As anybody who cooks for a living, or who blogs for an obsession, will know, going to eat at other people's houses can be a social minefield. First there is the "oh I can't have YOU over for dinner – you won't possibly enjoy the simple food that I can cook – too much pressure!" argument. And even if you somehow convince them that, just this once, you could force yourself to eat a meal wthout truffles, tians, foie gras and foams then you come up against the "you can't photograph my food and write nasty things about it on your blog, OK?" speech.
Because, of course, that's how we food bloggers amuse ourselves: by slagging off our dearest friends' culinary abilities. Not!
And you can't even get around the dilemma by saying "oh what the hell, come over to my place!". Because then the pressure really is on. You can't very well make baked beans on toast because then all the guests will leave with a sneaky suspicion that you don't actually make any of that stuff that you blog about. People have seriously asked me in the past: "So do you ever cook normal food?", as if it's beef Wellington and baked Alaska for dinner every night here at CookSister HQ. Oh dear. So what's the answer? Simple: socialise with other food bloggers who understand
In particular, I'd recommend dining with the three very lovely food blogging ladies who came over to my house a couple of weeks ago for a day of food photography and a potluck lunch: Bron of Feast with Bron; Ailbhe of Simply Splendiferous; and Michele of 5 a.m. Foodie. We had chatted at the food styling and photography workshop at the Irish Embassy in the summer and I had offered to host a little "getting to know your camera" gathering later in the year. I took a while to get the dates in the diary but it was worth the wait when the three of them finally arrived at CookSister HQ a couple of weeks ago, bearing cameras and food to feed an army.
We started with the more serious part of the afternoon: the photography. OK, I admit, it couldn't have been THAT serious, given the full champagne glasses you see in every picture! But I chatted to them about basics like the relationship between aperture and shutter speed and how changing each of them affects your shots; how to get off auto settings and move towards manual settings; what white balance is and how you can use it; and how to take succesful photos in low light. We raided my prop drawer and used our lunch spread and Michele's home-grown tomatoes and pumpkin as our "models", and soon everybody was snapping away, comparing notes, and consulting camera manuals.
To sustain us through all this strenuous creative activity, we had some good Champagne and the DIVINE spicy caramelised nuts above on the right (courtesy of Michele); more spiced caramelised seeds on the left (were they pumpkin or sunflower?) courtesy of Ailbhe; and my choice for Decadence of the Day – pork scratchings that Bron brought from a market near Oval. There are no words. Crispy, salty, porky heaven. It's a good think I live nowhere near Oval, otherwise I would no longer fit into any of my jeans!
Our lunch spread was pretty sumptuous as well as being photogenic and included Michele's brown rice, black bean and edamame salad with cilantro and lime (hard to believe this is healthy as it tastes so good!); my spinach, feta and sun-dried tomato salad with toasted seeds; Ailbhe's stuffed bell peppers with chorizo, feta and pine nuts; a gorgeous pork pie that Bron brought from the market (not pictured), and my quiche (scroll down for the recipe).
And seeing as I was hosting, I thought it only fair to throw in something a little bit South African. OK, so I had already done that by adding Peppadews to the quiche – because these were developed in South Africa – but I took it a step further and made a proper South African dessert: Cape brandy pudding. This old-fashioned favourite comprises a moist, dense baked date pudding, smothered in a syrupy sauce rich with the flavours of brandy and cinnamon and it makes a fantastic alternative to a traditional Christmas pudding.
And so a very happy afternoon passed, full of laughter and companionship and (hopefully!) a little bit of photographic knowledge! I think we all agreed that this was a great way to share tips and practise our food photography, and the general consensus is that we will do it again in the new year. Leave me a comment if you want to join us!
And how did the quiche turn out? Scrumptious! I love the way the sweet spiciness of the Peppadews balances the saltiness of the feta, and few things make me happier than eating something made with herbs picked from my own garden
If you like this recipe you may also like my:
- biltong, Peppadew and blue chese quiche
- smoked salmon mini-quiches
- gammon (smoked pork) and caramelised shallot quiche
FETA, PEPPADEW AND THYME QUICHE (serves 4)
FOR THE PASTRY:
1/3 cup + 3 Tbsp plain flour
3 Tbsp cold butter (if you use salted butter, omit the salt from later in the recipe)
1 Tbsp cold vegetable shortening
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)
1/3 cup Peppadews, chopped (available in most large supermarkets)
1/3 cup of feta cheese, cubed or crumbled
1/2 tsp fresh or dried thyme leaves
salt and pepper
Preheat the oven to 425F (220C). Using either a food processor or your hands, rub the butter and shortening 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!
Press the dough into a greased/non-stick ovenproof quiche dish or springform pan about 15cm in diameter. Bake in the lower third of the oven for about 7 minutes, or until puffy and golden. In the meanwhile, whisk together the milk/cream, eggs, thyme, salt and pepper in a bowl. Roughly chop the peppadews and crumble the feta.
When the crust is done, arrange the Peppadews crumbled feta cheese on the baked crust, pour over the egg mix and bake on a rack in the middle of the oven for 15 minutes. Then reduce the heat to 350F (175C) and bake for a further 10 minutes or until turning golden and puffy. You can also turn on the grill for the last minute or two to brown the top a little. Serve with a spinach, feta and sun-dried tomato salad.
And in other news…
The May 2011 Plate to Page hands-on food writing and photography workshop presented by me, Meeta, Jamie and Ilva is now sold out - but register now if you are interested in Plate to Page II in Italy in Autumn 2011!