Jew’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. You 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.
How do I love thee bacon? Let me count the ways. Last weekend I loved it chopped up and turned into breakfast burgers. A great TV meal for when no one can tear themselves away from the Super Rugby for long enough to locate the knife and fork lying in front of them. I wanted to serve these banger and bacon patties on scones so as to be more breakfast-like, until I remembered I can’t actually make scones. While they taste good, they look a little like doughy, cellulite prone pucks, and could probably be used successfully in a short ice hockey warm up match. The problem, I suspect, is that the scone dough should be just, just mixed and then left alone, whereas I like to prod and knead and poke and generally overwork the whole thing when I should actually just have walked away. Just ask any ex-boyfriend of mine. Then I remembered how Americans serve their scones (or biscuits) drenched in gravy, and my problem was solved! I made scones using a recipe from that old standby of South African housewives everywhere – Kook en Geniet – adding a packet of brown onion soup powder to the dry ingredients to get the onion flavour I was looking for without having to do any actual work. I then drenched the whole lot in mushroom sauce to hide how ugly my baking had turned out. Hollandaise would work well too. Top with a poached or fried egg and breakfast is sorted!
12 pork banger sausages, filling removed from the casings
250g streaky bacon, finely chopped. (Place the bacon in the freezer for half an hour before cutting to make it easier to slice.)
1) In a mixing bowl, add the bacon to the sausage filling and combine well. Shape into burger patties, about 10mm thick. If you want a thicker patty, fry the bacon, allow to cool and then add it to the sausage filling. If the mixture is too sticky to work with, lightly flour your hands and the working surface to make it easier.
2) Heat a very small amount of oil in a pan and fry the patties, turning once, until brown on both sides.
I must confess, I’ve been shoving it in. Food that is. When my husband ecstatically declared after a foray to the mall near our soon to be new home in China that he “Could buy cheese and ham!” I started going into panic mode. He was getting excited about cheese and ham? What does this mean for the foodie in me?? I have visions of living in a foreign country for years, deprived of a lamb chop. Of months dragging by with not an oozing wedge of Camembert to be seen. Of days spent pining for a piece of bread that contains less sugar than the average Checkers Sunday Morning Cream Cake Special. So I’m getting it in while the getting is good. And even if it’s all my favourite stuff, a surprising number of these dishes really could not be included here. (Like Royco’s Dijon Chicken with homemade chips and All Gold tomato sauce. It is my secret shame that a packaged pronto dish would feature on my list of last meals.) But these really should be. These moreish little mushroom morsels are hugely popular and disappear in a flash so make loads of them! It has been adapted from a recipe I saw in the Huffington Post one year when they featured the best snacks for the Superbowl. I don’t know anything about the original conceiver of this dish. All I know is that her name is Adriene. Thank you Adriene!
Serves: Well, it could serve just me. But probably 6 if I share.
2 punnets of small brown mushrooms (or 4 very large ones)
6 smoked sausages* (anything will do, as long as the texture is fairly chunky)
3 heaped tablespoons plain cream cheese
1 large onion, minced
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 cup grated cheese* (preferably something like a Gruyere that melts nicely)
1T tomato paste
a bit of fresh oregano, finely chopped
3 T olive oil
3 T balsamic vinegar
salt & pepper
Wipe mushrooms clean with a damp cloth and pull out the stems and discard. Toss the mushrooms with the olive oil, balsamic vinegar, salt and pepper. Spread out on a baking dish and bake in a pre-heated oven at 180 degrees C for 20 minutes. Set aside and cool.
Slit the sausage and remove the filling from the casings. Crumble in a dry heated pan and saute until golden brown. Break up into small pieces while it is cooking. Remove from the pan, reserving the pan fats and juices and aside to cool.
Add the onions to the pan, with a bit more oil if neccesary. Cook slowly until caramelized (about 20 minutes), deglazing the pan with a little water if you need to. Then add the garlic and tomato paste and cook for another minute.
Put the cooked sausage, onions and garlic, cream cheese, salt & pepper, herbs and the grated cheese in a bowl and mix well with your hands.
Line up your mushrooms in a greased baking dish with the core side facing up. Stuff each mushroom with a generous portion of the creamy sausage mixture.
Now put the baking dish in a pre-heated oven at 180 degrees for roughly 20 minutes or until they are golden brown. (This dish can be made up to 3 days ahead of time and put in the cooler until you are ready to put them in the oven.)
Serve and stand back so you don't lose a finger. Blink and they're gone.
* You can substitute any good bangers for the sausage, but then be sure to use a smoked cheddar cheese.
Like tea in a fine china cup, cheese when it’s grated and chocolate on a Tuesday when you started your diet on Monday, food just tastes better when it’s shared. I feel a little cheated when we go out for dinner and I don’t have at least two bites of my husband’s food (Tip: This handy habit also decreases your chances of getting order envy). So when we were asked last Sunday to cater for breakfast at the beach, I decided to haul out my Grandad’s old Mongolian Grill and get everyone to cook their own. I used to love the evenings when we did stirfry at Oupa’s house on this splendid contraption. I would scoop up spoons full of bacon, beef and chicken and top it all with two julienned carrots and a bean sprout and declare that I was eating my veggies. Not being Chinese, no one ever got the actual stir fry just right, but that didn’t seem to matter. There was just something about the “Check hers out!” and “Bru, I don’t think it’s supposed look like that!” that somehow made the complete lack of authentic taste of the food irrelevant. It didn’t really matter what they ate, everyone just loved the competition. I was sure the same could be achieved with some batter and a bit of bacon and I was not disappointed. There will always be that one guy who puts the cheese in too early. “Bru, I don’t think it’s supposed to look like that!”.
Any other filling that takes your fancy (Feta and sundried tomatoes and a few fresh herbs would add a nice Mediterranean twist. Ooh, and salmon, cream cheese and caviar if you want to get all fancy!)
Sauce to serve. We used a creamy mushroom, but Hollandaise would be fantastic!
For the flapjack batter, whisk the eggs and sugar together.
Add ½ cup of milk and butter to the egg mixture.
Sift the flour, baking powder and salt together and add to the egg mixture.
Add the remaining milk and mix to a smooth batter.
If necessary, add a little water to the batter if it’s too thick.
Now oil and fire up the grill. To cook the flapjacks, each person fries whatever filling combination they like. Once cooked, you can flatten the ingredients on the grill into more or less a flat, round shape and then pour the batter over, but I found the best way is to scoop the cooked ingredients into a bowl, add the batter and cheese and then scoop spoonfuls back onto the hot griddle. When bubbles start forming on the top, flip over, cook the other side for a few moments and serve with the sauce and a fried egg.