I love brunches so much, that I centre most of my social engagements around them (click here and here for some easy recipe ideas). Not too early, with an array of delectable foods to choose from, most often vegetable-heavy, and no rush to leave, it is by far my favourite kind of meal. I especially like being creative and pushing boundaries when it comes to menu ideas, so I really enjoyed collaborating with M&S on their Super Brunch campaign using their new Chef range cookware. The products are well-designed, solid and beautiful to look at, and being part of a brunch initiative has me smiling from ear to ear. These pears would make a great addition to any brunch spread, but would also be a spectacular dessert, perhaps with a few candied macadamia nuts scattered over the top.
A lot has been written about curcumin, an active compound in turmeric believed to have many health benefits since they are powerful antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, antiseptic, anti-fungal and anti-bacterial agents. But interestingly enough, turmeric is not that easy for our bodies to assimilate, as most of it is metabolised by the liver before being absorbed. Studies have now shown that eaten with even just a tiny amount of black pepper, absorption of the curcumin is a lot higher, because the chemical compound “piperine” in the pepper inhibits this metabolisation. Bioavailability of curcumin is also higher when eaten with a fat, as it can then be directly absorbed into the bloodstream through the lymphatic system thereby in part bypassing the liver.
Turmeric poached pears with macadamia nut cream
Ingredients for the pears
6 – 7 ripe but firm pears
5cm (2”) piece of fresh turmeric, scrubbed cleaned (or peeled if not organic) and thinly sliced
thumb-sized piece of ginger, scrubbed cleaned (or peeled if not organic) and thinly sliced
a few gratings of coarse freshly ground black pepper
500 – 600ml dry white wine
40ml (2 1/2 tablespoons) maple syrup
Ingredients for the macadamia nut cream
140g (1 cup) macadamia nuts, soaked in filtered water for 2 – 4 hours
80ml (1/3 cup) reduced poaching liquid
- Peel the pears, taking care to leave the stalk in tact. Place the pears, turmeric, ginger, black pepper and white wine into a medium, deep saucepan like this one I was recently sent by M&S, and set over medium heat.
- Cut a circle out of greaseproof parchment paper just large enough to fit into the saucepan and lay over the pears in the wine (this is called a cartouche and prevents the liquid from evaporating too quickly whilst the fruit is poaching).
- As soon as you see tiny bubbles form under your cartouche, turn the heat down very low and allow the pears to poach for 15 minutes. Test with a sharp paring knife – the pears should be tender, but not too soft.
- Remove the pears carefully with a slotted spoon and set aside.
- Turn the heat up high and boil the wine with the flavourings until it has reduced by about two thirds to three quarters. You will need about 160ml (2/3 cup) of reduced liquid.
- Now add the maple syrup, whisk and set aside to cool slightly.
- To make the macadamia nut cream, rinse the soaked nuts and place in a blender with roughly half (about 80ml) of the reduced poaching liquid and a small pinch of salt. Blend until the cream is very smooth – if you do not own a high speed blender, you might have to keep going a bit longer.
- Serve the pears with the cream and remaining poaching liquid.
*This blog post was written in collaboration with M&S. All content and photos my own.
Do you often have a bite of a tomato and wonder why you even bother buying them? Although beautifully uniform and bright red, commercial tomato varieties often lack taste.
One of the reasons for this was the move by tomato growers in the 1930’s towards tomato mutations with a “uniform ripening” gene, which ensured the fruits would ripen evenly from stem to tip, without leaving a harder, green part around the stem, deemed undesirable by consumers at the time. Unfortunately this mutation has a side-effect: by disabling the gene that creates the darker green colour around the stem, the chlorophyll (or chloroplasts), which converts sunlight into sugars for the plant, is removed, leading to a less sweet and tasty fruit. Thankfully some families and growers have passed the seeds from older varieties down from generation to generation because of their valued characteristics and taste. These heirloom varieties – now available at most markets – are usually much more tasty, albeit a little more expensive.
We’ve had a few very wet days lately, which meant the wonderful summer produce I bought at the market over the weekend had to find a rather more wintry purpose. I’ve always loved roasted tomatoes, but stuffing these beauties elevates them to the most perfect light meal imaginable.
