Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Super duper, easy peasy vichyssoise

This time of year, for me, usually entails a trip to Calitzdorp — a sweet, not-too-pretty-but-filled-with-character dorp in the Klein (small) Karoo, just outside Oudtshoorn — to visit my folks. They retired there from Jo'burg about six years ago, and since then I've come to look forward to my visits, not just because I get to spend time with them, but because it always means lots of fun in the kitchen with the spoils form my dad's veggie patch, a lot of wine appreciation, and generally a lot of togetherness, laughter and good eatin'.

Huge home-grown carrots, gargantuan beetroots, fresh salad leaves, lovely, earthy potatoes, snappy leeks, sweet cherry tomatoes and firm, shiny zucchini were all potential ingredients, but I decided to give vichyssoise (cold leek and potato soup) a bash. I'm not sure why, exactly, because I'd only had it once at a restaurant and I hadn't really enjoyed the taste or the temperature — the merits of chilled soup eluded me. Perhaps, now, I came to this recipe due to the baking Karoo temperatures, and the fact that I'd been on a steady diet of rich meats and carbs for about a week straight... I needed a reprieve from the heat and heavy food.

I didn't want to leave the result to chance, so I consulted both Larousse and The Joy of Cooking — the former called for a base of water with a bouquet garni thrown in, while the latter called for stock. So I used both (a stock cube, I admit), and boy, oh boy, was it delicious — thick, savoury and filling, but quite light at the same time. I also didn't chill the soup completely, but rather served it on the cool side of room temperature, and I think this allowed for more flavour. But if you prefer your soups icy, by all means.

This is one of those stupidly easy recipes that yields fabulous results — and we all need more of those, don't we? Don't worry too much about getting the amounts exactly right, they're more of a guide.

If you happen to be experiencing a cold winter right now, this soup is also — hey presto — exceedingly yummy served hot.

(Side note: Vichyssoise was invented in the US by a French chef, who named the dish after his home town, Vichy. So drop that into conversation, why don't you.)

Serves 4

12 leeks, white bits only, washed and finely sliced
50g butter
600g potatoes, peeled and cubed
1 bouquet garni*
1 litre chicken stock (or just enough to cover the potatoes)
1 cup cream
Salt and white pepper, to taste
Chives, to garnish

1. In a large soup pot, gently fry the leeks in the butter until soft and translucent — do not allow to brown.
2. Add the potatoes and garni to the pot, as well as enough stock to just cover the potatoes. Give it a good stir, bring to the boil, then reduce the heat and allow to simmer until the potatoes are soft.
3. Using a handheld blender (or an ordinary one — which just means more washing up!), blend the soup to your desired consistency. I like it slightly chunky.
4. Leave the soup to cool, then plonk it in the fridge if you'd like it chilled, for about an hour.
5. Stir in the cream, season with salt and pepper, and divide between four bowls. Garnish with chives (snip-snip) and that's that.

*Two sprigs parsley, two bay leaves and one sprig each thyme and rosemary, tied together with a piece of kitchen string.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Current addictions

La Parmigiana
This pasta factory in Dean Street, Newlands, offers expertly made fresh and freshly frozen pasta so you can plonk it straight from the freezer into boiling water, and their prices put Woolies to shame. Their Napoletana and arabiata sauces make me want to take up poetry. If you take a baking dish to them they’ll fill it with virtually anything (pasta-related) you desire. 021 448 8852

Yoghurt, garlic, olive oil, salt
Okay, make that: 1 cup thick, diet-be-damned full fat yoghurt, 2 cloves super-fresh crushed garlic that perfumes your fingers (1 clove if you're squeamish), a few glugs of herby extra-virgin olive oil, and a generous helping of flaked Maldon salt, to taste (I like it plenty salty). Mix it all up until blended and allow to stand so the flavours infuse for at leat 10 minutes.

This sauce is heavenly. I love glooping it over poached eggs, sliced tomato, and anything with a vaguely Indian or Middle Eastern slant. Sometimes I just stand in the kitchen, staring into space, eating it by the spoonful.

Kuhestan Lemongrass and Ginger Cordial
This cordial has a delicate, fresh, floral, not-too-sweet flavour — I imagine this is what nectar tastes like to bees. I bought it at the Hope Street Market. Here's their website.

Hibiscus salt 

I don't know if I can call this an addiction yet, because I'm in the process of making it — but I'm pretty sure all the signs of imminent addiction are there. I'll let you know how it goes.

White Saffron & Cardamom Chocolate
Whoever decided on this flavour combination should be canonised (it was a company called Chocolate Marionettes — I'm looking into the paperwork). Unfortunately the only place I know of that stocks it is the Peregrin Farm Stall on the N2 just over Sir Lowry's pass. But maybe if you contact them they can tell you where to get some.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

real purdy: red cabbage & citrus chicken salad

I am completely obsessed with red cabbage at the moment. Its crunch. Its colour. Its versatility (mostly in the salad department). On a nerdy note, it contains 36 different varieties of anthocyanins (or ‘thingies’), which have been linked to cancer protection. Plus, a large, violet, delicately veined globe placed artfully on a kitchen shelf is a viable décor item.

This vibrant salad screams summer. It’s full of flavour and super-duper good for your body, but more importantly, it’s delicious. The crunchy cabbage, the sweet citrus, the savoury chicken… If you have an aversion to grapefruit, replace with orange. (Actually, any sweet citrus works well.) It’s a great way to use up roast chicken leftovers.

Red cabbage & citrus chicken salad
Serves 6—8
½ head cabbage, shredded
2 oranges, peeled and sliced
1 grapefruit, peeled and sliced
3 cups shredded cooked (preferably roasted) chicken
2 cups pomegranate rubies

For the dressing:
½ cup extra virgin olive oil
1 tbsp English or dijon mustard
1 cup orange juice
Salt and black pepper, to taste.

Arrange the salad ingredients on a platter (fancy shmancy like). Combine the dressing ingredients in a jar and give 'em a good shake. Drizzle dressing over the salad, rejoice and serve.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Yotam Ottolenghi's aubergine cheese cake

My bathtub is a death trap for ants.

