Not Recipes and why I like them

I think it was Food52 who started Not Recipes. At least, that’s where I first saw the idea, and I loved it. You see, since I ‘learned’ to cook (mostly trial and error over quite a few years) I’ve been a ‘just wing it’ type of cook. I love cookbooks, I read them from cover to cover. I love looking up recipes, reading food blogs, and watching Masterchef. But I rarely follow a recipe to the T. For some reason, I simply can’t. And related to that is, I suppose, why I stopped food blogging. Do you know how hard it is to write a recipe when it’s completely counter to how you cook?

You see, the way I cook is driven by ‘Not Recipes’. I think of them as ideas for flavours that go together, little techniques and habits that form and inform the way I cook and what I make, and a mental list of successes in the past that I can build on. Occasionally, I’ll see a recipe that takes my fancy, and the first time I make it I’ll try to follow it, but usually end up substituting or changing the recipe somehow. Thereafter, I just wing it, then redo it from memory, until the outcome is how I want it to taste.

I was watching Masterchef Australia a little while ago, and in Nigella week, Nigella said something that so appealed to me, I wrote it down. She said, “you don’t feel like it, or feel like you’ll enjoy it, but the act of necessity, of having to get dinner on the table means you do it, and you enjoy it, and you get it done.” That quote might be a bit off the original, but what she was saying that it is the very act of necessity that means we do it, and in just doing it, we usually come to enjoy it.

I didn’t always love cooking. In my early 20s, when I was still learning, it was a pretty harrowing process which involved lots of packets you add water to and lots of over- and under-cooked food. Boiled chicken breasts and the mince I mistakenly added a ton of cocoa to (I had read about Mexican mole and was woefully under informed) are two of the major food lowlights of my learning days. But over time, the simple act of needing to be fed and then needing to feed other people meant that I got it done and, as I gained more confidence, I began to enjoy it.

So, while I plan to post more recipes here, you can be assured that they will probably remain badly photographed (because unless I can find a photographer/food stylist partner in crime, that ain’t gonna change), and they’ll be Not Recipes. Guidelines )that I hope you’ll have the confidence to try, but wing it where you need to) with lots of suggestions and variations. 

Because I think true enjoyment of cooking comes when your risks and trials are more successful than unsuccessful and you can have confidence in your ability to get a great meal on the table (and enjoy it).

Bliss balls not-recipe (without a food processor)

I don’t know about you, but seeing thousands of the same recipes for the same thing all across the internet can be a bit boring. Especially if they feature a piece of equipment you don’t have (Nutribullet/food processor/mincer/whatever). It can feel a bit limiting, like you can’t achieve those things without the equipment. 

Anyway, last friday was my son’s daycare Christmas party, and I know that these things involve Flings, chips, sweets and other crap, so it was important to me to send something that was delicious and sweet, without being full of sugar and other refined rubbish. Something I had a reasonable certainty my son, at least, would enjoy.

He’s a fruit bat. If it’s fruit, he’ll eat it, pretty much. He loves his ‘bapoo’ (apple) and ‘narnar’ (banana), and all other na-noms!! (Food he likes but doesn’t know the name of), and dried fruit (as long as it’s soft, is also a great favourite, especially when we are driving. 

After a bit of searching, I eventually came across a Bliss Balls recipe that used heat and a stick or jug blender to process the fruit, and I thought BINGO! I actually bought a food processor (at last!!) on the weekend, but last week when I made these, I didn’t have it. Come to think of it, though, I think I’d still use this method. It’s quick and easy, and there are minimal things to wash, which appeals to my incredibly lazy side.

Anyway, see what you think. These went down well with my boy, and the leftovers are living in the freezer for a sweet, healthy snack when we need one.


