Charlie's Bird

living the dream with Charlie and Thandi and chirping all the way back to the nest.

Archive for winter series

Winter warmer

..although, with Spring in the air, maybe a Spring Snacker? Anyway, this isn’t going to be a traditional Winter Warmer, but I wanted to share my ultimate comfort food with you. When my heart is aching and that lump is in my throat, this is what I look for – Dawny’s Macaroni Cheese. 20130910-074411.jpg There it is in all its magnificence, before baking, and here it is (with a curious giraffe) after it came out of the oven, hot and creamy, delicious food of my heart. 20130910-074423.jpg Since I was a little girl, every Friday night was macaroni cheese night in our home. My mom had it down to a fine art, and it was my Dad’s favourite meal, in the world, ever. It fast became mine too – cheesy goodness, doused with All Gold Tomato Sauce (no other type would do), with skewers of bacon and tomato roasted over the top of the dish. It’s what I made on Sunday night, when nothing else would do.

But it’s more than just a meal of cheese and pasta, it represented my mother’s love – of us, of cooking – and a family united (when my brothers came home from boarding school and varsity, it was this meal that brought them home every time) It is the meal that binds me to my mother. It is the meal I hope will bring Thandi home too, to both Dawny and me.

I can’t share the recipe, because there isn’t one. I know it somewhere deep inside me, and I know when it is right. A simple recipe of white sauce, mature cheddar and pasta baked together really isn’t brain surgery. What I will share is that it needs a family’s love,  All Gold and more sauce. If you think you’ve made enough cheese sauce, recalculate, and make more. And there you have it, my Dawny’s Macaroni Cheese, food of my soul.

(Yes, I know, cheesey post and all, sorry about the soppiness)

Winter warmer

…now last night after a fairly humdrum day, I got home quite late, to get dinner prepared. It turned into the highlight of my day! I didn’t have much time, but I’d been wanting for some comfort food, something delicious and warming, and so it was an old favourite – salmon pasta.

I apologise now for a lack of pictures… Anyway, chop up a bunch of spring onions, and fry off in a large pan with a clove of crushed garlic in butter until softening. Add a punnet of baby mushrooms (whole) and cook off for a few minutes. Flambé with a tablespoon of brandy (you don’t have to do this, but gosh, it pleases my soul to see those flames!) then add about 100gm of chopped smoked salmon or trout, after a minute or 2 add a tub of crème fraiche and lower the heat to allow the crème fraiche to soften and melt. I add a dash of dry white or pink wine at this point, which you could omit. Add a healthy dash of fresh (if you can get) or dried dill and allow the sauce to infuse gently. Season as desired. Cook off some farfalle pasta (the bowtie one) and once cooked, drain, retaining about ¼ cup of the cooking water. Return the pasta and the water to the pot, add the creamy sauce and then serve in big bowls with a healthy amount of grated parmesan. Delicious! My soul was happy!

Winter Warmer

Ok, so this weekend, there was some time for cooking. And because it’s winter and the nights are getting colder, it was time for some oxtail. Historically oxtail was considered a cheap cut, something not everyone really wanted to eat. Thankfully those days are over, and aside from 1 non-vegetarian I know, all my omnivore friends eat oxtail, and love it! Recipes like this are a little rough, you need a bit of cooking common sense and initiative, I can only give you rough ideas on quantities etc, it really does depend on what you have in the fridge, what you can buy from the store, and most importantly, what you feel like eating.

20130625-101123.jpgOk, so I used 1.5kg of oxtail, enough to feed a hungry family of 4 with left overs for everyone the next day. I used an onion, 2 cloves of garlic, some bacon, some leeks, carrots, baby potatoes, fennel, celery and pumpkin and butter beans in my stew.

So we start with the oxtail, roll in seasoned flour ( flour with salt, pepper, mixed herbs and English mustard powder added to it), then brown  in batches in olive oil over a medium-high heat. Do not overcrowd the pot, then you will just boil it up – yuk! 20130625-101147.jpg

The next step is to fry off the onion, a clove or 2 of garlic and the bacon, until the onion is translucent and the bacon is looking cooked.

