Archives

THE QUINCE QUESTION AND COOKING LIKE CORDOBA

I was quite surprised – reading some comments on my last post – to learn that the quince is not widely known. I’ve always loved this fruit, with its quality of romantic history. When I was a child the trees were everywhere and the fruit abundant. Nowadays, it seems the tree has become unfashionable and the fruit is rarely available and – when it can be found – is obscenely pricey.
From Wikipedia: The quince /ˈkwɪns/ (Cydonia oblonga) is the sole member of the genus Cydonia in the family Rosaceae (which also contains apples and pears, among other fruits). It is a small deciduous tree that bears a pome fruit, similar in appearance to a pear, and bright golden-yellow when mature. Throughout history the cooked fruit has been used as food, but the tree is also grown for its attractive pale pink blossom and other ornamental qualities.

Most varieties of quince are too hard, astringent and sour to eat raw unless ‘bletted’ (softened by frost and subsequent decay). High in pectin, they are used to make jam, jelly and quince pudding, or they may be peeled, then roasted, baked or stewed.
The flesh of the fruit turns red after a long cooking time. The very strong perfume means they can be added in small quantities to apple pies and jam to enhance the flavour. Adding a diced quince to apple sauce will enhance the taste of the apple sauce with the chunks of relatively firm, tart quince. The term “marmalade”, originally meaning a quince jam, derives from “marmelo,” the Portuguese word for this fruit.
Quince trivia:
In Turkey, the expression ayvayı yemek (literally “to eat the quince”) is used as a derogatory term indicating any unpleasant situation or a malevolent incident to avoid. This usage is likened to the rather bitter aftertaste of a quince fruit inside the mouth.
When a baby is born in Slavonia (Croatia), a quince tree is planted as a symbol of fertility, love and life.
Ancient Greek poets (Ibycus, Aristophanes, e.g.) used quinces (kydonia) as a mildly ribald term for teenage breasts.
Although the book of Genesis does not name the specific type of the fruit that Adam and Eve ate from the tree of knowledge of good and evil in the garden of Eden, some ancient texts suggest Eve’s fruit of temptation might have been a quince.
In Plutarch’s Lives, Solon is said to have decreed that “bride and bridegroom shall be shut into a chamber, and eat a quince together.”
I was interested to find, in my research, that the quince is used in Argentinian cuisine. As my daughter is currently there for six weeks on a cultural exchange programme, living with a host family in Cordoba, I’m very keen to try and replicate what she could be eating while she’s there.

 

MY DAUGHTER WITH HER HOST FAMILY IN CORDOBA

MY DAUGHTER WITH HER HOST FAMILY IN CORDOBA

It’s rather fascinating to discover that our food culture so closely mirrors theirs. Beef barbeque is as popular there as it is here. In Argentina the membrillo, as the quince is called in Spanish, is cooked into a reddish, jelly-like block or firm, reddish paste known as dulce de membrillo, very good with a nice slab of steak.
Quince cheese, also known as dulce de membrillo, is a sweet, thick, jelly made of the pulp of the quince fruit. Quince cheese is a common confection in several countries, where it goes by various names, such as carne de membrillo or ate de membrillo in Spanish, marmelada in Portuguese, codonyat in Catalan, cotognata in Italian and membrilyo in Tagalog.

640px-Dulce_de_membrillo[1]

Pic credit: Wikipedia

Recipe adapted from here: http://www.cottagesmallholder.com/easy-quince-cheese-recipe-membrillo-467/

I added two chopped chillies to the mixture.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to eat my lunch … and daydream that I’m right there with my daughter, sharing in this wonderful adventure she’s on …

 

AN ANNIVERSARY AND A REAWAKENING

I was dreaming of food. Crisp baguettes, the flesh of the bread a virginal white, still steaming from the oven, and ripe cheese, its borders creeping towards the edge of the plate. Grapes and plums, stacked high in bowls, dusky and fragrant, their scent filling the air.” The Girl You Left Behind – Jojo Moyes.