For the few unfortunate ant-souls who find their way up the legs (it’s a ball & claw) and over the lip, there’s no escape.

In fact, the sight of them scrabbling up the sides, tumbling down, then starting all over again, is so existentially traumatising that I am compelled to rescue each and every one before I open the floodgates at bathtime. (I get the ants to crawl onto a piece of tissue, then airlift their asses out of there — I like to pretend I'm in an episode of Rescue 911.)

Sometimes I’m too late, and there are few lifeless ant corpses scattered about. I picture their families back home, holding vigil (with little ant-sized candles), ant toddlers innocently asking, ‘Mama, where’s Papa?’ To which Mama ant replies, ‘I don’t know baby, I just don’t know…’ before dissolving into tears.

And then I smile to myself, satisfied that — in the lives of those few ants I’m able to rescue — I've made a difference.

Of course, I think nothing of emptying a can of Doom over the thriving N1 ant highway that runs under our kitchen sink.

Life is full of contradictions.

Here is an extremely yummy thing I made last night, which I found here.

Yotam Ottolenghi's aubergine cheese cake
Serves 4

90ml olive oil
2 small aubergines, cut into 2cm thick slices
Salt and black pepper
150g feta
150g cream cheese
60ml double cream
3 eggs
150g baby plum tomatoes, cut in half lengthways
2 tbsp picked oregano leaves, torn
¾ tsp za'atar (optional)

Preheat the oven to 190C/375F/gas mark 5. Line with foil the base and sides of a deep, 19cm square baking tin (or a round, 22cm diameter dish), then brush lightly with oil.

Lay the aubergine slices on a baking sheet lined with greaseproof paper and brush all over with four tablespoons of olive oil. Sprinkle with salt and pepper, and roast in the hot oven for 40 minutes — the aubergines need to go soft and golden. When cooked, remove, set aside to cool, and lower the oven to 150C/300F/gas mark 2.

Put the feta, cream cheese, cream, eggs and some pepper in a bowl and whisk until smooth and thick.

Arrange the aubergine neatly in the baking tin — the slices should fill up the tray as they lean against each other, almost standing on their sides. Fill the gaps with tomatoes and sprinkle over half the oregano.

Pour in just enough of the cheese mix to leave some aubergine and tomatoes exposed, sprinkle over the remaining oregano and bake for 30 minutes, or until the "custard" sets. Leave the cake to cool down to room temperature, then remove it from the tin and cut into four squares (or into wedges, if using a round dish). Before serving, gently brush all over with za'atar mixed with a teaspoon of olive oil, or just olive oil.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Fried butternut with mint (OMF)

I went a little nuts at Woolies the other day. They had a promotion on: a giant bag of butternut for R30, but you could buy three for R60. So of course I had to buy three — about 25 butternuts!

When I got home and stumbled through the front door with my booty, the Guinea Pig just looked at me and said, ‘Uh-oh.’

And he was right to be wary. The bags sat under the kitchen counter for a few days, untouched, and it began to dawn on me that I probably don’t have enough synapses to deal with 25 butternuts.

Butternut soup... Er, roasted butternut... Er.

Oh sure, I have plenty of cookbooks and recipes that include butternut/pumpkin, but they’re a bit too fiddly and, more importantly, only require a small amount of the stuff.

Enter inspiration, stage left.

I am lucky enough to work for a magazine whose food editor uses a test kitchen just down the corridor from our office. So quite often I’ll have finished stuffing my face with leftover pizza in the cafeteria at lunch time, only to have platters of gourmet concoctions plonked down in front of me, going begging. (Which is when my second stomach comes in handy.)

Yesterday was such a day, and one of the plates happened to contain an incredibly tasty, incredibly delicious butternut dish. Little blocks of fried orange yumminess. Sprinkled with mint.

You heard me: MINT.

I simply had to know how to make it, but a cross examination of the assistant food editor yielded only that the butternut was boiled and then fried in butter.

‘But there was more to it,’ I wailed to GP later that evening in the kitchen, poking the air with my sloshing wine glass. 'It was so tasty — I couldn’t have just been fried in butter with a bit of salt. It was sweet as well...'

And that's when I figured it out. And here it is — more or less approximating what I tasted in the kitchen that day. I’m not going to bother with amounts because, well, I’m too lazy, and it’s not really all that important.

If you’re a veggie lover, this is a little plate of heaven.

Fried butternut with mint

Butternut (duh)
Olive oil
Fresh lemon juice
Mint, chopped

Boil up some cubed butternut until tender but still firm. Drain. Then melt a large (and I mean heart-attack LARGE) nob of butter in a frying pan with a similar amount of olive oil — you basically want enough to coat the butternut and make it nice and glossy. Turn the heat up really high, then add the butternut in a single layer (you may have to work in batches).

Okay, now you want to sprinkle a generous amount of sugar and salt (yes) over the butternut. Start with a tablespoon of each, then taste the butternut halfway through cooking and decide if it needs some more.

Fry the butternut until it's golden and the sugar is beginning to caramelise. Transfer to paper towel and drizzle with fresh lemon juice (to taste) and sprinkle with chopped mint.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Spring minestrone

I recently took up hot yoga.

It was a tactic to cope with stress, because as effective as drinking several tall jugs of wine every evening is, I was finding it unsustainable.

Hot yoga, if you’ve never tried it, is yoga in a large room heated to about 40C — or, as some prefer to describe it, hell on earth.

It involves ingesting large volumes of your own sweat through inverted nostrils while your muscles cuss at you. Then there’s the humiliation factor of emphatically jumping to face your right when the entire rest of the class jumps to face the left.

It is deeply uncomfortable. It makes me feel like a motor function impaired gorilla. And yet... While I’m there, sweating like a hog in heat, I don’t think of anything else. I am completely present. One might argue that inserting rusty forks under one's kneecaps would have roughly the same effect, and I wouldn’t have to pay R60 a pop for the privilege. (Can’t fault you there.)

All I can say is, I guess you either get it or you don’t — I am certainly not trying to convince you to start hot yoga. But that hour at lunch time is like the eye of the storm of my life.