20130625-101157.jpgThen add the oxtail back into the pot, and add your stock mix. Again, a rough recipe, there are no hard and fast rules. I used about 750 ml of beef stock (I really like the NOMU fonds, albeit they are a tad pricey), about 400 ml red wine, some chutney (about 2 tablespoons), about 3 tablespoons tomato paste, a generous dose of crushed black pepper, 3 sprigs of fresh rosemary, one of the fennel bulb tops and some dried mixed herbs. You could add Worceshire sause, soya sauce or balsamic vinegar. Whatever takes your fancy. Pour this over your oxtail, making sure its all covered, if it isn’t add some more stock/wine, and after bringing up to the boil, reduce the temperature and simmer covered for 2-3 hours. Mine simmered for about 4. Stir occasionally and just keep an eye. Remember the longer it simmers, the more and more tender the oxtail. 20130625-101207.jpg

About an hour before serving, add the veggies – I left the baby potatoes whole, cubed the butternut, quartered the fennel bulb, left the baby carrots whole, sliced the celery and let that simmer for an hour. Just prior to serving I added a can of drained and washed butter beans, heating through. 20130625-101223.jpg

Serve with rice or mash, or as I did with Rosmarino pasta (looks like rice, tastes likes pasta-yum). Some sharp English mustard ont he side is delicious. Oh, and some crunchy fresh baguette to mop up the juices.

20130625-101250.jpgFollow that up with something ridiculous – like Milo Macarons…

20130625-101258.jpg(I have finally struck macaron making gold – might have been an accident, but these were magnificent!)


Winter food series

So, for today’s recipe, I am sharing with you my Lemon Meringue Pie. There is a long history to this tart, you see, my brother is much older than me and is one of those unfortunate fellows who the apartheid government conscripted in the early 80’s, and sent the Border (between what was then South West Africa (now Namibia) and Angola). Up there they were fed ‘rat packs’ – rationed packs of instant food, with one magic ingredient thrown in – condensed milk. He came back from the border a different boy, damaged in a way we never spoke about, but the same old boet was there, somewhere. How we knew he was still there was by the request he presented to our mom on his return, and it was this. Around that tin of magical condensed milk, the label had a recipe on the reverse. For months he and his fellow troops had been fantasizing over the lemon meringue recipe they found there, and his only request when he got home was that our mom make this for him. And so the legend of CAS’s Lemon Meringue Pie began…

Ingredients – 1 packet of tennis biscuits, less 2-3 (save those for that cuppa tea while you bake your tart), crushed

50gm melted butter

1 can condensed milk

125 ml  lemon juice (plus the zest, if you se fresh lemons)

2 eggs, separated

50gm caster sugar

In a standard size pie dish (I sometimes use the foil ones, particularly if I’m taking my tart somewhere, then I don’t loose dishes) mix the crushed biscuits and melted butter, pushing the mix into the base of the dish. Pop into the fridge while you prep the rest.20130529-134047.jpg

Pour the condensed milk into a bowl, mix in the lemon juice and zest, then add the beaten egg yolks, mix until smooth 20130529-134057.jpg

and then pour into the pie dish. Beat the egg whites until foamy, add a few drops of lemon juice, continue beating, then gradually add the caster sugar, beating until stiff peaks and glossy. 20130529-134104.jpg

Spoon on top of the filling and make cute peaks.20130529-134113.jpg

Bake in a preheated oven at 180°C for 15-20  minutes until starting to brown. 20130529-134120.jpg

Let cool down and then refrigerate overnight. (If you can wait that long!) Enjoy!


Winter Food Series

…not with the greatest pictures, I’m afraid, but today I present my Mushroom Risotto. It’s a winter favourite of mine, and I love serving with a piece of grilled, marinated fillet. Risotto is not difficult, but can be a nightmare to get just right. Once you’ve mastered it though, it becomes a very versatile and often impressive dish. Fear not!

