Picanha Steak with Chimichurri

Picanha Steak with ChimichurriWith perhaps the exception of empanadas, nothing screams South America more than picanha steak with chimichurri.

A relatively unknown cut of meat outside South Amercia, picanha is also known as rump-cap or top sirloin-cover. Picanha is characterised by its thick layer of fat and heavy marbling, which gives the meat incredible flavour and succulence, making it one of the most prized cuts of beef to those in the know. Until recently picanha was a cut rarely found outside the Americas, but thankfully that seems to have changed and it is increasingly easy to source locally. Steak-lovers of the world rejoice: picanha is finally here and hopefully it’s here to stay!

So let me not undersell this, picanha and  chimichurri are truly a match made in steak-heaven! The succulent steak and piquant sauce are perfect bedfellows, with the robust and zesty chimichurri cutting through the richness of the steak. Put quite simply, the combination of picanha and chimichurri is pure carnivoristic perfection.

Steak has never tasted this good!

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Peppermint Crisp Tart

Peppermint Crisp TartEverybody knows the best way to a South African man’s heart is through a braai. However, to get him in touch with his inner soul, you need to feed him some Peppermint Crisp Tart! I don’t know what it is about this simple dessert, but seems to have a profound affect on most South Africans, inducing bouts of childhood nostalgia with every bite and even the odd misty eye (they aren’t crying of course, its just that pesky braai-smoke).

Sometimes referred to as a Fridge Tart and occasionally as a Transkei Mud Pie, Peppermint Crisp Tart was arguably the South African dessert of choice in the 80’s and early 90’s. The very definition of a store-cupboard dessert, it was originally made with Orly Whip (a long-life non-diary cream substitute) instead of cream, meaning you literally did not have to buy anything fresh to make the tart – you could whip it up in 15 minutes, pop it into the fridge to set and voilà: dessert bliss!

Today Peppermint Crisp Tart jostles with the mighty Malva Pudding for the title of South Africa’s favourite traditional dessert and whilst Malva Pudding may have a greater claim to that crown, Peppermint Crisp Tart must come a very close second. The key to Peppermint Crisp Tart’s enduring appeal is its convenience. All you need to make it are: 4 ingredients, a bowl, a whisk, a dish and a fridge – you can’t get easier than that!

Now I won’t lie to you, South African’s love their desserts jaw-achingly sweet and Peppermint Crisp Tart is no different – this stuff is not for the faint of heart! I’m not the biggest fan of desserts, but even I can’t resist indulging in a small portion of this decadent dessert. Why? Because, to put it mildly, Peppermint Crisp Tart is AMAZING! Something rather magical happens to the ingredients as the tart sets in the fridge, creating a masterpiece of dessert decadence that needs to be tasted to be believed.

Is it refined? No.

Is it subtle? Most definitely not.

Is it the greatest 4 ingredient, non-cook dessert ever conceived? Quite frickin’ possibly.

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Phat Kaphrao (Thai Beef Mince with Basil & Chilli)

Quick and tasty, phat kaphrao (Thai Beef Mince with Basil & Chilli) is a great dish for anyone who wants some authentic Thai flavour in a hurry! Unlike many other classic Thai dishes, phat kaphrao takes mere minutes to whip up and doesn’t require more than a couple of Thai ingredients, making it a great lunch option or a simple addition to a larger meal.

The real stars of the show are the basil and chilli so it doesn’t really matter what your protein of choice is when making Phat Kaphrao (Thai Beef Mince with Basil & Chilli)phat kaphrao. Whilst this particular version of the dish uses beef, you can also make it using minced pork or chicken – it really just comes down to your preference and what you have lurking in the fridge at the time. Personally I prefer making it with beef as I find chicken and pork mince can be a little dry – something that the beef’s fat content seems to negate, so don’t use extra-lean mince when making this dish. If you are going to use minced chicken just make sure that it’s made with some dark meat and not just chicken breast.

But back to the all important basil and chilli.

Firstly don’t be shy when adding the basil – use lots…and then add a bit more! I’m of the opinion you can never have enough basil in phat kaphrao! Another thing to bear in mind is that not all basil is created equal and it is important that you use the right kind in the right dishes. Whilst similar to Thai basil, sweet Mediterranean basil isn’t really a good substitute in Thai dishes as it’s far too ‘soft’ to withstand intense cooking and surrenders its flavour all too readily. Admittedly Thai basil isn’t always easy to source so I suggest growing a plant in your garden – it is easy to grow and you’ll have an abundant supply on hand whenever you need it.

