Mapshalia: Megrelian cuisine with a smile

Mapshalia: Megrelian cuisine with a smile

Mapshalia is as unassuming as they come. The entrance – a small doorway down a few steps – is marked simply in Georgian, the throng of locals dragging on their cigarettes outside (smoking indoors is now illegal in Georgia) the only give away that there’s something worth seeing inside. The atmosphere is exceedingly casual. You’ll be as comfortable here as you’d feel showing up at a family braai in slops and a faded “I’m drunk and you’re still ugly” t-shirt. The small dining hall, covered in Soviet era plaster scenes, would be stiflingly hot in summer, but thankfully there are tiny, private cubicles hidden behind swing doors with windows set in at road level that are much cooler. And when I say tiny, I mean TINY. Like don’t bring your big boned Aunt Hilda here for lunch tiny. Small benches, only 20cm wide and not much higher, are crammed right up against the walls, leaving just enough space for the low table on which they will pile on your Megrelian feast, starting with chunks of gloriously chewy bread and a spicy, gazpacho like soup in which to dunk it. If Georgia were a Magic Mike film, Megrelian cuisine would be Joe Manganiello – much heavier on the hotness, so make sure you have a bottle of local Tbilisi beer or cream lemonade to swig before you tuck in.

Our English menus were brought to us by a very friendly waitress, which set the homely tone for the whole meal. You only have to travel in Tbilisi for a short while to realise how friendliness in wait staff is not a given. In fact, it’s the exception to the rule. The staff at Mapshalia were all delightfully welcoming. The menu is small with the most glaring omission being khachapuri, the Megrelian version of which does not only get cheese stuffed between the layers of bread, but also has a liberal dose of sulguni slathered on top. But seeing as you’re in Georgia, and as such probably have khachapuri oozing out your pores as you climb the hills around Tbilisi by now, you can do without the carbs for one meal.

The stand out dish on the menu is what some say is the best elarji in Tbilisi – cornmeal cooked with sulguni cheese till it forms an oozy, stringy, glorious gloop. It is richer than Warren Buffet could ever hope to be, so the simple meats on offer make for  the perfect pairing. The roast pork was a little on the tough side (like most of the roast meat style that is popular in the region), but was very tasty and the chicken livers were crispily fried on the outside, just the way I like them when they are done this simply with a bit of onion. The spinach pkhali (vegetable and walnut pâté) was flecked with chilli flakes and the portion was enormous, so save some of the aforementioned bread to use as a transportation device for when it arrives. We did not have the kharcho (beef soup with rice) or the kupati sausage, both of which other travellers have highly recommended when visiting Mapshalia. The kupati was not on the menu, and as I have subsequently learnt that it’s basically intestine stuffed with  pig lung, liver, spleen  and spices, I’m sorry I didn’t get to try it before I knew what it was, because now I can never unknow those facts…

Mapshalia is a place where you can get raucous with your family while you Read the rest of this entry

Guest post: Teacher Rachel’s balsamic glazed chicken livers with cauli-rice and roasted hummus

Guest post: Teacher Rachel’s balsamic glazed chicken livers with cauli-rice and roasted hummus

The biggest threat we are facing in 2018 is carbs. The nasty, unrefined kind! The ones that make pizza, curry and rice, the simple toasted sarmie and happiness. They are evil! Worse, way worse than global warming, plastic in the sea or the threat of the Ruskies. Yip, I went there.

Luckily, I have also bought into the #carbcrisis of 2018. Or, have I? I produced a hipster inspired lunch and failed only by my lack of avocado or single source coffee. But, I have created a  worthy, almost vegan (If you ignore the chicken livers and wine, I heard wine isn’t vegan), Paleo friendly, banting worthy (with a small cheat) lunch.

Ladies and gents, who are we kidding, ladies, I give you:

Chicken livers in balsamic glaze on cauliflower rice with roasted hummus.

Cauliflower rice

I don’t live in the land of Woolies food. But I do live in the land of part time cooks, so I have freezer bags of food-processed cauliflower. Freezes like a dream. Having steamed, microwaved and baked my way through cauli-rice, the only method I like is to fry in a non stick pan with a little olive oil. I leave it to start browning on the edges and only then add salt. Salting too early will make your cauli-rice retain water like a matron on a transatlantic flight. Cause I am fancy like that, I add some truffle oil at the end. It turns out nice and nutty this way.

