You know how they say that good things happen in threes? Or am I getting confused with bad things happening in threes?
We had a cleaner-cum-nanny when I was a little girl, a woman I loved so much I was convinced she was part of the family, and used to list her when I was asked to list my family members. Ellen was what would be called "coloured" in South Africa and mixed-race in the rest of the world and she and my mom worked more like a team of sisters than employer and employee. Ellen would clean the house in the morning when we were at school and then play with us in the afternoons if my mom was lecturing. We would listen to Afrikaans radio dramas with her, go out looking for goukums (sour figs), make a juicy treat by throwing an orange as hard as we could against a wall to pulverise the inside and then suck out the juice, or we would persuade her to take out her false teeth which we found to be the height of sophisticated and subtle humour.
One of the things she always used to tell me and my brother was that bad things happen in threes - which we just accepted as gospel. So if you stubbed your toe, dropped a teacup and then tripped while rushing for the broom – phew, you were OK because all three bad things had already happened. But woe betide you if you only failed a test and lost your favourite Richie Rich comic because the elusive Third Bad Thing was still out there waiting to strike when you least expected it.
Ellen also reliably informed us that she never had to worry about opening the door to a stranger that she had peered at through the window "because you can see who the skollies (criminals) are"; that if you killed a snake its spouse would come and look for you to wreak reptilian revenge; and that the ghost of her dead husband came to visit her when she came on holiday to Plett with us, just to ask why she was not at home. But despite the patent absurdity of these pronoucements, to this day I still keep the rule of threes in the back of my mind when bad things happen and quickly calculate how many more I have to brace for.
But back to the three good things!
1. We are finally in the process of buying a house – a house with a kitchen so big that I will no longer be able to reach the stove, the fridge and the sink without taking more than a single step – and our mortgage was approved this week. Woo hoo!
2. The lovely folk over at Food24 (part of the South African online giant Media24) have asked me to be a regular food columnist on their site – and my first column appeared today. Have a read and don't be a stranger – comment freely if you like what you see
Another good thing in multiples of three is my trio of smoked salmon dishes that I mixed & matched throughout the festive season – smoked salmon and dill chowder; smoked salmon pate moulds; and today's final instalment – smoked salmon mini quiches with caviar and sour cream.
The best thing about these little guys (apart from the taste!) is that you can make the majority of their components in advance, leaving you relaxed and unstressed when your guests arrive. The pastry cases were made using my usual quiche pastry recipe and can be pre-baked and stored in an airtight container for a day or two; and the egg mix can be made and stored in the fridge. I used cold-smoked salmon for these, but of course you can also use hot-smoked, and I'm credit-crunch proud to say the caviar (well, fish roe!) came from… Lidl! I served these together with small coffee cups of smoked salmon chowder as a Christmas starter, but if you're feeling truly showy, there's nothing stopping you from serving small helpings of the quiche, chowder and paté together on one plate – now that's definitely an example of good things happening in threes!
SMOKED SALMON, SOUR CREAM & CAVIAR MINI QUICHES (makes 8-10)
FOR THE PASTRY:
1/3 cup + 3 Tbsp plain flour
4 Tbsp cold butter
1 ½ Tbsp iced water
Pinch of salt
FOR THE FILLING:
2 large free-range eggs
1/3 cup double cream (or full cream milk)
about a cup of smoked salmon cut into small pieces or ribbons
a good handful of fresh dill, chopped
1 tsp caviar or fish roe per quiche
1 heaped tsp sour cream per quiche
flat-leaf parsley to serve
Preheat the oven to 220C and lightly grease a standard muffin tin.
Using either a food processor or your hands, rub the butter into the flour until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs. Add the iced water and mix until the dough forms a ball. You can add slightly more if 1½ Tbsp is not enough but be careful not to add too much water – you don't want sticky dough! Wrap in clingfilm and refrigerate for 30 mins.
Roll out the dough to approx. 1.5mm thickness and cut circles slightly larger that the diameter of the cups of your muffin tin. Press the dough into the cups of the muffin tin, making sure the pastry comes up right to the top of the cup sides.
Prick the pastry all over with a fork, line each pastry case with baking paper and fill with baking beans. (Yes, it sounds fiddly, but if the pastry rises too much then you will have no room for quiche filling!) Bake in the lower third of the oven for about 10 minutes, or until puffy and golden. Remove the beans and bake the pastry cases for another 5 minutes, but keep an eye on them so they don't over-brown. Cool on a rack.
In the meanwhile, whisk together the milk/cream, dill and the eggs in a bowl. When the pastry crust is done, place about a teaspoonful of chopped smoked salmon in the base of each case and pour the egg mix carefully over it. Reduce the oven temperature to 180C and bake in the middle of the oven for 15 minutes or until set and puffy.
Remove from the oven and top each quiche with a teaspoon of sour cream and one of caviar, and garnish with a sprig of fresh dill. Serve hot ,on a bed of green leaves (flat leaf parsley in my case).
NOTE – the abovementioned quantities can also be used to make a single standard sized quiche if you don't want the mini versions.