(Watch now as I deftly tie the topic of yoga to the spring minestrone recipe below.)

Making this spring minestrone is a bit like yoga...

(Impressive, huh?)

... in that it requires effort and commitment.

If, that is, you are going to be shelling farmer’s market peas and boad beans yourself, as I did. You could always just get the pre-shelled ones from Woolies if you like, I won’t judge you.

This minestrone is just so good for the soul — I mean, look how green it is. You can just tell it’s pure goodness. And it tastes even better than it looks. It’s the perfect way to combine all the lovely green things sprouting all over the place this time of year. (Feel free to add whatever you like — zucchini, beans, artichokes, or even chopped potatoes, pasta or cooked cannellini beans.) I'm sure I don't have to tell you that the success of this soup hinges on the quality of the stock.

Promise me you’ll try it.


Spring minestrone
Serves 6

Extra virgin olive oil
1 onion, finely chopped
2 cloves of garlic, finely sliced
1,5 litres good chicken, ham or vegetable stock
100g peas, podded
100g asparagus, chopped into 3cm pieces (separate tips from the woody stems)
100g broad beans, podded
100g spinach, chopped
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 small handful each fresh basil and parsley, finely chopped
100g Parma ham or pancetta, chopped & fried until crispy

1. Add a good glug of olive oil to a large heavy-bottomed pot and add the onion and garlic. Cook gently on a very low heat until the onion is nice and glassy (make sure it doesn’t brown), about 15 minutes.
2. Add the stock and simmer for 10 minutes. Add the peas and asparagus stems and simmer for 2 minutes. Then add the broad beans, spinach and asparagus tips. Cook for a minute, then stir in the ham. Season to taste.
3. Ladle the soup into bowls and top with a spoonful of chopped basil and parsley to stir through.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Broad beans, orecchiette, minty ricotta & anchovy croutons

I have a few strategies for cheering myself up when I feel a little blue, a little uninspired, or when I just want to plak a smile on my face.

The most effective is to sing Eminem songs to myself in a Punjabi accent (‘The Real Slim Shady’ is a favourite).

A stroll on the mountain is also a reliable way to lift my spirits. Summer arrived in Cape Town this weekend (and then swiftly departed on Monday), and since I’m lucky enough to live within walking distance of Rhodes Memorial, I took an amble on Sunday morning. And some pretty pictures. Mooi, neh?

Apart from warm weather and extra daylight, nothing helps summer hit home quite like the glut of greens that flood the farmers’ markets around this time of year, none of which I anticipate more avidly than broad beans.

These beautiful emerald nuggets are impossible to resist. Although, after podding about a kilo of them, I thought I might have a little more success resisting them next year.

I concocted this killer recipe over the weekend. You could leave out the mint, if you like, or the anchovies, but I liked the combination. It was a glorious plate of summer.

Broad beans, orecchiette, minty ricotta & anchovy croutons

The amounts for this dish are not all that important (i.e. I am too lazy to figure them out). Just cook enough pasta (about 450g for four people) and take it from there.

Pod a whack of broad beans, blanch briefly (like, a minute or two), then remove the tough outer skin. Boil orecchiette. Cut some nice, crusty ciabatta up into little bocks. Heat some olive oil and melt some anchovies (about 5). Fry the bread cubes until golden brown and crunchy.

Mix up some ricotta and finely chopped mint, and season to taste with salt and black pepper. (Add a tablespoon of yoghurt if the ricotta is a little dry.)

Divide the pasta and broad beans between plates/bowls, dot with blobs of  ricotta and top with croutons. Give a final sprinkle of salt and black pepper, drizzle with some good quality extra virgin olive oil and finish with a squeeze of lemon juice.

Et voilà!

Thursday, October 6, 2011

The Table

Russel Wasserfall and his wife Camilla Comins are probably going to have to take out a restraining order against the Guinea Pig and I.

We are their NBFs (New Biggest Fans).

Set in an old farm house to one side of a lush vineyard (De Meye, a family-owned boutique winery in Stellenbosch), it seems somehow misleading to describe The Table as a restaurant — it feels more like visiting old friends for a long, lazy Sunday lunch.

Russel is instantly likable — what's not to love about a man who has you quaffing rosé and chatting away less than a minute after arrival? (If his name sounds familiar, it’s because he’s one of the South Africa’s top food photographers.) Camilla works her considerable magic in the kitchen. She's a professional food whiz: trained chef, stylist, and food product developer.

Our meal at The Table was 100% pretention-free. It was nurturing, nourishing, delicious, transportive — the antithesis of what one might expect from Jardine or Dale-Roberts (#nothingagainstthempersonally) and the like, whose dishes leave me feeling nonplussed as to how, exactly, I am supposed to have benefitted from the experience.

For R200, the set menu included steamed mussels in a creamy sauce with homemade bread to start, then a main of large, thick slices of perfectly roasted beef with Béarnaise, a flawless Caesar salad and an enormous onion tart that I think the Guinea Pig could quite happily have scoffed all on his own in a dark cupboard. Dessert was a very generous portion of some yummy kind of coconut cake with chocolate ice cream that I was just too full to take more than a bite of. Our entire meal could have fed four people. (The leftovers fed us for three whole days.)

It’s no coincidence then that Russel’s keyword throughout our sporadic afternoon conversations was 'abundance'.

Of course, we each drank our own body weight in wine, and were the last to leave. (A tip: if Russel makes a wine pairing recommendation, go with it. I didn’t and regretted it.) The Wasserfall-Comins were very gracious about our slurring, stumbling, and somewhat-embarrassing-in- the-cold-light-of-the-next-day ardour, bless them.

We are already plotting our return to the scene of the crime.

The Table at De Meye
083 252 9588

Psssst: This week's menu is…
• Starter
Bushpig rillettes with caper berries and pickles, a baked mozzarella in lemon with bay leaves and crusty bread
• Main
Butterflied leg of lamb cooked with thyme and paprika, served with potato wedges, braised leeks and baby spinach with a hot mustard dressing
• Dessert
Strawberries with meringues and cream and a scoop of chocolate ice cream

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Buttered prawns with tomato, olives and Pernod. Yea, verily

I debated (and debated and debated) about whether to share this recipe — because, frankly, the pic I took isn't all that.

