A bit more exotic: Swazi Karoo roast ostrich steak

Swaziland is another country that is landlocked within South Africa. It also isn’t called Swaziland anymore, as King Mswati III renamed it the Kingdom of eSwatini in 2018. eSwatini means ‘land of the Swazis’ and apparently a driving force behind the change was the fact that, incredibly, the country was being mistaken for Switzerland under its former name.

The national dish of eSwatini is Karoo roast ostrich steak. The Karoo is a semi-desert region of southern Africa and, judging by what we saw when we were in South Africa, seems to be where a lot of the game meat seems to come from. We spent one night in Oudtshoorn, which is in the Klein Karoo and famous for its ostrich farms, and when we were there we went to a restaurant called Bello Cibo and ate rather a lot of ostrich: the ‘Ostrich Trio’ starter (ostrich carpaccio, ostrich fillet pasta and ostrich liver pate) and then ostrich fillet for main. So whilst we’re not exactly strangers to eating ostrich, we don’t think we’ve ever cooked it before, so when we learnt that it is eSwatini’s national dish, we had to give it a go. It’s obviously not the most common of meats, so we ordered ours online from Oslinc, and followed a recipe from National Foods of the World, which serves the ostrich with pumpkin mash and a cream sauce.

Karoo roast ostrich steak

Ingredients
2 ostrich steaks, thinly sliced
1 onion, thinly sliced
1/2 cup double cream
1 cup white wine
6 green peppercorns, lightly crushed
5 juniper berries, lightly crushed
1 pumpkin (we used butternut squash), peeled and cubed
3/4 cup red wine
1/2 ground maize
Butter for frying
Salt and pepper

Method
1. Put the ostrich, red wine and juniper berries in a bowl with some salt and pepper. Cover and refrigerate overnight.
2. The next day, put the pumpkin and ground maize in a pot with enough water to cover the pumpkin. Boil for 30 minutes, adding more water if necessary.
3. When the pumpkin softens, drain off any excess liquid (see note below about this).
4. Mash the cooked pumpkin and ground maize together and set aside.
5. For the sauce, melt some butter in a clean pan and saute the onions in the butter until brown.
6. Add the peppercorns, white wine and cream and bring to a gentle simmer. Simmer gently for a while to cook out some of the wine. Season with salt and pepper if desired, and set aside.
7. For the ostrich, discard the marinade, heat some butter in a separate pan and flash fry the ostrich strips.
8. Serve the ostrich alongside the pumpkin mash with the cream sauce drizzled over the top
Serves 2

There are a couple of things we need to mention before we get onto our verdict:
1. Step 3 of the recipe says to drain the excess water from the pumpkin/ground maize mixture. We have no idea how we could have done this. By the time it had cooked for a while, the water was very much combined with the ground maize, and draining the water would have drained the ground maize as well. So no draining took place, and as a result, this substance was more of a slop than a mash (Baby Mash still had fun splattering it everywhere with the masher though).
2. The recipe we followed said that Swazi cooking is heavily influenced by French cooking techniques. We’ve eaten a reasonable amount of French food in our time and never have we come across a cream sauce that is one part cream to two parts wine. The direction to ‘simmer gently for a while to cook out some of the wine’ is our addition.
3. This steak was very much fried, not roasted in any way.
4. Although there is nothing particularly difficult about this dish from a technique point of view, it does get a bit hectic towards the end when you’re trying to flash fry ostrich whilst also finishing a cream sauce. To be fair, we did make this even harder for ourselves by doing two separate lots of ostrich (one wine-free for the toddler), two separate sauces (one wine-free for the toddler), adding some greens, and making some separate mashed potato for the toddler because we didn’t think he’d eat much else.

And we were right. Baby Mash is in a particularly fussy phase with food at the moment and didn’t touch the ostrich, sauce or pumpkin, so all that effort was entirely worth it. *eye roll* Fortunately, Ash and Miranda did both like it! There was far too much pumpkin for one meal, and it wasn’t all that exciting anyway, but it did provide a sweet contrast to the sharpness of the cream sauce. We’re not sure how much impact the marinade had on the ostrich, as you couldn’t really taste it, but you can’t go wrong with a good steak!

