Cooking with kids: Simple soufflés

Cooking with kids: Simple soufflés

By Rachel Carlin

When I am not mentally menu planning for the fantasy Bistro that I wish I owned with my favourite girl cousin by marriage, I am taming ankle biters. I am very lucky that this is a job I love and that it brings me a lot of joy. It also allows me on a Tuesday to bring my other love, cooking, into the classroom.

Cooking with children doesn’t need to be dull. It doesn’t need to involve chocolates, sprinkles and E numbers. It can be fun, yummy for both big and small and strangely rewarding when no child is hurt in the making of the dish!Simple souffles

This is one of my favourites. I cannot seem to name it, so the working title is:

Simple Soufflés

Makes 6 little soufflés

Ingredients:

  • 3 slices of white bread
  • 2 eggs
  • 200ml milk
  • 100g cheese
  • Salt and pepper
  • Dried mixed herbs
  • Some oil for brushing

 Preheat the oven to 200 C

  1. Grate the cheese and place in a bowl. – Teacher’s tip – allow your Read the rest of this entry

Peanut butter and chocolate cheesecake

Peanut butter and chocolate cheesecake

When Nigella first described this recipe as a Reese’s Peanut Butter cup in cheesecake form, she had me at Reese. It’s a baked peanut butter and chocolate cheesecake. I don’t need to say any more.

Peanut butter and chocolate cheesecake

The ingredients should be at room temperature before you start. Read the rest of this entry

Bernice’s lamb chops

Bernice’s lamb chops

This is one of those recipes that you’ll probably either love or hate. Personally, I love it! It is the meal I would choose when I finally snap in Telkom one day, wipe out the lot of them, and have to pick something to eat before they eventually flip the switch and fry me. It is a quintessential part of some of my earliest food memories. Monday night was not only Knight Rider night (back before he became The Hoff and crushing on him was no longer cool), but it was also the night my brother and I stayed with my dad and Bernice, our nanny, made her famous chops and chips. Bernice might not have been the creator of the dish, but it is a testament to how important she was in our lives that we chose to name this dish after her, despite her tendency to chase us around the house with a wet rag when she was displeased about something. And now, more than twenty years later, my dad still makes it for us whenever we go and visit there. So I’m quite aware that the love I feel for this particular dish is heavily influenced by the memories it evokes and is not based solely on its gastronomic merit. I do, however, still believe it is simply delicious in the truest sense of the word. All the flavour comes from just two ingredients – lamb and onions. But don’t let the simplicity of the components fool you – preparing this dish requires patience and a good, uninterrupted, 2 hour chunk out of your day. It is best served with the type of shoestring fries that are so crispy that trying to impale them on a fork results in little bits of golden potato flying across the room and hitting the wall with a satisfyingly crunchy thunk. This necessitates really getting your hands in there to pull the chops apart bite by bite, scoop up a few chips and shove the whole lot in your mouth with your fingers, which is just messily wonderful! I would also strongly recommend having it with a good tomato sauce. I don’t believe in dousing meals in condiments that could potentially detract from the flavour, but in this instance the tangy sweetness of the tomatoes contrasts beautifully with the salty sweetness of the caramelised onions.

Bernice's chops & chips

Serves 4

Ingredients Read the rest of this entry

St. Blaize hiking trail

St. Blaize hiking trail

Saint Blaize hiking trail

South Africa is blessed with a spectacular coastline. From mangrove lined estuaries in the north east to the stark beauty of the west coast and endless stretches of white sandy beaches or striking rock formations in between, it is a favourite playground for outdoor enthusiasts and sun-worshippers from around the world. But, like a mousy English lit student working her way through college by donning a dominatrix outfit at night and beating Japanese business men into submission, it also has a darker side. The seas off the South African coast are littered with the carcasses of ships that have met a wet and salty end here and too many families have an empty seat at Christmas because someone turned their back to the ocean at the wrong time. Strong currents, rolling waves and dramatic, jagged rocks make this a coastline you should take seriously. It also means that it is spectacularly beautiful. And, fortunately for us, vast stretches of it have been protected and made accessible to those nature lovers who prefer donning boots and a backpack and exploring our natural heritage on foot.

