Wednesday 13 June 2012

Minted Strawberries

One evening, after making dinner, I wanted hubby and I to have an interesting dessert that was light, refreshing and light on the calories. I had a 250g pack of strawberries in the fridge and a bag of fresh mint as well. So i decided to throw something together and this has become a staple in our house ever since:

I washed and quartered the strawberries and put in a bowl that had a lid. I sprinkled 1 tablespoon of Splenda over the strawberries and tossed together. Since the first time i made this recipe, I have substituted the Splenda for granulated white sugar and some granulated vanilla sugar with excellent results. I love Splenda though since it is a sweetener that doesnt have a bitter after taste and is better than sugar for me.

The fresh mint packet i got from Shoprite - and they almost always have in stock. I washed about half of the pack well and snipped into the strawberry mixture, tossed together, covered bowl and put in the fridge.

An hour later, the strawberries had released a lot of juice courtesy of the Splenda/Sugar/, the mint was nicely wilted and didnt look too alive (very important if my hubby was going to eat this at all) and all that was left was tasting.

I took a deep breath and took a spoonful. And OH MY WORD. The strawberries were sweet and cold and the juice was sooo fragrant and the bursts of mint made my mouth come alive and it smelt divine. So refreshing and so good.

I served a small portion of this to hubby who was working on his laptop at this point. He absent mindedly put a spoonful in his mouth and his head whipped up. He looked at the bowl, smiled widely, shoveled the rest into his mouth and silently handed me the bowl with a smile, a thumbs up and the words "more please".

Ah - nothing better than a happy hubby.

I have a few ideas for variants on this and will post as soon as I try.


Friday 1 June 2012

Oven Bole and Mixed Meat sauce

One sunny saturday afternoon, a few special ladies got together for their first meetup. It was a potluck get together and there was some deliciousness going on - from mini cupcakes in assorted flavours and jerk chicken wings using my jerk marinade recipe provided by yours truly to different types of rice and some serious cocktails that packed a lot of punch.

There was also a some soft bole (roasted plantain) with a palmoil sauce and smoked fish. This was the most popular dish and the ladies oohed and aahed and dug in with copious amounts of paper towels on hand.

When i got home, i thought i could make my own version using what i had in my pantry and suprise hubby with something totally unexpected. I had no recipe and no time to make more elaborate plans - i just went with my gut:

I peeled plantains. Poked them all over with a kebab skewer. Got a disposable foil oven baking tray. I poured a little vegetable oil on the plantains and gave them a nice rub down.
My oven was already pretty hot after being preheated at Gas mark 5 for 15 minutes or so. I put the plantains in the baking tray and started on the sauce. I checked and turned the plantain every 10 mins until golden brown - about 40 mins.

I usually have blended tomato/pepper blend in my freezer for emergency stews and sauces. But this was a real emergency and my stash was frozen solid. However, i had raw tomatoes, red peppers (tatashe and atarodo) in the fridge and onions in the bulb basket. I whipped out my blender and threw a mix of the tomatoes, peppers and onions in there and blitzed. I didnt puree the mixture till it was super smooth. I wanted the sauce to have a slightly chunky texture to it. Once that was done, i set the mixture aside and opened up the fridge again. I had a few pieces of assorted meat left over from making some stew the day before. About 6 pieces in all. The meat was boiled and seasoned and ready to be used. So i chopped the meat into little pieces and set aside.

I got out a little pot. Poured some red kernel oil (palm oil) into the pot and let it get very hot. So hot it began to smoke. Cue the open windows and kitchen door. I threw in some sliced onions and the pureed tomato mix and let the mixture fry. Since I was running out of time as hubby was almost home, i didnt let the mixture fry as long as i wanted. I threw in some ground crayfish, some salt. Added the chopped meat pieces and let the whole mixture fry.

Served up the meal to a very suprised, happy hubby who took pictures and sent to all his male friends with the caption - My wife the performer.