Whilst it’s an integral part of the dish’s flavour, the amount of chilli you chose to add to your phat kaphrao comes down to personal preference and tolerance levels. Like most Thais I love my chillies, but I prefer to err on the side of caution when adding them to the dish as the heat of chillies can be notoriously unpredictable. Instead I prefer to serve the bulk of the chillies on the side (chopped and steeped in white rice vinegar) which allows you to add as much heat as you are in the mood for.

For more delicious Thai recipes please click here, or if you need tips on stocking your Thai Pantry please click here.

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Homemade Pasta

Is homemade pasta really worth the effort? In my opinion the answer is an emphatic yes!

Personally I really rather enjoy the satisfaction of rolling the dough out into luscious sheets of pasta, so I don’t find it too much of a bother at all, but that’s just me.

You can roll the pasta out by hand but I wouldn’t recommend it, rather get yourself a good quality pasta machine. Given how much cheaper it is to make your own pasta verses buying the ready made stuff, it is an investment that will pay for itself (well almost). You can also use the pasta machine to make your own ramen which was incentive enough for me to get one!

My basic rule-of-thumb when it comes to making your own pasta is 1 large egg and 100g of flour per person. This recipe is for 2 people, but feel free to add more flour and eggs depending on how many you are feeding. I also don’t add any salt to my pasta, but feel free to add a pinch if you are so inclined.

I usually have some left over which I dust with extra flour, place in a freezer bag and immediately put into the deep freeze – when you are ready to cook the pasta, drop it into the boiling water straight out of the freezer.

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Chimichurri

Don’t get me wrong, I have come to love chimichurri, but this particular saucy love affair got off to a rather rocky start.

In spite of being the national sauce of Argentina, I’m sad to say that the chimichurri I had in Argentina kinda sucked! Shocking I know, but I spent almost an entire month in the country and from Iguazú in the North to Tierra del Fuego in the South, I never once saw anything resembling the ‘fresh’ chimichurri that most of us have come to expect. Perhaps it was just down to my own misfortune that I somehow missed the fresh version, but the Argentinians seem to favour a ‘dry’ chimichurri which consisted of combining dried herbs and spices with olive oil. Such is the prevalence of this version of the sauce, you can even buy pre-mixed dried herbs in packets from the local supermarket. All you need to do Chimichurriis add some oil and voilà: instant chimichurri!  Typically a large bowl of this dried herb concoction was left on the counter for customers to help themselves to, but to be honest after a few dollops I lost interest as I couldn’t understand what the fuss was all about. So I mentally ticked chimichurri off my TTL (To Taste List), thought “meh” and moved on.

That was way back in 2011 and since then the world seems to have woken up to chimichurri and has absolutely fallen in love with it. Mercifully, however, it has chosen to embrace the fresh version over the dried aberration that so traumatised me in Argentina! Chimichurri seems to be de rigueur at most steakhouses these days and rightfully so – it is downright delicious! As part of my recent flirtations with a LCHF diet, I’ve been eating a lot of steak recently and chimichurri is far and away my favourite sauce with which to have it. Yes that’s right, I gave the sauce a second chance and I’ve never looked back since. Fresh and piquant, it would seem that chimichurri is, in fact, the perfect accompaniment to a fat juicy steak after all!

Whilst similar to a regular salsa verde, don’t be fooled by appearances. Chimichurri is, in fact, far more robust and complex than its Italian counterpart. The key to a killer chimichurri is the addition of fresh oregano, which sets it apart from many other herb-based sauces. Only a small amount is added, but the oregano adds quite a punch, giving the sauce an earthy depth that cuts through the ‘freshness’ of the parsley and coriander.

Normally I’m a notorious stickler for authenticity and I typically strive to replicate a dish as authentically as I can, based on my travels or research. That said, however, when it comes to chimichurri I have to abandon my principles and advocate making the sauce contrary to my experiences in Argentina! So it is in that spirit I feel the need to confess that this recipe for ‘fresh’ chimichurri recipe is like nothing I had in Argentina…which trust me, can only be a good thing!

I don’t say this often, but perhaps sometimes the locals just don’t do it best.