Winter warmer: Lesothan red rooibos latte

Lesotho is a small country completely contained within South Africa. If we’d had time during our South African adventure, we’d definitely have paid it a visit, partly to tick off another country and partly because of the stunning scenery.

Image result for lesotho

If we’d made it across the border, we might have discovered a drink that is apparently ubiquitous in big-city Lesothan coffee shops: the red rooibos latte. We came across rooibos (or redbush) everywhere during our travels around South Africa – we mostly stayed in Airbnb accommodation and most hosts had provided rooibos in the rooms – but we just drank it the traditional way, without milk. Our research taught us that there’s a new tradition, which is to brew it really strongly and add milk, honey and cinnamon to create a latte. You might be thinking that strongly brewed tea isn’t nice no matter what you add to it, but rooibos is different as it doesn’t take on the bitter flavour that other types of tea do.

There are a number of different recipes for red rooibos latte out there on the web, some using teabags and some using loose-leaf, and all with slight variations of the tea-to-milk ratio. We combined the ideas from Global Table Adventure and Food.com to create our version. This can be made vegan if you leave out the honey and use an alternative milk.

Red rooibos latte

Ingredients
2 rooibos teabags
1 cup boiling water
1 cup milk
Cinnamon
Honey (optional, to taste)

Method
1. Brew the teabags in the water for at least 10 minutes, in a teapot or on the stove. When it’s ready it will be almost black.
2. Gently heat and steam or whisk the milk (we used our Aerolatte milk frother).
3. Make the lattes by putting one part tea in a cup, followed by two parts milk.
4. Add honey to taste if you want to (we didn’t).
5. Dust with as much cinnamon as you want (quite a lot, in our case, although this was partly because of how quickly it came out of the jar).
Serves 2

Baby Mash’s contribution

Ash and Miranda both took a mouthful and shrugged, saying, ‘It’s all right, but nothing special.’ We thought we probably wouldn’t bother with it again, as we like rooibos without milk (which is a lot less faff), but enjoyed the warming nature of it, particularly as we were in the midst of a cold spell. We will certainly try one made properly in a coffee shop if we ever make it to southern Africa again though.

Baby Mash’s verdict is even less certain. He made a face, tried some more, made a face again, ate all the cinnamon out of his own cup and ours but didn’t drink much more of the tea. Then, a week later, he asked for tea again, so we made a simpler version of this and he didn’t want it. To be fair, this total unpredictability is par for the course with him at the moment, so we probably should have seen it coming!

We made it to Africa: South African bobotie, yellow rice and apricot blatjang

Having now cooked our way through South America, we’re about to embark on a culinary journey through Africa, a continent that we’ve visited a couple of times but would love to see more of. Ash once dreamed up an intrepid roadtrip across much of the continent but it was one of those things where real life got in the way and it never happened. (Little did he know that his free and easy days of singledom were nearly over and his future wife was about to walk into his life.)

Although much of Africa is, therefore, uncharted territory for us, we did go to South Africa a few years back as a delayed ‘honeymoon’. Because we got married in Australia (which was a big enough trip on its own) and then had a mini-moon in Dubai on our way back to the UK, we decided we’d splash out on a big holiday at a later date and call it our honeymoon. We’d originally planned on India but that didn’t work out, but we can’t complain about our ‘second best’ of South Africa, which we both agree was one of the best holidays we’ve ever been on.

With the exception of the safaris we did, which are enough on their own to make any holiday a highlight, it’s hard to pinpoint exactly why our two weeks in South Africa was so wonderful. We can only conclude that it was a combination of everything. The people were some of the friendliest and happiest we’ve ever come across, despite the fact that many of them were living in poverty and/or dangerous conditions. There was the stunning landscapes that we hiked and drove through, from beaches to mountains to caves to forests to rivers to jacaranda trees to sunsets and sunrises over the savanna.

There was the sobering experience of visiting Robben Island and being shown around by an ex-political prisoner, and the adventure of climbing Table Mountain.

There was the abundance of wildlife: seals, dolphins, whales, penguins, ostriches, baboons, birds, monkeys, dassies, elephants, meerkats, zebras, warthogs, buffalo, steenbok, lions, rhinos, impalas, giraffes, wildebeests, klipspringers, cheetahs, hissing ants, mongoose, jackals, kudu, lizards… and more. And on the topic of wildlife, we do need to mention our stay at Buffalo Ridge Safari Lodge again – one of the best things we’ve ever done.

