Butter biscuits with baked caramel (photography by Tasha Seccombe)
The South Americans have a dessert called “alfajores” – crumbly biscuits sandwiched together with thick and creamy caramel. A few years ago, I tasted this for the first time in a Peruvian retaurant in Cape Town. It was absolutely heavenly.
Thanks to my Donna Hay fixation, I recently came across her recipe for homemade dulche de leche. In South Africa, we know it as “caramel treat”, or boiled condensed milk. Donna bakes her condensed milk in the oven, then whisks the mixture afterwards to form a delicious and beautiful caramel that is even tastier than the boiled version. We made easy butter cookies to use as sandwiches, and the result was totally out of the world.
This is a great dessert for your summer braai this season. Make the cookies and the caramel a few hours ahead, then just quickly assemble when it’s time for the sweet stuff. Even the most hardened braai kings will weep for this one, trust me.
Ingredients for the caramel: (makes 2 cups)
2 x cans condensed milk (about 400g each)
Preheat oven to 220°C.
Place the condensed milk in an ovenproof baking dish and cover tightly with aluminium foil. Place the baking dish in a larger deep-sided baking tray and fill with boiling water until it reaches ²⁄³ of the way up the sides of the dish. Bake for 1 hour 30 minutes or until caramel in colour.
Spoon the caramel into a bowl and whisk until smooth. Spoon into sterilized glass jars and cover with lids. Keep in the fridge for up to 1 month.
Ingredients for butter cookies:
250 g butter, cubed
2 cups cake flour
1/2 cup corn flour (corn starch / Maizena)
5 ml vanilla essense
1/3 cup caster sugar
3-4 tablespoons cold water
Place all the ingredients except water in a food processor. Process until it forms “crumbs”.
Add the water a little at a time until the mixtures just comes together in a ball. Remove from the processor.
Divide into 4, then roll out each part between 2 grease proof baking sheets to prevent it from sticking. Roll out to a thickness of about 5mm, then remove top layer of baking paper and cut into rounds.
Place rounds on a lined baking tray, then bake for about 12 minutes at 180 C until just lightly straw coloured, not too dark. Remove and cool on a rack.
When completely cool, sandwich together with the caramel.
Lemon curd swiss roll (photography by Tasha Seccombe)
As mentioned before, I just adore South African food icon Phillippa Cheifitz and her recipes. She’s probably the reason that I want to write my own recipe book (and will, soon – watch this space). Her recipes are so stylish, simple, classic, doable and beautiful.
Phillippa’s popular book “Lazy Days – Contemporary Country-style Cooking” was recently revised. I attended Phillippa’s book launch a week ago, and finally had the privilege of meeting this iconic and stylish woman. I still have the original version of Lazy Days and it remains one of my absolute favourites on my shelf. It’s a collection of recipes that you’d want to cook over and over again, containing classic staples like whole-egg mayonnaise, anchovy butter, onion confit and buttermilk pancakes. Phillippa writes about the food that she cooks on their West Coast weekends – the type of food that totally speaks to my heart.
Phillippa’s recipe for a lemon curd Swiss roll is so effortless and delightful, so I decided to feature it as a tribute. We also loved photographing this cake, as it was the first time that we worked inside my new kitchen. The natural lighting was just fantastic and we are so happy with the results. Looking forward to many more shoots in here.
Thank you Phillippa for the endless inspiration – you rock my world.
Ingredients for the cake:
4 XL eggs
1 cup sugar
1 cup cake flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
a pinch of salt
Beat the eggs with the sugar until very light & foamy.
Sift the flour with the baking powder and salt, then sift over the beaten egg mixture and fold in gently but evenly.
Turn into a buttered baking Swiss-roll pan lined with nonstick baking paper. Bake one shelf above the middle at 200 C for about 12 minutes or until nicely risen.
Turn out and pull off the paper carefully. Place a clean sheet of baking paper on top, then roll up, lengthways, in a tea towel.
Ingredients for the lemon curd:
2 XL eggs
2 egg yolks
1/2 cup caster sugar
1/2 cup strained lemon juice
grated rind of 2 lemons
125 g chilled butter
Beat the whole eggs and yolks until frothy, then gradually beat in the sugar until thick and pale.