Roasted hummus

This is my current addiction. I roast courgettes with garlic and olive oil and, separately, cauliflower with chili, paprika, cumin and olive oil and blend into hummus with tahini, lime juice and water. Super easy to make and delicious with everything.

La Livers

I love chicken livers. I just never cook them. Or rather never think of them as a meal. This morning having time for a mooch around the supermarket, I saw them, and like that ex that you (I) go back to, I realised I needed the livers. I learned a while ago, that the hardest thing about cooking livers is the prep. They need to be defrosted and then, with a firm yet tender hand, to be prepped (again, like that ex…). They are a little squidgy to touch and it is handy to have a Digger dog ready to eat the discarded bits. But if you actually think of England and choose the choicest bits, and cut them into same sized bits, roughly 2 cm, it will make for perfection later on.

Digger dog (or equivalent) will be delighted with the spoils and you will end up with a perfect dish.

There are so many different ways to prepare the livers. I wanted to try something different. If carbs are your demons, stop reading now. If not:

In a ziplock bag, toss 3 tablespoons of regular flour (sorry Tim) with chilli flakes, chilli powder, cumin and paprika. These play so nicely together, (see roasted cauli hummus above), garlic, salt and some pepper. Shake it about. This is the ziplock’s finest hour, so make that bitch work.

Chop an onion and some garlic and throw into a pan with a little olive oil. Let them do their thing.

Throw a handful of livers in the bag and let them get coated in the delicious carbness.

Remove the onions and garlic and let the livers in. They will need 3 – 4 minutes. A little water will help them on their way and whatever you can lay your hands on. I found Worcester sauce and sweet chilli. After 4 minutes add back the onion and garlic mix around and a splash of balsamic. Start plating and deglaze the pan with balsamic. Let it go gooey. Pour over the livers. Add chopped parsley, pour a glass of rose and bam bitches.

 

Accidentally the best corn bread recipe

Accidentally the best corn bread recipe

Buy a restaurant, they said. It’ll be fun, they said. Four years down the line and I’ve aged a decade, haven’t had two consecutive nights of good sleep in 1562 days and have been relegated to those tier D friends who only get invited to shindigs when half the town has come down with the flu, but you have to throw that roast you accidentally defrosted one inebriated night while looking for boerie to cure the munchies on the Weber before it goes off. I haven’t written a blog post in more than two years and when I sit very, very still, I can almost hear my brain atrophying. I can’t even tell you who the new president of Zim is.

But writing isn’t the only thing that has taken a back seat along with my personal life and cranial development. Apparently the surest way to guarantee you never really get to cook is to do it for a living. This not unsurprising realisation hit me again last night when I found myself fending off fish moths while trying to find a tablecloth that doesn’t smell like old cupboard in order to deck my table for a Mexican dinner party. It’s been a while since I’ve entertained. Which is why I should be forgiven for forgetting that my all time favourite corn bread recipe calls for a tin of creamed sweetcorn. Up until this point I’d been wildly impressed with how my authentically-prepared-with-masa-harina tacos and made-from-scratch dulce de leche for my churros had turned out, so I should have realised that something was due to go pear shaped. I did, however, have some buttermilk on hand, so out of necessity my new favourite corn bread recipe was born. And while I don’t think this accident will change the world in the way, say, the discovery of penicillin or the origin of the potato chip will, I found it so good that I tossed away my old recipe (meaning I deleted it from Pinterest), which is a big deal in my corner of the universe. My version uses very little butter and sugar compared to the usual corn bread recipes, so you might want to up those quantities if you still own a hand stitched scatter pillow that says “I heart Paula Deen”.

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On why I heart Istanbul.

On why I heart Istanbul.

