Friday, April 20, 2012

Out Briefly from Africa -- with Great Shrimp
What's cooking? Mango Salad with Grilled Shrimp

A Prologue
I have to apologize for the delay in getting my second Africa post out – I’ve been dealing with a phenomenon known mostly to food writers, which I’m calling OPR: Other People’s Recipes.

We had a delicious salad at our hotel in Cape Town, and a really interesting South African dish as an appetizer on the train from Cape Town to Johannesburg. Never shy about these things, I wrote to the Customer Service/Marketing people at both places and asked for the recipes. Both seemed happy to help, and forwarded my request to the appropriate chefs.

Then the fun started. One chef sent me a list of ingredients with no quantities or instructions. The second sent ingredients plus quantities, but they must have been trying too hard to either downsize the recipe or to translate from the metric measures, with the result that I got a recipe calling for (among other ingredients) 11 ounces of beef to feed 20 people, plus two (2!) raisins, yet a full tablespoon of curry powder. Hmmm... Not sure that one will work. So while I play with these recipes to give you something you can actually use and enjoy, ...

Monday, April 9, 2012

Into Africa – Part I: Too Many Shoes
What’s cooking? Avocado Ritz with Marie Rose Sauce

We went to South Africa in February, and I think the hardest part of the trip was the packing.

Normally, when we go to another country, my modus operandi is to pack all black and white, on the theory that you can mix and match it to your heart’s content. It’s efficient, and it leaves me more room for shoes.

I know, I know, how many pairs of shoes does a person need for a two-week trip? For me, the answer is: about 10.

Making matters worse (and yet, also the highlight of the trip), we‘d be spending almost five days in the bush, where the recommendation is to wear primarily “safari” colors: beige, olive, brown, khaki. According to the travel agent, “white, black, dark blue, and grey are to be avoided,” as apparently they attract the Tsetse flies. All of which friendly advice had me throwing up my hands in despair.

Did I mention that we were spending two days on a train that required us to “dress” (i.e. cocktail clothes) for dinner? Or that we could take only one suitcase, weighing no more than 20 kg (44lb)?

My husband had no problems. He headed to the biggest discount stores around, on the theory that if he didn’t spend any money on what he wore, he wouldn’t care if he never wore them again. I can’t think that way, so I set out frantically looking for “safari” colors, of which I already had none – or at least none in summer-weight fabrics.

“Lee, you’re the only person I know who goes to Nordstrom’s to shop for a trip to Africa,” he said. Well, that’s just wrong, I told him. I also went to Bloomingdale’s.

And in the end, with careful planning, I worked my way down to only 8 pairs of shoes. Whew – that was hard.

* * *

The harbor at Victoria & Alfred Waterfront

Harbour House Restaurant
We spent the entire trip in South Africa, which is more beautiful and diverse in its geography than any other place I’ve been. And while the food wasn’t really exotic, I focused on dishes that were fresh and native. Our first stop was Cape Town, where the first night we ate at Harbour House, a restaurant focused on clean, contemporary style, on the waterfront. I started with a classic South African dish: Avocado Ritz. Easy to set up, and with a perky sauce that’s a snap to make. In South Africa, the sauce is called Marie Rose dressing, and it’s sort of a cross between Thousand Island dressing and French dressing.

The photo here is of the restaurant’s version, but the dish lends itself to many different presentations. I’ve seen the avocado and shrimp cut in a medium dice and tossed together for serving in a stemmed glass with the sauce drizzled on top; or with the shrimp laid out on a bed of sliced avocado with the sauce on top; or with the shrimp tossed in the sauce then spooned into the avocado halves. All simple yet attractive.

Avocado Ritz (serves 4)

2 avocados (ripe but firm)
1 lemon
16-20 cooked shrimp (of the size that’s 21-25/pound)
shredded iceberg lettuce or whole leaves of Bibb lettuce

Marie Rose sauce:
4 rounded Tbl mayonnaise (can use light mayo if you’re trying to keep the calories down, or substitute half of the mayo for Greek yogurt)
2 Tbl ketchup
juice of one lemon
a pinch of cayenne pepper (or a dash of Tabasco if you like more heat)
1 Tbl creme fraiche (or sour cream or light sour cream or plain yogurt)
¼ tsp salt

In a small bowl, whisk together the sauce ingredients, adding lemon juice to taste.

Halve the avocados and remove the seeds and peel. If you’ll be serving the avocados sliced or diced, now is the time to do that. Squeeze the lemon juice over the cut face of the avocados to keep them from turning brown.

Place each avocado half (or arrange the slices) on the lettuce, pile the shrimp in the seed cavity, and drizzle on the Marie Rose sauce.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

What’s cooking? Poppy Seed Dressing

Long-time readers of this blog know that, seven months ago, I had to take a break from writing because of a fall I took that literally destroyed my rotator cuff. That was the bad news, and for me perhaps the worst news of the past decade. (I live an otherwise charmed life.)

In the meantime, I’ve had more friends than you can imagine go through similar though maybe less drastic shoulder injuries. It’s sort of like when you’re pregnant and all you see are other pregnant women everywhere. One friend sent me this photo, in which she’s wearing EXACTLY the same giant shoulder sling, with the caption “Twins from another planet.”

The good news, that I wish to pass on to anyone with a shoulder injury, or maybe any other traumatic – but temporary – problem is that life moves slowly forward, taking you with it an inch at a time. One day, you find that you can brush your teeth with your right hand without bending into the sink to do so. A couple of weeks later, you slice three pounds of green tomatoes for marmalade, even though you know that if your husband came home and saw you laboring to make the slices extra thin, he would pronounce you completely bonkers. And a couple more days later, you absently reach out to pick up a glass like you always have, and it doesn’t hurt.

At the physical therapy clinic where I started in New Jersey, they told me it could be a year before I’d be able to fasten my bra behind my back. I’m not going to give you a picture of it, but I accomplished that goal this week – five months ahead of schedule! It’s not easy, and I still have a ways to go for full rotational motion, but like GE, progress is our most important product.


I forgot to plant arugula this year. I forgot how heartily it takes to the Texas weather. But in the aftermath of my shoulder surgery, I forgot a lot of things. This photo was my arugula last year – how could I forget that?

My friend and neighbor, Susan, did not forget, and she has a bumper crop this year. She gave me a bunch the other day, and we had the most delicious salad with it. I mixed it with slivers of red bell pepper and blood orange segments. The poppy seed dressing – which appropriately enough came from my salad days (!) as a single in Manhattan – is my husband’s favorite.

Classically, this is a dressing to serve over fruit salad. But it’s also excellent on a salad of arugula or fresh spinach with any combination of the following: crumbled bacon, slivered red bell pepper, fresh orange sections, canned mandarin orange slices, slivered almonds, thinly sliced mushrooms.

Poppy Seed Dressing

⅓ cup sugar
⅓ cup vinegar
1 cup salad oil (vegetable or canola)
1 teaspoon dry mustard
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons freshly grated onion
1 tablespoon poppy seeds

Mix all ingredients together in a jar large enough to hold 2 cups of liquid (like a mayonnaise jar). Shake well before pouring.