Category Archives: Cook

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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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

Browned butter lemon curd

Browned butter lemon curd

My idea of a well balanced breakfast is to have a slice of lemon curd toast in one hand, and a spoon full of cremezola in the other. Granted, you will not find this as the de jour diet in any of the glossies, but if you landed here by searching for lemon curd, then you probably don’t follow those things anyway. I absolutely adore sweet, tangy & jubilantly yellow hued lemon curd. Not that luminous yellow stuff that could double as a traffic cone in a pinch that you buy ready-made off the shelf in the supermarket. Real, homemade, butter laden curd made with love by your mom and packaged in a great, big glass jar that you can scoop spoons full out of when you need a culinary cuddle. But if mom is far away, or you’ve actually learned how to be self-sufficient, it is fantastically simple to make your own sunshine in a jar.

A few years ago, I had a Blue Mountain lemon curd at our local cheese festival that I fell into instant besottedness with (only to hear that they were discontinuing the range!). The curd had a gorgeously nutty flavour. The type of gorgeously nutty flavour that can be achieved by doing one thing and one thing only: browning butter. You know what I’m talking about. And now you can’t imagine why anyone would ever make curd without browning the butter first, right? You can use your favourite lemon curd recipe and just brown the butter before using it as directed, or follow this easy one here. I used a recipe from that old standby that makes up a large portion of every warm blooded Afrikaner girl’s recipe repertoire, Kook & Geniet, and just tweaked it to reduce the risk of scrambling and make it a little more buttery. When in doubt, more buttery is always the way to go.Browned butter lemon curd Read the rest of this entry

Fillet of beef with Dijon tarragon sauce

Fillet of beef with Dijon tarragon sauce

Blogging is not for sissies. It takes a massive amount of time and dedication, neither of which I have in excess right now. It also requires the ability to switch your creativity on at will when you do actually find yourself with thirty minutes to spare. I really suck at that too. One solution, they say, is to write drunk and edit sober, and frankly I can’t afford to be inebriated that often. This means that I have a draft folder positively brimming with unfinished posts. A little reminder, whenever I log into WordPress, of my ability to cling, hoard, procrastinate and just hope for the best when I know nothing will change. Every now and then I will go back to it, and listlessly page through the articles, knowing that I will never get round to sharing them with you because they either no longer seem relevant, or I’ve forgotten what I wanted to say in the first place, or in one sad case, the restaurant in question had inexplicably shut down before I could tell everyone why they absolutely had to go there. And yet, I hang on to them, even though I know that it is over and that they will never be written.

I know I will never get round to showing you the Qipu clothing market in Shanghai, with its mind-boggling selection of clothing stores, where the items get more expensive and the sales ladies get less pushy as the escalator goes up.

Qipu clothing marketQipu clothing market

See? Start low, finish high.

Or the street-food-vendor-packed alley behind said clothing market, where I finally came across sanxian doupi with its delicate tofu skin encasing shrimp flavoured rice, and jiān bǐng with the fried pastry center that the my local Qingpu lady never added and I had been obsessing about since first hearing it was missing from mine.

sanxian doupi jian bing

No really. If you’re in Shanghai, and you love shopping and eating, then this is a must-add for your trip list!

In order to tell you about the massive Tianshan Tea City that we visited, I learnt more about tea than any sane person should be expected to.

Tianshan tea city

But now you’ll never know the difference between the tea on the left and the tea on the right. (There, there now. You’ll get over the disappointment soon enough.)

I have a slew of posts on Shanghainese street food waiting to be written. For example, bet you didn’t know that Shanghai has more than 10,000 mobile food stalls? Or that in a government survey it was found that of 650 vendors surveyed, 609 had no business license? Or that sometimes your lamb skewer might be rat? Possibly poisoned rat. But that wasn’t going to stop me from encouraging you to try fire roasted sweet potatoes.