But the focus of this blog is always on the food and oh, how we feasted: generous home-cooking at the amazing Mzansi in the oldest township in Cape Town, a tasting menu in Franschhoek, a picnic at Richard Branson’s vineyard, massive (and cheap) steaks, ostrich in many guises, bunny chow, breakfasts of rusks and rooibos, braai, G&Ts and biltong on safari, and many other delights that we don’t have time to list here.

One dish that eluded us, though, was South Africa’s national dish: bobotie (pronounced ba-boor-tea). A sort of curry-flavoured shepherd’s pie, but with an eggy topping instead of potato, we have actually made bobotie before but were keen to find an authentic South African recipe in order to make it for this blog – but then Ash’s South African colleague said we couldn’t go wrong with the BBC Good Food recipe, with a few changes that he suggested. He also said that we had to serve it with yellow rice, so we used the BBC Good Food recipe for that too, and when we were looking at it we realised we had all the ingredients for the recommended chutney accompaniment, apricot blatjang (pronounced blud-young), so we made that too.

Bobotie

Ingredients
2 slices white bread
2 onions, chopped
25g butter
2 garlic cloves, crushed
1kg minced beef
2 tbsp curry paste (recipe said madras, but we used balti to make it more toddler-friendly)
1 tsp dried mixed herbs
3 cloves
5 allspice berries (also known as pimento)
2 tbsp Mrs Ball’s Original Chutney (can be substituted with peach or mango but Mrs Ball’s is the most authentic)
3 tbsp sultanas
6 bay leaves
Sliced almonds
300ml full cream milk, plus some extra for soaking
2 large eggs

Method
1. Preheat the oven to 180C.
2. Pour some milk over the bread and set aside to soak.
3. Fry the onions in the butter, stirring regularly for 10 minutes until they are soft and starting to colour.
4. Add the garlic and beef and stir well, crushing the mince into fine grains until it changes colour.
5. Stir in the curry paste, herbs, spices, chutney, sultanas and 2 of the bay leaves and season well.
6. Cover and simmer for 10 minutes.
7. Squeeze the milk from the bread, then beat into the meat mixture until well blended.
8. Tip into an ovenproof dish, press down well and smooth the top.
9. Beat the milk and eggs with seasoning, then pour over the meat.
10. Top with the remaining bay leaves (whole, unless you’re Ash and decide to chop them up for some unknown reason) and some sliced almonds (although we forgot about the almonds) and bake for 35-40 minutes until the topping is set and starting to turn golden.
Serves 4-6

Yellow rice

Ingredients
350g basmati rice
50g butter
1 heaped tbsp caster sugar
1/2 cinnamon stick
6 cardamom pods, shelled and seeds crushed
Just under 1 tsp ground turmeric
5 tbsp raisins

Method
1. Put all the ingredients in a large pan with 500ml water, then heat until boiling and the butter has melted.
2. Stir, cover and leave to simmer for 6 minutes.
3. Take off the heat and leave, still covered, for 5 minutes.
4. Fluff up and tip into a warm bowl to serve.

Apricot blatjang

Ingredients
250g dried apricots
1 red onion, quartered
1/2 tsp dried crushed chilli
2 garlic cloves
50ml white vinegar
1 heaped tbsp light muscovado sugar

Method
1. Put the apricots in a bowl and pour over 600ml boiling water.
2. Leave for 30 minutes to soak and cool.
3. Tip the apricots and the soaking liquid into a food processor with all the remaining ingredients, then blitz until smooth.
4. Tip into a saucepan, then cover and simmer for 20-25 minutes until thick and pulpy.

It’s many years since we last made bobotie but we don’t think it will be as long before the next time. All three of us enjoyed this, although our egg-hating toddler probably would have preferred a potato topping like he gets on cottage pie! The yellow rice was delicious as well, and so simple, even for people like us who only ever cook rice in a foolproof steamer in the microwave. Baby Mash was such a fan of the rice that he grabbed the serving spoon from the bowl and started feeding himself with it. The blatjang was a good discovery too and was a logical accompaniment to the fruity bobotie and rice, although we won’t necessarily make it again next time we have bobotie.