Saint Blaize

St. Blaize Pinnacle PointOne such route is the Saint Blaize hiking trail in the Southern Cape. Starting at The Point in Mossel Bay in the east, this 13.5km hiking trail winds its way west along the cliffs, through the Pinnacle Point golf estate to Danabaai in the west and can also be hiked in the opposite direction. Parking is available on both ends. You should either leave a car at the end or arrange for a shuttle service to return you to the starting point (check the web for details). On The Point side, the hike starts in the parking area below the Cape St. Blaize lighthouse and Khoi San cave – if you’re tripping over begging rock dassies you’re probably in the right place. Please do them a favour, respect that wild animals should remain wild animals and don’t feed them. A fed dassie is a flattened by a Fortuner dassie. On the Danabaai side there is a small parking area on the shoulder of the road next to a St. Blaize trail information board. Don’t blink, or you’ll miss it. To get there, just keep left on Malva road after entering the town until you find the spot. White oystercatchers (painted on the rocks, not standing there with bibs and pointers) mark the route along the way.

St. Blaize

Dramatic cliffs, seas in shades from turquoise to indigo, a wealth of flora and rock formations in every autumnal shade imaginable make this an extremely worthwhile way of spending the 6 hours required by the average person to complete the hike. The route can be mildly challenging in places and therefore a moderate level of fitness is required. What is moderate? Well, I am currently at an all time fitness low. After three minutes (I am not kidding) on a stepper I need copious amounts of water, a few pulls on my inhaler and a little lie down on the couch. I could finish the trail without actually throwing a complete frothy by the twentieth uphill, but it would’ve been considerably easier if I’d spent more time exercising and less time eating this past December.

St. Blaize dassieSaint Blaize snake

There is a lot to see on the way. The waters off the Southern Cape are one of the best places in the world to whale watch and pods of dolphins often make a splashy appearance. Also keep a look out for seals and, if you’re lucky, the menacing dark outline of a great white shark – there are plenty here. On land, look out for dassies, bushbuck, steenbuck, geckos and lizards, mongoose, porcupines, tortoises, snakes and a wealth of different bird species – many endemic. The flora here is predominantly fynbos. What makes this particular floral kingdom such a joy is that it is not just pretty to look at, but gives you a full sensory experience, even when it isn’t high flower season. Brush the leaves of plants as you go and let the scents of wild rosemary, buchu and other medicinal plants envelope you as you walk.

St. Blaize to Danabaai

Although the route is very well maintained and feels akin to strolling down a lovely, level, sandy garden path at times, it isn’t all smooth going. There are areas where the trail Read the rest of this entry

The Common Room

The Common Room

The Common Room tapas

If food is your thing and you don’t normally spend months on end looking for it under a rock, then you probably know who Margot Janse is. This multi award winning gourmet has been named Chef of the Year in the Eat Out DSTV Food Network Restaurant Awards for the second time and – as executive chef at Le Quartier Français in Franschhoek – she has led the The Tasting Room to the number two spot on the list of top restaurants in South Africa – the 11th time that this epicurean institution has ranked among the top 10 under her guidance. One day when I’m all grown up, have put the kids through college and have the kind of settled lifestyle where I can plan my eating experiences months in advance, I too will make it to The Tasting Room. But until then, it’s good to know that we can sample a small part of this phenomenal woman’s genius at The Common Room, Le Quartier Français’s slightly more accessible, but no less remarkable eatery. Don’t let the name fool you – The Common Room is far from plebeian. The decor is lush and rich in plums and reds with quirky chandeliers lighting the vibrant interior. For those who love to people watch there is cafè style seating on Huguenot Street’s ample sidewalk and the back of the restaurant opens up to cool gardens and mountain vistas with comfy couches and a fireplace for the chillier days.

