Category Archives: Channeling the domestic goddess

Every now and then I have an attack of domesticity. Sometimes it’s memorable.

The ultimate brownie

Standard

When I got back into blogging just a couple and a half weeks ago, I promised myself I would post something every week … but friends, the post that was supposed to go up on Tuesday is just so hard to write – yet impossible to ignore.

So you’ll get it next Tuesday. In the meantime, here is my recipe for brownies. I have had some need of comfort food lately, and I have to tell you, these are the best.

Note #1: For those poor souls who don’t have access to cranberries, these brownies are still outstanding without them. I just like the way the tart cranberry flavor cuts the sweetness of all the chocolate. Maybe you can think of an alternative … candied orange might work, provided it’s the good stuff, not the nasty plastic pebbles that renders American Christmas cakes good for nothing but holding doors open.

Note #2: I’m serious about the quality of the chocolate chips. If you’re not going to use good ones, don’t bother … just buy a box mix of brownie batter and call it good.

Note #3: The baking time is an approximation. They’re done when a knife comes out with no actual raw brownie mix on it. They’re overdone if the knife comes out dry – those chocolate chips are supposed to be soft!

Note #4: I usually double the quantity … but you do you.

Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens Cape Town

My brownies never seem to last long enough for anyone to remember to photograph them. Instead, here is a view of Cape Town from the Kirstenbosch Garden, on the flanks of Table Mountain. (If you think it’s peculiar to illustrate a recipe post with a random picture of scenery, take it up with Ellen. Irrelevant photos are her idea – I deny all responsibility.)

CHOCOLATE CRANBERRY BROWNIES

½ cup + 2 Tablespoons soft butter (5 oz / 140 g)
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 eggs
6 tablespoons cocoa (90 ml)
½ cup flour
Pinch salt
½ cup chocolate chips (use Ghirardelli or equivalent, not Hershey. I like semi-sweet.)
½ cup chopped nuts (I like either almonds or pecans.)
¼-½ cup dried cranberries (depending on personal preference.)

  1. Set oven to 320F (160C)
  2. Cream butter, sugar and vanilla.
  3. Beat in eggs, then sift in cocoa, flour and salt.
  4. Stir in nuts, chocolate chips, and cranberries.
  5. Bake in greased 8″ (20 cm) square pan, about 25 minutes

Enjoy!

Advertisements

Lazy entertaining

Standard

What better to do on a warm, clear spring Saturday than to invite a friend over for braai – sorry, barbecue, because this is America – but whatever you call it, it involves steak raised on our own pasture, and a variety of delicious salady things. Of course, the dessert is unmistakably South African, and that’s what I want to share with you today – because it’s easy, scrumptious, and ideal for any but the hottest weather. Ladies and gentlemen of the kitchen, I give you…

Malva pudding!

Malva pudding, enriched with brandied fruit and served with cream!

Malva pudding, enriched with brandied fruit and served with cream!

In a small saucepan, heat 1 Tbsp butter, 1 tsp white vinegar and 1 cup milk.

While it’s heating, take 1 cup sugar, 1 Tbsp apricot jam and 1 egg, and beat well together.

In a separate bowl, mix together 1 cup flour, 1 tsp bicarb (aka baking soda), 1 tsp baking powder and a pinch of salt.

Alternately add the dry ingredients and the heated liquids to the egg and sugar mixture, while stirring or beating slowly. Mix well.

Bake at 350 F (180 C) in a covered dish for 45-60 minutes, until a knife inserted into the middle comes out dry. (Choose a baking dish that has at least an inch clear at the top after you pour in the batter, because you’ll need room to add the sauce.)

While it is baking, make the sauce. In a small saucepan heat 1 cup heavy cream, 6 oz (170 g) butter, 1 cup sugar and 1/2 cup hot water. Stir to mix, and do not allow them to boil.

When you remove the pudding from the oven, immediately pour on the hot sauce. (It can take a while to soak in. Be patient, and add all of it. This is what transforms the pudding from a mere cake to something irresistible!)

Serve hot or cold. I like it with plain unwhipped cream, but it’s also good with ice cream, custard or whipped cream.

