2020 might have had delgona coffee, banana bread and sourdough starters. But in 2021 this baked feta and tomato recipe by food blogger and artist Jenni Häyrine not only broke the internet, but supposedly caused a feta shortage in Finland! So naturally with nothing but socially distanced time on my hands I had to see for myself whether something so simple is really worth all the hoo-ha. And in short yes. Yes it is. It’s easy. It’s cheap. It’s meat free. And like a French toast omelette it is infinitely better than the sum of its parts.
Just a few notes:
The original recipe calls for cocktail tomatoes. I couldn’t find at the only shop I could bother to go to that day, but they had some perfectly ripened, impossibly red beefsteak tomatoes so I just chopped those up.
I used traditional Greek style feta. This resulted in a caramelised, crumbly texture that was just gorgeous and still made for a creaminess to every bite. Danish feta would give you a creamier consistency overall.
The secret to success here (for my taste at least) is confiting the tomatoes till they’re gorgeously jammy. So don’t be scared to push your scarlet beauties to the edge of their endurance and don’t skimp on the olive oil!
The original recipe calls for 500g pasta, which I found a bit much for the tomatoes. I reduced it by 40%. Like with all good pastas, adding some of the cooking liquid to the sauce will bring the whole thing together, so remember that before you strain the lot!
You can add grated or chopped garlic to the recipe, but I love the subtle and sweet flavour that roasting whole cloves of garlic imparts.
Baked feta and tomato pasta
Recipe type: Pasta, meat free
Serves: 3 to 4
125ml olive oil
½ red chilli (optional and to taste)
500g tomatoes (cherry or beefsteak, cut into chunks)
4 whole garlic cloves, skin on
freshly ground black pepper
salt to taste
bunch of freshly torn basil leaves
300g pasta (I used cavatappi, but penne or fusili would work just as well)
Preheat your oven to 180˚C.
Place feta, garlic cloves, chopped chilli and tomatoes in an ovenproof dish. Glug over the oil and season with black pepper.
Bake for 30 minutes or until the tomatoes are gorgeously jammy. If your feta does not yet have a caramel hue, blast it under the grill for a couple of minutes.
Get your pasta on the boil in some salted water and cook till al dente. (Reserve 125ml of the cooking liquid when straining.)
Squeeze the garlic out of its skin. and smoosh a bit till it’s a paste. Break the feta up with a fork.
Now combine the pasta, the whole baked tomato lot, the cooking liquid reserved from your pasta and torn fresh basil. Season to taste (wait till the end as the feta is almost salty enough) and enjoy!
A mere moon ago, when the world was an entirely different place, I tasted my first Biscoff biscuit on a long haul flight from the US. A flight which extended our personal lockdown to 7 weeks. Thank God I don’t mind not peopling (to put my social aversion mildly…). Biscoff biscuits are similar to Dutch speculoos biscuits, but not quite as in your face spicy and better in all the ways that Americans make food great again – more sugar and loads of butter. Or maybe that’s just Paula Dean…? Anyway, one of my very favourite small moments is that cup of tea and a biscuit at 4am (biological clock time) when everyone else on the plane is sleeping, and this one was a revelation! Because my very favourite small moment – probably in life – is my first cup of tea and rusk every morning. So I figured, hey! Speculoos style rusks should totally be a thing! The original rusk recipe is one that my Ouma Visser passed on to us and has been a staple in our house for decades. With a few tweaks and additions you are left with a tea time treat with less of the fat and sugar of Biscoff biscuits and all of the spice and warmth you require in these dark days. They are also super easy to make, requiring no rolling into balls, and are also egg free, so perfect for those poor souls with egg allergies! Which I hope all you egg challenge takers now have, cause siff. These rusks will fill your home with the most delicious, comforting aromas of butter, vanilla and spice as you gently let them dry in a low oven. So if your government won’t let you buy slippers and blankets to warm your tootsies, at least these rusks will warm your soul before you’ve even taken the first bite.