Ingredients – 100gm butter

1 onion, finely chopped

2 cloves crushed garlic

1 cup Arborio rice

125 ml white wine

1 litre vegetable stock

20 gm dried mushrooms, rehydrated in 50ml hot (not boiling) water

10 ml dried mixed herbs (experiment here, I like thyme especially)

2-3 punnets mixed mushrooms

50 gm grated parmesan cheese

Drizzle of truffle oil


Method – melt half the butter over a medium-high heat in a heavy based pot, fry off the onion and garlic until it is translucent, then add the rice, allowing it to absorb the oils and get glossy. Lower the heat of the pan, to medium to low. Deglaze the pan with white wine, stirring until it is absorbed. Now the work begins. Keep your stock boiling(I tend to keep it in a glass jug and just keep microwaving it to keep it hot, or else keep it boiling in a pot on the stove top), slowly add a couple of ladles at a time, stirring until the stock is all absorbed.  After the first dose of stock, I add my rehydrated mushrooms, which I have chopped up. I also strain and add the rehydrating liquid. Add the herbs. Continue adding stock and stirring slowly until it is absorbed, before adding the next ladle. Add the chopped mixed mushrooms when you maybe have 2 more doses of stock to go, that way, they maintain some texture and colour. Check your rice, it should be firm, but cooked through, not squishy though.

017Once ready, add most of the parmesan, the other 50 gm of butter, and stir through, just before serving, drizzle with the truffle oil (Careful! Not too much, it’s potent!) , sprinkle the remaining parmesan and a sprig of fresh thyme to make it pretty. Serve immediately onto a hot plate.



Winter food series 2

Today I bring you Rogan Josh

A couple f winters ago, Charlie and I decided to get proficient in curry making, head bobbling etc… From making my own rotis to perfecting various curries to delicious Indian desserts, wedding them all. From mild creamy curries to fiery vindaloos, we ate our way through lots of chilli! And this became one of our spicier favorites.

Ingredients – 1kg lamb leg, cut into 2-3 cm cubes
2T olive oil
3 onions, finely chopped
3 cloves garlic, crushed
3 teaspoons chilli powder
1t paprika powder
4 cloves
4 green cardamom pods
2 black cardamom pods
3 bay leaves
1t ground coriander
1 t fennel powder
1t ground ginger
1t turmeric
1t salt
1t white pepper
300ml plain yoghurt
250ml water

Method – brown the onions and garlic in the oil, add the meat and brown, add all the spices and mix into the meat. Stir fry for 5 minutes to release all the aromatic flavors from those spices.


Add the yoghurt and water and stir. Put the lid on and bake in a preheated oven at 180 degrees Celsius for 1 hour, stirring occasionally.


Take the lids of and bake uncovered for a further 15-20 minutes to allow the sauce the thicken slightly.
Serve with steamed basmati rice, rotis and raita.


My little tips to save the day:
To stop onions from making you tearful, suck a teaspoon of sugar while chopping them.
Reduce the chilli if you are nervous about the heat (I usually only use 2-2,5t personally, but it does depend on the quality of the chilli powder)
Raita is like Indian tzatziki. Plain yoghurt with grated (and water squished out) cucumber, chopped fresh coriander, salt, and I always like to add some roasted cumin seeds, lightly crushed to release the flavor.
Serve this with a fruity red wine, we find the fashionable coffe pilotage ado quite well too!
(With grateful thanks to Neil Roake for this delicious recipe – one of absolute favorite SA food writers, and the maker of the finest macaroni cheese I have ever tasted… Now if I could just find that recipe!)

Winter Food Series

Ok, ok, late it might be, but let’s get cooking!
My first recipe is LeRouxna’s Fudge. LeRouxna is a nurse I worked with in Cape Town in 2003/4, she was a grwat casualty nurse who ad the move to the UAE. Her fudge recipe remained with me thoygh. It is unbeatable and unfloppable. Now hear me, all you doubters, I have made a lot of fudge in my life, and this is the only one that as ever worked very time. Listen carefully…

Ingredients – 125gm butter
1 can condensed milk
500gm castor sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla essence/extract, depending on your budget.


Method – in a large bowl, add the butter, condensed milk and castor sugar, microwave on high for 2 minutes, then mix well until the butter has melted.


Thereafter cook on high for 10 minutes. Do not stir in the first 5 minutes; thereafter stir whenever it looks like it’ll overflow. You will know it is cooked when it stops trying to over flow and cooks in on itself (you’ll know what I mean). If necessary cook for another 2 minutes, until this point is reached.



Add the vanilla, beat very well.
Pour into a prepared (buttered) dish, allow to cool, then slice into cubes. Wait until totally set and then turn out and enjoy.


The danger in ‘licking’ the bowl is the risk of the burnt tongue. You have been warned! Be careful! And enjoy!