Makes about 44 1/2 inch balls

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup pitted dates
  • 2-4 pitted dried prunes
  • Water (just enough to cover the dates)
  • 1/2 cup mixed seeds (I had pumpkin, sesame and linseeds, I think)
  • 1 TBSP cocoa or cacao
  • 1 TBSP agave syrup (or honey, but I wanted to make this accessible for the little babies too)
  • Roughly 1 cup desiccated coconut (divided)

Method:

  1. Put the dates and prunes into a small pot, and just cover with water. Bring the pot to a boil, and turn down to a simmer. You want to soften the dried fruit so you can blend it more easily.
  2. Stir with a silicone spatula, and when the dried fruit starts to go mushy, turn off the heat.
  3. Add the seeds to the mixture in the pot and, using a stick blender, whizz it all up to an even consistency (you can do this in a jug blender too, but that means more washing up. Meh.)
  4. This mixture will be quite wet, thanks to the mushy dried fruit, so sprinkle in a little of the coconut and add in the cocoa and agave and stir to mix. 
  5. Keep adding coconut, mixing in beteeen additions, until the mixture seems dry enough to handle, while being sticky enough to roll into balls.
  6. Sprinkle the rest of the coconut onto a plate, and set aside.
  7. Using a levered ice cream scoop (I use the smallest size of these for everything), scoop out balls from the mixture and place onto a baking paper covered plate. You can leave them that size, they are great for adults, but I cut them in half, as I intended them for the babies.
  8. Once the whole mixture is in balls, refrigerate them for an hour or so to firm up.
  9. Then, roll each one in the desiccated coconut, and pop them into a container.

You’re done! I’m calling this a not-recipe, because I think it’s fairly forgiving. You need dried fruit that can be rehydrated, something like coconut or cocoa (or both) that will help to absorb some of the moisture, and some seeds for added nutrition. I’d like to try this with Turkish apricots and chia seeds, or apple slices and flax, just to try.

Also, the balls can be a bit of a faff, so you can also press the mixture into a baking paper lined cookie sheet or oven dish, and just sprinkle coconut over the top. Press the coconut in, and refrigerate to set, then slice into bars or blocks. Just as tasty, and probably easier to handle. Think I’ll try that next time #lazyAF.

Coronation chicken meatballs

Once upon a time, a long, long time ago, I was a food blogger. I was never particularly good, and definitely never famous. In the end it was my sincere dislike for food photography and a job that allowed me to write out all the things in my heart (and leave the photography to the professionals) that put paid to that.

I also found that, the more innovative and inventive I was with a dish, the fewer decent, free to use photos there were out there. Look, I haven’t found a solution for this (I am still a terrible, impatient photographer of food), but I want to post a few recipes, because they are worth having out there in the world, and at the very least, I would like to remember them (and the internet never forgets).

All that to say that these Coronation Chicken meatballs were, in the language of our time, EVERYTHING. I’ve made them a few times, a few different ways, and they are delicious. Coronation chicken, in case you’re unfamiliar, is generally a sort of cold chicken salad, with chutney, curry powder and mayonnaise. I like it, but it’s probably not everyone’s cup of tea. This dish, however, is a little different. Using chicken mince, you mix in the flavours of Coronation chicken (curry powder and chutney) into the mince and form meatballs, then brown them in a pan. Use cream to deglaze, and add more of those flavours, and server over millet, cauliflower rice, or even pasta or rice, if that’s your thing. They are spicy, a little bit sweet, creamy and ever so moreish. Try it and see :)

Here are two terrible photos of just the meatballs that I set aside for my son, that are not quite as horrific as the ones I took when we ate this the other night. Those were so blurry, you could hardly see the food. If there are any budding food photographers and food stylists in the Southern Suburbs, I’m happy to cook if you want to practice making it look good!