Almost exactly to the date of the anniversary of my move into my apartment, I had a week-long leave from work. Restless and feeling that niggling Calvinist guilt at the prospect of a period of sloth, I was nonetheless determined to have a bit of a holiday – I had a new novel that – unexpectedly – had food reference throughout, and a stash of sweets. So, as one does, I also stocked up on what has been my staple diet for the past year: pot noodles and sardines. My kitchen has been neglected for the better part of the past year, with hindsight I now understand that neglect to be part of my grieving process. In any event, the pot noodles had to be laid aside when my microwave oven and my kettle died within two days of one another. I was forced to engage with my gas hob and oven.

IMG_6586

Removing the microwave to the rubbish collectors, I cleaned the counter top, rather pleased with the rearranged space and hauled my coffee machine out of its retired status and – very peculiar – the desire to cook again came over me. I had to bake immediately and did so, muffins first, then a tomato and onion tart tatin.

A lamb tagine followed; enough for two days’ lunch. I was mortified by the layer of dust that coated the tagine when I took it down from the shelf.

I went shopping and rediscovered that unfortunate-looking fruit of my childhood: the quince. Ah! Bought a little pork fillet and pan-seared it with cumin and ginger, then wrapped it in peppered smoked Black Forest ham and roasted it with the poached quince …

IMG_6588

IMG_6591

 

IMG_6592

IMG_6593

“As lamb is often suited to flavours redolent of its habitat – grassy, herbal, maquis – so pork is complimented by the earthy flavour of cumin. Sprinkle ground cumin on pork tenderloin or chops before cooking …” The Flavour Thesaurus, Niki Segnit.

And so it goes, as if the advent of the end of our winter has swept spring back into my kitchen, I am filled with resolve to cook, if not every day yet, more frequently. And my healing heart can only grow stronger; one day at a time …

I just need something to look forward to, she wants to say. I just want to smile without having to think about which muscles to use.” The Girl You Left Behind, Jojo Moyes.

DECLINING AN AWARD ON HERITAGE DAY

I have been awarded the ‘One Lovely Blog’ award by Mal. I’ve been blogging on various platforms for almost ten years now and I think that it is time for me to begin declining these awards, although I am very grateful to Mal for the nomination. The rules of this particular one are as follows:
• Thank the one that nominated you. My sincere thanks to you, Mal:
http://maloquacious.wordpress.com/2013/09/22/one-lovely-blog-award-2/

Put up the picture for the One Lovely Blog Award.

one_lovely_blog_award

Tell everyone seven things about yourself. I think I’ve done this so often that all my blog friends know everything there is to know about me. Nonetheless, below are a few random facts about today:

I love soap. I’ve heard many people say they’d be insulted if given soap as a birthday or Christmas gift; I wouldn’t. Not at all, I have bars of soap stashed all over the place: in the pockets of my winter coats to ward off fishmoths, in my linen closet to scent my sheets, in jars on the edge of my bathtub … I love soap! (Spot the bar of bergamot soap poking out of the pocket.)

coat with soap_edited

Although much time has passed, and – to all outward appearances – I have settled nicely in my apartment and have “gotten over it”, I still occasionally reel in shock at the change in my circumstances. I will wake up in the morning and, just for a moment, I will forget that I am not a wife anymore; that there is not some shared activity in which to be engaged for the day. This – feeling like an amputee - I am told, is a natural part of the process of grieving:
“I had known a man, a butcher, who had accidently hacked off most of his left hand while cutting up a side of beef. All that was left was the thumb and index finger, but he claimed to be able to feel his other, absent fingers, so much so that he often went to twist the ring that had once rested on one of them. In a way I could still feel my other life, or the lack of it. Sometimes I would be walking down a Roman street and be overcome by the sensation that I was in the Via della Condotta or Volta dei Tintori, or some other Florentine place. But I was never able to grab hold of these things – of course not, because they existed only in my mind. I wanted to, though. I craved some sort of contact, to see or touch the ghosts of home.” – Appetite, Philip Kazan.