A variation that I enjoy – and this is what I made today – is what I call “Christmas Malva Pudding”. Every year when I bake my Christmas cakes (dang, I could have sworn I’d given you my recipe, but apparently I forgot last year! That will have to wait until this November!) I end up with a whole lot of excess fruit mix. I pack this into bottles, glug in the brandy, and store it in the pantry. Every now and then I slosh in a bit more brandy to keep it happy. This makes a yummy addition to malva pudding (I add about 1 cup to the recipe above) and brownies (I guess I’ll have to share that recipe one day too!) More enthusiastic cooks than I could probably come up with a host of other recipes that would use it. Any that’s left over in November simply goes into the next batch of Christmas cakes.

Oh – and no, this is not remotely ketogenic. But when your diet choices are about lifestyle, not D.I.E.T, you can allow yourself some flexibility. Just don’t overdo it – because if your body is used to eating low-carb, something this rich and sweet will make you feel yuck. I plan to send the leftovers home with my guest today!

How are you celebrating the changing seasons? Do you have a favorite fall-back any-occasion guaranteed-winner dish that you like to serve?

I asked my husband for a vacuum cleaner for Christmas

Standard

So it’s official: I’m a plugger. Either that or an alien has taken control of my brain.

A few weeks ago I told Himself that the one thing I truly wanted for Christmas was a Roomba. And when, two days later, he came home from Costco and plunked one down on the counter, and I didn’t see it until I was halfway through bitching at him for not telling me he was going to Costco so he could pick up the things I needed … well, I cried. Yes, really – tears of joy. And then I called all my friends to brag about how much he loved me.

Argh. I’d better check. Did we move to Stepford and I just didn’t notice? Nope, can’t be – there are still six dogs living here. That would never happen in Stepford.

And speaking of the dogs, they are the one disappointing element in this scenario. When we introduced them to Stella (yes, the Roomba has a name, and her name is Stella, long non-PC story), I was looking forward to getting some entertaining video to share on here. But apparently they are inured to my habit of adding new members to our pack. Their reaction was, essentially, “Gee, no butt. Nothing to sniff. Ho hum.”

Argh … those poor floors need refinishing. And the walls need repairing and painting. Oh well, such is the price of five years of rescue. I’ll get to it – and in the meantime at least hairballs are now history!

Shortly after bringing Stella home, Himself departed for Darkest California to spend a week with his family. In his absence, did I set up a comparative research study into local cocktail options? Did I splurge on chocolates and red wine and invite my girlfriends over to watch porn? Did I treat myself to a full body massage and facial, change my hair color, and acquire a boy toy, or even a new vibrator?

I did not. I am a Plugger. I truly couldn’t think of anything more exciting to do than to clean my floor. (Boring? Yeah, well, you try living with six large(ish) dogs. On a farm. In a wind-tunnel. In the heart of a dust bowl.) But as I pondered the logistics of this task, I worried that Stella might choke or have a seizure if I set her loose on the army of dust bunnies. She’s a tough little thing, but it was a mighty army.

Plus, as I pondered and contemplated and generally thought about matters housewifely, it occurred to me that a clean floor would look so much better if the walls, and windows, and doors, and counter-tops, and furniture, and everything else, were clean too. Because here’s the thing … We used to run a dog rescue. (I have mentioned this once or twice before.) And although we used foster homes, sometimes we had more than 20 dogs in our home. Technically, some of them lived in runs out in the barn, but Himself is a soft touch, and I insisted on giving all of them “indoor socialization time”, and the end result was, quite frankly, icky. I retired last January and I’ve been trying all year to fix the mess and damage, but even with the amazing FlyLady as my guru I couldn’t ever quite catch up.

And I thought to myself, “Himself deserves better. I deserve better. Stella deserves better, for crying out loud!” So I blew a hole bigger than the one in Kimberley through our budget to hire someone to help me clean our house. And I stayed up past midnight doing things like reorganizing the pantry.