Mix in the lemon juice and rind. Turn into a heavy saucepan and cook over medium heat, whisking in the butter bit by bit. Cook for about 5 minutes, until thickened, but take care not to allow it to boil and curdle.
Once thickened, remove from the stove and place a piece of nonstick paper direcly on the surface. Leave to cool completely. Refrigerate for a few hours until it is a good spreading consistency.
To assemble: carefully unroll the sponge cake, spread with the lemon-curd fulling and roll up again. Dust with icing sugar, if you want to.
Pear and blue cheese quiche with rocket & pecans (photography by Tasha Seccombe)
There are few things as underrated as a good quiche. It’s so easy to make and one of the best options for a light lunch or a tea table during Spring time.
I love the combination of pears, blue cheese, rocket and pecan nuts in a salad. I’ve decided to combine the quiche and the salad to create a fresh and vibrant meal-in-one. A festive salad on top of a beautiful quiche – what could be better than this?
Goats cheese also works very well in this combination, so use whatever you prefer.
4-6 sheets filo pastry
100 ml butter, melted
250 ml full cream milk
salt & pepper
1 small pear, coarsely grated (no seeds)
125 g blue cheese
a bunch of rocket leaves (toss in a drizzle of olive oil and a squirt of lemon juice)
a handful of pecan nuts, toasted in a dry pan
1 small pear, thinly sliced
Pre-heat oven to 220 C.
Lay the pastry sheets out on a flat surface, then use a pastry brush to cover them with melted butter. Place the sheets on top of each other inside a greased loose bottom tart tin (about 23 cm). Trim the edges if you prefer, or leave them hanging over the edge. Place the lined tart tin inside a bigger rectangular baking tray.
Beat the eggs & milk and season with salt & pepper. Pour the mixture into the lined tart tin, then add the grated pear and crumbled blue cheese (save about 1/3 of the cheese for later). Bake for 30 minutes or until golden and the middle just set.
Remove from the oven and cool for 15 minutes. Top with rocket leaves, the rest of the blue cheese, the pecan nuts and some sliced pear.
Chards of beautiful nutty seed brittle (photography & styling by Tasha Seccombe)
After Nicola and Tasha suggested that we shoot a type of brittle, I did some research and put a recipe together from my previous experience with sugar caramel. Nut brittle makes such a beautiful gift, and everyone loves the seductive crack of nuts and hard caramel. When it was time to test it, I learned the hard way that a brittle is not always as simple as it seems.
Tasha also tested it at home, and after batch number three she got some beautiful results. With her husband John’s help, they used a sugar thermometer to determine the exact stage of when to take the sugar from the heat and added a few handy tips which will make your first try a big success.
In the process, we both realized that non-stick cookware is not the best thing for making sugar caramel. Rather use a stainless steel or cast iron pot/pan. Also, it is best to warm the nuts in the microwave or oven before adding them to the caramel – this ensures that the caramel doesn’t cool down too quickly after adding the nuts and will be easier to transfer from the pan to an oiled or lined tray.
Although this recipe takes a little patience, the results are well worth it!
2 cup white sugar
2 cups mixed nuts and seeds (Tasha used a mixture of almonds, cashews, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds and linseeds)
1/2 teaspoon salt flakes
Line a regular baking tray with baking paper. Keep an oiled silicone spatula handy for later.
In a medium size heavy-based pot or pan (not non-stick), carefully heat the sugar over medium heat until it starts to melt – don’t stir, just tilt the pan to swirl slowly. Bring to a simmer when all has melted, then cook for about 1015 minutes until it starts to turn lightly golden in colour. Use a sugar thermometer to monitor the temperature: we’re aiming for 150-155 C.
In the meantime, sprinkle the nut mixture with salt, then heat them in the oven for a few minutes on 180 C. When the caramel has reached hard crack stage (150 C), add the nuts and swirl to coat them evenly. Transfer the mixture to the lined tray, then use the oiled spatula to quickly flatten the surface. Leave to cool, then cut/break into blocks/chards.
Note: Sugar caramel is very hot and must be handled with caution.