Fire roasted sweet potatoes

Or warm, cumin-y, delicious shao kao (street barbeque). “Lamb” and all. Read the rest of this entry

Crispy chicken and chickpea couscous with feta & lemon zest

Crispy chicken and chickpea couscous with feta & lemon zest

Families are funny things, aren’t they? While scratch-your-eyes-out loyal if anyone dares speak an ill word about one of our own, we are the first to voice an opinion about cousin Betty’s latest binge drinking session as soon as we can grab a second alone with a familial accomplice. My family is no different. So it was that I discovered what my family had been whispering amongst themselves over wine glasses in kitchens and murmuring to one another on tee boxes while taking practice swings: I had somehow achieved the dubious honour of being branded the couscous pusher in our family. There I was, happily dishing up fall-off-the-bone lamb shanks over steaming piles of fluffy couscous, when I noticed a distinctly uncomfortable silence fall over the table. The same sort of silence you feel in that moment just after the drug addict has made himself comfortable in the cushy armchair, but before someone clears their throat to tell him that the tea party he’s been invited to is actually an intervention. Uncle T steepled his fingers together (as he always does when he has something uncomfortable to say) and with a sideways glance at my equally unimpressed looking brother said, “What is this shit now again?”. Around the table there was a lot of looking in laps, and readjusting of wine glasses, but when no one backed him up he continued: “Uncle G says you’re always trying to get us to eat couscous”. Now, please note that – whilst true – the last time I had attempted this feat was Christmas 2007, when I had tried to slip some of the little granules past everyone by disguising them amongst cubes of roasted butternut and crumbly feta while they read out loud to each other those terribly lame jokes that come in the crackers. But it mattered not. I had become the couscous pusher. And with good reason I suppose. See, I believe the much maligned couscous has had a bad rap. When it was first introduced to our shores, it was inevitably prepared by uninformed housewives who dumped too much cube derived chicken stock over it in sufficient quantities to turn it into a crumbly heap of mushy sludge more closely resembling wallpaper glue than a fluffy accompaniment to a lamb tagine. This really is a grossly unfair representation of what couscous could be. Really, if you think about it, when it is prepared correctly, what’s not to love? Tiny granules of al dente semolina that slurp up all the flavours you throw at them, couscous is the caviar of pasta. Add to that, it requires no more than a spoon to eat, so it is perfect comfort food. I have therefore made a mini mission out of turning couscous into a dish everyone could love, instead of just an ineffectual projectile weapon in a B-grade movie. This dish might not complete my life’s work, but it is one of my favourites. Crispy chicken and chickpea couscous Read the rest of this entry

Peanut butter and white chocolate mousse

Peanut butter and white chocolate mousse

Pierneef à la Motte in Franschhoek is one of my favourite restaurants. The menu is constantly changing to reflect the seasons, so you always get the freshest, seasonal ingredients packaged in beautifully plated, explosive flavour combinations. Unfortunately this also means that you best not get your heart set on any one dish, as it may not be there the next time you visit. There is an important life lesson in this. Never put off till tomorrow what you can eat today! The bittersweet Valrhona chocolate tart with peanut butter mousse that I wrote about when I reviewed them in September was one such dish. While the rich chocolate tart itself was obviously delicious, the highlight of the entire meal (okay, a joint tie with the quail and orecchiette pasta salad with smoked pork lardo and almond ginger sauce), was the peanut butter mousse that accompanied the tart. Piped onto the plate into little mounds of salty moreishness, they were the unintentional star of the dish. So I was very disappointed when, on a visit there last week, the chocolate tart was no longer on the menu. After a week of hoping for a miserable rainy day, so that I could stare sadly out the window while I longed for that mousse, I realised I was unsuccessfully dealing with this blow, and decided to try recreating the mousse myself. I added white chocolate, so it is not quite the same, but it makes a similarly rich, lovely, dense mousse. Serve in little shot glasses, as an accompaniment to a tart (I served mine with a salted caramel cheesecake, but chocolate and peanut butter are made for each other when the bread and jam aren’t looking) or as a filling between layers of biscuits.

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Jew’s ear soup (hold the Jew’s ear)

Jew’s ear soup (hold the Jew’s ear)

Jew's ear fungusJew’s ear is a species of Auriculariales fungus found growing mainly on dead wood worldwide. And really, on a dead stump, far from the dinner table, is where it should’ve been left. It is a popular ingredient in many Chinese dishes and can readily be found on most restaurant menus – usually in the form of a cold salad, dressed with soy and vinegar, or in chunky pieces in soups. The mushroom itself is quite astonishing. The size of a hand and beautifully aubergine hued, they really do resemble ears in an almost disturbing way. But that is where the astonishment ends. To describe this mushroom as gelatinous with a mild flavour is to be unjustifiably kind. Jew's ear fungusYou know that little piece of cartilage you find along the breast bone of a chicken? The one that is so soft and thin, you don’t even realise you’ve cut through it until you unpleasantly bite down on a mouthful? Jew’s ears taste like that. Squeaky, softly rubbery, and with no discernible flavour at all. I am yet to try a dish I like them in. But I am nothing if not an adventurous eater, so I tried to incorporate them into a creamy mushroom soup.