Ingredients:
MEATBALLS:

  • 500g chicken mince
  • 1 medium to large baby marrow, finely grated
  • 1 medium to large carrot, finely grated
  • 1/2-2 TSP curry powder (I use Woolies Medium Curry Powder – use less or a milder version if you don’t like spice)
  • 2-3 TBSP chutney (I use a peach chutney from Zetler’s farm stall on the Spier road in Stellenbosch, but any will do)
  • 1 TSP salt (omit if making for babies under 1)
  • Generous grind of fresh black pepper 

SAUCE:

  • 250ml of cream
  • 1-2 TSP curry powder
  • 2-3 TBSP chutney
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Method:

  1. Put all the meatball ingredients into a bowl, and mix using a butter knife. This will help to pull the ingredients through one another, without risking overmixing the meat and making the meatballs tough.
  2. Cover the mixture with cling film, pushed right down onto the surface of the mixture, and let is stand for a bit. 10 minutes is fine, or do it in the morning and put it into the fridge. This just helps the flavours to develop a bit more.
  3. Heat a non-stick pan and add a little oil or butter (I don’t believe there is a way to truly cook without fat, nor do I think it’s necessary).
  4. Put 1 tiny spoonful into the pan, and fry until golden on both sides. This is a taster, and is very important for ensuring the seasoning and flavours of your meatballs are good, and it doesn’t take long. Adjust your mixture as necessary, after tasting your taster.
  5. Using a small, levered ice cream scoop, or two spoons, drop balls of the meat mixture into hot oil, spacing them evenly without them touching in the pan. Stop when your pan is full – I usually have to do 2-3 batches.
  6. Let them cook on a medium heat, turning over when the bottom os golden brown, and cooking on all sides. Mine are quite small, probably just bigger than an inch in diameter, so they cook in just a few minutes. 
  7. Remove to a bowl as they cook, and fill up the space with more balls as you go.
  8. When all the meatballs are cooked, fry 1-2 TSP curry powder, depending on how hot you like it. I like it quite spicy, so I err on the side of hotter.
  9. When the curry is fragrant, which will only take a minute or so, pour in the cream and add the chutney, stirring it all together and heating through. 
  10. You can bring it to the boil, but there’s really no need. Just heat until hot, then add all the meatballs back to the pan, and heat them through, ensuring that they are all cooked right through.

Serve over rice, cauliflower rice, pasta or mashed potatoes with a fresh, green side and a glass of rose or Chardonnay to cut through all that spice and creaminess. Just delicious!

Varieties:

One thing I have loved about these meatballs is that they are so versatile. 

  • Making them for kids? Omit the curry powder, and use a bit of apricot jam instead to make fruity meatballs. My 1.5 year old loves them!
  • Sometimes I also just reduce the curry powder in the meat mixture, fry all the meatballs off (checking in the taster that they are ‘cool’ enough for my son) and remove some for him. Then I amp up the spice in the sauce to get the spicy flavours I’m after.
  • You can also add more or fewer veggies. Adding finely grated veg gets a few extra vitamins in, without really affecting the texture. You could add a bit more, but just check that the mixture still holds together in a ball before you add too much.
  • Chicken mince is also pretty sticky, which means I never have to use egg or breadcrumbs as a binder, which is great, because I don’t really eat bread. 
  • I’ve also chopped up a handful of dried apricots and mixed them in, for some added texture, which was delicious. 
  • Last night I added a cup of frozen peas to the sauce before adding the meatballs back in, and that was also yum.
  • If you can’t find chicken mince and have a food processor, you could easily do this with boneless chicken breasts – just add all the meatball ingredients to a food processor and pulse until the meat is minced and the other stuff is even;y mixed in.

a weekend away in greyton

GreytonThree years ago on July 31st, we got married in a little town called Greyton. It’s teeny-tiny, about half an hour from Hermanus (which is about an hour or so from Cape Town), and the loveliest little village you ever did see. But, the thing is, with me being only semi-employed over our first anniversary, and in Greece for the day for our second, we never made it back to Greyton, until this past weekend.

Thing is, I can’t for a moment imagine why. You know when life is SO HECTIC that you can barely see past the end of your nose? You know, when your job suddenly doubles the workload, you’re moving house, your sister is away, and your in-laws are in your house all the time (to help with house admin, but you secretly wish they were ANYWHERE but where they are, which is in your living room), and it’s the middle of the longest winter ever – THAT kind of hectic. That kind of hectic is when it’s the perfect time to breakaway.