And nothing makes me click away from a food blog faster than an ugly-ass picture.

Thing is, god-damn it tasted good. It had the Guinea Pig and I licking our plates and groaning indecently (and not for the usual reasons).

Apart from Pernod, the ingredients are all kitchen cupboard no-brainers. (I used frozen peeled prawns from Woolies. There is no way in hell this working gal is going to be peeling and deveining after work.) It is a one-pan wonder.

If you have Pernod at home, you just have to make this. I mean, you just have to. For me. Do it for me.


Buttered prawns with tomato, olives and Pernod
(Adapted from Ottolenghi: The Cookbook)
Serves 2 as a main, 4 as a starter

4 large plum tomatoes, chopped (I used 1 can chopped tomatoes)
About 16 fresh shrimp (I used about 2 cups frozen peeled prawns from Woolies, so there)
3 tablespoons softened butter
About 20 Kalamata olives, pits removed
About 4 teaspoons Pernod, or to taste (I used close to 6 teaspoons)
3 garlic cloves, sliced very thin
2 tablespoons chopped flat leaf parsley
Coarse sea salt
Grilled or toasted whole grain bread or ciabatta

1. Prepare the tomatoes: Bring a small pot of water to boil. Using a sharp knife, make a small cross at the bottom of each tomato. Drop the tomatoes in boiling water for 30 seconds. Remove and when they have cooled slightly, peel them. Core the tomatoes and cut each one into 4 to 6 wedges. Set aside.
2. Prepare the prawns: Remove the peels, but leave the tail section in place. Using a sharp knife, cut down the back of each prawn and rinse away the dark vein.

3. Place a large frying pan over high heat. When very hot, add one tablespoon of butter and sauté the prawns for 1 to 2 minutes, shaking the pan or flipping them around with a spatula. Add the tomatoes and olives, and continue sautéing for another 2 to 3 minutes, until the prawns are almost cooked through. Drizzle in the Pernod. Let the alcohol evaporate for 1 minute before quickly adding the remaining butter, plus the garlic, parsley and salt to taste. Toss to blend the flavors, then serve immediately with grilled or toasted crusty bread.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Beetroot bashing

I find the people’s adoration of beetroot utterly mystifying.

It tastes like earth, but not in a pleasant way, like oysters taste of the sea. I mean it tastes like soil, to me. Ground. With a little sugar added.


It gives everything else on your plate a reddish tinge (which inevitably reminds me of the Mercurochrome my mom used to dab on our scraped knees).

It also makes your pee go pink.

I don’t know. Maybe I suffered some sort of humiliation involving a beetroot in my formative years. I'll ask my mom when she starts returning my calls.

I am well aware you are probably very fond of beetroot, and I’m sorry I can’t share your enthusiasm for such culinary revelations as beetroot risotto… or beetroot mousse… or pickled beetroot... or beetroot salad.

I can’t think of a single beetroot dish that wouldn’t taste better substituted with some other ingredient, or isn't an attempt to make the taste of beetroot more palatable — as opposed to enhancing its natural (theoretical) sapidity.

All this is my way of saying that today’s recipe is 100% beetroot free. BUT, if you do like your pee an attractive shade of rosé, I hear that Labneh is really quite a lovely accompaniment to roasted beets.


It’s a rad kind of yoghurt cheese, easy peasy to make, super yummy and versatile. (Don't you think this pic looks like a fairy did its business on a dishtowel?)

Mostly it’s best just spread on toast with some ripe chopped tomato and onion or garlic and herbs, for example, or in a frittata, or sprinkled over a lovely lentil dish, such as this one.

I made an unseasonably summery dish with zucchini that I found on one of my favourite blogs, Taste of Beirut. I mean, it’s not going to win any awards for imagination, but it is a lovely little reminder of how something simple can also be something thrilling (okay, maybe I need to get out more).

It was delicious though.

You want about 500ml of good, thick, full-cream yoghurt. Mix in a tablespoon of Maldon salt (or ordinary salt, but, you know).
Place a sieve over a bowl and line the sieve with muslin cloth — or a dishtowel, I don’t care. Plonk the yoghurt into the sieve, tie up the corners of the muslin and twist so the yoghurt is naais and toit.
Place something heavy over the ball of yoghurt (I used a bag of dry beans) and leave in the fridge for between 12 and 24 hours.
Squeeze out any excess liquid and unravel your lovely ball of labneh.
To store, place it in a clean jar, cover in olive oil and store in the fridge. Add some dried herbs or paprika if you like.

Pasta with zucchini and labneh sauce
Serves 2

400g pasta (shells, penne, whatever you like really)
1 cup labneh
About 700g zucchini
4 cloves of garlic, mashed into a paste with some salt in a mortar
1 large handful each basil and parsley
Olive oil, as needed

1. Wash and dry the zucchini and slice.
2. Cook the pasta until nearly done, then add the zucchini to the cooking water. Cook for a minute, or until the pasta is cooked. You want to make sure the zucchini stays al dente. Drain, reserving about 1/2 cup of the pasta cooking water. Transfer the pasta to a bowl.
3. In the same pot, fry the garlic gently in a little olive oil, until fragrant. Add the labneh and warm it slightly so it mixes with the olive oil. Add the pasta and zucchini, and a little of the cooking water. Mix in the herbs, season with plenty of salt and black pepper, and serve.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Glory be: scrambled eggs with lentils and burnt sage butter

For us working stiffs, there is no indulgence more achingly longed for — and, when the time comes, languidly savoured — than the Saturday morning lie-in. Particularly in winter.

Ensconced in fluffy duvets, I open my crusty peepers (woken by natural light — what a luxury!), and then it washes over me: the realisation that I don’t have to get out of bed; that for the next 48 hours (if I’m lucky), my only obligation is to do whatever I bloody well feel like.

Usually, this means staying in bed. Between my laptop, a pile of Donna Hay and Observer magazines, and a good novel, I could quite easily spend the entire weekend in my jammies. (‘You’re going to get bed sores again,’ says the Guinea Pig, bless him.) If you can manipulate your bed mate to make you a cup of tea or coffee every half-hour, more power to you.