 To make the mushroom soup:

1) Prepare your favourite mushroom soup recipe.

2) DO NOT use any Jew’s ear mushrooms in your soup WHATSOEVER. They are vile. They will bring nothing to the table in terms of flavour and will merrily add a yucky, rubbery texture that will not zip up with a blender. Attempting to use them in a creamy soup will have disastrous consequences. If you absolutely have to try them, here is a recipe for soup that uses them whole.

 

Cheesy pork chops au gratin with creamy asparagus

Cheesy pork chops au gratin with creamy asparagus

And now, regular broadcasting will continue. And just to prove that I am not completely blinded by my animal love, and that I do understand the need for a balanced, humane and sustainable way of feeding this planet’s exploding population: A post on pork chops.

The adage that you should not judge a book by its cover is, in my humble opinion, completely inapplicable when it comes to food. Yes, I might quietly deduct a point from a restaurant’s score when they feel the need to advertise their food by using photos on their menu (thanks for ruining picture menu’s for me Gordon Ramsay – they’re the only way I know what I’m eating in China and now your Kitchen Nightmares rants have left me reeling as I wrestle with the restaurant photo-menu paradox: I should not be eating in a restaurant that puts photos of their food on their menu, but the only restaurant I can eat in without inadvertently ordering turtle soup with a soupçon of sea slug is a restaurant that puts photos of their food on their menu), but I will also seldom be persuaded to cook something unless it is accompanied by a photo to sell it to me. But I am going to ask you not to judge this dish by its cover. While it might look ugly to the point of being off putting, it is really, really good. In fact, Bush Man declared it the best thing he’s eaten in China – and we’ve been to Mr.& Mrs. Bund. And while it’s not exactly fine dining, and I suspect he was just trying to get into my pants, it does make for an exceptionally good and laughably easy family dinner.

If you found this post searching for “cooking with Chinese vegetables” then you probably think that asparagus is a shameful cop out. But I have included this recipe under that section, because not only is asparagus cheap and plentiful here, but they are really delicious. Tender and sweet with loads of asparagus flavour (as opposed to, you know, leek flavour, or Fresca maybe.) And in the supermarket they are as eye catching as hair vegetable or balsam pear, because they are freakishly long here, so you don’t feel like snapping off the tough end and tossing it away is such a waste. The secret to this dish is to use the best quality pork and asparagus you can find, because the flavour comes solely from these two ingredients.

Cheesy pork chops au gratin with creamy asparagus

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Potato Caesar Coleslaw Salad

Potato Caesar Coleslaw Salad

It’s not easy trying to cook like home in China. Things we take for granted every day can suddenly only be sourced through an internet search and a three hour long quest into the city. Lettuce is no exception. Don’t get me wrong, we can get lettuce in Qinpu. The varieties available are: Lettuce. That’s it. Chinese lettuce (yes, that’s really a thing). Salads get boring. They all look the same. They all taste the same. But what we can get is a wide variety of other leafy Chinese vegetables which we have started using raw as a lettuce substitute to curb the boredom. Hangzhou bok choi is one such vegetable. It is similar in texture and flavour to a Savoy cabbage, but has the added bonus of providing a fresh crunch to salads, thanks to its large midrib. So what do you make when you essentially have a cabbage, a few potatoes and a teeny tiny fridge (really, you should see it, shove a 5L water bottle in there and you’re pretty much at capacity) that needs a small half jar of mayo cleared out on a first in first out basis? Well, naturally, you make a Potato Caesar Coleslaw salad, of course.

This is a salad with an identity crisis. Like that country gal who runs away from home and moves to the big city to become an actress, only to pack it all in and go back to harvest the apple trees with pappa, it wants to be a fancy Caesar salad, but knows it is ultimately a good ‘ol potato salad at heart. You can substitute the bok choi for white cabbage, or pretty much any raw, leafy veg.

Hangzhou bok choi caesar potato salad

Serves: 4 Read the rest of this entry