Anyhoo. While it was tasty and definitely moorish, i will make this again with a few tweaks: After blending the pepper mixture, i will boil the mixture to reduce the water content. I didnt have time to do this so the sauce wasnt as thick as i wanted. I would make sure to have some iru(locust beans) to add to the sauce - just a teeny bit for that 'local' touch. I would also make the sauce without chopped meat - substituting that for pieces of stockfish, smoked and whole red dried shrimps.

I will of course write out a proper recipe and update the blog but this is definitely worth making for a change from regular fare. One of my husband's friends sent me a message saying he would love this served to him on a newspaper. Why not?

Monday 28 May 2012

With Love From South Africa: Food Adventures - Final Part ......And a Giveaway

The hotel where we stayed had an 'exclusive' italian restaurant called Piccolo Mondo which looked so amazing - the decor was so so regal but reservations were required. A day before we left South Africa, we finally got a chance to have dinner there. We started out by ordering a chopped salad and after 30 minutes of waiting, we got this which was a greek salad instead which was nowhere on the menu. Should have been a sign of things to come but we soldiered on;

We then got a palate cleansing sorbet - i tasted mint and some passion fruit. We washed the palate cleansing sorbet down with water

45 minutes later, we got our main courses. At this point, we were irritated and hungry. Hubby had a good old fashioned spaghetti bolognese. Spaghetti bolognese is a staple in Italian cuisine and every italian restaurant worth its salt should be able to breeze through this right? Wrong. The dish was cold, overly tomatoey and no flavour at all. It was promptly sent back.

I had a braised lamb shank topped with foie gras on a bed of roasted vegetables and a side of potatoes. *sigh* Sounds nice right? The best thing on this plate was the foie gras. The lamb while pull apart tender was overwhelmed by the red wine and fresh thyme used to braise it. The roasted vegetables had lost all their crunch and the potatoes were stone cold. 

We left very very very disappointed.

For our last night in Johannesburg, we had dinner at Montego Bay - a seafood restaurant that a few people recommended. Hubby started  with bacon wrapped scallops which came with an asian slaw. Of course i tasted this dish. Succulent sweet fresh scallops wrapped with apple smoked bacon - delish. The asian slaw was a mix of regular cabbage and bitter red cabbage and crispy green beans with a peanut dressing. Goodness me. Delicious.

My starter was Moules Meuniere. While it was tasty it was the strangest Moules Meuniere i have ever had. What i am used to is a wine based thin broth with the fresh mussels. This was a cream based sauce which while tasty wasnt what i wanted. So i ate my mussels while gazing longingly at hubby's starter. I offered him a taste of mine and he took a small taste and wrinkled his nose and went back to his. I respected myself and faced my plate jejely

We had the same main course - succulent garlicky prawns which came with chips and rice. Talk about carb overload. We ignored the carbs and had way too much fun beheading the prawns and playing with the shells and acting out scenes from movies including making voices (don't ask). It was yummy but i think since we were having so much fun being silly, it tasted even better.

I would love to read about the most memorable meal you have ever had anywhere - the first 2 stories get a jar of Uzo's All Purpose Spice Mix  - my fabulous blend that took about a year to get right and which i am so so proud of.

Friday 18 May 2012

With Love From South Africa: Food Adventures Part 2

We decided to try Wangthai - a thai restaurant in Sandton based on a few recommendations from several locals including SuperSports' Gary Bailey.  So off we toddled off for a night of proper dining. This is a formal restaurant so I had a blast getting all dolled up for dinner and we had an amazing table with a fab view. Its a restaurant for romance too with the candles and soft music and fountains.

Anyway - to the food: We started with a seafood hot and sour soup that packed a punch. Oh wee.  It had prawns, mullet, calamari and mussels in it and lots of fresh herbs - I could identify galangal, whole mint leaves and lemongrass. But there was more. Hubby said the soup was way too 'alive' for him :-). I explained to him - Thai cuisine is known for incorporating the taste elements of sweet, sour and heat all in the same dish.