Naturally, my thoughts only turn to breakfast at about noon, and so commences the internal struggle: ‘Oooh some lovely buttery eggipeggs would be just the thing now... But oh, its so warm and toasty under the covers — you mean I’d have to get out of bed and get dressed? That’s crazy talk, woman.’

So I procrastinate by pondering all the rude things I’d like to do to eggs for breakfast, until I can’t stand it any more and find myself in the kitchen, clanging pots and pans, looking like an escaped mental patient.

This morning’s brekkie for two was the sum of the following equation:

½ tin lentils (bought by accident, I didn’t look at the label properly and thought they were chickpeas — use ordinary home-cooked lentils by all means)
4 large eggs, beaten until fluffy, with about 2 tbsp water added
2 slices toasted seed bread
1 handful sage leaves fried in butter until crispy (the butter should go brown and nutty)
Scrambled eggs with lentils and burnt sage butter

Just drain the lentils, add to the eggs and scramble, plonk on buttered toast and top with the sage leaves and a drizzle of the burnt butter. Best eaten in bed.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Spaghetti recipe for retards

I love food. Love it.

‘Well duh,’ I hear you say, but bear with me.

The thing is, even though I own a teetering pile of cookbooks, and have perused hundreds, nay, thousands of online recipes over the years, I still draw a blank when considering what to have for dinner on week nights.

The only explanation I can come up with is that, at the end of a busy work day, my poor brain just balks at having to make one more decision, especially if my livelihood is not dependent on the outcome.

Even after discovering this fabulous list of easy meals in under 10 minutes on the New York Times website, I was still feeling uninspired last night, so I decided to ask the Oracle: Twitter.

The feedback was immediate, and immediately inspiring. I asked for an unusual spaghetti sauce and got the following: this rocket and anchovy pasta from @Dr_Rousseau; mascarpone, lemon zest and finely chopped mint from @SoniaCabano2; puttanesca from @fredhatman; prawns with spinach, garlic, lemon zest and chilli from @TheFoodRoom; and lemon zest, olive oil and garlic from Tara_L_B. Thank you all for coming to my rescue.

However, it was this suggestion from @Enigmeg that I decided on. I went to Woolies intent on buying mascarpone, lemons and mint, but realised I couldn’t stop thinking about oozy, unctuous grilled Camembert.

This, people, is an infallible pasta recipe. If you can boil pasta and operate the grill in your oven, you can make this. In 20 minutes.

It’s stupidly easy, gorgeously rich and silky, and tastes as good as it sounds. The only risk is that you might get arrested by Weight Watchers.

Spaghetti with roasted Camembert and cherry tomatoes

All you need, for two, is enough spaghetti (about 300g), Camembert (2 wheels, tops trimmed off and set in foil), cherry tomatoes (about 500g), and rosemary (about four sprigs, leaves picked and chopped).

Plonk the tomatoes and Camembert in an oven tray, sprinkle with rosemary, drizzle with olive oil and grill until the cheese is bubbling and the tomatoes are ever so slightly charred, about 10 minutes.

In the meantime, cook the pasta in lots of salted boiling water and drain, reserving a little of the cooking liquid. Return pasta to the pot, spoon over the molten Camembert and scrape over the rosemary and tomatoes. Season to taste.

Mix it all up, adding some of the cooking water to get it nice and silken, then stick a forkful in your mouth, and sigh.

Supper, sorted.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Pretty, pretty, glug, glug

I like to think I have above-average willpower. (Despite evidence to the contrary.)

I mean, I can resist flying into a rage when DVD Nouveau has rented out the next instalment of True Blood/30 Roc/Sons of Anarchy to someone else.

I can (occasionally) resist shouting ‘**nting retard!!’ at those who cut in front of me in the morning traffic.

I can even resist the (often quite powerful) urge to have scrambled eggs for both breakfast and dinner.

But I cannot resist a prettily packaged bottle of wine. I just can't.

In fact, I can’t quite fathom why more marketers haven’t cottoned on to this. I mean, the wine labels below could be stuck to a bottle of paint stripper, and I'd still... have to... buy them.

It’s a very real, very Alice in Wonderland ‘Drink Me’ compulsion.

Luckily, the ones below contain glorious wine, not paint stripper – I have tasted them all (except the Thunderchild).

I mean, just look at them…


Purdy, non?

I also quite like this one...

Red blend Alphabetical: get in touch with The Foodie, David Cope, at
Secateurs: AA Badenhorst
Thunderchild: Lettie or Petro at the Herberg 023 626 3140
Kloof Street: Mullineux Family Wines
Six Hats: Citrusdal Wines

Monday, July 18, 2011

I hate food bloggers

‘I hate restaurant critics. I hate restaurant reviews. I hate food bloggers. I hate all foodie commentators with their boring bloody opinions about everything, and their “accurately judged bisque”  and their “uncertain seasoning” and their “muddled flavours” and their “distracted service”. It’s all bollocks! Do you hear me? It’s all total rubbish. You know nothing. Nobody cares. Your wretched evaluations are subjective, ill-informed, prejudiced, pointless, perfectly irrelevant and of no interest to anyone. You are boring. You are fat. You are pasty-faced and stupid and wear ugly shoes. Shut up. Shut up. Shut up.’

I happened upon this rant by Giles Coren in a May issue of the UK Times Magazine. I think it’s the best thing he’s ever written (and about as close to writing like AA Gill as he’ll ever get, shame). And I found myself nodding (and grinning) in agreement.

Ironic, no?

Which brings me to an interesting piece on the Mail & Guardian website about the contention between food bloggers and bona fide (i.e. they get paid) food writers — the ‘contention’ part coming mainly from the food writers’ corner. It really irks them that bloggers get invited to promotional events.

Yes, I get it. I think food blogs, for the most part, are pretty annoying. Not only that — 95 percent of them are badly written, unattractive, or both. I especially loved this excerpt in the MG piece, taken from some unfortunate blog somewhere:

‘I have quite literally never tasted anything as good as the Persian love cake. I can see why it so aptly named — I wanted to do more than just love it. As Josh Groban profoundly stated, It raised me up so I could stand on mountains.’