Preserved quinces in syrup (photography by Tasha Seccombe, styling by Nicola Pretorius)
While many South African cooks and food writers often reminisce about their childhoods filled with quince memories, I only discovered these strange fruit in my adult years. At a friend’s mom’s house, she treated us to her very own preserved quinces with a swirl of canned evaporated milk. It was simply delicious.
Eighteen months ago, I read up on membrillo – a preserved fruit “cheese” made from cooked quince paste. I stored the paste in wax paper and have been maturing it since in a cool dark place in my garage, sampling the batch as it got older. Membrillo is a unique product – a thick, almost spreadable paste that can be cut with a sharp knife and enjoyed as a preserve with cheeses.
A few weeks ago, I found another tray of perfectly yellow and unblemished seasonal quinces at my local farm stall. Although quinces are a prize ingredient, they are very tough to work with. After skinning and coring them, my hands were ruined by their harsh, dry flesh (I would recommend wearing kitchen gloves if you have sensitive hands). Still, it’s such a satisfying process to see how these hard, almost inedible raw fruit can be transformed into something so delicate in flavour, colour and texture.
They are fantastic enjoyed as a dessert straight from the jar with a scoop of ice cream or cream, but they are also great to cook with (especially in venison roasts).
about 16 large quinces (not too ripe)
water for soaking
a squirt of lemon juice
6 cups water
6 cups sugar
2 vanilla pods, sliced open lengthways, seeds removed and set aside
2 cinnamon sticks
Peel and core the quinces, then place them immediately as you go into a large mixing bowl filled with water and a squirt of lemon juice. This will prevent them for discolouring while you work.
In a large stock pot, place the water, sugar, vanilla pods, vanilla seeds and cinnamon. Bring to a boil, then simmer for 5 minutes.
Drain the water off the quinces, then add the fruit pieces to the hot syrup (do this in batched in order to prevent crowding). Poach each batch for 15 minutes or until tender (depending on the size of your fruit pieces), then remove with a slotted spoon.
Pack the warm cooked fruit tightly into sterilized glass jars, then fill up with hot syrup to cover the fruit. Cover with sterilized heat proof lids.
Rinse the stock pot used for the syrup, then fill it half-way with warm water and bring to the boil (we are creating a water bath). Using tongs, place a cotton dish cloth at the bottom of the pot, then place the filled closed fruit jars on top of the cloth (to prevent the glass from touching the bottom of the pot). The water should just cover the glass jars. Bring to a slow simmer, then cook for 25 minutes.
Carefully remove the jars from the boiling water, then set them aside to cool to room temperature. If sealed correctly, the jars will last in a cool dark place for up to 1 year.
Quinces change colour from white to a delicate pastel coral after being cooked. (photography by Tasha Seccombe, styling by Nicola Pretorius)
A few weeks ago I hosted 12 guests at the demo KITCHEN in Stellenbosch for a night of deliciousness in colaboration with Cecilia’s Farm. These guys make the most amazing selection of soft dried fruit and nuts, and recently also launched their online store.
I decided on a menu that would showcase their fruit to the fullest:
Turkish apricot delights with goat’s cheese, basil, almonds & honey
Bon Chretien pear & blue cheese salad with roasted almonds & rocket
Fragrant lamb tagine with prunes, peaches & figs
Apple tartlets with almond paste & vanilla ice cream
Click on the images below to view:
Cecilia’s Farm just launched their online store.
Lamb tagine is served.
Lamb tagine with Cecilia’s Farm peaches, prunes and figs.
Telling our guests more about making your own almond paste.
Assembling our apple tartlets for dessert.
Luxury breakfast bars for the next morning.
As part of the meal, we enjoyed the most delicious wines from Koelfontein Farm – a wooded chardonnay and a bold shiraz. The guests each got to take home a goodie bag filled with vouchers for Cecilia’s Farm’s online shop, and a homemade luxury breakfast bar to enjoy the next morning.
Thank you so much Cecilia’s Farm and Hatch PR for providing me with this delightful opportunity to discover these superior products, it was such a pleasure to cook with.