If you cannot find heirloom tomatoes for this recipe, use 4 large regular tomatoes. For the oven-roasted cherry tomatoes, cut 2 punnets of cherry tomatoes in half, toss in red wine vinegar and olive oil, season with salt and pepper, then roast cut sides up in a medium hot oven until caramelised (about 1 – 2 hours). I usually have a jar of these in my fridge, but you could also replace them with 60g of finely sliced marinated sun-dried tomatoes and increase the amount of rice slightly. Use the scooped out tomato flesh in your next batch of tomato soup or sauce, or blend with a pinch of salt and strain through a muslin cloth to make the most delicious tomato broth.
2 heirloom beef tomatoes (about 800g), cut in half horizontally and flesh scooped out carefully
Ingredients for the filling
extra virgin olive oil
1/2 large red onion, finely diced (about 1/2 cup)
1 stalk celery, finely diced
1 teaspoon sea salt
1 teaspoon mixed dried herbs (parsley, basil, tarragon, oregano etc.)
125g oven-roasted cherry tomatoes (about 1/2 cup firmly packed)
85g (1/2 cup) cooked brown long-grain rice
1 – 2 teaspoons lemon juice
100g tin sardines in brine or olive oil, drained and broken up slightly with a fork
3 tablespoons finely chopped parsley and dill
150g fresh ricotta cheese, preferably made with unpasteurised milk from grass-fed animals
- Pre-heat the oven to 180°C/360°F.
- Heat a glug of olive oil in a saucepan over a medium heat. Add the onion, celery, salt and dried herbs, and cook until softened (about 5 to 10 minutes).
- Now mix together all the ingredients for the filling, except the ricotta, and allow to cool.
- Fold the ricotta into the filling briefly, leaving it in tact as much as possible.
- Spoon the filling into the tomato halves, place into an ovenproof dish that fits them snugly and bake at 180°C/360°F for about 30 to 40 minutes (or until the tomatoes are very tender). If the filling is starting to get too brown after about 20 minutes, cover with foil.
- Serve with a crisp green salad and green beans, or on toasted sourdough.
Traditionally fermented and aged balsamic vinegar from Modena or Reggio Emilia in Italy is a very special condiment indeed. Whole pressed late-harvested grapes complete with juice, skin, seeds and stems (also called grape must) are cooked over a direct flame until reduced by half, then left to ferment naturally for up to three weeks. The concentrate is then matured and further concentrated for a minimum of 12 years in a “batteria,” or a minimum of five successively smaller ageing barrels. The delicious complex and tangy sweet flavour might be ruined if the vinegar is heated and it is most likely also too special (and expensive!) to use in salad dressings. Try drizzling it on gorgeous fresh strawberries or in this refreshingly different ice cream.
Serves 4 – 6
500ml (2 cups) organic goat or sheep yoghurt
2 1/2 tablespoons good quality aged balsamic vinegar plus extra to serve
pinch of coarsely ground black pepper
45 – 60ml (3 – 4 tablespoons) raw honey, or to taste
a large handful of fragrant strawberries per person
- Mix together the first four ingredients. Freeze in an ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s instructions, or place in the freezer and whisk (preferably with an electric whisk) ever half hour until firmly frozen.
- When the ice cream has reached the perfect consistency, serve with sweet strawberries and a drizzle of balsamic vinegar.
There is nothing quite like freshly podded peas in the early summer months. They are sweet, crunchy and utterly delightful. My little ones adore the process of shelling the peas and then popping them in their mouths, one by one. But don’t let the taste and sensory delight be the only reason you add these tiny gems to your meals. Green peas are rich in protein, fibre, vitamins A, B, C, E & K, and anti-oxidants. They also contain a number of anti-inflammatory phytonutrients not found anywhere else. Later in the season the peas become bigger and starchier, so no longer ideal as a raw snack, but still a wonderfully tasty and nutritious ingredient in many cooked dishes such as minestrone or wilted lettuce.
