The life artistic – Mini plum and muscovado pavlovas

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I’ve been getting lost in cookbooks again. It’s a favourite habit of mine, second only to buying cookbooks. There’s something wonderful about discovering a new cuisine or way of thinking about food that helps us to learn something more about what makes us human. After all, the theory goes that it was cooking that really enabled us to evolve into what we are today (yes, I’ve also been reading Cooked by Michael Pollan). My latest cookbook crushes have been Gather by Gill Meller and Samarkand by Caroline Eden and Eleanor Ford – both wonderful in different ways. Gather evokes the British countryside in a way I’ve rarely seen in food writing; the mix of poetry, archetypal landscapes and dishes created from simple, beautiful ingredients makes this book more of a work of art than a cookbook. Samarkand is at the other end of the scale; part cookbook, part travel essay, but again, wonderfully evocative of place.

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Despite all this newness, I’ve actually been finding the most inspiration lately from a cookbook that’s been sitting on my shelf for a few years: The Modern Pantry Cookbook by the wonderful Anna Hansen. I’ve visited The Modern Pantry on a couple of occasions and loved everything I’ve tried. The way Anna uses ingredients to create explosive flavour combinations regardless of their provenance is fascinating, if a little difficult to imitate (depending on your budget). Naturally, I turned to her book when deciding on a dessert to bring to a friend’s BBQ, and, with some heavy adaptations, ended up with a winner! So here is my homage to The Modern Pantry, using various parts of different recipes from the cookbook to create mini muscovado pavlovas with plums and grapes. I’m hoping Anna won’t mind, after all, as she says in The Modern Pantry Cookbook:

” … if there’s an ingredient you cannot find, why not take the opportunity to have some fun experimenting? To me that is what cooking is all about.”

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This recipe works well if you need to make a dessert in advance and is naturally gluten-free, so will keep just about everyone happy. The meringues will keep well in a tin for up to 1 week, and the fruit can happily be stored in the fridge for the same amount of time. I made and transported the component parts separately and let everyone assemble their own. The meringues aren’t strictly speaking your traditional pavlova meringues, being chewy rather than marshmallowy in the middle, but the flavour of the muscovado sugar really shines through to make this dessert extra special.

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Mini plum and muscovado pavlovas

Individual muscovado meringues served with vanilla cream and roasted red grapes and plums.

For the roasted fruit:

1 punnet of red grapes

4 very large plums (or 8 Victoria plums)

2 tbsp demerara sugar

50ml white wine

3 tbsp pomegranate molasses

Juice of half a lemon

For the meringues:

4 egg whites

300g icing sugar

Juice of half a lemon

80g muscovado sugar

To serve:

300ml double cream

1tbsp golden caster sugar

1tsp vanilla bean paste

  1. First make the roasted fruit: Remove the stones and cut the plums into eighths (or quarters if using smaller plums).
  2. Place into a roasting tin with the destalked grapes. Sprinkle over the sugar, lemon juice, white wine and pomegranate molasses, and roast, uncovered at 140°C (fan) for 20 minutes.
  3. Remove from the oven and leave to go completely cold.
  4. For the meringues: Sift the icing sugar well to make sure there are no lumps. Wipe down the bowl and whisks of the mixer with lemon juice to ensure no traces of fat remain on the surface, as this can make the meringues collapse.
  5. Whisk together the egg whites, icing sugar and lemon juice for 15 minutes on high with a free-standing electric mixer. If, like me, you only have a handheld mixer, I suggest whisking the egg whites on setting 2 for ten minutes, having a break for a couple of minutes, then whisking again for five minutes. This doesn’t seem to have a detrimental effect on the meringues and stops the motor on the whisk from burning out.
  6. Push the muscovado sugar through a sieve and fold through the meringue mixture.
  7. Dollop the mixture onto two lined baking sheets – it should make 12 good-sized meringues – and bake at 100°C (fan) for 2 hours.
  8. Remove from the oven and leave to cool.
  9. To assemble: Whip together the double cream, caster sugar and vanilla bean paste, taking care not to over whip.
  10. When ready to serve, top each meringue with a good blob of cream and spoon over the roasted fruit and juices.

 

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The life artistic – When in Rome …

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A major part of settling in to any new place is working out what the locals like to do, and joining in.  Here in Muizenberg, the thing to do on a Friday night seems to be to go to the Friday Market at the Bluebird Garage.

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Set in an old light-aircraft hangar at the edge of the town centre, the market acts as a meeting and eating place for what seems like the entire town.  It’s a wonderful mix of stalls selling fresh fruit and veg, bread and locally made treats, hot food, local craft beers and wines, and clothes and jewellery made by local craftsmen and women.  The vibe is great, and the friendly atmosphere is exemplified by the long tables that fill the hangar, crammed with people from all walks of life, happily squashing up to make room for each other.  Everyone here seems to live by the motto written on the table tops …

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I couldn’t agree more.  And with an ever changing line up of food stalls to choose from, the big problem is going to be tasting them all before they’re gone!  I’ve decided, in the true spirit of exploration, to make it my mission to try them all before I leave, and then to tell you all about them here.  These past two weeks, I’m afraid to say, I was drawn back to the same stall, Grub, but their menu looked so good that you can’t really blame me.  Last week I tried the slow roasted pork belly with mushroom spaetzle.  I couldn’t resist.  After living in Switzerland, any mention of spaetzle, golden little squiggles of noodley goodness, and I’m sold.  These were excellent.  They perfectly complemented the mushrooms and soaked up the juices from the moist, tender, crispy on the outside, pork belly.  I really wish I had a picture to show you, but suffice it to say that I had a moment with this particular plate of food, and it will remain a fond memory.