Here is a short video of how we made the salad on the night:
Check out how we made the lamb tagine:
And last but not least, here’s a peek into the dessert on the night:
And here are the recipes for our three courses:
Pear & cashew salad with blue cheese & rocket (serves 6)
• a large bunch of rocket leaves
• 2 tablespoons of olive oil
• 2 teaspoons of fresh lemon juice
• Salt & pepper
• 250 g Cecilia’s Farm Bon Chretien pears, sliced
• 100 g Cecilia’s Farm cashew nuts, lightly toasted in a dry pan
• 120 g blue cheese, crumbled Preparation:
1. In a large mixing bowl, add the leaves, olive oil, lemon juice and toss to coat. Season with salt & pepper, then arrange on a large flat salad plate.
2. Top with sliced pears, warm nuts, and crumbled blue cheese. Serve immediately.
Lamb tagine with prunes & peaches (serves 6)
• 1/4 cup olive oil
• 1 medium onion, chopped
• 3 cinnamon sticks
• 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
• 1 teaspoon ground ginger
• 1 teaspoon turmeric
• 1 teaspoon paprika
• 1 teaspoon cumin
• 1 teaspoon sumac (optional)
• 1,25 kg boneless lamb (shoulder or leg), cut into 5cm cubes
• ½ cup (125 ml) white wine (or water)
• about 2 cups water
• 1 teaspoon salt
• freshly ground pepper
• 250 g Cecilia’s Farm prunes
• 250 g Cecilia’s Farm peeled cling peaches
• 1 tablespoon sesame seeds, toasted (optional)
• cooked cous-cous, to serve
• fresh coriander, to serve (optional) Preparation
1. Pre-heat oven to 170 ˚C.
2. Add oil in a large iron pot or authentic tagine over medium-high heat, then add onions and fry until soft. Add spices and fry for another minute, stirring.
3. Increase heat to high, then add meat cubes and fry until the meat changes colour (you don’t have to brown it too much). Add wine/water, stir and bring to the boil. Cover pot with oven-proof lid, then roast for 1 ½ hours, stirring every 30 minutes.
4. Season with salt and pepper, then add the peaches, prunes and honey. Return to the oven and bake for an additional 45 minutes or until the meat is completely tender and the fruit are plump and soft.
5. Serve the tagine with cous-cous, topped with toasted sesame seeds and fresh coriander leaves.
Note: Tagine can be cooked 1 day ahead and chilled (covered once cool). Reheat gently, thinning with water if needed.
Pink Lady Apple and Almond Tartlets
Makes 12 tartlets
For the almond paste:
• 100 g (250 ml) ground almonds
• 250 ml icing sugar
• ¼ teaspoon almond essence
• 1 egg white (large egg)
For the tartlet:
• 250 g Cecilia’s Farm apple rings
• 400 g all- butter puff pastry, defrosted
• 125 ml apricot jam (to glaze)
• vanilla ice cream (to serve) Method:
1. For the almond paste: Place all the ingredients together in a food processor. Process until it comes together into a ball (add more icing sugar if your mixture is too sticky). Remove and refrigerate (for at least an hour) in an airtight plastic bowl.
2. Preheat the oven to 200˚C.
3. Bring 1 litre water to the boil in a small sauce pan, then add the dried apple wedges and boil for 5 minutes to soften. Drain the water off and set aside.
4. Lay the pastry sheet on a lightly floured surface, then cut into rectangles of 12 x 6 cm each.
5. Prick each of the rectangles carefully with a fork, leaving a border of about 1 cm around the edges, unpricked.
6. Grate the almond paste generously over each of the pastry rectangles (within the borders), then lay about 6 cooked apple wedges on top of the paste of each tartlet.
7. Place the tartlets on a baking tray lined with baking paper, then bake for 10 minutes.
8. Remove from the oven and brush with fine apricot jam, then return to the oven for another 2-5 minutes to turn brown on the edges. Remove from the oven, then allow to cool slightly and serve with a scoop of good quality vanilla ice cream on top.
Orange, beetroot & wild rice salad (photography by Tasha Seccombe)
As a self-confessed sweet tooth, I sometimes need a bit of extra conviction to make salads during winter time. Most of the time, the weather just drives me to eat sweet pastries for lunch and decadent creamy sauces with meat and starches for dinner. While summer’s bounty brings oodles of inspiration for fresh and bright salads, winter has a tendency to make us commit guilty diet crimes.