5 hours 20 mins
Serves: 100 pieces**
4 cups flour
4 cups Nutty Wheat*
2 cups caramel sugar
8 teaspoons baking powder
2 teaspoons salt
8 teaspoons cinnamon
1 teaspoon nutmeg
1 teaspoon ginger
1 teaspoon allspice
1 teaspoon vanilla
Preheat your oven to 180˚C.
Sift the dry ingredients together in a large bowl.
In a separate jug or bowl, melt the butter and stir in the buttermilk.
Add your buttermilk mixture to your flour mixture and stir till combined.
Pour the mixture into a large, greased baking tray. There are no hard and fast rules here. The smaller your dish, the taller your rusks will be, which is really no bad thing.
Bake for one hour or until a skewer inserted into the center comes out clean.
Allow to cool, turn out on a bread board and slice into your preferred size.
Dry in a 100˚C oven (preferably with a fan) until bone dry. About four hours.
* You can substitute the Nutty Wheat with four parts flour and one part wheat bran, or just use flour. ** Yield depends on the size of your rusks.
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 Georgian cuisine was a Magic Mike film, Megrelian 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 do supra the Georgian way, or grab a quick bite to eat before you make your way further down Davit Aghmashenebeli Ave. The prices are ludicrously cheap. Our entire meal, drinks included, came to just 20GEL ($US8). A service charge is not automatically added, but you’d really want to tip the wonderful staff in this tiny establishment.The restaurant is located under the once grand Apollo Theatre and apparently used to serve as a ticketing office. On the verge of being condemned, the theatre has now been restored to within an inch of its life, some say for the worse. So be sure to check it out when you leave and ask yourself “What would the Property Brothers say?”.
Address: 137 Davit Aghmashenebeli Avenue, Tbilisi, G
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.
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.
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.
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.
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”.
Accidentally the best corn bread recipe
1 hour 5 mins
Recipe type: Breads and bakes
kernels from two sweetcorn ears, cooked
100ml butter, melted
4 large eggs
50ml white sugar
½ cup grated cheddar cheese
1 cup all purpose flour
1 cup yellow polenta (Saffies, feel free to use mieliemeel, although the texture will be finer)
20ml baking power
Preheat the oven to 150˚C.
Spray a 20cm loaf tin with non stick spray (or use two tins for smaller loaves).
In a mixing bowl, pulse the corn and buttermilk together with a stick blender. You want the corn broken up, but not liquidized, kinda like creamed corn. (See what I did there?)
Whisk in the butter and eggs.
Stir in the sugar and cheese.
Sift the remaining ingredients in and then whisk the whole lot together.
Pour into loaf tins and bake for 45 minutes if doing two flatter loaves, or an hour if doing one loaf.
Serve simply with lashings of butter and some grated cheese. Also really yummy with chilli con carne!
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.
If two cats are a party, and three cats are a crazy cat lady, then 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.
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.
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.
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 felt about tea the way my dad feels about regular bowel movements: It fixes just about everything.
Oh my. The food! For less than US$3, you can have a properly good meal on the streets of Istanbul. Obviously any talk of Turkish food would be incomplete without the mention of kebabs. In every shape and form – from ground to shredded, lamb to chicken, wrapped in flat breads, on half loaves, with rice or just wrapped around a skewer – like sex and pizza, even when it’s bad, kebabs are still pretty good. But my two standout dishes in Istanbul were the kazandibi at Saray Muhallebicisi on İstiklâland the hünkar beğendi at The Old Ottoman Cafe & Restaurant in Cagaloglu Hamam Sokak. When I first read about tavuk göğsü, I knew I had to try it just so I could see how anyone could boil up chicken breast in milk till it disintegrates and then call it pudding. Kazandibi is the browned bit of this ridiculously weird pudding that sticks to the bottom of the pan when it’s all done. Who comes up with this shit? I don’t know. But God bless the person who did! It is unlike anything I have ever eaten. If a South African milktart got together with a buttery English toffee at a pudding conference, then kazandibi would be the intercontinental love child borne from their romp in the janitor’s closet. It is firm, springy, gooey and creamy all at once, with a sort of buttery, caramelly nuttiness from the toasted bits. Just trust me, try it the first chance you get and thank me later. On the savoury side, hünkar beğendi is better known as Sultan’s Delight and might be familiar to you if you’ve ever eaten in a Turkish restaurant. But I’ve never had it like this before! Aubergine (if the version is done in the authentic way) is first roasted over coals or fire and then pureed with kaşar cheese – a mild sheep’s cheese similar to cheddar. This is then topped with cubes of lamb or beef in a delicate tomato based sauce. Now if you’re anything like me you’re thinking, pureed vegetables? Bleh. Stewed meat? Meh. But a good hünkar beğendi is simple food in its most sublime form. The delicate smokiness of the flame scorched aubergine at The Old Ottoman contrasted beautifully with the creaminess of the cheese, and the umaminess (if that’s not a word, then it should be) and substance of the tomato rich meat added just enough texture to stop it from being fancy baby food. It is a hug for your soul right there on a plate.