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OK, so it was quite an effort to resist buying it again this week, but I was determined to try something new.  Admittedly I didn’t get too far with that, returning to Grub once more with my eyes fixed firmly on their fried chicken, but the delay to my exploration was so worth it.

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The chicken was moist and juicy, the coating was crisp, and the combination of rich blue cheese and spiky Sriracha hot sauce was a revelation.  I have never thought to mix blue cheese and chilli, which is probably a huge flaw on my own part, but it was great.  I’m not sure every type of chilli would work, but the vinegary tang of the Thai Sriracha sauce worked so well to cut through the creamy richness of the blue cheese.  All in all it got 2 very enthusiastic thumbs up.

I’m going to have to try very hard next week to choose something from a different stall.  Or possibly just come back to Grub for, er, savoury dessert, afterwards.  I haven’t tried their BBQ ribs yet …

 

The life artistic – How to eat your way around Honolulu

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So, you’re off to somewhere new and you’re looking for fun things to do.  What are the most exciting 2 words you can find on Trip Advisor?  FOOD TOUR of course!!!!  What better way to learn about the locals than by stuffing your face with their favourite foods?

I rather excitedly signed up for the hole-in-the-wall tour with Hawaiian Food Tours.  Apparently, a hole-in-the-wall is not an ATM, but is actually an unassuming restaurant that only the locals seem to know about.  One of those places that looks like a dive but makes amazing food.  Needless to say the prospect of this tour kept me going through the somewhat lonely hours of conference seminars.

First stop was the Royal Kitchen, which makes the best baked manapua in town.  These are a delicious take on the steamed roast pork buns that you get as dimsum.  I tried the traditional char siu version, but you could get Kalua pork or sweet potato or coconut.

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Next up was the Liliha Bakery, famed for its Coco Puffs.  These are so delicious that the bakery sells over 5000 every day – the queue is permanently out of the door.  Coco Puffs are choux buns filled with a sort of chocolate custard and topped with Chantilly cream.  Definitely worth the hype.

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We stopped in Chinatown for a wander around and heaps of lovely food.  Our lovely guides Greg and Sahara were rushed off their feet bringing us delicious morsels to try.  We were shown around the Look Funn noodle factory, where you can watch them making rice noodles by hand.  Here we were given shrimp and pork noodles, chow funn (noodle stir fry) and Korean BBQ chicken.

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Food tour

We then tried (left to right, top row to bottom) longan, which means dragons eye, a fruit similar to the lychee that tastes like melon; ma tai su (Chinese pot pies) and pork hash, which is the Hawaiian version of a meatball; Spam musubi, sort of like sushi, but with Spam instead of fish; ahi poke (yellow fin tuna), which is like a bigger version of ceviche; banana lumpia, a Filipino dish made from apple bananas wrapped in rice wrappers and dipped in caramel; coconut tarts; Kekaulike cocktail, a lychee and pineapple smoothie with li hing flavoured vodka; 5 layers of heaven roast pork and char siu from the Char Siu House.

It was all really good, although I really went to town on the poke and the two kinds of pork.  What can I say, I’m a carnivore at heart!

Feeling pretty full we jumped back into the bus for our final stop at Leonard’s Bakery, home of the malasada.  These were originally a kind of Portuguese doughnut, but have transformed into the stuff of Honolulu legend.  Mine came filled with a home-made passion fruit custard. Yum!

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So we ended the tour feeling comfortably full and a little more knowledgable.  If you ever get a chance to visit Honolulu, DO A FOOD TOUR.  They are brilliant fun and extremely tasty.  Plus, you get some of the recipes to keep!  I also had a pocketful of restaurant recommendations from Sahara so I wouldn’t have to eat at the over priced chain restaurants that litter the streets of Waikiki.

One of these was Alan Wong’s The Pineapple Room.  AMAZING food!!!!  He does a really good line in local dishes with a twist.  I nearly went for his version of a traditional plate lunch (rice, hamburgers, brown gravy and eggs), but in the end I had the Sizzling Hapa Poke and Strawberry Tiramisu and was not disappointed.

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I also took a trip into town to visit Hank’s Haute Dogs, which does an ever-varying selection of unusual hotdogs (wild boar, lobster, buffalo etc.) and incredible fries that are twice-cooked in duck fat.  I had the Hawaiian Dog, which came with mango mustard and a pineapple relish.  They also do a pretty amazing hibiscus lemonade.

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It’s times like this that I am extremely grateful for my fast metabolism!