When a salad contains several inspirational ingredients that I love, I’ll be much more inclined to eat it. Especially if it’s ingredients that are not usually associated with salads. Like oranges and wild rice.
This seasonal, colourful, art-on-a-plate salad is perfect for those days where you need extra inspiration to get your fruit & veg fill – with just the right zing to the dressing. It’s a complete meal on its own, but you can also serve it as part of a large buffet lunch/dinner.
The magic lies in the freshness of the ingredients, so choose ripe oranges that are really sweet, baby leaves that are bright and crisp, and beetroot that are small and firm. To save time, I used ready-cooked beetroot from Woolworths, but you should be able to find it at any good supermarket near you.
For the dressing:
finely grated rind of an orange
juice of a large orange or two medium oranges
juice of half a lemon
30-45 ml exstra virgin olive oil
10 ml wholegrain mustard
10 ml Dijon mustard
salt & pepper
Method: In a small jar, mix all of the ingredients together to form an emulsion (or put a lid on and shake it). Taste for seasoning – it should be generously seasoned.
For the salad: (serves 6 as a side dish)
a medium size bag of mixed baby leaves (including spinach, watercress, rocket etc.), washed and drained
1 cup cooked wild rice, cooled
2 oranges, skin removed and cut into rounds
2 cups of skinned cooked beetroot, cut into bite size chunks
1/4 cup of flaked almonds, lightly toasted in a dry pan
Method: Stir half of the salad dressing into the cooked cooled rice (stir the dressing well before adding it). Stir through the rice, then add more salt & pepper if necessary. Assemble the salad on a large wide flat platter, starting with leaves, then the dressed rice, oranges, beetroot, and almonds. Drizzle generously with the rest of the dressing and serve cold or at room temperature.
Still wondering what the big difference is between a croque madame and a croque monsieur? An egg. And the egg is placed on top of the croque madame – not the monsieur.
I was quite surprised by this bit of information mentioned above. In my mind, a so-called monsieur’s breakfast is usually bigger than a so-called madame’s breakfast, not the other way around. Come to think of it, I actually love the fact that the madame get to have the bigger meal. Anything is better topped with a poached egg, especially if it’s all golden and gooey.
Next to the classic eggs benedict, this is my second favourite breakfast in the world. It’s probably because I’m a sauce person. And I love rich breakfasts with butter, cheese and runny poached eggs. Top it off with really great toast, like the sourdough from Schoon de Compagne, and I’m a happy camper.
Ingredients for the Gruyere sauce: (serves 2)
2 tablespoons (30ml) butter
2 tablespoons (30ml) cake flour
1/2 cup full cream milk
2 teaspoons (10ml) Dijon mustard
about 1/2 cup grated Gruyere cheese
salt & pepper
In a small saucepan over medium heat, melt the butter and add the flour. Stir well to form a smooth paste and cook for about 2 minutes. Then add the milk and stir to form a smooth, thick sauce. Turn down the heat to very low, then add the mustard, cheese and seasoning. Remove from the heat and set aside.
Ingredients for the croque madame: (serves 2)
4 slices of sourdough bread, toasted
4 slices of best quality smoked ham (I used hickory ham)
2-4 eggs, poached in water for 3-4 minutes
Place the slices of toast on a baking tray. Top with slices of ham and Gruyere sauce, then place under a hot grill to turn golden brown (watch carefully, it only takes a minute). Remove from the oven, then top with a freshly poached egg. Serve immediately.
Orange marmalade on mosbolletjie toast (photography by Tasha Seccombe, styling by Nicola Pretorius)
I would love to say that I grew up with marmalade and loved it from the start, but I didn’t. I grew up with sweeter-than-sweet apricot jam, and didn’t like the bitterness of marmalade at all. When friends talked about their classic love of marmalade on toast, I simply did not share their view.
That was until recently when I decided to make my own. For this shoot, I wanted to focus on Winter produce, and something that adventurous food lovers could make at home. Citrus fruit are currently abundant in Stellenbosch, so I bought a bag of oranges and looked up a few recipes for reference. I sliced them thinly with my mandolin, cooked the slices in water until tender, then added sugar and aromatics to make a really fragrant marmalade (I added cloves, star anise, cinnamon stick and some cardamom). The texture of my marmalade resembled candied orange, and the taste was just out of this world…
We chose to shoot the marmalade on buttered mosbolletjie toast, and it was the most amazing flavour discovery – the aniseed taste of the mosbolletjies are a match made in heaven for the marmalade! Simply heavenly. Mosbolletjies are readily available in most advanced supermarkets, so give it a try if you find some.
