Archives for category: Creative Challenge

Artemisia dracunculus. The name conjures up mythical realms. Kingdoms filled with swirling mists, ancient turreted castles perched atop snowy peaks, emerald-green enchanted forests, fire-breathing flame-wreathed dragons. Worlds worthy of the Game of Thrones.

The plant however with its delicate blade-like green leaves does more than just conjure up mythical fantasies, it works magic in the harsh reality of the modern day kitchen.

tarragon sprig

If you are not already a lover of tarragon then now is the time to enchant yourself and dash out and buy a plant – or at the very least buy a plastic bag of tarragon from the herb section of your supermarket. Well if you can find it, that is.

You’ll never regret planting tarragon in your garden – every spring it reliably reappears pushing new green shoots up through the soil regardless of whether you have watered or not. And then until fairly late into winter you’ll have a steady supply of flavour on your doorstep.

Ever since I first had a tarragon plant I’ve had dreams of making a dish using the four  fines herbes but have never had much luck growing chervil, nor parsley for that matter. I think chervil requires just a little more care than I am ever able to give a plant. Although as I write this I wonder if we have any chervil seeds and if I should quickly go out into the garden and plant them.

I haven’t actually used tarragon in a very classic way. For example I’ve never in my life made a Béarnaise sauce. For many years the only way I used tarragon was stuffed into the cavity of  a chicken done the Nico Ladenis way – with honey and black pepper. I believed that recipe alone was the reason to have a never-ending supply of tarragon.

But I do keep wondering how else I can put my bountiful supply to good use. I’ve made Heidi Swanson’s tarragon oil a couple of times, most recently as part of a trio of potions for Scarlet Bennett’s creative challenge. Tarragon oil is a versatile and essential addition to any grocery cupboard. Make yourself a batch – you won’t be sorry. Lately I’ve been a bit obsessed with pairing tarragon with lovage as in green eggs and frittata. I’ve made tarragon tempura – and lovage tempura too. Tarragon leaves brighten up a jug of iced water and the stalks make a good tea. I’m sipping some as I write.

On Sunday I served antipasti from Super Sconto to our Allaboutwriting ‘Secret of Story’ participants. I bought some bocconcini and I thought I’d mix them with baby tomatoes in a salad but I really needed some basil, or pesto which I didn’t have. I hate buying basil and  pesto but our basil is nowhere near pickable yet. I stood staring out at the vegetable garden and the tiny basil plants wondering what else we had in the garden that could add a little Italian flavour – origanum and rosemary certainly could. I could make a nice olive oil dressing of course. But I had my heart set on pesto. Mmmm. Could I make a tarragon pesto, I wondered?

I grabbed the scissors and in no time at all I was whipping up a batch of tarragon pesto. Inspired by the Nico Ladenis chicken recipe, not so very Italian after all…

Tarragon pesto with honey and black pepper

Ingredients

  • 100g tarragon leaves (stripped from their stalks)
  • 250 ml olive oil
  • 135 grams flaked almonds
  • 30 grams honey
  • 4 smallish cloves fresh garlic (5 grams)
  • 5 grams coarsely grated black pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt

Method

Blend the whole lot together but don’t over-process.

Use the tarragon pesto:

  • to enliven a tomato and mozzarella salad
  • as a  pasta sauce
  • as a filling in an omelet
  • over baked potatoes
  • mix with mayonnaise and serve with cold chicken
  • stirred into a soup
  • with sliced cheese, cold meat and rocket for lunch

tarragon pesto 2

Next up I’ll be making tarkhun, tarragon cake, potica, tarragon ice cream and tarragon jelly. Pity it is already dark or I’d be out in the garden harvesting leaves.

Without Scarlet Bennett and her Creative Challenge 52 Exploring Eating would be neglected. Without my fellow team members across the world in Australia I would not have the motivation to dash into the kitchen at least once a week and whip up something I might not otherwise have even considered.

For this week’s challenge I decided to make halva muffins inspired by Yotam Ottolenghi’s sesame  halva and walnut cake. This is a cake that bears no comparison, a cake so exquisite that you want to eat it everyday, it’s a cake that makes you forget that chocolate cake even exists. You would be right in wondering why anyone would even consider making something merely inspired by it, just make the real thing for goodness sake.

But I did try something inspired by it. I made two types of muffins one of which was inspired not only by Yottam’s cake but by my recent alternative milk tart experiments. There lies madness you might say. The woman has gone crazy. Version one: halva and dark chocolate. Version two: halva, rose extract and cardamom. muffins halva rose cardamom In fact I inadvertently made three types since I managed to get mixed up when I was assembling the layers. I was horrified when I realised what I’d done. I’d put chocolate into some of the rose and cardamom muffins. This was sure to be a disaster. I hate chocolate with cardamom AND I hate chocolate with rose. And worse  surely that was just one too many different flavours?