Common Room CamembertOpen for breakfast, lunch and dinner, The Common Room offers a menu brimming with extraordinarily original small plates designed to be enjoyed as a snack with a glass of bubbly or wine or to accompany one of their witty cocktails (try the passion fruit based Bow Chicka Wow Wow), or to feature as part of a motley cast of plates that make up the perfect ensemble meal. The menu reflects Margot’s ability to zhush up the most humble of South African flavours with humour, imagination and a touch of the exotic. You won’t find a meatball here – instead tuck into succulent lamb frikadelletjies served with flatkoek and raïta. Battered fish takes the form of pops with chakalaka ketchup and the bitterballen (a nod to Margot’s Dutch heritage and one of my favourite things on the planet ever) is made with wildebeest and served with apple mustard. And who can resist something as simple as French toast when it is paired with Spanish cured ham, preserved lime and a summer tomato party? The chicken & duck liver parfait with salted pear simply melts in your mouth and is the closest thing you’ll get to foie gras without the ethical dilemma you normally face picturing all those fluffy, overfed geese. The quail rillettes with mebos chutney is served in a happy little jar and bursts with flavours of the Cape. (I feel like I’m rambling here, but let me continue!). Organic lamb tongue is given the bacon crumble treatment and will warm your heart on the dreariest of days and the wood baked Dalewood camembert (although not exactly original) is simply perfect in its oozy, creamy, rich simplicity. The only dish I didn’t enjoy was the satay spiced squid, but that’s only because it was meltingly tender and as a middle class South African I’m used to the cheap and chewy variety of calamari we have to settle for while the rest of the world munches on our good stuff. Lastly, hand cut chips are served playfully in paper cones and, amongst other sides, you can also tuck into wood roasted sweetcorn with smoked butter or tempura fine beans with a soya dip.

Peanut parfaitWhen you’re ready for something sweet, try a jar of brownies or the dainty pear & almond tartlet with vanilla ice cream and salted caramel (it’ll make you forget your manners and you’ll be licking the plate before you’re done). My absolute favourite dish of the day though was the peanut butter parfait with gooseberry gel. The cold, creamy moreish ice cream is paired perfectly with a crunchy, salty, peanut crumb that hits every spot a dessert should and some you Read the rest of this entry

Lemon meringue ice cream

Lemon meringue ice cream

Let me preface this post by saying that I really suck at making meringues. This is mildly embarrassing as I have an aunt whose meringues would put Nigella to shame. So if you’ve landed here in the hopes of finding a fool proof way of making light and airy meringues, then you better move along. These meringues are strictly for fools and were sort of stumbled upon when the very first thing I baked in my new and unknown little toaster oven was a dish that required precision temperatures. Clever. So I was toggling between bake and grill and 210º and 100º to try and reach the magic 120º for the sustained period required when making meringues the way they should be when I thought buggr’it, they’re going in at 150 for half an hour. This is higher than you’d normally bake meringues. The result of a lower temperature is an airier but drier meringue because the whole thing is baked through slowly and the air bubbles are trapped in a permanent state of sugary suspension. Fortunately, I like my meringues a bit on the gooey side when I bite into them. (Which also explains why mine are rather ugly… But as I’ve gotten older I’ve realised that looks are less important than personality anyway.) So the higher, shorter temperature worked a treat to get them golden on the outside but still uncooked enough on the inside that when I opened the door and they cooled down too quickly, the entire lot collapsed into a cracked heap of toasty, marshmallowy goodness.

If I lost you at “toggling”, then I suggest you completely ignore the entire section on meringues below and try Nigella’s cappucino pavlova instead. Needless to say, omit the espresso. The ice cream recipe is a fantastic vanilla standby as, unlike most homemade ice creams, it doesn’t require you to break up ice crystals every now and then like some sort of demented, commando going character from Basic Instinct. Make a batch and then add whatever flavours you want to zhush it up a bit. Here lemon did the trick.