These jars of marmalade make excellent gifts! Buy some beautiful glass jars (or re-cycle used jars), then label them with your own creative design. If properly sealed and stored, marmalade will keep for at least a year.
2 kg oranges
grated zest and juice of 1 lemon
2 kg white granulated sugar
1.5 litres (6 cups) of water
1 star anise
1 cinnamon stick
2 cardamom pods
Using a mandolin cutter or very sharp knife, slice the oranges in 3mm slices, discarding the ends.
Add the sliced oranges, lemon zest and juice and water to a large stock pot (or jam pot), then heat to boiling point. Reduce to a slow simmer, then cook for 40 minutes until soft.
Add the sugar, then cook for another 30 -60 minutes (depending on size of pot and temperature) until soft setting point. Skim off any scum forming on the top layer. For soft setting point, test a teaspoon of the boiling liquid on a cooled saucer for reaching a jel-like texture. Don’t let the mixture get too dark.
When the desired texture is reached, transfer the marmalade to sterilized* glass container, then seal.
*Note: To sterilize your glass containers and lids, place them in a large pot filled with water (covering about 2m above the top level), then bring to a boil. After 5 minutes, remove from the heat, then transfer to a drying rack using tongs. Dry upside down, then fill with warm jam/marmalade and replace lids immediately.
Warm orzo salad with chorizo & spinach (photography by Tasha Seccombe, styling by Nicola Pretorius)
Orzo (also called risoni or rosmarino) is a type of short cut pasta, shaped like a long flat grain of rice. While my mother served it to us plain as a substitute to rice with meaty stews, I only really started enjoying cooking with orzo in recent years. It’s the strangely delightful mouth-feel that I love most – something that works very well in stews, soups and salads.
In this recipe, I’ve combined a few ingredients that I just adore. First and foremost I chose the king of preserved sausages: chorizo – in my opinion one of the best ways of creating bold flavours in an instant. Smokey, spicy slices of chorizo will trump everyone’s favourite crispy bacon any day, in my opinion. But the flavour will only be as good as the product, so choose wisely. The other ingredients that make this dish magnificent are smoked paprika, baby spinach leaves, ripe cherry tomatoes, shavings of Parmesan cheese and some grated lemon rind.
This is an easy and comforting meal for anytime of the year – winter or summer. Serve warm or at room temperature.
Ingredients: (serves 4-6)
a large pot of salted water, suitable for the stove top
500g orzo pasta
roughly 225 g of good quality chorizo sausage
45 ml olive oil
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
250 g ripe cherry tomatoes
5 ml (1 teaspoons) smoked paprika
1/3 cup of dry white wine
juice and finely grated zest of one medium size lemon
salt & pepper
200 g baby spinach leaves
Parmesan cheese, shaved with a vegetable peeler (add as much as you want)
Place the pot of salted water on the stove and bring to the boil. Add the orzo, stir, and set your timer for 7 minutes.
Remove the skin from the chorizo sausage, then cut the chorizo into fine slices/discs (if the skin is not too hard you can leave it on)
In a large frying pan over medium-high heat, add the oil, sliced chorizo & chopped garlic. Fry for about 5 minutes until the chorizo has turned slightly brown on all sides. Be careful not to burn the garlic.
(When the timer for the orzo goes off, drain the orzo in a colander, stir through a splash of olive oil and set it aside.)
Add the cherry tomatoes and paprika to the pan with chorizo, and stir-fry for another minute.
Now add the wine to deglaze the pan, cooking until the wine has reduced by half. Remove from the heat.
In a large mixing bowl, add the cooked orzo and the contents of the frying pan. Also add the lemon juice and zest. Stir with a large spoon to mix thoroughly. Season with salt & pepper.
Now stir through the fresh spinach leaves (they will wilt slightly from the heat of the orzo – that’s perfect), and top with shaved Parmesan.