We got a little tray with condiments to adjust the meal to your taste - sugar, chilli flakes, fish sauce and vinegar

We also had shrimp rolls that came with a sweet chilli sauce for dipping. Not your regular batter heavy soggy rolls. Whole large shrimp with tails on with sliver thin strips of scallions and holy basil wrapped with a very thin sheet of wrapper and fried till golden brown. Bursting with flavour and the shrimps cooked to perfection. 

For our main meal, we had fragrant jasmine rice which came in this gorgeous silver tureen that i wanted to take home immediately; 

Chicken and cashews thai style. This was definitely different from the chinese version. This was fragrant and a depth of flavour from the holy basil and something else that i asked about and was told it was the addition of dried shrimp paste. 

And keeping with true Thai tradition, we had an unusual curry. If you are a curry person, you know that the options are usually red or green but this was neither. This was a seafood peanut curry that was creamy and sweet yet spicy. Totally moreish. I had an amazing tapioca, ginger mocktail that i will try to replicate at home. We opted not to have any dessert after such a decadent dinner. 

Day 4 was a 'fast food' day. No greasy fried stuff here. Ocean Basket had so many options on the menu, it took me half an hour to decide what to have while ignoring the heavy loud sighs of hubby. I decided to have the mussels and shrimp option with fries which i didnt eat. It came served in this silver bowl thing that was sizzling when it came to me. This meal was sumptuous. The seafood was so fresh and cooked just right and then the lemon mustard sauce was suprisingly mild and very tasty.

The final part coming up and our very first giveaway too. So so excited

Thursday 17 May 2012

With Love From South Africa - Food Adventures Part 1

One of the things i love about visiting different countries are my food adventures. I make it a part of my itinerary to visit restaurants and markets and talk to foodies if i can. I never documented my food adventures before so i just have personal notes here and there and of course my memories. Not anymoooooore :-)

My hubby and I spent a few days in Johannesburg, South Africa last month and i managed to take a few pictures of a few meals we had:

Decadent chocolate birthday cake for hubby since we got in on his birthday - suprise in cahoots with hotel. It was soft and moist and not too sweet with layers of chocolate mousse. We shared a slice and gave it away to the hotel staff.

One evening, we chose to have dinner at Trumps Steakhouse which was recommended by one of hubby's friends. We started with this calamari dish. A lot of the time, calamari appetizers are breaded and fried rings - sometimes good, sometimes awful, chewy and overdone. This dish was calamari tips seasoned with salt and white pepper and grilled very quickly so we could taste the freshness of the calamari. It came with the veggie garnish - which i ate except for the tomato(anyone who knows me, knows i dont do fresh tomatoes :-)) and their version of tartar sauce - which i thought was over worked with all sorts of veggies and herbs so i ignored that as well. 

Whenever I am faced with a lot of choices at a restaurant, i look for combination plates that allow me to sample the items i am most interested in. Which is what we did. We ordered this platter to share that had their "award winning" fresh caught prawns, wings and a half slab of ribs. The wings were grilled and tossed in a sweet/spicy barbeque sauce that was average at best. The ribs were fall of the bone soft and juicy but a little lacking in flavour. The star of the plate - the prawn. Grilled prawns with shell on simply seasoned with cracked mixed peppercorns and salt and drizzled table side with garlic butter. So yummy. The platter came with a side plate of mashed pumpkin(think baby food consistency) and creamed spinach. We tasted both and didnt bother after a bite each.

Part 2 - coming up.....

Tuesday 17 April 2012

Kitchen Tip

I am paranoid about germs and smells especially in the kitchen and i am always on the lookout for products to zap all imaginary germs and foul smells.

I discovered this tip by error. After squeezing tons of lemons for use for baking, i had all these squished lemons. My eyes caught my dishwashing liquid which is always lemon scented and i know that because of the acidic nature of lemons - they can be pretty harsh and strip oils from most surfaces. So i took the squished lemons and ran a whole bunch of them around my kitchen sink and left overnight. The next morning, the sink smelt so lemony fresh and once i rinsed off the lemony residue, the kitchen sink felt brand new - no slick oily aftermath of all the washing up and it was sooooo shiny.