Lemon meringue ice cream

Use 8 individual tart tins or one large one.

Serves 8 Read the rest of this entry

Make like a tourist in your own town.

Make like a tourist in your own town.

If you’re from a small town, or have lived in the same city for a good number of years, then you’ve probably dealt with that claustrophobia that sets in on occasion. You know the one where you wake every morning feeling like the walls have moved slowly, but perceptibly and inexorably closer during the night? It normally occurs after spending weekend after weekend doing nothing but watching Top Gear reruns and eating Friday night’s leftover pizza so that, by Sunday night, you’re lying awake, staring at the ceiling and wondering “Is this really it?”. The solution? Make a new year’s resolution to get excited, wide-eyed and curious about your own town and surrounds again.

A new look at old treasures.

A new look at old treasures.

1. Do what you love to do: Seems a bit obvious doesn’t it? It would be a terrible bit of advice if I said “Now, go out there and do what you hate! And have fun, dammit!”. But it’s not really such a silly thing to suggest, because how many of us actually do what we love most of the time? Why wait for those two precious weeks you have off at Christmas when it can feel a little like a holiday all year round? Do those things you love doing on holiday even when you’re not on holiday.

2. Plan, plan, plan: If, like me, you can’t really see why drooling the weekend away in front of the TV as mentioned under point 1 is a problem, then you’ll probably need a bit of encouragement to get out there and explore. Vow to never spend two weekends in a row at home. Gather a group of reluctantly adventurous friends and take turns planning your next outing. Choose somewhere in or near your hometown to explore and get cracking. There’s a wealth of information out there:

a.       Surf the web: Tripadvisor is always useful and will give you a new perspective on your town when viewed through the eyes of a fresh-off-the-plane tourist.

b.      Pick up some brochures, road maps or a local guide book: You could probably get all the info you need online, but just imagine how happy you’ll make the ladies at your local tourist information centre if you grab a few of their dusty (and mostly free) paraphernalia. Every town has one –  just look for the “i”.

c.       Phone a friend: Or a family member, or a stranger or anyone else who has visited your area. They’ve often done their homework and will, embarrassingly, know more about what’s happening around your area than you do. You know it’s true. We’ve all had someone ask what we suggest they do in our town only to have “The mall! The mall!” flash through our heads in neon colours to the exclusion of all other ideas.

d.      Read a travel magazine: Nothing will get you as excited about the same old sites as seeing them draped in beautiful people on the pages of a glossy magazine.

3. Check out an organised tour: Bus tours, bicycle tours, boat tours, foefie slide tours, walking tours, history-, gastronomic-, architecture-, or wild flower tours – there is sure to be something in your area that interests you and where all the work has been done by a red faced tour operator slowly developing carpal tunnel Read the rest of this entry

Biltong & Blue Cheese Dip

Biltong & Blue Cheese Dip

The silly season is in full swing. Time to overeat, fight the masses to get your last minute shopping done and exercise your rage control as drivers everywhere forget the basic rules of the road. I say rather stock up your freezer and spend your precious time catching up with friends and family over glasses of chilled wine (or mulled, should it be winter where you find yourself) and tables full of good things to eat. If you need something quick and easy to serve as a snack when people are getting peckish, try this spread-slash-dip to serve with crackers or melba toast. I got the idea after trying a so-so-ish biltong spread bought at the shops. Upon inspecting the label I realised that there was, in fact, absolutely no biltong in it whatsoever. I was sure that adding biltong to a biltong dip would be the natural first step to improving it. Genius right? But please don’t entertain the idea of using that horrible powdered biltong instead of the good stuff. That’s only good when it’s dusted by a little grey-haired lady on to marmite slathered bread cubes and served on a paper doily with a nice cup of tea at the NG church’s bazaar where, let’s be honest, it is damn awesome. Adding blue cheese to anything, of course, makes it better. It also means that this dip packs a serious flavour punch. If Ye Old Ranch is the party dip equivalent of the mousy girl who sits timidly in the corner, looking a little lost and only spoken to when asked where the toilet is, then this dip is the loud guy adjusting his crotch, hocking one back and drawling “Are you talking to ME?”.

