Saturday, 25 December 2010

Merry Christmas!

I'd like to wish my family, friends and you, my favourite reader a very Merry Christmas!  I hope you are spending a wonderful day with your loved ones, filled with love and happiness, and of course...fabulous food.




I will continue with posts from my Christmas menu (Cheesy Mustard Stuffed Chicken, Roast Potatoes, Cauliflower Cheese, Pumpkin Fritters, Trifle and Cookies and Cream Truffles) but only after New Year, as all the photos are currently on a camera on Phi Phi Island, Thailand. (Silly me forgot to download them!)


Now I think it's time for the traditional post-Christmas lunch nap! 



Wednesday, 22 December 2010

Inside-out Grilled Cheese Sandwich

The humble toasted cheese sandwich.  Also known as grilled cheese sandwich, toasted cheese, toastie or simply grilled cheese.  Quick and easy to make, loved by many and easy to doll up with extra ingredients such as ham, tomato, onions, bacon, fried eggs.  They are a trusted staple in many a corner café and Wimpy in South Africa.


In South Africa (as I suppose in the UK) we use a sandwich toaster to toast our cheese sandwiches.  In the USA however, they use mostly cast iron skillets to fry them to a golden brown, or so I've been told.


I possibly went over the top with the cheese on the inside - just a bit.

A grilled cheese sandwich is something that is taken very seriously in America.  I found this on wikipedia.org:  

"At the Grilled Cheese Invitational cook-off, held annually in Los Angeles, contestants attempt to cook the best grilled cheese sandwich in various categories. The 2008 winner of the Grilled Cheese Invitational "Spaz Trophy", awarded for overall "weirdness", was the "Cake and Mivens" entry, a dessert grilled cheese sandwich that featured the marshmallow peeps confectionery.
On November 23, 2004, a grilled cheese sandwich containing a supposed likeness of the Virgin Mary was sold at auction for $28,000. "Discovered" in 1994, it had remained free of mold for ten years because the butter and oils used to make the sandwich retarded its development.
According to Woman's Day, April is "Grilled Cheese Sandwich Month."

My favourite way of doing a toasted sandwich is still using the "flat" sandwich toaster.  They are hard to find these days though.  The newer "snackwich" toasters turns your sandwich into a jaffle.  Nothing wrong with a jaffle but for me the whole purpose of a toasted cheese sandwich is the cheese that oozes out and becomes crispy on the toaster.  As a kid I always tried to sneak off with the sandwich with the biggest piece of crispy cheese! 


My inside-out, or maybe inside AND out cheese sandwich has crispy cheese on the outside, just the way I like it.  It is guaranteed not good for your diet, but man, does it taste good!  I don't have a cast iron skillet, so my trusty non-stick pan from Ikea had to do the trick.

Inside-out Grilled Cheese Sandwich
Ingredients:
  • a couple of slices of white bread (in Taiwan try to by some non-sweet bread from Carrefour)
  • Cheddar cheese, grated (in Taiwan, use REAL cheese!  Those little wrapped slices of rubbery, yellow/orange stuff...that is NOT cheese, people!)
  • 1 or 2 Tbsp of butter
Method:

  1. Heat your pan to a medium high heat and melt the butter in the pan.
  2. Put a slice of bread in the pan, top with some grated cheese and put another slice of bread on top.  Push the slice of bread down, so the bread and cheese can connect with each other in the sandwich.
  3. Now put as small amount, about 2 teaspoons, of grated cheese on top of the top slice.  Use a egg lifter and flip the whole sandwich over, so the cheese can melt and get a crispy golden brown.  Also put a small amount of cheese on the side that is facing up right now.  When the underside is nice and crisp, flip the sandwich over again and brown the other side.
  4. Let it rest ever so briefly on some kitchen paper, just so that we can say we tried to reduce the fat.  (Who am I trying to kid?  This is the best hangover sandwich, because of the oiliness!)  Serve while hot.

By all means dress it up with some good ham, tomato or anything else you feel like, with a salad on the side.  And if you feel like adding marshmallows like the people in L.A. - don't tell anyone it was my idea!

Saturday, 18 December 2010

Cookies and Cream Truffles

So this morning, between classes and screaming 5 year olds, I grabbed a pen and paper and started working on my menu for Christmas lunch.  I probably would've been able to think more clearly had I been at home on my balcony with cup of steaming coffee and Sade on the Hi-Fi but alas, someone has to bring home the bacon, so to speak.  


Quite a few readers and facebook friends have asked me the question I have been dreading, "So, what are you making for Christmas lunch?  I'm sure it's going to be something fabulous!"  Little do they know that this year is going to be a very difficult one for me.  Not only will this be my 9th Christmas away from my family, but my friends are all out of the country in exotic locations such as Thailand and the Middle East.  For this reason I didn't actually feel like doing anything, no Christmas tree, no Advent Krantz.