Istanbul collage

Hello world! It’s been a while. Life took one of those unexpected little turns that we like to say are sent to make us stronger, just so we can all feel better about the bad days and have something to put on those motivational posters that feature fluffy goslings swimming against a current. I will tell you about it. Eventually. But for now, suffice it to say I am back (edit – it has now been two years and I have not written a thing, proving that owning a restaurant is not for sissies and we should have an entire section of the motivation poster market set aside just for us), not only to my old self, but out in the world too and I was lucky enough to travel to Istanbul for a few days with Bush Man. I might get round to a walking tour later (edit – no I won’t), but for now I just want to give you a glimpse into why I wish I could change my marital status on Facebook to “In a relationship with Istanbul”. So here, in no particular order, are the top ten reasons why I am completely in love with this city.

The cats.

If two cats are a party, and three cats are a crazy cat lady, 20150811-P1310825then Istanbul will one day die choking on a tin of Pampers and have her face eaten off by Mugsy, Snowball, Tiger and the rest of them. There are a LOT of cats in Istanbul. So let me just admit that I loved that and get the crazy cat lady business out of the way so we can all move on. If you don’t like cats, remind yourself that in a city with upwards of 14 million people, at least cats mean no rats. Most of the cats don’t belong to anyone, and are instead taken care of by whoever happens to be around. You will find bowls of water and little piles of kibble scattered randomly under trees and in front of shop fronts. Shop owners seem to have no problem when the cats make themselves at home on chairs, bookshelves and windowsills, and I didn’t see a single cat come up for a bit of affection and not get it, no matter how much fur it was missing. There’s something so comforting about watching these street dwelling felines in various states of dishevelment being taken care of by strangers and feeling comfortable enough with people to plonk themselves down for a nap anywhere on a street that could see three million people pound its cobbled sidewalk a foot away from them every day and know they are safe.

The people.

Check any travel forum for advice on tourist scams and they’ll tell you that unsolicited offers to help and lazy pick up lines like “Where are you from?” are the number one way for dodgy swindlers to relieve you of your hard earned holiday funds. But the people of Istanbul are genuinely friendly and open to strangers and, for the most part, honestly just want a bit of a chat or to show you how the metro works without expecting anything in return. I’m actually sorry I brushed off a few well meaning strangers while clutching my bag tighter and checking my pocket for my phone before realising this. My advice? Be friendly and open when approached and just ask yourself WWOD? Oprah would say never allow yourself to be taken to a second location. Anyone who offers to show you a nice place for a drink, haircut or bit of carpet shopping (as this isn’t Thailand, we’re talking rugs here, not ladies) is out to swindle you. (We fell for this one in Bangkok and landed up paying around $15 for two drinks, surrounded by mean looking heavies at the Super Pussies ping pong bar. I wish I was making this up. It was the other kind of carpet shopping.) But if they just leave it at chatting or a bit of advice on their favourite dürum joint, chances are they’re just being nice.

20150812-P1310985

The mosaics.

Whether it’s the spectacular domed ceiling of the Blue Mosque, random bits of pavement or a wall behind a loo, the city is full of colourful tiles and bits of glass. My favourite is the enigmatic full mooned faced of the six winged seraph on the ceiling of the Hagia Sophia, but I loved the random discovery of a mosaic-ed drain cover or bit of wall down an otherwise drab, dodgy alley almost as much. And the great thing is that you can take a little part of the magic home with you in the form of mosaic glass lamps in every size and combination of colours your little heart could desire. Something tells me that the locals feel about these lamps the way South Africans do about those vile wooden giraffes that the tourists love to buy despite the logistical nightmare of getting a 2m tall carved animal home on a Boeing. But I loved the little shops cluttered with rainbow hued balls of light on every corner frequented by tourists with what the Turks probably think is a questionable taste in interior decorating. It is happiness at the flip of a light switch.

20150811-P1310807Tea time.