The thing is, food bloggers are only annoying ... if you let them be. That is, if you choose to be annoyed by them. In fact, the more seriously you take them (er, us), the more annoying they (we) get. So just stop taking us so bloody seriously, okay? In fact, I recommend you stop reading this post right now and go read something we can all be acceptably sanctimonious about, like the situation in Libya. Or Julius Malema. Or hipsters.

Go on...




You might have stuck around to find out about the picture I posted. It’s a delicious chickpea salad recommended to me by a colleague. I served it with a pomegranate molasses and cumin marinated roast chicken, and it went down a treat. (Not that I can speak with any authority on the matter, mind you.)


Chickpea, feta and coriander salad
(From Falling Cloudberries by Tessa Kiros)
Serves 6 as a side

400g tinned chickpeas
250ml olive oil
1 large red onion, chopped
5 garlic cloves, very finely chopped
1 or 2 red chillies, seeded and finely chopped
250g crumbled feta cheese
4 spring onions, green part only, chopped
25g chopped coriander
30g chopped parsley
Juice of 1 lemon

1. Rinse chickpeas and place them in a bowl.
2. Heat 3 tbsp olive oil and fry the red onion gently until it is cooked through and lightly golden. Add the garlic and chilli and cook for a few more seconds, until you can smell the garlic. Take care not to brown the garlic. Leave to cool completely.
3. Add the feta, spring onion, coriander, parsley and lemon juice to the chickpeas and season. Add the onion mixture and the remaining oil and mix through.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Pea, ricotta and lemon zest risotto

Everyone tells you (well, the ‘experts’, anyway) that risotto is one of the easiest dishes in the world to make — once you know how. And, of course, the kicker lies in those last four words. Unfortunately risotto is one of those dishes that refuses to be pinned down by a recipe. As with all things in life, experience is the secret ingredient. It is one thing to fling together one of Jamie’s salads or one of Yotam Ottolenghi’s roasts, but it is quite another to coax a gorgeous risotto from various combinations of stock, rice, onion and butter.

In Giorgio Locatelli’s restaurant, they set a timer for 17 minutes for the newbies learning to cook risotto, and it must be cooked within that time. I have never cooked risotto anywhere close to this time — mine usually takes about half an hour — but I did discover, after my first five or so attempts, that cooking the rice on the highest heat speeded up the whole process, and as you’re meant to be constantly stirring, it shouldn’t burn or stick to the bottom. Use the biggest heavy-based pot you own, and have the stock simmering in another pot on the stove as you cook.

And if you’re going to use crappy stock, you can just forget it. Sorry.

Everyone who loves to make risotto develops their own personal relationship with it. And like any relationship, it takes a little trial and error, a little time, but if you persist until you get it right (and try not to sulk or throw too many tantrums), the results can be, well, orgasmic.

I made this one chilly winter’s evening. It’s actually a spring dish — you’re supposed to make it with fresh new peas — but I used frozen and I thought they worked out just fine. (Better than fine.) It’s a lovely dish to make if you feel like something warm and comforting, but also not too dense or heavy. I also left out the vermouth as I didn’t have any, and thought the result did not suffer for it. I’m sure it tastes even more amazing if you include it though.

Pea, ricotta and lemon zest risotto (from the River Café Green cookbook)
For 6

3kg fresh young peas [or frozen!]
250g fresh ricotta cheese, lightly beaten
Finely grated rind of two washed lemons
1.5 litres chicken stock
Maldon salt and freshly ground black pepper
3 garlic cloves, peeled, 2 chopped
200g unsalted butter
500g spring onions, roughly chopped
400g carnaroli or arborio rice
2 tablespoons torn fresh basil leaves
150ml dry vermouth
50g Parmesan, freshly grated

1. Heat the chicken stock to boiling and check for seasoning. Bring a medium saucepan of water to the boil, and add half a tablespoon salt, the peas, half the mint and the whole garlic clove. Simmer for three to four minutes or until the peas are al dente. Drain, keeping back 150ml of the water. Return the peas, mint and garlic clove to this water and put aside.
2. Melt 150g of the butter in a large, thick-bottomed saucepan, add the onion and soften. Add the chopped garlic, then the rice, stirring to coat each grain for about two to three minutes. Add a ladle of hot stock and stir, adding another when the rice has absorbed the first. Continue stirring and adding stock for 10 minutes or until the rice is not quite al dente.
3. Add half the peas, keeping back the cooked garlic and mint and their liquor. Mash together the remainder of the peas, mint and garlic with the liquor in a food processor, then add to the risotto and stir. Stir in the basil. Add the vermouth, about 2 tablespoons of the ricotta, and the remaining butter. Test for doneness: the rice should be al dente. Serve with the remaining ricotta over each portion, sprinkled with lemon zest, salt, pepper and Parmesan.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Babel, Babylonstoren

Oysters with radish sorbet (and little radish 'halos')

Here are some pics from a recent visit to Babel restaurant at Babylonstoren. Exquisite food, magnificent location, reasonable prices.

Highlights included fresh oysters served with radish sorbet. The taste was so strange and interesting that all conversation at our table halted while we tried to analyse what we were experiencing… Not exactly delicious, but certainly interesting, and memorable.

The 'red' salad (there was a green one and yellow one, too) was made with fresh produce from Babylonstoren. Simple, subtle, undisguised flavours — though my first mouthful struck me as a little bland, by the third I could not believe how delicious a plain (unadorned) warm salad could be.

Warm 'red' salad
There were also elegant details: large cabbage leaves in crystal vases, and poppy seed pods to shake over your salad.

Poppy seed pods
The only let down, if it was even that, was the ‘bacon and eggs’ themed crème brûlée 'dessert'. I ordered it against my better judgement, and will not do so again. The savoury egg custard with sugar lid and a slice of bacon on the side… Two very intimate concepts that should not go together — it just made me feel weird and uncomfortable. A bit like French kissing your grandfather.