The minute the tray came out of the oven I tentatively tasted one of the version three muffins. Not bad. Rather nice in fact. Well I liked it but the kids were sure to hate them. Never mind, there were still plenty of the other two more restrained versions. I’d just have to eat the version three muffins myself.

The entire family was still in bed. It was only 6.15 am. I went to my computer to send Scarlet pictures of the fruits of my labours and while I was doing that I started to feel bad about  making sweet, fattening baked things for breakfast. Richard is trying to lose weight. All baked goods have been eliminated from his diet. What could I do that would make him feel catered to, too?

I dashed back to the kitchen and threw together a perfect paleo breakfast for Richard – mini baked fritatta flavoured with tarragon and lovage from the garden. I worried slightly about mixing those two herbs which grow so happily next to each other in the garden but thought what the hell, tarragon is perfect with eggs and I’m on a mission to find ways of using the lovage.

Maria appeared in the kitchen. ‘You’re up early. Have you been making something for breakfast or have you made another of your weird potions?’ she asked.

‘You’re in luck,’ I said, and pointed to versions one and two. ‘You’ll hate the others. They were a mistake.’

‘How can you be so sure?’ she asked. I replied that if there is one thing I’ve learnt about my children it’s that they don’t like my more unusual creations and that it was fine, I’d eat those muffins.

Being a self-respecting teenager Maria defiantly grabbed a version three muffin. I had a brief flashback to a four year  leaving a plate of biscuits each one with a perfect half-moon missing for the guests to eat. At least there weren’t any guests coming for breakfast.

‘Actually,’ said Maria, ‘it’s quite nice.’ And she popped the last of the muffin into her mouth. ‘Can I have another?’

Jamie was in complete agreement. The ‘failure’ was by far the best, he declared. Richard often says, ‘Failure is where the treasure is,’ and in this instance (if in no other) I have to acknowledge he’s right. That’s the recipe I’ll make again and the recipe you’ll find below.  A happy mistake. frittata swiss chard cheese tarragon lovage Then Richard appeared. ‘Mmm, those look good. What’s in them?’ he said pointing to the frittata. I did what I usually do when I’m scared to admit what the ingredients really are and said ‘Try them, guess, you tell me’. The tarragon and  lovage frittata were declared delicious so I encourage you to throw caution to the wind and  mix unexpected flavours. Within reason.

Halva, chocolate, cardamom and rose muffins

Ingredients

  • 100g butter, melted
  • 165 g demerara sugar – you can use ordinary brown sugar of course, I just wanted to use what I had
  • 2 extra large free range eggs
  • 200 ml Greek yoghurt
  • 4 teaspoons rose extract – I always use Kuhestan Damask Rose Extract from Magoebaskloof, Limpopo
  • 120g cake flour
  • 120g wholwheat flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
  • 1.5 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1.5  teaspoon cinnamon
  • seeds from 12 green cardamom pods crushed fine in a pestle and mortar
  • pinch salt
  • 120 g halva – cut half of it into 24 small cubes and roughly crumble the balance
  • 80 g dark chocolate cut into 24 small pieces
  • Topping: mix together 30 g finely crumbled halva, 25 g rolled oats and 1/2 teaspoon ground cinamon

Method

  1. Heat the oven to 180 degrees Celsius.
  2. Mix the  melted butter, sugar, eggs, yoghurt and the  rose essence together in a bowl.
  3. In another bowl stir together all the dry ingredients and gently mix in the 60 g of crumbled halva.
  4. Stir the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients and combine until just mixed.
  5. Line 12 half cup  (125 ml) muffin tins and divide half the batter into them.
  6. Scatter the halva and chocolate cubes over the batter and then top with the remaining batter.
  7. Sprinkle with the topping mix and bake for 20 minutes.

I based the muffin recipe on Ruby Tandoh’s raisin cinnamon muffins from The Guardian.

Baked mini  frittata 

Ingredients

  • olive oil for greasing
  • 3 rashers bacon chopped
  • 24 cherry tomatoes
  • 1 young lovage stalk with its leaves, finely chopped
  • 80 g mixed cheese cut into cubes – I used a mix of goats milk haloumi and feta
  • 30 g shredded Swiss chard
  • 6 extra large free range eggs beaten well with black pepper and salt to taste
  • a couple of sprigs of tarragon, finely chopped

Method

  1. Heat the oven to 180 degrees Celsius.
  2. Put a few drops of olive oil into 12 (80 ml) muffin tins, add two tomatoes to each and divide the bacon and lovage between the twelve tins.
  3. Place in the oven and roast for 15 minutes, stirring once or twice.
  4. Divide the cheese and Swiss chard between the 12 cups.
  5. Pour the egg and tarragon over the cheese, chard and tomato/bacon/lovage mix.
  6. Bake for ten minutes until the egg has puffed up and is cooked through.