Not to drink it, but to watch the subtle ritual of others drinking it. Turks love their tea (çay). It is taken in delicate, tulip shaped glasses at any time of the day by just about everyone and is most often seen on the streets in front of the mom and pop shops. A few times a day, as if on cue, a young boy or old man will appear with a tray of tea that they then distribute to the shopkeepers who come out and watch the world go by with a cuppa in hand. The tea is simply sweetened with a bit of sugar and stirred with a tiny spoon that makes a tinkle almost as pleasing as ice in a long G&T. Almost… You get some big Turks, and I could spend hours watching the incongruity of a strapping lad or wizened old fruit seller delicately holding a painted saucer with a fine, flowery glass until the tea is just the right temperature to drink – there being no handles on the glasses. Like the cats I mentioned earlier, the simpleness of being content with a cup of tea while you watch the world go by makes it seem like everything is going to be okay after all. Am I weird? I’m probably weird. But then I’ve always Read the rest of this entry

Smoorsnoek samoosas

Smoorsnoek samoosas

With Oscar’s story seemingly having more holes than a good Emmentaler, and a president whose chickens live in better quarters than the average South African, we are about ready for an icon we can look up to. There aren’t many contenders. Frankly, a dim witted fish would do the job at this point. Take snoek for example. Proudly South African and comfortably located on SASSI’s green list so you can tuck in guilt free without worrying about the state of our oceans, snoek is wonderful smoked and mashed up with a bit of mayo as a pâté, or braaied over the coals basted with lemon and apricot jam. Now that I own a restaurant, my culinary adventurism has taken a turn towards the more sensible. Gone are the days of trying out distinctly un-Hestonesque teqhniques on my friends (who fortunately claim they come to visit me for me and not my disastrous gloopy caramelised white chocolate spheres or exploded truffle croquettes). Now it’s all about creating fool proof dishes that can be prepared in advance and finished off with minimum hassle and in as short a time as possible, and these little morsels fit the bill perfectly. I’m quite proud of the fact that I can give someone fairly good directions when asked how to get to the nearest supermarket without getting them horribly lost or sounding like a total chick, but it will really be a lot easier at this point to ask you to just google how to fold samoosas if you don’t know how to do so. Somewhere, someone with a video camera and a mild case of gastronomic exhibitionism has no doubt captured the whole process on film for your reference. Failing that, they’d work perfectly rolled into springrolls too. If you can’t get smoked snoek, smoked mackerel would work just as well.

Smoorsnoek samoosas

 

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La Rosa Blu Café

La Rosa Blu Café

La Rosa Blu CafeOkay, so a month or two tops turned out to be more like four. And a bit. I’m not sure where the time went, but it probably has something to do with falling into the money sucking, soul destroying, bottomless pit that is owning a restaurant. Especially in this town. I believe we have discussed this before? What were we thinking, trying to run a restaurant in a town where “value for money” is getting two eggs with your breakfast instead of one? Even if it means eating that breakfast at the corner garage. Owning a restaurant is like buying a room filled with everyone’s mothers-in-law, and your only job is to make sure that each and every one of them is happy. And they all like different things. Ridiculous, impossible to get right every time things, and one might even utter the words “Your pizza bases are too thin and crispy!”. HOW is that even possible? Is thin and crispy even a problem in a pizza? Do I need to change our bases? I don’t know! It is completely and utterly exhausting. And terrifying. And I am not currently loving it, but I’m hoping to get there eventually. Apparently I was meant to do this. You could’ve fooled me. I feel like I am one crisis away from a complete and utter breakdown. Every day.

The other problem with owning a restaurant is that it changes how you partake in the culinary delights your town has to offer. Visiting any restaurant within a 30km-potential-competition radius is no longer a relaxed evening out. It is a field trip. A learning experience. A reconnaissance, as it were. Sure, there are still intimate conversations as you lean over the table, wine glass in hand and whisper into your husband’s ear, but the conversation is now less about what you’re going to do to each other later and more along the lines of “Our X is much better than their Y”. Or “I wish we had thought of that first!”. Must get over this as eating out in a lovely establishment is my single, greatest pleasure in life.

La Rosa Blu Cafe

This isn’t ours, but I wish it were!

