Necessity is most definitely the mother of invention. And when you live in China, but steadfastly insist on eating like you’re still back home, you have to get inventive pretty damn quick. Shanghai is an amazing city to live in. You can immerse yourself in Chinese culture, customs, life and food or you can go for days here without living in China. If you know where to look, you can get your hands on pretty much every comfort from home. But as Qingpu is the Western most district in Shanghai, getting a sudden craving for one of my favourite Verdicchio’s pastas could easily result in a three hour round trip to track down the ingredients. Take sun-dried tomatoes. They may be soooo 1990, but when no one is watching, we all still love them. But when I wanted to whip up this sun-dried tomato containing pasta a little while ago, I quickly realised that the Chinese are very à la mode, because I couldn’t find them anywhere. What to do? Even if I had a lovely, sunny patio, the searing temperatures and high humidity meant I’d be left with a scene more resembling a week old DB on CSI than anything you’d want to chop up with some chicken. So I settled for the next best thing – tomatoes completely untouched by the sun, but still oh so good. Possibly better, actually. Read the rest of this entry
It’s not easy being posh, especially for someone like me who will literally spend an entire weekend in my PJ’s, hair unbrushed, face undone and drinking juice straight from the carton when my husband is away. Whether I’m trying to get my hair under control or serve up a fancy feast, being posh requires time I don’t have, effort I cannot be bothered with and a plethora of tools probably gathering dust in a cupboard somewhere. Not so if you make these easy little chicken parcels. Minimum effort, relatively high posh factor (we’re not talking Fat Duck here okay? But they’re at least one step up from mac & cheese). Then again, you can wrap a bit of old shoe in some phyllo pastry and people will ooh and aah when you serve it.
- 4 skinless and deboned chicken breasts
- 1 cup cheese (use a mixture of feta, mozzarella and a bit of cream cheese)
- basil pesto
- 1kg tomatoes, cut into wedges
- 125ml cream
- phyllo pastry
- Switch your oven to grill. Cut the chicken into strips. I find that cutting across the grain and holding your knife at a 45 degree angle makes for the most tender pieces. Season, place in a baking dish in a single layer and grill until almost done, but still slightly pink in the middle.
- Turn the oven to 180˚C, chuck the chicken on a plate to cool slightly, and place the tomatoes in the baking dish. Saves on washing up. Drizzle with a little olive oil, balsamic vinegar, salt, pepper and a pinch of sugar. Roast for 30 minutes.
- Remove your thawed phyllo and keep under a moist kitchen towel until you're done working with it. Cut three sheets of your pastry into 20 x 20cm squares and place on top of each other, brushing each layer with butter as you go (For the love of God, don't use cooking spray or margarine. Life is too short). Now, place a few pieces of chicken in the middle of your pastry. Spoon a quarter of the cheese mixture on top, place 2 wedges of tomato on top of that and finish your little tower with a teaspoon of basil pesto. Gather the phyllo together around the chicken and make a little parcel. The butter will help it all stay in place if you just sort of scrunch it together. Bake at 180˚C until golden brown.
- To serve, blend the remaining tomatoes, strain trough a sieve and heat. In a separate pot, add about 2 tablespoons of the pesto to the cream and reduce until slightly thickened. Serve the parcels with the sauces and a few crispy potato wedges.
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In a sheer fit of lunacy, I once decided to attempt one of Heston Blumenthal’s recipes. Chilli Con Carne to be exact. After three days of painstakingly weighing, chopping, roasting, simmering, straining and thrice cooking about a thousand rand’s worth of ingredients I had Chilli Con Carne that tasted like, well, Chilli Con Carne (and a pretty chilliless one at that – I was obviously a bit too timid). But while I no longer see the point of making my own beef stock when Nomu does an excellent job of it, I did learn one thing: How to extract maximum flavour from the humble tomato with minimum effort.
- For the soup:
- 1kg fresh tomatoes, cut into quarters (If you can find on the vine, retain the vine. If you can’t, consider tending a tomato plant in your garden for that purpose. Pretty much every garden has one growing somewhere thanks to birds indiscriminately pooping wherever they please.)
- 1 garlic bulb, cloves peeled
- 2 onions, cut into quarters
- 50ml olive oil
- 30ml balsamic vinegar
- 15ml sugar
- 20g tomato paste
- 500ml vegetable stock
- Basil pesto to serve
- For the bacon and cheese toasts:
- 4 to 6 Slices of bread (I used potbrood, but any fairly solid loaf will do)
- 1 cup grated cheese
- 250g bacon, fried and chopped
- 3 heaped tablespoons cream cheese
- 1 tablespoon fresh, chopped oregano
- For the soup:
- Preheat the oven to 200˚C once you are ready with your tomatoes. Place the tomatoes in a colander over a baking dish and sprinkle liberally with Maldon salt. At least a tablespoon full. Allow to stand until a fair amount of juice has collected in the dish. Add the tomatoes to the dish with the onion, peeled garlic cloves, oil and vinegar. Roast at 200˚C for twenty minutes then turn the oven down to 160˚C and roast for a further 40 or so minutes. Once everything looks beautiful and sticky, you stop. Stir occasionally and keep an eye on the garlic because it tends to get a bit too toasty if left on the bottom for too long.
- At this point you can take everything, chuck the tomato vine in and refrigerate until you’re ready for the soup. Once you are ready, place the whole lot in a blender with the chicken stock and process till smooth. My husband likes things chunky (a lucky coincidence for me considering I’m ten kilo’s heavier than the day he married me), but if you like your soups smooth, you can pass it through a sieve at this point. Remember to scrape the bits that stick to the bottom of the sieve off – it helps to thicken the soup. Add the tomato paste and stir in the sugar if the tomatoes aren’t sweet enough.
- Heat through and serve with a basil pesto swirl and a dash of cream if you like.
- For the bacon and cheese toasts:
- Mix all the ingredients together. Place the bread slices under a grill and toast till toasty. Flip over and spread the cheese mixture on the untoasted side. Place back under the grill and bake until golden and bubbly. Cut into soldiers and serve with the soup.