This has become a ritual now in my kitchen and i usually will do this 2 -3 times a week. I have also discovered that 1 lemon cut in 2 halves will more than suffice.

Do not be tempted to try this tip on your aluminium or non-stick cookware - the lemons will corrode the surfaces and if you are like me and spend a pretty penny on quality cookware - there will be tears.

Happy experimenting!

Thursday 12 April 2012

Jamaican Jerk Marinade

Jerk marinade is a staple in the Carribean especially in Jamaica and ready-made versions can be found in specialty stores and African stores in the Western world. I have never seen ready made jerk marinade here in Lagos but when its so easy to make - i dont miss it at all.

I have come up with my own jerk marinade that is very very similar to the jamaican version - its based on a recipe i got from a very friendly lady at a resort in Jamaica many years ago.

This recipe will give you about 3 cups of marinade that can be used for meat of all kinds, poultry and seafood and can keep in the freezer for up to 2 months with constant power supply.

  • 1 teaspoon freshly grated ginger
  • 5 cloves of garlic (use more or less to suit your palate)
  • 1/2 cup orange juice (i have also used mixed citrus juice in some instances)
  • 1 large red onion or 2 small red onions
  • 6 spring onions - including green parts
  • 1/4 cup white distilled vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable or canola oil
  • 1/3 cup soy sauce (dark works best)
  • 5 scotch bonnet peppers (atarodo) - this makes marinade heat medium. Add more or less to suit your palate
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 2 teaspoons allspice
  • 1 tablespoon brown sugar (light or dark works fine)
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper (i use freshly ground)
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 tablespoon dried thyme

1.    Roughly chop onions, spring onions and scotch bonnet peppers and place in food processor or blender.

2.   Add all other ingredients and blend till smooth.

3.  Eyeball quantity of marinade to use based on amount of protein to be cooked. I suggest starting in half cup increments.

4.  Place protein in marinade ensuring full coverage and leave to marinade for at least 2 hours before cooking. For best results, marinade overnight in refridgerator. Flavours get more intense the longer marinade is left on protein

5. When ready to cook - preheat oven to 350 degrees or gas mark 4. Transfer marinaded protein to an ovenproof baking dish and bake till done.

*I suggest setting aside between 1/4 cup and 1/2 cup of marinade for baking process. Turn protein every 10 - 15 mins and baste with marinade till done.

This is such an easy delicious recipe perfect for home cooking but also for potluck when you need tons of protein to take to an event.


Friday 6 April 2012

Following Recipes

Unlike baking which is a science (any wrong measurement affects the outcome of the end product), cooking is like dancing - we all have our rythmns and moves. A bit of this or a bit of that - adding or taking away ingredients by instinct or based on preference to make a dish uniquely yours.

However, i recommend following any new recipe EXACTLY the first time. That way, you can determineif it works for you as is or if you would like to tweak any elements to suit your palate.

Monday 26 March 2012

Food Porn

Plain white rice, Ofada sauce with assorted meat and fried diced plantains for sunday lunch.

Sunday 25 March 2012

Kitchen Essentials

Kitchen Essentials
My love affair with cooking and entertaining has been going strong for well over 15 years. In this time, I have bought tons of ‘toys’ from so many sources and have spent so much money on all sorts of things from the functional to the most useless piece of plastic that promise to make my life easier.

