Archives for the month of: November, 2013

Serendipity struck this week when I made the trip to the Hospice book shop to try to buy a book voucher for the winning writer of one of the Allaboutwriting 150 word writing challenges.

Cosmopolitan C00kbook Phillippa Cheifitz

I have been dipping into my rather dog eared copy of The Cosmopolitan Cookbook by Phillippa Cheifitz quite often lately and it’s been pretty annoying to have to re-order the pages each time I’ve wanted to find a trusted old recipe. In fact I have been thinking of contacting the publishers to say ‘Why don’t you reprint this book since there are a couple of generations of cooks out there that would probably love to have it on their shelves?’.

The recipes in the book, as well as on the torn-out magazine pages I have been hoarding, have been very much part of my cooking life for almost 30 years. The book, I believe, is a classic – delicious recipes, simple clean layout and stunning photographs.

I have never been a ‘Cosmo’ kind of a girl but I used to buy the magazine every month without fail just for  Phillippa Cheifitz’s recipes. As Jane Raphaely, the publisher, says in her forward, ‘We don’t live to eat – we love to eat and the results are the most delectable food ever featured in a magazine. Our secret ingredient is the cook.’ She was right.

Having been unlucky with the purchase of the gift voucher I thought I’d have a quick look at the cooking section and was bowled over to find an unused copy of The Cosmopolitan Cookbook. Naturally I snapped it up immediately along with Nigel Slater’s Eating for England and James Beard’s Beard on Food.  All three for the very reasonable price of R55.

Beard on Food, Eating for England, The Cosmopolitan Cookbook

So what are my top ten recipes from The Cosmopolitan Cookbook?

  1. I have to start with the Homemade Pasta recipe which, along with a pasta machine  I received as a wedding present, inspired me to make my own pasta for many years.
  2. Caviar and Cream Sauce  to serve with pasta. You’d be hard pressed to lay your hands on a more luxurious yet quick-and-easy recipe. It even found its way onto my hiking foods menu when my younger sister and I made it on day one of the eight day 120km Namib Naukluft hiking trail. The pop of the caviar (actually Danish lumpfish roe) in your mouth, with the acidy lemon, silky creamy pasta and spicy black pepper is just about as perfect a combination of flavours and textures as can be imagined. I’ll sneak in the Fresh Tomato and Anchovy Sauce here too. This incredibly flavoursome sauce once eaten at dinner parties by my friends and me now finds its way into school lunch boxes.
  3. The Mexican recipes –  Guacamole, Tortillas, Chilli Con Carne, Salsa and Frozen Margarita – have been made to death and in great quantities over the years and served on all occasions from tequila-fuelled dinner parties to school night suppers. These days, though, Woolworths is part of the process with their pre-packaged tortillas. Good or bad? I’m not sure.
  4. Rose Petal Tart, so beautiful and perfect, was made by a friend for my wedding. I must make that again! The Strawberry Tart is also beautiful and perfect.
  5. Janssen’s Temptation – served with a green salad for the most perfect week-night supper.
  6. Fig and Ricotta Mould – a staple of my younger sister’s repertoire and a perfect way to end any meal.
  7. Tropical Crayfish Cocktail. An exquisite combination of avo, papino and shellfish with a lightly curried dressing topped with crunchy nuts and fresh coriander  first made by my older sister but now a firm family favourite. The dressing is delicious and I use it all the time on a variety of salads, most recently on a chicken and prickly pear salad.
  8. Croquembouche – the spectacular French dessert I once made for a friend’s wedding. Although we filled the profiteroles with chocolate mousse and not custard.
  9. The Baked Orange Chicken has been a thirty year stalwart, present from carefree single days through to family weekday suppers.
  10. The fillet recipes with both green and black peppercorns and the various mushroom sauce recipes are the inspiration for many a steak supper.

That’s my top ten from the book  and if I had to go through the magazine clippings the list could easily treble. I’ll leave that for another day. It is a little worrying though that this list is very weddingy. What is this –  a Cosmo girl kind of a thing?

Tropical Crayfish Cocktail Phillippa Cheifitz

Just to prove I’m no typical Cosmo girl here is a list of Cosmo girl attributes with their matching recipes:

  • Fun – Frozen Margarita
  • Fearless – Croquembouche
  • Female – Rose Petal Tart

Oops, well maybe it’s not so bad to be a Cosmo girl after all.