Back when we still had a life, we had a lovely, leisurely lunch at La Rosa La Rosa Blu CafeBlu Café on one of those winter afternoons that makes the rest of the world hate us (it’s okay world, we also have Zuma, mozzies and a pummeled currency so it all evens out). Situated on the Rosenhof rose farm in Waboomskraal near George, this vintage café is the perfect place for a first date. There are so many conversation pieces around you that you will never be stuck for something to say! We didn’t even realise that the fridge standing open next to us, spilling its linen contents all over the place, was actually supposed to be closed and wasn’t a part of the display. The gently worn entropy felt perfectly in keeping with the rest of the decor. A stack of well thumbed books is a table center piece. Old records are table mats. The couches on the patio are worn and threadbare, and you probably wouldn’t look at them twice if you saw them at your local charity shop, but here they invite you to sit down, relax, and take in the view. If couches had eyes, these would have bedroom ones. La Rosa Blu feels as inviting as your grandma’s home. If your grandma was a quirky, funky old lady who liked to collect pretty things and was a kick ass chef. Much of the decor is for sale, so you could take that Frida Kahlo print or odd tea cup home with you if it has grabbed your fancy.

La Rosa Blu CafeThe food is nothing fussy – breakfasts, pastas, sarmies and burgers. But one look at the menu and you know this isn’t your average plate of pasta or sandwiched bread. Vegetarian pasta options include The Capering Cow (rocket, basil pesto and capers) and The Happy Sheep (cherry tomatoes, mushrooms and olives), but – Read the rest of this entry

Cream cheese & herb stuffed chicken with braised leeks & bacon

Cream cheese & herb stuffed chicken with braised leeks & bacon

I don’t trust people who don’t particularly care about food. You know the type. They eat because they have to and wouldn’t particularly care whether you gave them Marmite on toast or seared tuna with truffled cauliflower puree for dinner. In fact, they’d prefer the toast, because the whole thing would be over faster. If they could, they’d pop a pill three times a day in lieu of eating a meal if such a thing were possible. I just don’t trust them. It’s not normal, I tell you! I’m quite sure they’re just waiting for a signal from the mother ship and then they’ll all start shedding their borrowed human skin and start converting nitrogen straight into whatever cells make up their weird-ass, food disdaining, alien bodies. Fortunately (and maybe because of this fact) I married a very appreciative eater. I love cooking for bush man. He makes these little noises as he eats when he’s enjoying the food. Little “hmmm”‘s and “sho”‘s and “that’s good, add it to the list”s (there is no list of dishes I must remember to try again, but I really should start one, because he’s often told me to add things to it and I’m buggered if I can remember a single thing on there now other than this chicken). Anyway, when I made this dish, there were no less than five “hmmm”‘s in the first two minutes of eating, so I knew it was a winner. The original recipe is one concocted by my mom – one of my food heroes and the reason that “Must appreciate food.” was at the top of the list of attributes I looked for in my man. I just added bacon because, well, it’s bacon, and it should be added to stuff. Cream cheese stuffed chicken with bacon and leeks

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Molecular gastronomy: When playing with your food is totally okay.

Molecular gastronomy: When playing with your food is totally okay.

Balsamic jelliesLime drops on soba and lemon whip chicken. Balsamic caviar and foamed olive tartin. Wild mushroom powder that’s washed down with bling. Either Willy Wonka has ventured into savoury, or these could be a few of my new favourite things.

Tsatsiki spheresWe spent an eye opening morning this week watching a molecular gastronomy demonstration hosted by Adrian Louw at Margot Swiss. What a treat! I’ve always thought of molecular gastronomy as being the domain of bald über chefs who cook out of labs in that wonderfully quirky world where food and  science meet. Not that being bald is the prerequisite, but you understand what I mean – fancy gadgets and dangerous gas bottles and equipment and processes with names that contain words like “centrifugal” and “hydrocoidal” and “thermoirreversable” and other terms that you would never associate with food. It’s a world where a humble hunk of blue cheese is not just relegated to a cracker or melted down with a bit of cream over pasta, but can be a foam, a powder, a gummy bear, a gel or anything else you could imagine. It has always seemed a little scary, a little too much to take on for the average home cook. But if there is one thing I learnt this week, it’s that ANYONE can take their cooking up a notch with just a few basic techniques and chemicals. Armed with one or two everyday kitchen gadgets, a handful of chemicals and a battalion of reappointed hair colouring tubes and nozzles (I kid you not), Adrian had us all oohing and aahing over his balsamic spaghetti, tzatziki “ravioli” and blingy, glittery honey pearls that you could pop into a glass of champagne. Other than the liquid nitrogen that could blow your arms off if not respected, there was nothing scary about creating extraordinary special touches out of store cupboard ingredients. Opalescent balsamic caviar lay shimmering on a salad in all of five minutes, and it took even less time to whip up the smoothest, creamiest ice cream I have ever tasted. I was honestly so inspired and so astounded at how easy some of the techniques seemed to be, that I rushed straight home and… did a quick roast chicken for dinner. Because, well, it was only a Wednesday and some things never change. But I’m bloody useless really, so don’t let me put you off! Molecular gastronomy is for everyone and I really want to encourage you to give it a bash! Despite my slow start, I definitely plan on incorporating more of it in my cooking!