Note: Whilst chimichurri is synonymous with steak, the sauce also works well with any other grilled meats, especially chicken, or perhaps even some grilled halloumi if you wanted a vegetarian option

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Pumpkin Ravioli with Shaved Fennel & Burnt Sage Butter

For somebody who loves feeding others, I seem to have a propensity for surrounding myself with people with serious food issues.

The omnipresence of my famously flavourphobic partner aside, my small circle of family and friends seem to be a motley crew made up of those with various intolerances, medically restricted diets, committed (and occasional) vegetarians, coriander-loathers, banana-haters and even someone who can’t eat anything green. Whilst I love feeding each and every one of them, they do, however, present somewhat of a challenge to cook for. Luckily (for them?), I do love a good challenge and catering for theirPumpkin Ravioli with Shaved Fennel & Burnt Sage Butter specific needs and preferences does force me to try out new things. More often than not, the end results become firm personal favourites.

Which brings me to this particular recipe: Pumpkin Ravioli with Shaved Fennel and Burnt Sage Butter – a dish so insanely good, just saying the name makes my mouth water! Born out of the need to feed a friend who is a borderline vegetarian (and a selfish desire to use a ravioli mould that I bought when last in Rome), this delightful little dish is damn near pasta-perfection on a plate.

A variation of the Italian classic Ravioli di Zucca, the addition of the thinly shaved fennel is a refreshing twist, both in terms of texture and flavour. The crisp fennel and lemon cuts through the richness of the pumpkin/pasta parcels and burnt butter, giving the original dish much needed balance.

This satisfying dish makes for an amazing starter, as it does a worthy main.

For more Italian recipes from The Muddled Pantry, please click here

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Beef Burgers with Mushrooms, Goat’s Cheese & Miso Butter

Beef Burgers with Mushrooms, Goat's Cheese & Miso ButterSometimes you end up making the best food when you’ve got absolutely nothing in the fridge and this delicious burger is the perfect example of exactly that! It all started one evening with an unexpected hankering for a mushroom cheeseburger. Unfortunately I only had the mushrooms available, so I did a bit of fridge-diving and came up with this delectable combination instead.

Luckily I knew there was still a bit of goat’s cheese leftover from when I last made my favourite quinoa salad; so that was cheese covered, but to be honest the thought of just mushrooms and goat’s cheese didn’t quite seem enough. I figured what this burger really needed was a punch of flavour, so I dove a little further and found some miso butter that had been lurking in the frozen depths of my freezer for the best part of a month. I knew the miso butter worked well with beef as I had been topping my steaks with it, so it wasn’t much of a leap to stick it on a burger patty instead. Punch of flavour? Most definitely sorted.

In terms of flavour, this burger just about has it all – the creamy goat’s cheese and fresh chives work a treat with the earthy mushrooms, whilst the salty miso butter with the juicy burger patty is the very definition of an umami moment.

This is definitely a case of fridge-diving come good, oh so good!

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Lasagne

It may not be considered the most exciting meal these days, but lasagne will forever be a dish close to my heart.

Believe it or not I was a painfully fussy eater when I was a child and lasagne was one of the few dishes I really enjoyed. Fuelled by an unhealthy affinity with Garfield the Cat, my youthful appetite for lasagne was as insatiable as  that of the grumpy ginger feline himself! Whenever my mother asked what I wanted to have for a special occasion the answer was always the same: lasagne, lasagne, lasagne!

LasagneIn a world obsessed with carb-cutting, the humble lasagne has become somewhat of a relic of family style cooking – a dish that your good old mum would make because she doesn’t know any better or hasn’t bought a new cookbook since 1985. A crying shame really, as this oven-baked Italian classic is a victim of its own popularity. Much like the equally misunderstood and shamelessly corrupted Spaghetti Bolognese, lasagne is in fact a dish of noble proportion and should be appreciated as such. Made well and with love, lasagne is truly a paragon of pasta perfection.

Rich and layered, lasagne is to food what a  hot water bottle is to a winter’s bed: the ultimate comfort. To build the perfect lasagne each layer must be generous and distinct, a balanced ménage à trois of punchy ragu (meat sauce), cheesy béchamel sauce and silky pasta.