Another achievement of note from this meal was that we’ve added yet another jar to our already heavily-laden spice shelves: pimento, or allspice berries. We had the ground version but not the whole ones. We’re now hoping that we discover some more African recipes that use them! (We’re also still hoping for a use for the massive jar of black cardamom we bought back when we were cooking Indian food…)

Time for a tea break: Falkland Island smoko cake

As is always our starting point with finding recipes for this challenge, we did a search for ‘Falkland Islands national dish.’ Being such a small country, the Falklands doesn’t really have a national dish as such. Typical national cuisine is essentially grilled seafood with vegetables, which sounds nice, but unremarkable. Something that piqued our interest, though, was the ‘smoko’: a ‘daytime treat not to be missed’ consisting of tea or coffee and homemade cakes.

Quite aside from our love of tea and cake, this stood out to us because we thought the ‘smoko’ was an Australian thing. Anyone who has ever been to Australia (or watched Neighbours) will know that Aussies abbreviate basically everything, often creating a word with an ‘o’ on the end of it as a result. Case in point: bottle-o (bottle shop), arvo (afternoon), devo (devastated), servo (service station), garbo (garbage collector), ambo (ambulance)… you get the idea. Smoko (smoking break) is also on that list and any Aussie would be familiar with it. We had no idea until this week that not only does the word exist in other countries, it’s actually a significant part of the Falkland Islands culture.

We obviously couldn’t let the opportunity to include a smoko in our culinary journey pass us by, so all we needed was a recipe. There are a few different recipes for ‘smoko cake’ out there, and probably none of them actually originates from the Falkland Islands, but we chose one from Sumo and Chandler’s Spaghetti Head Blog because the writer seemed to have some firsthand knowledge of the Falklands. Having just read it again, it’s possible that that may not actually be the case, but we made the cake recipe anyway. Smoko is typically taken in the morning, but we’re parents who eat cake in secret once Baby Mash has gone to bed now, so we had our smoko at around 9pm. This didn’t spoil it.

Incidentally, when we were looking for Falkland Islands recipes on Google, in the ‘People also ask’ section, the second question listed was ‘Is there a McDonald’s in the Falkland Islands?’ Yes, really. Someone has Googled that. (Pleasingly, the answer is no. No Starbucks either.)

Smoko cake

Ingredients
1/2 cup plain flour
1 tbsp melted butter
3/4 tsp baking powder
1/8 tsp salt
1/4 cup sugar
3 tbsp milk
1 egg
Icing sugar for dusting

Method
1. Whisk all the ingredients except the icing sugar together.
2. Pour into a greased ramekin.
3. Bake at 180C for about 25 minutes.
4. Allow to cool slightly before dusting with icing sugar. Serve with a cup of tea or coffee.
Serves 2

Oh yeah – did we mention it actually makes an elephant cake? Haha.

The original recipe stated that this made ‘one small cake,’ so initially we planned to have one each, but when we paid closer attention to the ingredient quantities (particularly the 1/4 cup of sugar), we baulked somewhat and decided just to make one. This turned out to be the right decision as half of it was plenty big enough for one serving.

As for the cake itself, you can probably tell from the ingredients that it’s pretty basic, but sometimes basic is fine, and this was one of those times. Occasionally it tasted a bit eggy, but not unpleasantly so. The best part about it is that we always have all of the ingredients, so if we need a cake fix, at smoko time or otherwise, we have a solution. (Yes, there’s always mug cakes, which are quicker, but this smoko cake actually had the consistency of cake – nicely crumbly, with a light crust – whereas mug cakes are typically soft and gooey. Good in an emergency, certainly, but not really a substitute for the real thing.) Consider us fans of the Falkland Island smoko.

Thus we conclude our culinary exploration of South America. Next up is Africa and the home stretch!

Cottage pie with a twist: Chilean pastel de choclo and pebre sauce

A couple of confessions: the first is that this is going to be a very short blog post because we’re making our next dish tomorrow and we still haven’t written this one so we need to hurry up. (In our defence, it’s been a crazy few weeks of self-isolation, home renovation and general parenting.)