Any way, long story short - I get a message from my two Taiwanese jet-setter friends, asking if we couldn't have an early Christmas lunch - at my house, of course!  Panic stations!  What am I going to cook for this early Christmas lunch?  To be honest, I'm not entirely sure yet, but I did find the ingredients for these über delicious Cookies and Cream Truffles on my way home tonight.  They are dead easy to make and all your friends of the female persuasion will love them - guaranteed!




And the best of all?  After I finished the chocolate outer layer, I was left with about a tablespoon of melted chocolate.  What better to whisk up the leftover chocolate in some hot milk and taking a well deserved break with some delicious hot chocolate?


The original recipe is from the Good Food Channel.


Cookies and Cream Truffles




Ingredients:

  • 500g Oreo biscuits (that's about 4 regular packs.  I used the one with the chocolate filling)
  • 250g cream cheese, softened (I softened it by nuking it in the microwave oven for 30 seconds)
  • 400g milk chocolate
  • 100g dark chocolate (You can also use white chocolate but it is too difficult to find in Taiwan)
Method:
  1. Crush the biscuits and blitz them until resembling coffee grounds in a food processor or blender.
  2. Pour the blitzed biscuits into a large mixing bowl and mix in the cream cheese until the white of the cheese is no longer visible.  I used the dough attachments to my trusty electric hand mixer.
  3. Using a teaspoon, roll the mixture into balls and place on a tray lined with wax paper.  Refrigerate for about 40 minutes to an hour.  (I made mine just bite size and got 55 truffles.  You can make them bigger if you want.)
  4. Break the milk chocolate into pieces and place it in a microwave-safe bowl.  Carefully melt it for 20 seconds at a time and stir each time until smooth.
  5. Coat balls with melted chocolate, place on trays lined with wax paper and refrigerate again, to cool.
  6. Finally, melt the dark (or white) chocolate and use a fork to drizzle it over the truffles.  Let it cool.
    Still having trouble with the colour of my photos but you get the idea, right?
    If you put your truffles in some paper liners (those mini cup cake liner things) and in a nice looking box, they will make an excellent Christmas present.  The also make an excellent accompaniment to the after-Christmas-lunch-coffee. 


    Sunday, 12 December 2010

    Pea & Pesto Soup

    One of the ingredients I miss most from South Africa is the humble split pea.  Nothing chases the winter cold away for me like a steaming bowl of split pea soup with some nice crusty bread on the side.  Alas, no split peas to be found on Ilha Formosa.


    So today I tried to make some pea soup using frozen peas and I tarted it up a bit with a few dollops of pesto.  As soon as I started, I realised that I had no more potatoes in the house...and no pesto either.  So I substituted the potatoes with...a can of butter beans!  It worked out really deliciously.




    Pea & Pesto Soup


    Ingredients:

    • 2 medium onions, chopped
    • 4 cloves of garlic (2 if you are in South Africa.  The garlic in Taiwan isn't as potent)
    • 500g frozen peas
    • 1 tin (240g drained) butter beans
    • 1 liter (or a little more) of stock (I used chicken stock)
    • 3 to 4 Tbsp of basil pesto*
    • 1Tbsp olive oil
    Method:
    1. Fry the onions and garlic in a pot until soft but not brown.
    2. Add the peas and butter beans and pour in the stock.  Cover the pot and let it simmer for 10 to 12 minutes.
    3. Scoop out about a third of the peas and reserve (pop the beans back in if you caught any)
    4. Use a blender to blend the peas and beans to a smooth consistency.  Add the reserved whole peas.
    5. Add the pesto to the soup and stir through.  Use more, if you want.  Check the seasoning and add salt and pepper, if needed.
    6. Serve with croutons, crispy fried bacon pieces or Parmesan chips...and of course, some fresh crusty bread.


    *  I didn't have any store bought pesto, so I blitzed together a handful of basil leaves, about 3 to 4 tablespoons of olive oil and a handful of grated Parmesan cheese.  I didn't add any pine nuts, but you can if you have some handy.

    Excuse me, waiter...

     Seven years and ten months ago, I arrived in the Republic of China, better known as Taiwan.  At the time I left South Africa, I knew very little about where I was going or what it looked like.  I didn't even know where I was going to work.  My agent (now my friend) Maggie just said, "Don't worry about anything.  I'll have a job for you when you arrive."

    Now, in my mind's eye, I had an image of a mixture between a tropical island and the images one gets of China in the old movies:  red lanterns, very obedient students and the smell of incense... Oh, and somehow everyone can speak English.

    Well, how rude my awakening was is a story for another day.  In fact very few people speak English outside of Taipei.  In my early years in Taiwan, I was always very excited to find a restaurant that had a menu in English.

    So, for your reading pleasure, I present the English menu of a coffee shop in Yinge, a town very famous for its ceramics (and not so famous for its English!)


    "Excuse me waiter, could I please have the 'Chicken of the oyster bad-mannered'?  Mind you, item G looks delicious too!  Oh, what should I order!"




    "My friend here will have the Nine-storyed Baconian's pasta." (...which was bacon pasta with basil, in case you were wondering...)


