your bus fare. These operated every 10 minutes between certain times, so were looking like a viable option, until a friend suggested the train. Unfortunately the trains don’t run north, which is a shame as it would be a huge advantage to have this as an alternative travel option to the motorway, but event trains were running between the city and the stadium. And so it was that we drove to the city and caught a train – much excitement in our family as this was our first train trip together. To avoid the crowds leaving post match, we left a few minutes early but sadly would have had to wait 35 minutes for the first of the post-match event trains, so the organisers arranged a bus for a few of us who’d had the same idea which took us directly back to the city.

Days that include train trips, cricket matches and bus rides tick all the boxes for little boys, so we had a very sleepy  head in the car on the way home late last night. To top it all off, we arranged to meet up with a little friend from cricket club and the two of them carried on like ferrets – endless energy and fun! Hopefully a few good memories too.

There had been talk of thunderstorms during the match yesterday, but thankfully they stayed away and the game was only interrupted by a few short showers, but this morning I’ve woken up with the soft gentle sound of rain outside. It’s great as our garden desperately needs it after the fantastic summer we’ve had, but it seems that Autumn has officially begun today. I’ve also woken up hungry as a day filled with junk food and snacks doesn’t do much for one’s energy levels, so a fresh loaf of my delicious health bread is in the oven. Fresh out of the oven, and still warm enough to melt the butter – can’t wait! Even the smell is starting to get the saliva glands working but can’t relax for long as we’re off to Walking with Dinosaurs this morning. It’s one of those weekends where everything seems to happen at once, but today will not include trains or buses, from what I’ve heard, the dinosaurs will speak for themselves, figuratively speaking of course, but it should be a great show so enjoy your day and make some wonderful memories with the people you love.

ingredients:
500 g Nutty Wheat flour (or use 450 g wheatmeal flour and 50 g oat bran – I also add a few spoons of Wheat Germ for the extra fibre but be careful you don’t add too much dry ingredient as the bread will then be dry and heavy – it’s already pretty dense as it is)
5 ml baking powder
5 ml bicarbonate of soda
5 ml salt
5 ml poppy seeds
5 ml sesame seeds
500 ml plain yoghurt
5 ml honey
15 ml sunflower oil (or any light flavourless oil)
digestive bran (oat bran) for sprinkling
poppy seeds, sesame seeds, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds to sprinkle

  • Preheat the oven to 180°C.
  • Combine all the dry ingredients, up to and including teh sesame seeds, in a large mixing bowl.
  • In a separate bowl, mix together the yoghurt, honey and oil, and fold into the dry mixture.
  • Sprinkle a greased 22 cm x 10 cm loaf tin with digestive bran and pour the mixture into the pan, smoothing the surface with a spatula.
  • Sprinkle the top with the bran and seeds.
  • Bake in the preheated oven for 50 – 60 minutes or until a skewer inserted in the middle comes out clean.

Don’t be alarmed if the sunflower seeds turn green during cooking.  This is just the baking powder or bicarb.  If it bothers you, you can prevent this by soaking the seeds in boiling water for 10 minutes, then drain the water off and add the seeds to the mixture – I have personally not tried this as I’m not worried if the seeds are green but as always, it’s up to you.

Enjoy!

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Melon, Prosciutto and Kale Pasta Salad

Cantaloupe anyone? Don’t you just love that word? Buying seasonal produce is a great way of saving money and it forces you to be more creative with meal planning too, which, as anyone who has to prepare daily meals for their family can sympathise with.  At the moment, Rock Melons are in season, also known as Spanspek in South Africa or Cantaloupe in America.

Melon, Prosciutto and Kale SaladThe bright orange juicy flesh is refreshingly cool and works well on it’s own as a breakfast ingredient (I love blitzing it into my morning smoothie) or fruit treat; chopped up, I add it to lunch boxes mixed with other fruit on mini kebab sticks or use it in a fresh salad. Now I hear some of you saying that fruit in a salad simply isn’t your thing, and I can understand, but honestly? Try this. My husband had two helpings the other night and still wanted more so I made a whole extra bowl full!

I’d heard that rock melon and prosciutto complement each other really well so I had to give it a go. Please believe me, this is one of the tastiest and easiest salads I’ve come up with in a long time. I added a little pasta to bulk it up as this was our main meal of the day and the combination of lemon, white wine vinegar and olive oil dressing seems simple on it’s own but bursts with flavour when tossed through the salad. The earthiness of the prosciutto, combined with the clean juicy softness of the melon, the crunch of the red onion and crispy luminescent green of the kale – it’s even beautiful to look at.

ingredients:
250 g pasta shapes
½ rock melon
½ bag baby kale leaves (about 3 handfuls)
100 g prosciutto
fresh parmesan cheese shavings
½ red onion
bunch fresh mint leaves (optional)
1 Tsp white wine vinegar
1 Tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
2 Tbsp olive oil
salt and freshly ground black pepper

  1. Cook the pasta until al dente. Drain and set aside to cool.
  2. Dice the rock melon into 2 cm chunks and add to the washed kale leaves in a large salad bowl.
  3. Slice the prosciutto. Thinly slice the onion. Add both to the salad along with the mint leaves (tear them if they are quite big).
  4. Combine the white wine vinegar, lemon juice and olive oil in a jar with a lid and shake until well mixed or beat in a small bowl.
  5. Add the cooled pasta to the salad.
  6. Using a vegetable peeler, slice thin slivers of fresh parmesan cheese and sprinkle over the salad.
  7. Pour over the dressing, add a little salt and pepper and gently toss to coat the salad.
  8. Serve immediately.

Enjoy!

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