For an absolute wealth of information on molecular gastronomy, including a free, downloadable pdf packed with recipes and how-to’s, visit Khymos.org.

Liquid nitrogenBalsamic spaghetti

On being 36 and childless

On being 36 and childless

I finally tackled the dishes in the kitchen this morning. It was a pitiful pile. Nothing more than a few side plates with toast crumbs on, the remnants of a solo eater’s culinary adventures these last few days while the other half is playing away in a golf tournament. As I scraped the crumbs off the third little plate, I was gripped by a deep sense of loss so sudden that I felt like I was falling into a void that I hadn’t realised until that moment was even there. I didn’t want to be scraping toast crumbs off lone side plates anymore! I wanted to be cleaning out platters of food that I’d fed my family the previous night. Out of nowhere, I felt like there was supposed to be a little girl there watching me do this as she ate her corn flakes for breakfast, kicking the table leg while she told me what she wanted to do on this beautiful Sunday. My little girl. Our little girl. The one we haven’t had.

I don’t want to have children. I have never wanted to have children. I would have those words tattooed on my forehead in an attempt to stop all the questions if not Read the rest of this entry

Transkaroo

Transkaroo

Transkaroo "wine list"In a beautiful old railway station, beside a quiet lagoon in the tranquil town of Great Brak River, Transkaroo dishes up plates full of passionately created South African cuisine. The vaulted wooden ceilings, delicate ostrich egg chandeliers, and rustic wooden benches that are perfect for al fresco dining on a warm evening or sunny afternoon, all serve to create a warm, relaxing atmosphere that feels a little more special than the norm when you enter. Just like the song* says, Transkaroo brings you home. If home is where mom spent hours cooking lamb neck till you could eat it with a spoon, skilpadjies were made from scratch and served with onion marmalade and pies didn’t come from the 24 hour garage shop. Chef Stefan Jamneck is serious about making everything from scratch (bar, by his own admission, “the ice cream in the Dom Pedro’s”) and his kitchen uses the freshest, local, seasonal ingredients to influence the dynamic menu. But it’s not only the menu that changes regularly to keep up with what’s good right now. The wine list comprises a trip to the wine racks in a corner of the restaurant, where the selection on offer changes as new favourites are showcased.

Curried fish cakes

20130806-P1250718Dishes are unpretentious, but exceptional. As the menu changes so often, it’s difficult to recommend a dish. But no matter what you choose, you can be sure that it will be rich, packed with in-your-face flavours, and not found in any diet recipe books. It’s best not to set your heart on a firm favourite, but should you come across them, to start, the snails vol au vents (okay, I realise that sounds totally pretentious, but if escargots vol au vents could be unpretentious, this would be them) blanketed in the silkiest, creamiest blue cheese sauce to ever enrobe a molusc is an absolute must. We also had the curried coconut fish cakes which packed a real Cape Malay flavour punch and the balsamic onion marmalade and Camembert tart (the marmalade on the latter, while beautifully sweet and gorgeously jammy, overpowered the delicate Camembert to my taste though). As a main, the lamb neck – Transkaroo’s signature dish – is highly recommended. The lamb is cooked for 4 hours and would fall off the bone if you shook your plate too vigorously! For dessert, try the chocolate orange fondant. (What a ridiculous sentence. Like anyone has to tell you try a chocolate orange fondant.) That is, of course, if you can look past the Read the rest of this entry