appetite philip kazan
Read this book if you love history, art and food!
Without the company of my cat, I expect I would go slightly insane on lonely days. Our relationship took a while to get off the ground, but she has proved to be excellent company and an ever-ready ear when self-pity threatens to overwhelm me. As a keeper of secrets she cannot be faulted.

ally on heritage day_edited

Today is our National Heritage Day and it has become customary for the entire nation to cook meat on fires. I’m not sure that barbecues are allowed on the balconies in my building, but I lit one in my miniature Weber regardless of what rules may exist.

first weber braai_edited

My feast today was a solitary one; my daughter is away at the coast for the school holidays, or I would have invited her and her swain to join me. I cooked chicken marinated in Portuguese spices and ginger beer. One leg for my lunch, with potato salad and sliced beetroot. The other will be used for chicken mayonnaise sandwiches for tomorrow’s lunch.

marinating chicken_edited

braaid chicken_edited

And so ends a relatively good day. I have been productive and have enjoyed sunshine, some good music and have attained a sense of relative serenity. All is good and I will sleep well. Tomorrow my job hunting continues and I will tackle it with the faith that I continue to operate beneath the benign hand of God. I will forge ahead and see what my new life becomes…

dilla lolly

In the meantime, I think an ice lolly will finish off the day nicely.

ON KILLING ORCHIDS AND REKINDLING RELATIONSHIPS

orchid_edited

Lounge circa 2009
They say that it’s not a good thing to look back with regret, but I can’t help thinking back to the orchids I made flourish profusely in my marital home. I had them showing off shamelessly all over the place, seemingly thriving on my neglect. Yesterday – as I discarded yet another sad, brown victim of my newfound ineptitude with these exotic blooms – I was forced to wonder where I am going wrong. Perhaps I am guilty of extreme cosseting, but I vowed to give up. I have, after all, killed a sum total of eleven plants in seventeen months. Yes, I would give it up … after just one more try … if this one dies, I will throw in the towel and stick to the thriving pots of succulents on my balcony.

last chance orchid_edited

New orchid – the last chance.
Extreme cosseting is also something I must avoid as my rekindled relationship with my daughter grows tentatively close again. When we spend time together I have to curb my urge to smother her with physical contact. I want to touch her, to hold her hand and hug her all the time, but I know that I must restrain myself and be content with an embrace on meeting and parting.
My girl has a beau now and I was overjoyed (and more than a little nervous) to meet the lad this past weekend. They’re terribly sweet together; both earnest, smart youngsters who delighted me with their witty conversation. I took them to Thava, an authentic Indian restaurant near to my new home. The chap has an aversion to very hot curries and it was a testament to his devotion to my child that – when her Vindaloo dish proved too hot – he promptly swapped dishes and manfully made his way through the dish as best he could, although I could almost see the steam coming out of his ears.

curries at thava_edited
Chicken Tikka Masala / Chicken Vindaloo / Seafood Vindaloo with Basmati Rice.

seafood vindaloo at thava_edited
My own seafood curry was delicious.
Dessert proved less stressful for both of them and – again – the young man gladly agreed that they should exchange their portions halfway through.

vermicelli dessert at thava_edited
Payasam – Vermicelli cooked with cream, raisins and almonds.

fried ice cream at thava
Thava fried ice cream
It’s such a thrill for me to be sharing my daughter’s life again and I am so grateful to see her so happy. I’m looking forward to spending time with the two of them soon again, next time in an environment that is a little more relaxed for all three of us. I think I’ll give the curry a miss though, and cook for them in my new home … a wholesome, calming mutton doughboy at my own table, with – hopefully – a thriving orchid as a centerpiece.

doughboy_edited
Mutton Doughboy (Recipe on my previous post.)