Secondly, we should admit that when we first saw the name pastel de choclo, we fleetingly thought it was going to be some sort of chocolate cake. (And, OK, ‘we’ is actually Miranda in this instance.) Turns out it’s a kind of Chilean version of cottage pie, but with corn instead of potato, which actually wasn’t a disappointment for anyone in our household.

Strictly speaking, the national dish of Chile is curanto, a stew that ‘consists of every meat and seafood ingredient imaginable’, which does sound pretty amazing, but in the interests of convenience and of Baby Mash who refuses to eat most forms of meat, we opted for pastel de choclo instead. We used the recipe from Pilar’s Chilean Food & Garden because so many of the comments said it was very authentic. We also made the recommended pebre sauce as an accompaniment.

Pastel de Choclo

Ingredients
For the corn mixture:
2 tbsp butter
1.8kg frozen corn
1/2 cup whole milk
1 tbsp cornflour dissolved in 1/4 cup cold milk or water
10 basil leaves
Salt, pepper and paprika

For the meat:
2 tbsp cooking oil
900g beef mince
1 cup beef stock (we also added some Bovril)
3 onions, diced small
1 tbsp sweet paprika
1/2 tsp ground cumin
2 tbsp flour
Salt and pepper

Optional (so we had all of it):
Cooked chicken (we used one chicken breast)
Hard-boiled eggs, quartered (we used 3)
Olives (we used a handful out of a jar of pitted olives)
Raisins (we used a handful)

Method
1. Start by preparing the meat mixture. Heat the oil in a large pot and saute the beef until lightly browned (about 8 minutes), stirring occasionally.
2. Add the paprika, cumin and seasoning and saute for 2 minutes more.
3. Add the stock and simmer for 30 minutes over a low heat.
4. Add the onion, mix well and cook over medium heat until the onion is tender (about 30 minutes), stirring occasionally.
5. Turn off the heat, add the flour and stir well, adjusting the seasoning if necessary.
6. For the corn mixture, melt the butter over a medium-high heat in a large pot with a thick bottom. Add the frozen corn and cook for around 8 minutes, stirring occasionally.
7. Add the milk, basil, paprika and seasoning and continue to cook, stirring occasionally, for about another 10 minutes.
8. With a hand blender, blend the corn (trying not to make it too uniform and leaving some chunky parts).
9. When you are happy with the consistency, add the dissolved cornstarch and continue cooking over a medium heat for around 5 minutes.
10. Put the meat filling in a baking dish. Add the chicken, eggs, olives and raisins on top of the meat and then cover all of it with the corn mixture.
11. Bake at 200C for 45-60 minutes until bubbling and golden on top. Let stand 10 minutes before serving.
Serves 4 generously

Pebre sauce

Ingredients
1/4 onion, very finely chopped
1 bunch of coriander, thicker stems discarded and the rest finely chopped
1-2 tomatoes, deseeded and diced
1 tbsp red wine vinegar
1 tbsp oil
1/2 tsp red chilli sauce
Salt

Method
1. Put the chopped onion in boiling water for 10 minutes, then wash with cold water.
2. Mix everything in a bowl and season, then refrigerate for a few hours before serving.

As mentioned above, everyone in our household likes cottage pie, so it was fun to experience a different version. The corn topping was interesting: as it browned, it turned quite toffee-like (and we didn’t even add sugar on top as was suggested in the recipe) so the texture took some getting used to, but we did enjoy it. What we didn’t really understand was the layer between the meat and corn. Chicken, eggs, olives and raisins was such a random combination, and we didn’t feel like any of it really belonged there – maybe the eggs, at a push, but the rest of it was just weird. Bearing in mind that they were all optional, though, if we made this again, we’d just leave them out.

One more South American dish to go!

A place we’ve never seen: Argentinian steak, chimichurri and potato salad

There’s a country called Argentina
It’s a place I’ve never seen
But I’ve heard for fifty pesos
You can buy a human spleen
– Phoebe Buffay

Argentina has been on our travel bucket list for some time now, but we’ve not yet managed to actually get there. The Iguazu Falls look incredible, as do the Perito Moreno Glacier and Tierra del Fuego National Park. The buzzing neighbourhoods of Buenos Aires would also be exciting to experience, even though we’re probably too old and weary now to cope with the late bedtimes! And we haven’t even mentioned Patagonia, which is surely on every traveller’s to-do list.