Petal Tart Phillippa Cheifitz

P.S – If you are tempted to buy the book – just Google it – there are a number of copies available online. and for tons of Phillippa Cheifitz’s more recent recipes have a look at Woolworths Taste magazine.

The history of the prickly pear, Opuntia ficus-indica,  seems to mirror the prickly pear itself –  a contentious fruit, both loved and hated – sometimes simultaneously, difficult but ultimately rewarding.

Native to Mexico and surrounding areas  it seems that the prickly pear arrived in South Africa in the mid eighteenth century  and is considered both a scourge as well as a godsend according to Luvuyo Wotshela and William Beinart in Prickly Pear – A Social History of a Plant in the Eastern Cape. I was so taken by the review I read, The phenomenal, pliable, palatable prickly pear!,  that I bought and downloaded the book immediately.

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The prickly pear has travelled through South African history on a roller coaster of popularity. From being a valuable protection against scurvy, a fodder for animals and an impenetrable fence to being an invasive alien that spread itself over millions of acres. And now  it is a gourmet food exported to food lovers in France and a crop that is likely to prove to be of huge value with increasing global warming. All the while the fruit has been prized as a typically South African ingredient used in beer and witblits, syrups and jams as well as medicinally.

My mother spent much of her childhood in the Eastern Cape and always spoke fondly of  eating prickly pears and swimming in farm dams overhung with Acacia Karoo. In my childhood we had a prickly pear plant at the bottom of our garden in Kyalami and my younger sister and I, out on one of our regular forays into the veld, decided to harvest some of the fruits as a surprise for our mother. We had no receptacle with us so we scooped up our matching floral skirts(cut down from frocks made for a special Volkspele occasion at our school)and gathered piles of the fruits into them. We raced up to the house yelling with excitement for our mother to come to the kitchen to see our wonderful harvest. No sooner had we tumbled the mountain of prickly pears onto the yellow Formica table than we were weeping with the pain of the hundreds of spines embedded in our legs and tummies.

That incident caused me to be wary of prickly pears. Although I was still infected with my mother’s fondness and nostalgia for the fruit that evoked what seemed like a perfect childhood. 

My most recent harvest of prickly pears landed on my black granite kitchen counter in a box, thankfully despined, courtesy of, and with great thanks to, my Limpopo friend Merle of Barok and her very generous sister. 

Prickly pears

Merle said prickly pears should really be eaten ice cold so into the fridge they went. That night we scattered the gem-like discs into a simple green salad that was the perfect accompaniment to roast chicken done the Nico Ladenis way – with honey, black pepper and tarragon. I have been using this recipe as my preferred method for roasting chicken since I first came upon it in an article entitled Cooking the Books by Phillipa Cheifitz in the November 1989 edition of South African Cosmopolitan. I have never actually followed the recipe slavishly. For instance, I never have and never will use just one sprig of tarragon. I stuff the entire cavity with as much tarragon as possible – more like six stalks of it. I often omit the butter and even forgot the fact that the recipe included garlic What I do is always use way more honey and black pepper than the recipe instructs.

Nico Ladenis chicken

A couple of days flew by and I started feeling guilty about the prickly pears in the fridge so I went to my usual resource, Google, to see what else I could do with them. None of my trusted online advisors, Hugh and Yottam, came up with anything – but Bonnie Stern did. The prickly pear with goats cheese, lime and mint salad that emerged for supper that night was the freshest, most delicious combination of ingredients you could imagine.

prickly pear with goat cheese

Sticking to the salad theme  the following night I stir-fried some chicken breasts and served them on a bed of lettuce, coriander, couscous and lentils. Then I added the gem-like discs of prickly pear and served the salad with a lightly curried honeyed dressing.

Prickly pear with lightly curried chicken

I turned the remaining prickly pears into a glorious golden jelly infused with rosemary, black peppercorns and bay leaves.

jelly - prickly pear

The jelly is delicious with:

  • Cheese
  • Lamb steaks. Glaze with the jelly and roast at a very high heat on a bed of fresh rosemary and bay leaves with generous grindings of black pepper and coarse salt
  • Mushroom ragout and polenta

prickly pear with lamb steaks

In the near future I’ll definitely  be trying a prickly pear cake! (p 232 of  Prickly Pear – A Social History of a Plant in the Eastern Cape) And I’m sorely tempted by these prickly pear jelly sweets.

The only challenge remaining – where is my next prickly pear harvest going to come from?