I highly recommend making a day of Babylonstoren. Linger over lunch, then hold hands and wander the grounds. You will be hard-pressed to find a more idyllic package.

Tel:+ 27 (0) 21 863 3852

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Let’s not get carried away

I wonder if I am alone in finding it curious when a cookbook is described as ‘the only one you’ll ever need’. I’ve seen it fairly often, and it always occurs to me that the marketing brain behind such a claim must have precious little understanding of how the average cookbook-buyer’s mind works.

The idea of only ever owning one Indian cookbook, say, depresses me enormously. Gordon Ramsey said that Giorgio Locatelli’s Made in Italy: Food and Stories was the only Italian cookbook one would ever need. But what of it? Cookbooks — these days — are not about need; they are about desire. Gordon clearly has no inkling of the frenzied thrall that grips a foodie’s mind when passing the cookbook shelves at their local Exclusive Books.

The sheer pleasure of bringing home a new one, still crisp-smelling and splatter free, ensconcing oneself on the couch with a cup of tea or a glass of wine and something to nibble (NEVER read a cookbook on an empty stomach), is one of the greatest I know.

I could scold myself for not making more use of the multitude I already own, but I actually do make use of them. I can quite happily spend an entire morning paging through each one, getting reacquainted. Faced with the if-your-house-was-on-fire-what-would-you-save? scenario, I’d probably go for my grandmothers’ jewellery, but I would pause for one last mournful look at my cookbooks, with deep regret.

I own not one, but four River Cafe cookbooks, and the thought of picking a favourite is unthinkable — a bit of a Sophie’s Choice (aha, okay, let’s not get carried away) — but, if pressed (and you are pressing me, right?), I would have to say that the latest, the River Cafe Classic Italian Cookbook, is my favourite.

It came out about two years ago, and contains all the authors’ favourite recipes, with a little note on where and how they discovered each dish. If I feel like a quick trip to Italy (in my head), I open this book. But I am not going to do a review here and now. Perhaps another time.

I would, however, like to share with you a beautifully simple recipe from it that is quite breathtaking in its simplicity, and just plain scrumptious. The only catch is that you’ll have to get hold of some chickpea flour, but this should be available at a good deli or health shop. I got mine from Wellness Warehouse.

It’s basically a thick, savoury chickpea pancake, crispy on the outside and soft on the inside. Ideally served as a snack before a meal with a good red in winter, or some fizz in summer. Plus it makes your kitchen smell wonderful.

Faranita con rosmarino
Chickpea faranita with fresh rosemary
Serves 6

1 litre warm water
300g chickpea flour
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
approx. 200ml extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons chopped fresh rosemary

1. Pour the water into a large bowl. Sieve in the chickpea flour and whisk until the mixture has a smooth consistency. Add one tablespoon of salt and one teaspoon of black pepper and stir to combine. Cover with a cloth and leave to rest in a warm place for at least two hours.
2. Preheat your oven to 250C, or as high as it will go. Skim the foam from the surface of the batter and stir in 100ml olive oil. Pour one tablespoon of oil into a faranita pan, or a frying pan with an oven-proof handle, and place in the hot oven for about five minutes, until the oil is smoking.
3. Give the batter a good stir, then  pour just enough into the pan to make a layer approximately 1cm thick, tilting the pan to spread it evenly. Sprinkle a little rosemary over the top, and return the faranita to the oven to bake for about 20 minutes. The top should be brown and the pancake should have a crisp texture, but be soft in the centre. Slice into wedges and serve immediately as an appetizer, with a glass of Prosecco, while you get on with making the rest of the pancakes. This amount should make three.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Societi Bistro’s Risotto Nero

Last night I had the strangest dream. I was in the studio audience of a (fictitious) Australian TV talk show called ‘Doug’. I’m sure you can guess the name of the host; a portly, silver-haired man (if you’re interested, he looked a lot like the actor who played Muriel’s father in Muriel’s Wedding). Before he appeared, the audience started chanting ‘Doug, Doug, Doug’, Jerry Springer style.

Not a lot else happed in the dream. I got lost trying to find the bathroom, and the show never actually aired due to technical difficulties (on my less up-beat days, I imagine this could be quite an accurate summary of my life).

I’d much rather believe this dream was a sort of existential greeting from my subconscious (you know, the usual: ‘Hello! I’m over here! Quick, stuff four sardines up your nostril and jump out of this poodle-drawn chariot so I can stop spelling ESIOTROT backwards’), than a result of my dinner the night before. But there’s something dark (literally and figuratively) and a little mysterious about risotto nero — which is what I had for dinner the night before — so I’m inclined to believe the latter.

I was compelled to make it after I’d tasted an absolutely exquisite plateful at Societi Bistro. They’re doing a kind of culinary tour of Italy over the next month or so, offering a full-course dinner from particular regions, and I was invited to pop in and have a taste. The risotto was my favourite, and I couldn’t stop thinking about it, so I asked chef Stafan Marais for the recipe.

I found the result was fresh, gorgeously buttery and savoury, and the squid ink gives a delicate taste of the sea. Of course, you cannot make this without home-made fish stock, so I’ve included Giorgio Locatelli’s recipe. I get put off dishes that insist you have to make your own stock because I just don’t have time — but I was pleasantly surprised to learn that fish stock only takes a fraction of the time that other stocks do: no more than 30 minutes.

The other essential is squid ink, which you will probably only find at a good delicatessen, such as Giovanni’s or Main Ingredient (the only one’s I know of in Cape Town). If you don’t have any fish bones, your local fishmonger should be able to help you out — try The Little Fisherman in Muizenberg (in CT), or even your local Woolies, if it has a fish counter (like the one at Cavendish Square).  
Of course, if you don’t feel like the hassle of creating this splendid meal, you could always pop through to Societi Bistro — I believe their risotto nero is on the specials list this week.

Pleasant dreams.