But now it’s time to come clean. Whilst everything in the above paragraph is true, we only learnt about some of those places just now during a Google search for ‘Argentina tourist attractions’. Wonderful though the aforementioned attractions do look (and much as our wanderlust has now been piqued as a result of finding them), and alluring though the fifty peso spleen may be, our real reason for wanting to go to Argentina is somewhat more simple: steak and Malbec.

In lieu of an actual trip to Argentina, we’ve therefore been really looking forward to a culinary journey there, which is probably why it took us so long to actually get around to cooking a dish: we’d been anticipating it for so long, we wanted to make it perfect. Ash’s Argentinian colleague, Sofia, gave us a recipe for empanadas, but there were three problems with it: 1) it wasn’t steak, 2) it was going to take a long time to make fiddly pastry parcels, and that’s time we don’t really have now that our days are spent chasing after a toddler with boundless energy, and 3) it wasn’t steak!

Ash asked her again, and she offered an alternative more in line with what we were hoping for: a steak marinade, chimichurri accompaniment, and potato salad side dish. The choice of cut is obviously crucial for a truly authentic steak experience, not least given that there are national variations in butchery, meaning the same cuts are not necessarily available across the globe.  A tri-tip (about 2kg cut from the bottom of the sirloin) seemed the most authentic and there are several suppliers online, but finding one who would definitely deliver in time for our steak proved beyond us. So working on the logic that Argentinians probably eat more of the animal than just the tri-tip we went to our local butcher and bought a 1.5kg rib eye on the bone.

Steak and Marinade

Ingredients
1 tsp sea salt
1 tsp ground black pepper
1 1/2 tsp garlic powder
2 tsp paprika
1 tsp onion powder
1/2 tsp dried rosemary
3 tbsp olive oil
1/3 cup red wine vinegar

Method
Mix together, rub all over the steak and leave to marinate. Not having received guidance on the time, we weren’t sure if the steak should be left overnight or for an hour so went somewhere in the middle; about 4 or 5 hours in the fridge.

In the early days of lockdown we treated ourselves to a kamado type BBQ and have enjoyed low and slow cooking ever since.  The debate on whether or not it’s the best way to cook a steak can be found on many different social media and BBQ blogs so won’t be repeated here.  The method involves slowly cooking the steak at a low temperature (we added some oak chunks for an extra smoky flavour at this stage) until the internal temperature meets the required done-ness, resting the steak whilst the BBQ is allowed to get really hot and then seared before serving.  There’s more on the Kamado Joe YouTube channel.

Barbecuing in November…

Chimichurri

Chimichurri is a loose oil-based condiment used to accompany barbecued meats. Its primary ingredients are fresh parsley and coriander. The recipe we used explained that there are a lot of chimichurri recipes out there that blend all the ingredients together in a food processor, but that this is sacrilege: it should be loose and oily, not pureed like baby food. You should also feel free to adjust the quantities to suit your tastebuds.

Ingredients
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 tbsp red wine vinegar
1/2 cup finely chopped parsley
3-4 cloves garlic, finely chopped or minced
1 tbsp finely chopped red chilli (deseeded)
3/4 tsp dried oregano
1 level tsp coarse salt
Pepper, to taste (about 1/2 tsp)

Method
Mix all the ingredients together and allow to sit for at least 5-10 minutes (preferably two hours) before using. The texture should be quite thick and not overly oily so you may need to add more parsley.

(This was also enjoyed later in the week as a condiment with pumpkin soup!)

Potato salad

The instructions we were given here consisted of ‘potato, mayo and hardboiled eggs.’ We can’t even add many details to that because we didn’t measure anything: just cooked some potatoes, boiled some eggs, mixed in some mayo and then went a bit maverick and added a bit of finely chopped red onion.

I’m sure it will come as no surprise to anyone that we enjoyed this meal. There’s not a huge amount to comment on, as these are all things that we’ve eaten before. We know we like barbecued steak and potato salad (hence the excitement about cooking Argentinian food in the first place). The marinade was a new combination of ingredients for us, though, and one we’d certainly be happy to revisit, and we commented on how easy the chimichurri was and how we should make it as a steak accompaniment more regularly. Oh – and, obviously, there was a nice big glass of Malbec on the side.