Serves 2 – 4
Ingredients for the dressing
15ml (1 tablespoon) red wine vinegar
45ml (3 tablespoons) extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon finely chopped red onion
1 tablespoon tender thyme leaves
generous pinch of sea salt
Ingredients for the salad
140g (just under a cup) freshly podded peas (about 400g of peas in the pods)
4 vine-ripened capri tomatoes, quartered
1/4 English cucumber, cut into chunks and then sliced
4 large radishes, quartered
1 small ripe avocado, sliced
60g sheep or goat milk feta, crumbled
- For the dressing: put all the ingredients into a small jar, screw on the lid and give it a good shake. Set aside.
- Combine all the ingredients for the salad in a medium mixing bowl, sprinkle a little sea salt on the avocado slices, then pour over about half to 2/3 of the dressing and toss gently. Serve immediately.
Ok, full disclosure: I don’t really celebrate Valentine’s Day.
I used to, but that was before I married another Capricorn at the end of January. By the time Christmas, New Year’s Eve, our respective birthdays and our wedding anniversary have been duly celebrated, we are usually ready for a break.
I am a HUGE fan of romantic dates, however. Any time, any place. And if Valentine’s Day happens to be the next available opportunity to spoil your sweetheart, then make the most of it with this easy peasy, super sexy stay-at-home picnic for two. Open fires and games of scrabble optional.
The Ruby Noir
Makes 2 cocktails
60ml (1/4 cup) 100% pomegranate juice, chilled
30ml (2 tablespoons) damson, plum, blackberry or sloe vodka
1 teaspoon sweetened lime juice (squeeze out half a lime and stir in 1 teaspoon honey)
Champagne or sparkling wine, chilled
1 teaspoon pomegranate seeds
2 small and fine rosemary twigs (optional)
- Mix the pomegranate juice, vodka and lime juice, then divide between two champagne flutes, pouring through a funnel if you want to keep it extra neat.
- Top up with Champagne, by carefully pouring the bubbly into the glass over the back of a metal spoon to “float” it on top of the pomegranate mix.
- Carefully float a few pomegranate seeds on top and finish with a rosemary twig, if you like.
Spiced rye crackers with figgy goat’s cheese
Ingredients for the crackers
Makes about 18 small crackers, but feel free to double or triple the recipe – they keep well
50g (1/3 cup) stoneground rye flour
pinch of salt
pinch each of caraway seed, aniseed and cumin
10g (about 2 teaspoons) cold butter, cut into small cubes
15ml (1 tablespoon) or thereabouts milk of your choice (I used almond milk)
Ingredients for the figgy goat cheese
Enough for 2 people
70g (1/3 cup) soft goat cheese
1 large soft dried fig, finely chopped
1 teaspoon finely chopped parsley, leaves only
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
aged Balsamic vinegar to serve (optional)
- For the crackers: preheat the oven to 220°C / 420°F. Line a small baking sheet with parchment paper.
- Whisk together the flour, spices and salt. Using your finger tips, rub the butter into the flour until it resembles fine bread crumbs.
- Add the milk and knead the dough until it comes together in a soft ball – not too sticky, and not crumbly.
- Roll the dough out thinly and use a cookie cutter to cut out shapes. Place these on the prepared sheet.
- Bake for roughly 10 minutes, or until the edges have turned golden, then remove from the oven and allow to cool on a cooling rack.
- For the goat cheese: while the crackers are baking, mix all the ingredients for the cheese in a bowl, adjust seasoning and set aside.
Scallop pops with avocado aïoli
What can be more seductive than nibbling on a sizzling scallop lollipop? These guys are the perfect mess-free picnic food and add just the right amount of spice to wake up the senses. Serve with a plate of gorgeous roasted mixed beets.
Ingredients for the marinade
handful of fresh coriander (cilantro), finely chopped
1 small red chilli, finely chopped (deseeded and membranes removed if you prefer it milder)
1 large garlic clove, thinly sliced
splash of olive oil
For the pops
6 large or 8 small scallops
knob of butter, preferably organic
4 to 6 wooden skewers
Ingredients for the avocado aïoli
1 small ripe avocado, mashed
1 – 2 tablespoons garlic aïoli or mayonnaise, preferably home-made
squeeze of lemon
- Mix all the ingredients for the marinade and rub it into the scallops. Set aside for at least half an hour.