It's important to keep things in context ... so I just want to mention that Crater Lake, in Oregon, is way bigger than the Kimberley Big Hole. The hole in our budget was nothing at all like Crater Lake.

It’s important to keep information in context … so I just want to mention that Crater Lake, in Oregon, is way bigger than the Kimberley Big Hole. No seismic event occurred here, and the hole in our budget was nothing at all like Crater Lake. That has to count for something, right?

So now, every morning when I get up to let the dogs out, I press Stella’s glowing green belly button. She chirps gleefully and sets off, humming a happy note, to tackle her mission for the day. When she’s done she puts herself away, and I empty her when I feel like it.

And here we are, just days away from hosting our Christmas Day open house for anything between five and 50 guests, and although I am feeling just the teeniest bit of urgency with regard to getting a bit of food planning, shopping and preparation done, as far as cleaning is concerned there are no emergency measures required.

Honestly, it feels just like Christmas!

The quantum effects of pantry organization on marriage, and vice versa

Standard

Himself is spending a week in Sacramento with his family, so naturally I have been spring-cleaning. (It’s spring in South Africa. That’s good enough for me.)

So this evening, after a leisurely day of procrastination, snoozing and reading a most excellent book (which I will tell you about in more detail just as soon as I finish reading it so watch this space), I am now tackling the most dreaded task of all: The Pantry.

To get this into context, when Himself and I launched our cozy barque upon the halcyon seas of matrimony, I simultaneously embarked on the great adventure of Keeping House. I mean, all by myself. No domestic assistance. Yeah, I know, but I grew up on the privileged side of life in South Africa, so I was pretty clueless.

Anyway, one of my first projects was to acquaint myself with the contents of my Beloved’s pantry, because this seemed a sensible way to learn what the man liked to eat. The kitchen was quite small, so the pantry cupboard was maybe 18 inches wide and six feet tall, and just a little deeper than the length of my arm … or maybe it connected with some kind of alternate universe, because you would not believe how much strange and terrifying stuff came out of there! I don’t actually remember all of it myself – this happened 16 years and many cupboard reorganizations ago – but I do remember finding an enormous quantity of Top Ramen, and four open but apparently full containers of oatmeal.

I tossed the Top Ramen, of course, and I lined the three older containers of oatmeal up on the kitchen counter, and I packed everything else away in an orderly, logical sort of way – you know, jam and peanut butter together; canned beans, tomatoes, soup and tuna all in their individual stacks; rice and pasta on the same shelf; and so on.

And when he came home from work I said, in tones of wifely inquiry, “So … do you like oatmeal, or don’t you? Because you buy it a lot, but you don’t seem to eat it.” And he explained that he usually disliked oatmeal but that every now and then he felt the urge to eat a bowlful, and he could never find it when he wanted it, so he would go out and buy some and have it the next morning for breakfast and that would be his oatmeal urge satisfied for the next few months.

I believe (although it was a long time ago) that I trilled a wifely sort of adoring giggle at his manly helplessness (yeah, that’s how long ago it was) and tossed out the old oatmeal. Because, you see, I just knew that from that day forward our pantry cupboard would be a model of orderly perfection, containing everything needed for delicious and healthful meal preparation by my sweet wifely hands. (Look, I was a late developer, okay? It just hadn’t occurred to me that acquiring wife status wouldn’t instantly transform me into Polly Homemaker, aka She Who Loves To Cook.)

What I did not know, but have since learned, is that Himself absolutely insists on Putting Things Away. Which, in husband-language around these parts, means opening the nearest cupboard door and shoving, with complete disregard for the Pauli Exclusion Principle, which clearly states that two things can’t occupy the same place at the same time. (I got a bit sidetracked looking this up and learned that this principle doesn’t apply to bosuns – a bosun apparently being something Schrodinger’s cat dragged in. So, granting Himself the benefit of the doubt, and also remembering that he spent many years aboard various ships and may in fact have known a few bosuns in his time, he may be onto something after all – except that I have now cleaned those pantry shelves most thoroughly, and I am very damn sure there are no bosuns in there.) Getting back to my original point, my far more logical and energy-efficient approach to keeping things where they should be is to put them down in a convenient, visible, horizontal location, and then pick them up and take them with me the next time I happen to pass by in the direction of wherever they actually belong.

