Sunday, October 20, 2013

Camembert and Walnut Bites – accentuate the positive...

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I want to love Camembert. It looks very charming on a cheeseboard, instantly adding ze strrrrong Frrrrrrench accent. And it is always up for a picnic – just add a fresh baguette and a bottle of vin - et voila! What’s not to love? Well...
Camembert is often described as buttery and nutty – I like that bit. But to me, there is a cabbage-y tang lurking in its depths. I’m not the greatest fan of cabbage at the best of times, so why would I want it in cheese... given I’m not even the greatest fan of cheese at the best of times and will easily find an excuse to skip straight to dessert.
However... as the song says, you’ve got to ac-cen-tu-ate the positive (add buttery pastry, a touch of honey, and some walnuts) ... e-li-min-ate the negative (heat and a smidgen of rosemary seems to minimise the cabbage-y note), et voila! This I can love.

For approximately 25 party-sized bites you will need...
... a 7cm empanada press (widely and generally quite cheaply available from most kitchen stores), or a little patience.

50g walnuts
125g Camembert, cut into rough chunks
½ teaspoon very finely chopped fresh rosemary
25g runny honey
500g good quality all-butter puff pastry 

a little cold water to seal the pastries 

a little beaten egg to glaze the pastries 

Pre-heat the oven to 180°C 

First, blitz the walnuts in a food processor until reduced to large crumbs. Add the camembert and rosemary and process until reduced to a moist crumbly mixture. Add the honey and blitz to combine with the other ingredients.

If you haven't got a food processor, you will need about 5 minutes and a good chopping action

Roll out the puff pastry (or buy ready-rolled) to a thickness of about 3mm. Using the cutter side of the empanada press, stamp out circles until you have used up all the pastry. (If you don’t have an empanada press, use a 7cm round scone cutter instead.)  

Using lightly floured hands, take approximately half a teaspoon of the mixture and roll it into a ball. (This might seem a stingy amount but - trust me - any more will leak from the pastries as they cook.) Repeat until you have the same amount of cheese balls as pastry circles.

Be stingy with the filling unless you want accidental camembert and walnut crisps 

Place a pastry circle on the empanada press and place a cheese ball in the centre. Dampen the edges of the pastry with a little cold water and close the empanada press, gently sealing the cheese inside a half moon. (If you are doing this without an empanada maker, fold the pastry over the cheese ball, pressing the dampened edges together, pinching them together between thumb and index finger.) Repeat until you have approximately 25 half moons made. Kids love helping with this bit.

(I often make them to this point then freeze in a single layer to cook at a later date, straight from the freezer. If cooking from frozen, you’ll need to give them an extra minute or two in the oven.) 

Place on a baking tray, approximately 3cm apart to allow them to puff up. Bake in the pre-heated oven until risen and golden – about 10 minutes. Allow to cool slightly on a wire rack before handing round with drinks. Best served warm.

Variation: swap the honey for the same amount of apricot jam, or cranberry jelly. Both go terrifically well with Camembert. 

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Sunday, October 13, 2013

Piri Piri... Peri Peri... Pili Pili Chicken – Some like it hot !

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It is Piri Piri? Or Peri Peri? Or Pili Pili ? I lean towards Piri Piri, but whatever you prefer to call it, this spicy chicken dish, which originated in Portugal’s former African colonies, has been a huge hit world wide - as evidenced by the success of Nando’s restaurant chain. I’ve never tasted Nando’s version, which apparently goes from a wussy version that barely registers on the Scoville Scale, to a “throat-scorching” extra h-h-hot!

There’s not much preparation to this easy recipe, however you will need time for the chicken to wallow in all those lovely flavours – 24 hours if possible. It's worth it though, for a succulent, tasty chicken that is so easy to portion up.
The recipe below is how I like it – with the heat somewhere between 10,000 – 20,000 Scovilles so I can still taste the other flavours in the dish. The beauty of this marinade is that you can tweak the ingredients to how you like it. Use African Bird’s Eye Chillies to ramp it up to 100,000+ Scovilles if you like it hot.

For 1 spicy chicken, feeding about 4 people, you will need...
... a food processor
Piri Piri Marinade
100mls extra virgin olive oil
30mls cider vinegar
3 tablespoons finely chopped fresh parsley
2 fat cloves of garlic
2 red chillies, stalks removed, deseeded and roughly chopped
1 teaspoon finely grated fresh ginger
1 teaspoon coriander seed, crushed to a powder
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon of sweet paprika
¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
the juice and finely grated zest of half a lemon
the juice of half a lime 

1 chicken weighing approximately 1.5kg, spatchcocked* 

Time – at least 12 hours, but preferably 24 hours. 

Place all the ingredients for the marinade in a food processer and blend until combined into a smooth liquid.

Place the spatchcocked chicken in a large Ziploc-style bag or non-metal container and pour in the marinade. Seal and refrigerate for 12 hours or overnight, turning occasionally to make sure the marinade gets a chance to reach all parts of the chicken.
Pale and interesting? Nah!

 When ready to cook, pre-heat the oven to 200°C. Place the chicken in a shallow roasting tin and roast for 35 - 45 minutes, or until cooked through. To test for doneness, pierce the thickest part of the thigh and if the juices run clear, with no trace of pink, then it’s cooked.
Looking so much better with a tan !

I’m serving this with a carrot and orange salad and baked potatoes.

*A spatchcocked chicken is prepared as follows: 

Sit the chicken on its breast and, using a heavy duty kitchen scissors or poultry shears, cut down both sides of the backbone, and remove it. Open the chicken out and, using a heavy knife, cut into the cartilage in the centre of the chicken, until the knife reaches the breastbone. Turn the chicken over and gently press down to flatten it out.
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