- While the scallops are marinating, mix together the ingredients for the avocado aïoli and refrigerate.
- When you are ready to fry the scallops, pick out the garlic slices, as they burn too easily, and heat the butter in a heavy bottomed skillet or pan over a medium heat.
- Fry the scallops for a minute or two on each side – do not overcook them! – then slide one to two onto each skewer. Season with sea salt and serve with the avocado aïoli.
Chocolate-drizzled pear and raspberry lollies
For me, a romantic dinner has to be delicious, yes, but definitely not too filling. Who wants to feel stuffed and uncomfortable on a date? These refreshing, yet luscious lollies will hit the spot.
Makes 4 small or 2 large lollies
Ingredients for the lollies
teaspoon of coconut oil
2 pears, peeled, cored and quartered
1 teaspoon molasses sugar or dark brown muscovado sugar
80g (1/2 cup) frozen or fresh raspberries, plus a few extra
60ml (1/4 cup) milk of your choice (I used almond milk)
Ingredients for the chocolate drizzle
10g / 10ml (2 teaspoons) coconut oil
20g (about 6 squares) dark chocolate, broken into small pieces
- For the lollies: heat the coconut oil in a heavy based saucepan until hot, then lay the pear quarters down, sprinkle over the sugar and do not turn until they’ve developed a lovely golden colour and the sugar has melted (about 5 to 10 minutes).
- Turn over and fry on the other side for another 5 minutes.
- Now blend the pears, raspberries and milk until smooth. Stir in the remaining raspberries (crush them if they are frozen) and fill the ice lolly moulds.
- Freeze for at least 4 to 5 hours.
- For the chocolate drizzle: put them coconut oil in a small saucepan and heat over a low heat until melted.
- Add the bits of chocolate and continue to warm over a medium heat until melted.
- Give it a quick whisk, then set aside to cool slightly.
- Run hot water over the moulds to remove the lollies. Using a spoon, drizzle some chocolate sauce over each and give it half a minute or so to set.
The autumn colours, sights and sounds stir a certain longing in most cooks to bake. For many North Americans this means pumpkin pie – a dish almost synonymous with the autumnal Thanksgiving celebrations. In South Africa, we grew up eating pumpkin fritters doused with cinnamon sugar alongside our Sunday roast, so a sweet dish with pumpkin as its star is no stranger to me. In my pie recipe, however, the pumpkin (or butternut squash) shares centre stage with some gorgeous persimmons.
Persimmons vary in colour from golden yellow to burnt orange and red, and can be round or oval. Persimmon trees carry either astringent fruit (whilst unripe) or non-astringent fruits. The astringent cultivars (such as Eureka, Hachiya, Saijo, Tamopan, Tanenashi, Triumph, etc.), are high in tannins and must be allowed to ripen fully until the flesh attains a consistency akin to jelly. The non-astringent kinds (Fuyu, Gosho/Giant Fuyu/O’Gosho, Imoto, Izu, Jiro, Maekawajiro, Okugosho, Suruga, etc.) contain less tannins and can be eaten when still crispy.
Persimmon fruit, originally from East Asia, has a sweet, succulent flesh that holds several health promoting benefits. Persimmons contain flavonoid poly-phenolic anti-oxidants such as catechins and gallocatechins in addition to an important anti-tumour compound, betulinic acid. Catechins are known to have anti-infective, anti-inflammatory and anti-hemorrhagic properties. Fresh persimmons also contain other anti-oxidant compounds like vitamin A, vitamin B, vitamin C, beta-carotene, lycopene, lutein, zea-xanthin and cryptoxanthin. Together, these compounds functions as protective scavengers against oxygen-derived free radicals and reactive oxygen species that play a role in ageing and various disease processes. Fresh persimmons also contain minerals like potassium, manganese, copper, and phosphorus.