Heritage Day has been and gone and although I had grand plans to cook South African specialities all I managed was to hold a braai, the result of which formed part of Scarlet Bennett’s week two creative challenge. South African traditional food was still on my mind this week and milk tart or melktert featured prominently on the menu.  Like many South Africans, with and without Dutch ancestry, milk tarts were regularly produced for Sunday afternoon tea in our household. My Dutch ancestor, Andries Bruijns, who was born in Amsterdam in 1684,  arrived in the Cape on the ship De Liefde in 1704. He was married and buried at Groote Kerk in Cape Town. So although the Dutch blood has been well mixed with Scottish, Welsh and English blood my roots go back to the relatively early days of the Dutch East India Company’s time in the Cape. Liefde According to Jeanne from Cook Sister a recipe very similar to our modern day milk tart milk tart recipe can be traced right back to the very first Dutch cook book by Thomas Van der Noot written in 1510. Het eerste gedrukte Nederlandsche kookboek, Brussel, Thomas vander Noot 1510 Five hundred years later I find myself in the kitchen making milk tart for a generation of children whose Dutch blood is even more diluted than mine with additional English blood (and I’m not quite sure what else) via the USA. I can’t say the recipe I used has been handed down over generations – it is a recipe that my mother got from a teaching colleague of hers – but it is the one that I remember her making, that both my sisters make and that my household makes too. It is remarkably similar to many of the recipes on the internet. There do seem to be two approaches to making milk tart. This approach, that calls for the cooked filling to be poured into a pre-baked pie crust, and a version where you separate the eggs and bake the filling in the oven. I’ve stuck with our family version but have had some fun with it and played around with the flavourings a bit. Over the week I’ve made four different versions. Milk Tart The recipe as written in my mother’s writing with a few slight changes/additions:

Pastry

115 g butter

1/2 cup sugar

1 egg

2 cups flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

pinch salt

Cream butter and sugar together. Add the egg and mix well. Sift dry ingredients into the butter mixture. Mix well until it forms a soft dough. Press the dough into greased pie dishes. Prick the base with a fork. Bake at 220 degrees Celsius for 10 to 15 minutes. This is enough dough for four 20 cm pie dishes or two much larger ones. Freeze half the dough for use at a later stage. The filling below is enough for two 20 cm tarts – or one much larger tart.

Filling

4.5 cups milk

1 cup sugar

1 cinnamon quill or a handful of cinnamon bark

1 vanilla pod, split

3 eggs

3 tablespoons flour

3 tablespoons cornflour/maizena

1 tablespoon butter

pinch salt

1/2 teaspoon almond essence or peach leaves

ground cinnamon

Bring the milk and sugar slowly to the boil in a heavy bottomed pot with a cinnamon, peach leaves (if you have them) and vanilla pod. Remove from the heat and stand for 30 minutes to allow the flavours to infuse. Whisk the eggs well adding the flour and cornflour and whisking until very smooth. Strain the milk, scrape the vanilla seeds from the pod, add them to the milk and bring the milk back to the boil. Remove the milk from the heat and slowly pour into the egg mixture whisking continuously. Pour the mixture back into the pot, add the butter and heat gently, stirring all the time until the mixture thickens. Stir in the almond essence if you haven’t used peach leaves. Pour into the baked and cooled pastry shells. Dredge with a generous quantity of cinnamon. Allow to cool before eating

Variations

  1. Coconut milk, star anise and chilli: Replace half the milk with coconut milk.  Leave out the vanilla and almond essence. Lightly crush  6 star anise, 2 birds eye chilli with the cinnamon in a pestle and mortar and use this to infuse the milk. Sprinkle the finished tart with chilli powder and cinnamon.
  2. Cardamom: Add 12 crushed green cardamom to the vanilla and cinnamon when infusing the milk. Serve dredged with cinnamon.
  3. Rose and cardamom: Add 12 crushed green cardamom to the vanilla and cinnamon when infusing the milk. Replace the almond essence with two teaspoons of rose extract. Serve with a light sprinkling of cinnamon.
  4. Skip the pastry altogether. Pour the hot thickened custard mixture into greased individual moulds. When cool unmould gently onto small plates and serve. I think spicy poached quinces could work very well with this.