So, my dear husband took charge, and while we are in the midst of packing up our home and dealing with all the house admin known to man, took us away for the weekend. Nothing fancy, nothing luxury. Just a weekend for us to unwind, spend some time together, and get our heads back in the game.

What is there to do in Greyton, you ask? Bugger all. Perfectly nothing, but wander around, drink wine in the pub of The Post House (where we got married), eat oxtail and lamb shank at The Abbey Rose, eat lemon curd pancakes and buy cheese and pesto at the Saturday morning market, drink Napier beer at Vanilla Cafe, buy chocolates from Von Geusau, and wander around some more. We left the car parked at the place we were staying (Jolly J’s Cabin – we called it the love shack), and walked the whole weekend. Yes, it was freezing, freezing cold (there was loads of snow on the mountains nearby), but that just meant it was better for snuggling, and drinking and eating and sleeping until we were recharged and back to our usual selves.

So, if you’re in need of a break from life, and would like a place to do nothing for the weekend, I can heartily recommend Greyton. Take all your friends, go alone, or go with your best partner in crime ever, like I did. But go. Go before your head explodes from the rat race, and you’ve forgotten how to smile. Go and remember how it feels to live.

the choice

Are-you-happyEverywhere I turn these days, I hear people saying, “you must be on a health kick,” and “I could never eat like that, I’m a carbaholic.” And more often than not, I end up waxing lyrical about a diet choice I wasn’t even convinced of a few months ago. What a change, hey? It’s not that I’m losing loads of weight (I’m not), or that I have all the answers (I definitely don’t), but so often when I chat to people about the things they eat, they consistently tell me that they feel heavy and pretty terrible after a meal. Especially the carbohydrate-heavy meals that seem so popular and seem to have people so ‘hooked’. And all I can say to that is, “but you make the choice what to eat. Make different choices and your taste will change”

It was something that occurred to me, after yet another meal after which I felt rough, heavy and uncomfortable. In fact, over the holidays, I mostly ignored good sense and my chosen food choices, and ate what I wanted. Yes, it was enjoyable at the time to tuck into some gooey, cheesy pizza, but the heaviness afterwards? That bloated feeling? Not quite so nice. And so many people I speak to at the moment tell me they feel bad too. And I’m confused.

If we make the choice of food to put into our bodies, why do we choose to put things in it that make us feel bad? Don’t get me wrong, I said I don’t have all the answers, and I genuinely don’t. But the way I reason it is this: if it is natural (so far as I can tell, vegetables are pretty natural, especially if I can careful where and what I buy), and it is whole (most meats are whole, unprocessed or minimally so, if I am careful where I buy what), then it should be minimally bad for me, not so?

And if you are ‘hooked’ on something, surely that means it has power over you that you do not control? Surely that can’t be right? You know what I’ve learned? Carbs are sugars, and sugars break down quickly (even the so-called low-GI ones, they just break down a bit slower). So you feel full initially, but once your body has broken them down, there’s nothing left to work with. That’s why, after your ‘healthy’ seed bread sandwich at 1pm, you’re dying for a chocolate by 3pm. Your body has used all the fuel, and is craving more of what it you have fed it, sugar.

When you don’t eat carbohydrates (except what is present in most fruit and vegetables), your body has more to work with (protein and roughage), and takes longer to do so. Also, it doesn’t crave that 3pm chocolate at all, and it will get to a point where you don’t even worry about chocolate. Consuming all the chocolates in the world doesn’t interest you. But a pack of biltong? Hell, yes.

So if you’re struggling with the ever-increasing problem of food cravings, high and low energy, and a constant feeling of crumminess, give Primal eating a go. I promise you, it will change your life. Have you ever done something that makes people question your sanity? Or consciously made a choice to live better? Let me know, and let’s support each other in our left of centre ideas.