BANISHING SUNDAY LONELINESS WITH CHOCOLATE ELEPHANTS AND SALT+PEPPER

Some luxuries just can’t be lived without. Perfume, flowers, a good book and chocolate elephants. – Adair Victoria Cross

stop and smell the roses_edited

I’d include the luxury of lazy Sundays in my friend Adair’s astute quote; I’ve come to love Sundays in my building. The residents are such a diverse mix of cultures and, as they all start their cooking for Sunday lunch, the smells that mingle in the stairwell are a delight to the senses. Today I can smell ras el hanout from the flat of the Ethiopian pastor on my left and thyme in the stuffing of a roasting chicken from the little Jewish lady across the way. My own kitchen is fuggy with the smell of tomatoes simmering with harissa; I’m making a huge pot of sauce to freeze in batches for the week ahead and have made a batch of sausage rolls for the next few days’ lunches.

pies and tomatoes
I’m also preparing to cook a mutton doughboy from a recipe from a book which has made my senses dance a merry jig from the first page, Niel Stemmet’s ‘Salt+Pepper heritage food journey’ (Lapa Uitgewers, R358.00 from Exclusive Books). Niel is a Facebook friend of mine, whom I first discovered via his blog.

salt+pepper cover

salt+pepper doughboy recipe

Niel’s one of those iconic figures who makes everything he touches turn to gold. The seventh-generation descendant of a Dutch glassblower, Niel is a writer, photographer, restaurateur and guest-house owner and décor guru par excellence.
The book was first published in Afrikaans and the translator has been gentle with the author, allowing the unique Afrikaner voice to remain. The recipes are testimony to the history of South African cooking – before the 1970s brought the advent of quick-fix additives. Interspersed with the recipes are delightful anecdotes and reminiscences of the women who formed Niel’s love of cooking, and thought-provoking quotes from South African writers, poets and musicians – even some from the bible.

salt+pepper p123

salt+pepper p127

salt+pepper p140

Niel did all his own photographs and they alone are a good reason for relishing the pages of this book, which celebrates a return to the honest-cuisine of old times, when the only pantry ingredients necessary were salt, pepper, sugar, vinegar, lemon juice, cloves, allspice, nutmeg, coriander, bay leaves – or rather, shared recipes “told in our vernacular and passed on by grandmother to mother, daughter and son”.
And so, with a squirt of bergamot on my wrists added to the fragrance of the flowers on my sideboard, I finish clearing up after my kitchen session and carry a cup of coffee and a slab of those chocolate elephants to my sofa. Perhaps I’ll nap or – perhaps – I’ll devour more of the book until it’s a respectable hour to get under the covers and have an early night.
Just for today I’ve banished loneliness; just for today I’ve created my own bliss …

chocolate elephants_edited

TWO TRIPS: IN PINK TAXIS AND DOWN-BLOG-MEMORY-LANE

Being carless is beginning to make me experience severe cabin fever; I was going batty with little to do except watch my flowers open.

flowers opening
A glance at my very full laundry basket reminded me that I urgently needed to purchase a washing machine and prompted me to do what many people who live in city centres the world over do: catch a taxi.
My drivers, Cecilia and Thobile, were very entertaining and they showed me clever shortcuts to use there-and-back in future.

Thobile with her Cabs for Women taxi cab.

cabs for women
Washing machine duly purchased (they can only deliver next week), I did some other shopping for bits and pieces I needed, including a plunger for one of my bathtubs that won’t drain. Alas, the plunger hasn’t done the trick and I’ll have to fork out for a plumber to come around.
I had time for some lunch while reading up on some Italian recipes and thinking about my answers to Mandy’s ‘Getting to know you better’ series. All too soon my outing was at an end and I had to rush to meet Thobile for my ride home.
Mandy has revisited the series on her latest blog post and I thought I’d do it to see how many of my answers have changed since the last time I completed the quiz way back in 2011.
1. What is your favourite non-alcoholic drink?
Coffee, I drink copious amounts of it throughout the day.
2. What is your favourite alcoholic drink?
I’m an alcoholic in recovery, so I don’t drink, but I used to love red wine.
3. What is your favourite food?
I’m a bit fickle and it changes from day to day, generally I favour Italian food, but today I just read about it while eating good old fish and chips.

taxi outing lunch_edited

4. What is your least favourite food?
Carrot cake, I don’t get what all the fuss is about.
5. What do you eat that others think is really weird?
Tripe, I don’t cook it myself, but I make a pig of myself when I’m invited to eat it at someone else’s house.
6. What is your favourite thing to cook/bake?
I love cooking fiddly little things that look pretty, like stuffed and breaded pumpkin flowers. Pic from when I blogged about them on 21 November 2011.