Thankfully, I am so much wiser now and I realize that creating and churning out delicious meals and having fun in the kitchen can be achieved with some essentials at your fingertips. I think that every kitchen should have these as a foundation and you can give in to your inner product junkie after your cupboards are stocked with these:

Knives: For budding chefs that enroll at a culinary institute, it’s a huge day when you get your KNIVES. This is usually on the first day in your kitchen whites and is a full set of every kind of knife you can think of usually in a rollup bag. The idea is that each chef gets to know his knives and they become his – arched to fit his hands and all that. Well – exciting yes – but every chef worth his salt throws that first set away after a few months since they are usually low quality crap. The lesson here is to be able to use different knives for different purposes and build knife skills.
For the home cook, we usually have a knife block with different knives in there. No matter what display option you use, ensure that you have the following in your arsenal:

·         Chef’s knife – which is an all purpose wedge shaped knife that can be used to slice, dice, chop, mince and everything else you can think of
·         Serrated bread knife – use like a saw to cut through bread and cakes
·         Paring knife – for peeling and coring
·         Scissors – for opening packages, snipping herbs and all sorts of odd jobs

Cutting Boards: to prevent cross contamination, I recommend different colored plastic boards. These are cheap and cheerful and I feel no guilt throwing them away every few months. While there are wooden chopping boards, I am not a fan.

Cookware:  Get the best you can afford. I can’t stress this enough. Whether you buy a set or separates, please pay attention to the materials of the pans. Good quality non-stick pans are readily available at decent prices these days and are perfect for the home cook. I also recommend heavy stainless steel pans and enameled cast iron pans (these are very heavy) where one can afford these. I recommend the following necessities:
·         Saucepans: large and medium sized pans have tall straight sides with tight fitting lids and work well for soups, stews, rice etc. An ideal large saucepan should have a volume capacity of between 3-4 quarts and a medium saucepan should have a volume capacity of about 2 quarts. A small saucepan with a volume capacity of 1 – 1.5 quarts are excellent for small tasks like melting butter.
·         Pot: or a vessel as I like to call the ones I have. Huge 6-8 quart volume capacity pot for cooking pasta, boiling down pepper mixtures, making stock and stews etc
·         Skillet: I recommend owning 2 types. One with a non stick surface and sloped sides which allows you to cook with less fat and a straight sides one with a lid also called a sauté pan for braising and pan frying
·         Griddle pan: a lot of my weekend breakfasts of pancakes, bacon, eggs are made on my trusty griddle pan. I also recommend a grill pan for getting those grill marks and grill effects on my stove top
·         Wok: perfect for stir fries and fried rice

Bake-ware: I do a lot of baking and roasting in my oven which is a much healthier way to cook meats and seafood. Not every home cook is a baker but I also happen to be one soooo – here are my necessities:
·         Baking pans – aluminum non stick versions are perfect and can be used for very high temperature baking. There are so many design and size options so just choose what works for you
·         Baking dishes – I own quite a few glass versions for baking.

Other essentials:
·         Blender – for everything from pepper mixes to smoothies. I have 2 – for sweet and savory use. Nothing sucks more than oniony pineapple/orange smoothie
·         Hand mixer/food processor – there are mini versions of these on sale now that do not take up a lot of counter space. Time saving for whisking up egg whites  - or chopping and mincing combinations of aromatics (processor)
·         Measuring cups and spoons – especially useful for following recipes
·         Can opener
·         Wooden/plastic spoons – better for non stick cooking surfaces
·         Box grater – preferably with 2 sizes of slits – for grating okro, carrots etc
·         Hand held grater – I use these when I want to just grate foods right into mixtures or pots
·         Colander – for draining foods such as pasta and to hold food while rinsing
·         Fine mesh sieve – for sifting super fine foods like flour, elubo etc
·         Rolling pin – I use this a lot as I work with dough very often. Useful for smashing meat to tenderize

And now - the kitchen adventures can begin.........

Thursday 22 March 2012


Welcome to the Uzo's Food Labs blog.

Its been a long time in the making and I am so so proud that its finally live.

This blog will be chock full of posts on:
  • Recipes from my food lab
  • Food history and nutritional content
  • Home care tips
  • Hostess and entertainment tips
  • Product reviews
  • Restaurant reviews
  • Answers to questions
  • Fabulous giveaways
  • Uzo's Food Labs exclusive events and so much more
Please leave your comments and questions after each post or send a message to