Biltong and blue cheese spread

Ingredients Read the rest of this entry

Medley of Seafood

Medley of Seafood

I had one of THOSE days again. I pretty much went into panic mode about my occupational / living / geographical status.

Don’t get me wrong, being a lady of leisure and traveling all over the place is bloody, damn awesome. Particularly as I somehow managed to find a husband who will virtually beg me to spend a bit of money on myself and never makes me feel guilty that his was the career we chose to nurture while I get to sleep in late when I want to. But every now and then – between the lunches, and copious amount of reading and experimental cooking time – I suddenly realise “Holy crap, I don’t have a job. My husband is a contract worker. We don’t know where the next job will be. When don’t know WHEN the next job will be! We don’t know where we’ll be next week, let alone next month!! I don’t even know what to fill in when asked for my residential address!!! I don’t know what to fill in where Facebook asks what city I live in!!!! I can’t breathe!!!!!”.

But on days like this, there is one thing I can count on to quiet the voices, ease the pressure, still the storm and envelope me in a warm, cuddly haze of happiness: Food. Those dishes that evoke a happy childhood memory, or remind you of a special time and place with special people or, simply, remind you that no matter how crazy and unpredictable and scary your life might seem right now, you can always count on a few things to stay the same. The right meal can achieve all that. Your favourite spaghetti bolognaise recipe will taste today like it did last week or last year or the first time you closed your eyes and savoured that second mouthful (the first mouthful you just shoveled down of course, because it was just spaghetti right, how good could it be?). This is one of those dishes. A very special take on something resembling a bouillabaisse that reminds me of home and my mom. It is also one of the first things I remember making after I discovered that I rather loved cooking, so adding a bit of orange zest to some fish was very shoo-wow! Some people would get comfort from aunty’s cottage pie or granny’s chocolate cake or matron’s mash. I found it in a bowl of my mom’s seafood broth.

What dish do you choose when you’re in the mood for a bit of nostalgic psychotherapy? Google Analytics tells me there are loads of you out there reading my blog, but you’re all rather quiet. I’d love to hear from you! What passes for mash in Jakarta, Nottingham, Madrid, Glenorchy or Roodepoort?

From Elsa van der Nest’s fabulous book, Simply Entertaining.

Serves 6

Read the rest of this entry

Shanghai’s Friday Muslim Market

Shanghai’s Friday Muslim Market

My husband plays this little game every now and then. I’m not sure whether it’s his way of preparing for the worst thing imaginable to him. His Armageddon. His Apocalypse. His Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. Out of the blue he will ask me: “If you had to give up all but one meat, which one would you keep?”. To me, this question was always a bit of a conundrum. Lamb seemed the obvious choice. Ribs, roasted till the fatty bits are all crispy. Shanks, slow cooked in Port till the meat melts off the bone. Chops, cooked on an open fire, surrounded by friends. Leg, done till slightly pink and served with lakes of rich gravy. But then what about bacon? I mean, pork would lose if not for bacon, but bacon complicates matters greatly. A pickle. But like anything, I needed to lose both to realise what mattered most to me. We technically can’t get bacon in Qingpu. Or at least, we can get something that says bacon on the packet. And “Elaborate Bacon” at that. But it’s some sort of processed, smoked meat chopped into bits and reassembled into a shape vaguely resembling that most essential BLT ingredient. And after our favourite teppanyaki restaurant closed its doors overnight despite being an apparent roaring success, we could no longer get mutton or lamb in any shape or form either. So, in those desperate days where I could not tuck into either a lamb chop or a perfectly crisp slice of streaky bacon, lamb is what I would’ve run to if you’d put it opposite bacon and had them both call me at the same time.