Societi Bistro’s Risotto Nero
Serves 4

1 x 300g squid, cleaned, tubes cut open and cut into pieces, tentacles cleaned (discard mouth & eyes etc)
2 sachets squid ink
2 tbsp olive oil
60g butter
1 onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, smashed
100ml dry white wine
350g risotto rice (I  [Stephan] mostly use Arborio, but Carneroli is also fine)
1,8 litres warm, simmering fish stock (see below)

1. Melt the oil and half the butter. Add the onion and fry gently until translucent. Add the garlic and fry for another two minutes, then add the squid and continue to cook for a further five minutes, until the squid has coloured.
2. Add the wine and let it reduce by about a third. Add the rice and stir through thoroughly so it is evenly coated.
3. Add a ladleful of stock to the rice and continue stirring until it is absorbed. Add another ladleful, and continue stirring and adding until the rice is nearly cooked (so it’s al dente but still has a slightly chalky bite). You may not need to use all of the stock. Now add the stock with the squid ink (see TIP), stirring for half a minute, then remove from the heat and beat in the butter. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve immediately.

TIP: Wash the squid ink sachets thoroughly and then cut the packets open and submerge in about a cup of hot fish stock — otherwise loads of ink sticks to the inside of the packet and stays behind.

Giorgio Locatelli’s fish stock
Makes about 2 litres

The bones of flat fish make the best stock, as they give a good flavour but aren’t oily. If you want to give the stock a rosy colour, or a little more acidity, add a couple of smashed tomatoes.

500g flat fish bones, washed well to remove any blood as this will make the stock bitter
1 leek, roughly chopped
1 onion, roughly chopped
1 celery stalk, roughly chopped
1 bay leaf
a few parsley stalks
a few black peppercorns
100ml dry white wine

1. Put everything in a pot, cover with water by about two fingers (depending on how intense you want the stock to be — the less water you use, the richer it will be).
2. Bring to just under the boil (the lower you do this, the more flavour the fish stock will have). Skim the scum off the surface, turn down the heat and simmer for 20 minutes, skimming as necessary.
Turn off the heat and let the stock settle, then put through a fine sieve [or muslin cloth].

Saturday, May 14, 2011

On the lamb: Jamie’s gorgeously minty, lemony tartare

Autumn. It gets me every time.

I will be going about my business, and then it happens. Perhaps the light catches a vase of flowers just so. Or a break in the clouds illuminates the world so exquisitely that I can’t help but inwardly gasp — and then comes the intense, hollow longing; an unidentifiable nostalgia so acute that I tear-up, for no reason other than the autumn light is so beautiful, so tragic.

It only happens at this time of year, my favourite season. And it’s not a bad feeling, exactly. It’s ... bittersweet.

Maybe it feels tragic because it’s a portent of the cold months to come.

Or maybe I just need to refill my Prozac prescription (or should that be ‘Prosaic’?).

After reading one of Kate Liquorish’s posts, I decided to call on a butcher she recommended at the Neighbourgoods Market, where I relieved him of a beautiful piece of free-range lamb loin. Later I roasted two thirds of it, but first I cut off a chunk and made this molto delicious lamb tartare from Jamie At Home. Please do make it the next time you have a piece of good-quality free-range lamb. It is fresh (thanks to the mint and lemon juice), tasty and deliciously juicy and meaty. I far prefer it to beef tartare.

Just a note: I served the tartare with caper berries instead of cornichons, and only used lemon juice, leaving out the orange juice, and it worked out just dandy.

It’s the perfect dish — with a good red — for an autumn afternoon, when the sunlight is thin and slanting... (Oh dear, there she goes again.)

PS: Check out my Q&A at iAfrica Food (if only to see a very unflattering photo of me eating an ice cream in Melbourne).

PPS: I have a new 'About' as well as a new masthead. What do you think? Prefer the old one? I'm undecided...

[Jamie’s] really very delicious lamb tartare   
Serves 4

You might be surprised to hear this, but there’s absolutely nothing wrong with eating raw lamb, just as there’s nothing wrong with eating raw beef. Carpaccios and steak tartares are pretty common in France and Italy, and for quite some time now we’ve been featuring lamb tartare on our menu at Fifteen. It always goes like hotcakes and people clean their plates, so I’d love for you guys to give it a go. It’s quick to make, contemporary, slightly restauranty but absolutely delicious.

In Italy I tasted this with new season’s olive oil, which was just delicious. Try to get hold of some because a good oil can make all the difference, rather than using cheap gear.

As far as the cut of meat is concerned, the fillet or loin is traditionally used to make tartare, but with lamb you can use slightly tougher and tastier cuts like rump and leg, as long as the sinews are removed (this is really important, the butcher can do it for you) and you give the meat a good bash with a tenderising hammer, or something heavy, before you start chopping it up.

450g trimmed best quality lamb meat
1 fresh red chilli, halved and deseeded
a small jar of little gherkins
a small bunch of fresh mint, finely chopped, baby leaves reserved
1 teaspoon French mustard
Juice of one orange
Juice of one lemon
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Extra virgin olive oil
8 x 1cm thick slices of ciabatta bread
2 handfuls watercress, washed and spun dry

1. Get yourself a large chopping knife. Put your meat on a chopping board and slice it up, then chop it until you have a coarse mince. Push this to one end of the board and finely slice your chilli on the other. Add the gherkins to the board and chop these up on top of the chilli, then add the mint on top and finely chop again.
2. Put the meat and all the flavourings from the board into a bowl and stir together, adding the mustard and orange and lemon juice. Mix up and season with salt and pepper to taste. Pour in a few glugs of olive oil. Mix everything together so that all the meat is nicely coated and dressed in the lovely flavours — have a taste. This is your opportunity to have a little more heat if you want it, with mustard or chilli, or a little extra lemon juice to cut through. Seasoning it well is also really important.
3. When the meat is tasting really good, heat up your grill or a griddle pan and toast the ciabatta slices. There are two ways I like to serve this dish. You can give each person a couple of ciabatta slices on their plate, topped with a spoonful of tartare, a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil and a little lemon-dressed watercress. Or, if you want to be a little more family style, you can put all the tartare onto a platter and drizzle with extra virgin olive oil. Place a couple of extra gherkins on the side and scatter over the reserved baby mint leaves. Serve with a bowl of lemon-dressed watercress and a basketful of toasted bread next to it, and let everyone dive in and help themselves.