Meat feast Monday: Uruguayan chivito

Thanks to some repair works on our kitchen that took longer than expected, we recently spent a couple of weeks living in a tiny, tiny flat. Not that our own house is enormous by any stretch of the imagination, but it seems palatial now after two weeks in a flat with one bedroom, one ensuite, one kitchen/living area and no garden – oh yeah, and a very active toddler.

As is usually the way with building works (in our experience at least), they’re still not finished, but we have at least moved back in. So now the aforementioned very active toddler is roaming a house that’s filled with boxes of stuff from the kitchen. It’s amazing how interesting the most mundane objects can be to a one-year-old explorer. We played with spice jars for a long time…

We’d intended to celebrate our return with a Sunday feast of Uruguayan chivito, which is a sandwich and a half. Joey from Friends would be delighted. However, that relied on our food delivery turning up when it was supposed to, which didn’t happen… so we had to wait and have a Monday feast instead. There’s no reason feasts need to be confined to weekends, after all. A word of warning, though: meat-free Monday this is not.

Rumour has it that the chivito (a word that translates to ‘little goat’) was invented when an Argentinian tourist arrived at a restaurant (El Mejillon) one evening and asked for goat meat, which is commonly served in Argentina. The restaurant owner, Antonio Carbonaro, didn’t have any goat meat, but didn’t want to lose the customer, so he made a toasted sandwich with butter, ham and steak, telling the customer it was called chivito. We’re not sure whether the customer believed him or not, but either way, the experiment was a success and the chivito soon became legendary. There are many, many variations on the original recipe, but the main aim seems to be to stuff as much food between two pieces of bread as you possibly can, as long as some of that food is a large piece of seared steak. We followed a recipe from Arousing Appetites, but even we made a couple of adjustments.

Chivito

Ingredients

4 rashers of thick-cut smoked bacon
2 thick slices of pre-cooked ham
300g rump steak
A fewslices of cheese (the recipe said mozzarella but we used cheddar)
1 red pepper, sliced into wide pieces and grilled
1 medium tomato, sliced
1/2 red onion, thinly sliced
3 large lettuce leaves
1/4 cup gherkins, cut into thin strips
2 fried eggs
2 bread rolls (we used focaccia rolls because they were the biggest ones we could find – and trust us, you want a big roll)
Mayonnaise
Salt and pepper

Method

1. Heat a cast-iron griddle or skillet to a medium-high heat and grill the meats until cooked.
2. Fry the eggs and red pepper.
3. Start to build the sandwich by spreading the bottom half of the bread roll with mayonnaise.
4. Stack the steak on top.
5. Add the cheese, ham, bacon, red pepper, egg, tomato, onions and lettuce.
6. Drizzle the top half of the bread roll with a bit more mayonnaise.
Serves 2

We normally wouldn’t consider a sandwich to be enough for dinner but this is no ordinary sandwich. This was a feast and a half. That said, we wouldn’t rush to make it again. It was perfectly enjoyable, but at the end of the day it really was just a big sandwich. We are, however, a bit curious about what it would be like to eat one in Uruguay: it’s such a popular dish, there must be something a bit special about it. Better add Uruguay to the travel bucket list…

All about cornbread: Paraguayan sopa paraguaya

Many years ago, in what seems like another lifetime, Miranda and some colleagues staged their own Come Dine With Me. Miranda can’t actually remember how or why she chose her main course contribution, but it was jambalaya with jalapeno cornbread. 

This was the first time either of us had eaten cornbread, but the jambalaya/cornbread combo is one we’ve revisited many times since. We’ve also tried various other forms of cornbread, including:
– a version made by a friend in a separate Come Dine With Me experiment, in an homage to southern cuisine and Fried Green Tomatoes, that was served with a delicious honey butter
– a ‘healthier’ recipe by James Wong that didn’t include any sugar or anywhere near as much butter (but was still nice)
– a Texan BBQ version that Ash had at a class at the London Barbecue School that not only contained butter but also had about 100g butter melted all over the top of it (not a healthy version, then)

All had their merits and all confirmed our realisation that we are big fans of cornbread, so when we learned that the national dish of Paraguay is sopa paraguaya, or Paraguayan cornbread (even though the name translates to Paraguayan soup!), we were excited to try yet another version.