Pumpkin and persimmon pie
Makes one 28cm pie
Ingredients for crust
115g (about 1 cup) wholemeal spelt flour
60g (about ½ cup) stoneground rye flour
25g (2 tablespoons) date sugar or unrefined brown sugar
large pinch of sea salt
110g cold butter, cut into pea-sized pieces
15 – 30ml (1 – 2 tablespoons) ice cold water
Ingredients for filling
850g peeled and cubed butternut squash (about 1 medium butternut), roasted (should yield 360g or 1 ½ cups mashed roasted flesh)
flesh of 4 ripe persimmons (cut in half horizontally and scoop out with a spoon)
100g (about ½ cup) date sugar or unrefined brown sugar
60g (1/3 cup) unrefined brown sugar
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 heaping teaspoon ground ginger
generous grating of nutmeg (about 1/2 a nut)
¼ teaspoon allspice
pinch of salt
125ml (½ cup) milk of your choice
125ml (½ cup) organic double (heavy) cream
3 large eggs
- Grease a 28cm (or 11 inch) loose-bottomed tart form.
- For the pastry: put the flours, date sugar, salt and cold butter in the bowl of a food processor and blitz until it looks like coarse sand. This step can also be done by hand by rubbing the butter into the flour with your finger tips.
- With the motor running, add 1 to 2 tablespoons ice cold water or until the dough starts coming together. Or if you are doing it by hand, just keep sprinkling cold water on the dough until it starts to come together.
- Tip the pastry out into a bowl and knead very briefly until you have a smooth (not crumbly or sticky) ball of dough.
- Roll out thinly between two pieces of greaseproof paper, then fold it over your rolling pin and lay it across your greased tart form. Press the pastry into the edges and up along the sides, trimming where necessary. Refrigerate for at least half an hour.
- Preheat oven to 180°C / 360°F.
- When the pastry is completely firm, remove from fridge and place on a baking sheet. Partially blind bake in the hot oven for 10 minutes.
- To make the filling: in a food processor, puree the roasted squash, persimmon flesh, date and brown sugars, and spices until very smooth. Scrape the filling into a little pot and, stirring continuously, cook over medium heat until the mixture starts to bubble (about 5 – 7 minutes). Set aside.
- Whisk together the milk, cream and eggs, then whisk the pumpkin mixture into the egg mixture.
- Carefully pour the filling into the pastry shell and bake for 30 minutes or until filling is lightly cracked around edges and still a tiny bit wobbly in the centre. Allow to cool completely before slicing.
- Serve with Greek yoghurt, soured cream or crème fraîche.
It couldn’t be any easier than this – get your hands on some pastured full-fat yoghurt and surprise even yourself with the delicious, elegant result after straining it overnight. Here I added it to a simple salad of dressed purple endive and shaved fennel, with apple slices and some cheeky home-made chilli oil.
Ingredients for the cheese
450g thick (Greek) organic yoghurt
1 small bunch fresh dill, minced
Zest of 1 lemon
Ingredients for the oil
1/4 cup / 60ml apple cider vinegar
1 teaspoon dried red chilli flakes
1/4 cup / 60ml extra virgin olive oil
2 teaspoons fennel seeds
- Spoon the yoghurt into a few layers of muslin cloth, tie with a string and strain in the fridge overnight. You can lay a wooden spoon over the bowl and then tie the string to it. I have a long glass jar with a tight lid, under which I secure the cloth.
- Next, heat the apple cider vinegar until hot. Add the chilli flakes and simmer for 10 minutes.
- While the chillies are simmering, dry roast the fennel seeds in a heavy-bottomed saucepan over a medium heat. Be mindful not to burn them.
- Remove the chillies from the heat, drain and spread out on kitchen towel or roll.
- Add the chillies and fennel seeds to a small pot with the olive oil and gently heat.
- Allow to infuse for at least 10 minutes, just below a simmer.
- Turn off the heat and let the oil cool.
- Pour the cooled oil into a sterilised bottle and use within a week.
- Once the cheese is ready, stir in the minced dill, lemon zest and salt.
- Serve this cheese with smoked trout, as a spread on sandwiches or with a spring minestrone.