    Welcome to my world!

    A Cheat's Easiest FESTIVE Choc-Chip Cookies, Ever!

    As Magnum P.I. used to say, "I know what you're thinking..."  


    You're thinking, more of the same.  I'm thinking, hang on...I still have a pack of Betty Crocker's French Vanilla cake mix left after my last venture into baking choc-chip cookies.  I'm thinking I have 2 packets of M&M's in my cupboard.  I'm also thinking, "Wouldn't they look very festive and Christmas-y with the M&M's almost looking like brightly coloured baubles or flashing fairy lights on a Christmas tree?"


    For me the result wasn't exactly as I saw it in my mind's eye.  The violently bright colours on the M&M's tend to run into the cookie dough a bit but I am sure your kids won't mind that at all.




    To everyone that has sent me a Christmas card, my heartfelt thanks!  In a country where Christmas isn't celebrated, far from one's family and friends, it is always great to get one!


    A Cheat's Easiest FESTIVE Choc-Chip Cookies, Ever!


    Ingredients & Method:


    Follow this recipe exactly like before.  This time I substituted chocolate cake mix for French Vanilla.  I also substituted the choc-chips with M&M's.  One cup should be enough. 




    And speaking of Christmas cards, you don't need to send me one but I would LOVE some comments on my posts!  I  really appreciate them.

    Sunday, 5 December 2010

    Sunday Potatoes

    Growing up in the Swartland, our family pretty much stuck to the traditional Sunday thing.  Church in the morning, Sunday School after and then...for me the highlight of the week - Sunday lunch.  This always consisted of a roast, two or three veggies and a pudding.  But no Sunday lunch was complete without "braai aartappels" as roast potatoes are called in Afrikaans.


    I remember my paternal grandmother had a special oven casserole that she only used for making roast potatoes.  This is also the way Miss Lawson advocates for her "best ever" roast potatoes.  However, for me the mere thought of having to clean off the burnt oil splatters from my little Taiwanese oven, is the stuff of nightmares.  So I just deep fry in sunflower oil, in my trusty old wok.



    Sunday Potatoes


    Ingredients:

    • potatoes, about 1 medium sized per person, peeled*
    • water, boiling
    • salt
    • oil for deep frying

    Method:


    1. Cut the potatoes in thirds, at angles if you can.
    2. Bring the water to a boil, add the salt and potatoes.
    3. Parboil the potatoes for about 5 minutes until almost done.
    4. Drain off the water and allow the potatoes to cool.  I leave them on my balcony for about 10 minutes.
    5. After the potatoes cooled down, shake them around in the pot or colander to ruff them up a bit.  This helps to make them nice and crispy on the outside later.
    6. Carefully drop the potatoes (in batches usually) in the hot oil and fry until golden brown and crispy.  Drain on some kitchen paper and  serve immediately.


    * These days most cookbooks will tell you to use this or that type of potato.  This is great for when you live in a western country where there actually are different kinds of potatoes.  However, on my tropical Ilha Formosa there are no different kinds...just potatoes!

    Thursday, 2 December 2010

    A Cheat's Easiest Choc-Chip Cookies, Ever!

    Yes, here I go again...I am cheating.  I am going to tell you how to make the easiest choc-chip cookies, ever!  And it's going to be quick-quick, because some of us have a day job.  So at first I thought, I probably shouldn't do another "cheat" recipe, but hey, if Nigella Lawson can bring out "Nigella Express: 130 Recipes for Good Food, Fast", and Jamie Oliver his latest "Jamie's 30-minute Meals" then who am I to click my tongue at a few short cuts? 


    I found this recipe on YouTube, of all places.  The person who uploaded it goes by the name of PrincessDiana161 and you should really watch her videos.  She is a great cook and really funny!




    A Cheat's Easiest Choc-Chip Cookies, Ever!


    Ingredients:
    • 1 packet of cake mix (You can you any brand or type you like.  I used Betty Crocker's Devil's Food Chocolate Cake Mix)
    • 1/2 cup of sunflower oil
    • 2 eggs, room temperature
    • 2 cups of chocolate chips (or nuts, if you'd like)
    Method:
    1. Pre-heat your oven to 180C
    2. Sift the packet of cake mix into a mixing bowl and add the oil and eggs.
    3. Mix with an electric beater until well mixed and a dough forms.
    4. Add the choc-chips and mix.
    5. Grease a baking sheet and scoop the cookie dough, about table spoon size, and arrange them on your baking sheet.
    6. Flatten them out slightly with you fingers and make sure that there is about 2 - 3cm space between each.
    7. Bake for 8 - 13 minutes, depending on your oven.  A toothpick should come out clean.  Let your cookies cool on the baking sheet for about 3 minutes.  Remove and let them cook completely on a wire rack.
    The come out nice and crispy on the outside and soft on the inside, just the way I like them.  Enjoy with a glass of milk, or better still - leave them out for Father Christmas.  He might just upgrade you from soap-on-a-rope to an i-Pad!