7. If you could only chose one, would it be sweet or savoury?
Savoury.
8. What time do you usually eat your dinner during the week?
I’ve long had the philosophy that eating a big meal after 4pm is not good for the body. I have my main meal at lunchtime. If I am peckish in the evening, I usually have cheese and crackers.
9. What kitchen item/s have you never owned?
A chinois, I first saw Tandy using one to make sous vide crayfish bisque and have yet to get myself one.
10. What tip would you give to a newby cooker / baker?
It’s easier than you think, relax and enjoy the process and the rewards.
11. What is the best vegetarian dish you have eaten?
Parmigiana di Melanzane. I love it! Picture from when I made it from Jamie Oliver’s recipe on my blog on June 14 2011.

12. What is the easiest meal you can cook?
Mie goreng. Picture from the recipe I posted here on 2 October 2010.

13. If you could only grow 3 herbs in your garden, what would you grow?
Coriander, rocket and parsley.
14. What would you use as a substitute for salt?
Soy sauce.
15. What 5 items would you pack for a quick and easy picnic or day out?
Ciabatta, humus, taramasalata, cottage cheese and cranberry juice.

And now I’m hungry again …

MAKIN’ A JOYFUL NOISE

I’m surprised at how quickly I have adapted to, and come to enjoy, the single life. People are telling me I look better than I have in years and I feel that way too. I recently discovered the CDs of Louise Hay and have been listening to them in the car on the way to and from work and find them extremely motivational.

veri peri and shrooms_edited
But I think my newfound feelings of wellbeing stem from more than that; I have discovered the joy of solitude and the freedom to do what I like, when I like. This includes my diet and it’s no great coincidence that so many of my meals lately include All Joy’s Veri Peri sauce. At the end of the day, in these last days of summer, there’s great reward in enjoying a seared sirloin steak on a hot salad of warm shimeji mushrooms and tomatoes.

veri peri and shroom salad
I wrote some time back about a fantastic chicken salad I made to take along for my work lunch, and the people at All Joy Foods stumbled on the post and asked me to share the recipe. It’s so simple that there is no real recipe. Simply cut a deboned, skinned chicken breast into bite-sized pieces and season to taste; panfry in a little olive oil and set aside. In the same pan, fry baby tomatoes until the juices just start to emerge; remove and add to the chicken. Drizzle with All Joy Veri Peri sauce – the amount you use depends on your personal taste, I use about one teaspoonful. Toss this mixture into cooked pasta and refrigerate overnight; the juices of the chicken, tomato and sauce with infuse beautifully with the noodles. Serve hot or cold. A squeeze of lemon juice just before serving adds an extra zing.

hot bastard salad
An equally easy addition to the work lunchbox is to make a dip for crudités, cold meats or fish bites – simply add a teaspoon of Veri Peri sauce to two tablespoons of mayonnaise. And spreading a slice of toast before adding cheese and placing under a hot grill makes for a fine late-night snack, better than any Welsh Rarebit I’ve ever had!

hake bites and hot sauce
I’m taking one day at a time, with the mantra that: Just for today, I will be happy. This assumes to be true what Abraham Lincoln said, that “most folks are as happy as they make up their minds to be.”
So far it’s working, and it’s ALL JOY, ALL THE WAY.
Have a great weekend, my friends, and thanks for your stalwart support.
I love you all.

Disclaimer: I have not been paid by All Joy Foods to write this post.