Lasagne also needs time to rest before serving. Allowing it to cool down will afford each layer the opportunity to solidify its presence in the overall dish and not be overwhelmed by the molten maelstrom of flavour that is a lasagne immediately after it’s taken out of the oven. At least half an hour is needed for everything to cool down although a couple of hours would be better, but overnight in the fridge would be ideal.

Lasagne reheats wonderfully in the microwave in just a few minutes or in an oven (covered in foil) at 180°C for about 15 minutes.

For more Italian recipes from The Muddled Pantry, please click here

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Charred Courgette Ribbons with Capers & Mint

 Charred Courgette Ribbons with Capers & MintRich in potassium and virtually carb-free, courgettes are a vegetable worth getting excited about. Inexpensive and readily available, courgettes are perhaps second only to the mighty cauliflower when it comes to surviving any Banting/LCHF diet. That coupled with the fact that they are also rather delicious, it should come as no surprise that I’ve been eating a lot of courgettes lately! Simply sautéed, slow-braised or grated and eaten raw, courgettes are anything if not versatile.

Recently, however, but I’ve taken to grilling them on the braai.

Whilst not a natural-born braaier, I just acquired a fabulous new gas braai (an early 4oth birthday present), so I’ve understandably become a mite braaiverskrik of late and have been grilling up a storm at every given opportunity! I’ve been braaing virtually everything I can get my hands on and given that courgettes are pretty much omnipresent in my fridge, it was only a matter of time before they too found their way onto the griddle. As it turns out courgettes and a flaming griddle are a marriage made in barbecue-heaven, making them one of my favourite vegetables to get the flame-grilled treatment!

As with most good braai salads, this particular concoction was born out of what happened to be lurking in the fridge at the time. The zingy capers work an absolute treat with the smoky charred courgettes, the sprinkling of cheese gives the dish depth and the blast of fresh mint lightens the whole dish.

Deliciously summery…now lets get that braai started!

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Classic Hamburger

Burgers are, without doubt, this year’s sushi.

Yes it is official, the Foodie Overlords have decreed that burgers are just too cool for school and I am, quite literately, lovin’ it. I’m not sure what the exact reasons are for this up-swing in the humble burger’s popularity, but it is way overdue and long may it continue! So to whomever designated 2015 the Year of the Burger, I just want to say a hearty thank you!

So okay yes I am supposedly avoiding carbs these days, but burgers have always been my Achilles Heel and, as such, one of my favourite cheat-meals…but I know I’m not alone. In terms of Western food, there is nothing quite as satisfying or as iconic as a good burger. Their popularity is almost universal and enduring, in spite of fast-food’s attempts at turning us against them (no, I don’t consider a Big Mac a real burger – I scarcely consider it food)! Classic HamburgerBut what is it about burgers that keep us coming back for more? Is it their irrepressible retro-Americana charm? Maybe its the sheer “junk-food” decadence that burgers came to represent in the 90/00’s; a symptom, if you will, of the “mum says don’t eat it, so I want it more” syndrome? I just don’t know, but I will tell you this: a good burger is damn hard to beat!

Of course, with renewed popularity comes the inevitable desire for ‘reinvention’. It happens to even the noblest of foods: sushi got cream-cheesed & biltonged, smoothies got iced & goji-berried, coffee got lost in soya & hazelnut and now, burgers have become classy.

Now don’t get me wrong, there is absolutely nothing wrong with a classy burger; I even have a few concoctions of my own that I wish to share (wait till you try my miso butter, goats cheese & mushroom burger!).  With hordes of hip burgers-bars popping up all over the place, the market is awash with every kind of burger you can imagine. These days you can’t seem to get away from the promise of wagyu patties, truffled mayo and unmani ketchup – all utterly delicious, but all utterly superfluous to the crafting of the perfect burger. Seriously, enough already. The Fonz lived without chipotle salsa and trice-cooked fries and so will you! So whilst I appreciate the ingenuity of some of the more outlandish toppings offered, burgers are at heart the epitome of unpretentious eating and we must never lose sight of that.

Okay, so what does maketh the perfect hamburger then?

For me it is all about doing the basics well. Sure you can add cheese, gherkins, bacon into the mix, but all that extra stuff comes down to preference and taste. The essential building blocks of a true hamburger are simply these:  a homemade flame-grilled patty slavered in a decent basting sauce, a quality sesame bun which has been lightly toasted and the Holy Trinity of Burger Toppings being ice-berg lettuce, sliced tomato and onions.

Finished and klaar.

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