I am therefore slightly embarrassed that it took me four months to discover the wonder that is Shanghai’s Friday  morning Muslim market. Here, on North Changde Lu in the Jing’an District, you can get lamb in every conceivable style – fresh, cooked, minced, spiced, baked in dough, steamed in dumplings, skewered onto kebabs. And oh. My. Word. As a half blood Afrikaner meisie it pains me to say that the lamb I have eaten in China is better than any Karoo lamb I’ve had back home. Granted, it won’t be to everyone’s taste. As lamb goes, it’s fairly lean (if you don’t have the tail bit) and it has that really strong animal flavour you only ever get when you know someone who knows someone who can get his hands on one of those sheep who was actually destined to provide only wool, but then met an untimely end in a sausage machine.

But wait! Before we get to the market, a little detour is essential. To get to the market, you absolutely have to take the (less than) scenic route via Yanping Road. What you are looking for is Wuyuan bĭngjiā (or W.Y. Fanriy Cake – fancy cake? fairy cake? I don’t know, but look out for the orange sign). Here you will find xie ke huang – tiny, crispy, golden sweet or savoury crab shell pies. The pies don’t necessarily contain crab (although our interpreter did tell us that the ones we had here were crab roe, which I’m a bit dubious about given the pale colour). Rather, they are so called because the finished product resembles golden crab shells. The savoury fillings can contain fresh meat or crab meal, shrimps, spring onion and lard and the sweet ones are filled with sugar, rose water and bean or date paste – the sweet filling when warm has the consistency of thick syrup. The pastry is made from oiled, fermented flour and is wrapped around the filling, rolled in sesame seeds and then baked on the walls of a clay oven. It it hard to say what it is that makes me yearn for these little pies, even now. But there is just something about the crispy, flaky pastry giving way to the warm, soft, delicately flavoured center that is addictively moreish. We hadn’t made it halfway up the block before we’d polished off the lot and had to go back for more. Would I lie to you? It’s worth getting off a stop early for them. 蟹壳黄 – just find these characters on the menu and point – there is no English here. Pay inside and either eat in or collect your pies from the window outside. The queue moves very quickly. The pies are around RMB1 each.

Anyway, back to the Muslim Market. The red awninged carts and stalls of the market line both sides of Changde Lu on the sidewalks outside the Huxi Mosque. Most of the vendors are Uyghurs from Xinjiang province. This is the region that makes the sheeping world go round – the lamb here is the fat bottomed (or fat tailed to be precise) breed of sheep that gives the dishes you’ll find here that hearty, flavoursome edge. You can stock up on incense, carpets, jewellery, ornate daggers (can’t have too many of those), nuts, dates, fruit, a mind-boggling selection of raisins and sultanas, naan, and, most importantly lamb. Lots and lots of lamb!

Our first stop was at the steamed dumpling stall. They’re made just like every other jiaozi in Shanghai, but instead of pork they are filled with minced lamb and onions. There are virtually no other spices added – it’s just unadulterated lamby yumminess! The paper thin dough is folded around the lamb mixture, deftly pinched along the edges to seal in the meat and juices and the dumplings are then steamed in massive bamboo steamers.

One of the most popular dishes at the market is pulao (or polos) – mutton pilaf. To make this Uyghur dish, great, big chunks of mutton are boiled with rice, carrots, onions, garlic and sultanas. But while this was one of the main dishes I came for, it didn’t really appeal to me once I saw the pans full of rice. I think I was expecting a little more oomphf. Maybe some spices or something. Anyway, we skipped the pilaf and moved on to the langman – a cold noodle dish served with chilli flakes and sliced vegetable. We moved along – cold noodles are probably Read the rest of this entry