Anyway, 16 blissful years of joyously learning about each other’s little quirks, and here we are. Darn, I wish it had occurred to me that I would absolutely have to blog about this, because I would have photographed the pantry before I unpacked it. Instead, here are some pictures of the work in progress.

This is what the mudroom looks like, after the pantry cupboard vomited all over it

This is what the mudroom looked like after the pantry cupboard vomited all over it

Pristine pantry shelves awaiting ... No bosuns or mouse shit here!

Pristine pantry shelves await. No bosuns here!

I would have sorted everything as I removed it, but honestly it was a lost cause. Empty storage containers, mouse traps (also blessedly empty), a diverse range of comestibles (including dog food), cleaning products and household hardware were all scrambled together, interspersed with a liberal scattering of mouse poop. Gah! This project is way overdue!

One hour later …

Aahhh! That feels better!

Aahhh! That feels better!

Okay … I’m not quite ready to share another picture of the whole mudroom, but this was a good evening’s work. I can sleep easy now!

So what mysteries and horrors have you uncovered in your pantry cupboard lately? Do you think your stuff behaves differently when you observe it? Talk to me!

Tipsy tart on turkey day

Standard

I think you have to have been born American to get pumpkin pie. I mean, seriously, guys, eeuw! That stuff is the exact color and consistency of baby poop, and pumpkin is a vegetable, for crying out loud! Strange enough that you put together jello and marshmallows and call it a salad – I mean, I’m completely down with starting any meal with dessert, so I think jello salad is a great idea. But pumpkin as dessert? Oh hell no! That stuff needs to be baked or boiled and served hot, with a dash of salt and a dollop of butter and maybe just the lightest sprinkle of cinnamon, and piled alongside a generous serving of bredie or oxtail. Yum!

So anyway, today, having volunteered to contribute dessert to a friend’s Thanksgiving dinner, I went back to my Soustannie roots to find something easy enough that even I can’t screw it up, and delicious regardless of which side of the Atlantic your palate got educated. What could be better for a cold-weather holiday feast than that traditional South African favorite, Cape brandy pudding, aka tipsy tart? And since my housewifely moments are rare, and therefore deserving of their own celebration, I am sharing the recipe here.

Tipsy tart

Tipsy tart. No vegetables were harmed in the taking of this picture.

Tart

2 cups raisins and chopped dates, mixed and halved
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup boiling water
1/2 cup butter
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
2 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup coarsely chopped nuts (walnuts or pecans for preference)

Add boiling water and bicarb to half the dates and raisins, stir, and set aside to cool.
Cream butter and sugar, add beaten eggs, and mix well.
Sift dry ingredients and fold into the egg mixture.
Stir in dry fruit and nuts, then add soaked fruit mixture. Mix well.
Pour into large dish or two tart plates. (I use a pyrex dish, 8x8x2 inches. A deeper corningware dish would also work well.)
Bake 30 – 40 mins at 350F, 180C, until you can insert a sharp knife and it comes out clean.

Syrup

Start this about 10 minutes before you take the tart out of the oven.

3 T butter
2.5 cups sugar
1.5 cups water
2 teaspoons vanilla essence
Pinch salt
1 cup brandy

In a saucepan, bring the butter, sugar and water to the boil. Boil fast, stirring to prevent it from boiling over, 3-5 mins.
Remove from heat and add remaining ingredients.
Pour over tart as soon as you take it out of the oven. You will need to pour slowly, giving it time to soak in. Use a knife to push the tart away from the sides of the container so that sauce can run down and soak in from the sides. Stick a knife in the top of the tart at intervals to encourage it to soak in. The deeper the dish, the easier it will be to use all the sauce.

Serve hot with ice cream or cream, or cold with whipped cream.

So now you know how it’s done, folks, and you don’t have to torture any more poor unassuming pumpkins. Let them celebrate their vegetable nature, and allow your mouth to savor the best of boerekos (aka soul food the way we do it at the south end of Africa).