Word has it that the dish is called ‘Paraguayan soup’ because the country’s first president favoured a particular white soup made of milk, cheese, egg and cornflour, but one day his cook put too much cornflour in it and accidentally made bread instead of soup. She purportedly presented it as ‘solid soup’, the president loved it and thus sopa paraguaya was invented.

Sopa paraguaya

Ingredients
6 tbsp butter
2 medium onions, finely chopped (we used one white and one red because that’s what we had)
2 cups whole milk
2 cups cornmeal
2 1/2 cups grated mozzarella (this was roughly 250g)
Salt and pepper, to taste (we omitted the salt, as we always do, to make it more toddler-friendly)
3 eggs, separated

Method
1. Preheat the oven to 180C and grease a loaf tin with 1 tbsp butter.
2. In a large saucepan, melt 2 tbsp butter over a low heat and add the onions. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions are soft (about 7 minutes).
3. Add the milk to the pan and allow to heat without boiling. Slowly add the cornmeal, 1/4 cup at a time, stirring constantly until smooth (we used a whisk).
4. Remove from the heat and stir in the cheese, remaining butter, egg yolks and seasoning.
5. In a clean bowl, beat the egg whites until soft peaks form. Gently fold in the beaten egg whites to the cornmeal mixture until incorporated, being careful not to over-mix.
6. Pour the mixture into the prepared loaf pan and bake for 40-45 minutes or until a knife inserted in the centre turns out clean. 
7. Allow to cool in the tin for a few minutes before turning onto a board and slicing. 
Makes 1 loaf

This is what it looks like when you grease a loaf tin with 1 tbsp of butter. :O
SO. MUCH. CHEESE.

Well, this certainly wasn’t a healthy version of cornbread! The amount of cheese was hilarious. Before folding in the egg whites, the batter was the consistency of a great big ball of stringy melted cheese. Delicious, but not easy to work with! We persevered, though, and managed to evenly disperse the egg whites and subsequently created a lovely golden brown loaf of cornbread that was enjoyed by all three of us.

However, despite the massive quantity of cheese, it didn’t actually taste all that cheesy – probably because mozzarella doesn’t really taste of anything. The pervading flavour was onion. Surprisingly, this didn’t bother Baby Mash, who usually rejects onion in all forms, but Miranda and Ash thought it was a little overpowering: Ash commented that it tasted a bit like a cheese and onion pasty! If we were to make it again, we’d probably only use one onion instead of two.

We read that Paraguayans would typically serve this as a side to stews, so we had ours with a sausage casserole. We also grilled it for lunch the following day and ate it with poached eggs and tomatoes, which also worked.

Come and eat with us: Bolivian pisara

Baby Mash has a book called Come and eat with us! which explains some of the traditional meals and customs from a range of different countries. When we first got it we commented that we should use it as inspiration for this project when we got up to a country featured in the book. We had our first opportunity with Bolivia.

The book tells us that in Bolivia, ‘everybody helps pick quinoa, a tiny golden-coloured grain. It is cooked with honey to make pisara. Delicious!’ The actual national dish of Bolivia is salteñas, which are very faffy-looking empanadas that, frankly, were too faffy-looking for our toddler-filled life. ‘Delicious’ pisara was therefore a more appealing option. The few recipes that we found (including the one we used from The Fair Trade Cook Book suggested that it is traditionally eaten as a dessert, but we decided to make it for breakfast instead. Continue reading

Superfood ice cream: Peruvian alfajores con helada de lucuma

We’ve watched a lot of cooking shows on TV in our time and it’s now fairly rare that we come across an ingredient that we’ve never heard of. On the last season of Australian My Kitchen Rules, however, contestants Andy and Ruby (Peruvian besties who were desperate to put Peruvian food on the proverbial map) made lucuma ice cream. None of the other contestants knew what lucuma was, and neither did we, but they raved about the delicious caramel flavour of the ice cream and our curiosity was piqued.

For anyone else wondering, lucuma is a fruit native to South America, and it is surprisingly good for you – so much so that it’s been labelled a ‘superfood’. It’s high in beta carotene, iron, zinc, vitamin B3, calcium and protein – not to mention its anti-aging properties and the fact that it promotes cardiovascular health! We could have all that AND ice cream at the same time? We were sold. Continue reading