Cold beers and rooftop bars.
No need for too much elaborating here. Cold beer. A rooftop. Endless views of a beautiful city. Enough said. Two of our favourites were 360 Istanbul and Balkon. At the former, the maître d’ looked down her snooty nose when we walked in and asked to see whether we had closed shoes on when we said we just wanted drinks. I was quite relieved that I don’t generally tour in my strappy Manolo Blahnik sandals as I would obviously have had to leave them at the door along with my little backpack that she clearly thought I was planning on smuggling the salt and pepper shakers out in. But the bar lady was lovely, even pulling up two chairs so we could sit on the Bosphorus side of the patio after the aforementioned stuck up welcoming party had relegated us to the back patio. It’s not cheap. At all. But it will be one of those memories of the city that’s worth every cent. Balkon is considerably cheaper and more laid back, with a slightly less impressive view. But it has an effortlessly cool vibe if you’re under 40 (just made it!) and you get to keep your bag with you and everything! I am actually more of a wine drinker, but I found wine by the glass in most places not only expensive (anything upwards of TL18 for swill) , but often undrinkable.
There will always be that dumbass who feels the need to draw on monuments and store fronts, but generally graffiti is limited to ugly roller doors and derelict alleys where they add a splash of colour and social comment where you’d least expect it. The bright colours and modern themes (think Tupac, Batman and angry baseballs) against the backdrop of the subdued greys of buildings that are hundreds of years old just works in a very pleasing way and is a gentle reminder that people in this city like to express themselves and be heard.
The architecture on İstiklâl Caddesi.
There’s a lot to see on the streets in and around İstiklâl Avenue, but it’s definitely worth risking a strained neck muscle or two to look up as much as possible. Old and new merge together perfectly in a hodgepodge of Neo-Classical, Neo-Gothic, Renaissance Revival, Art Nouveau, Art Deco and First Turkish National Architecture style facades above with modern shop fronts below with the odd mosque or church thrown in for good measure. Crumbling plaster sits comfortably alongside brightly painted walls and, like a toddler who has dressed themselves, the whole ensemble just works even though it really shouldn’t. The cafés, boutiques, music stores, art galleries, bookshops, craft stores and pubs in Beyoğlu are some of the most unique I have ever seen, with modern crystal chandeliers fighting worn mosaics for ceiling space, mezzanine floors, exposed brick gouged out of old plaster finished off with modern trimmings and so many interesting touches that we started annoying each other with all the “Check that out!”s. Loved it!
Like all cities where restaurant tables and store shelves are given free reign to spill onto pavements, and whole streets are closed off to cars in favour of window shopping pedestrians, Istanbul has a bustling street life. All over the city, merchants sell as much of their wares outside as they do inside, and there are random stools and tables serving patrons everything from deep fried mushrooms to sheep’s head sarmies on the busiest roads and down the tiniest alleys, creating the type of cosmopolitan cacophony that can only work so well in a city as international as this. A bit on the touristy side, the area around the intersection of Nevizade Sokak and the Balık Pazarı in Beyoğlu must be one of the best spots to grab a çay and nargile pipe and watch life spilling into the streets. There are buskers, flower sellers, fish mongers, old men with trays of tea, fresh roasted almond peddlers, Turkish families from all over the country out to see the bright lights of the big city and, of course, foreigners soaking it all in. This area has loads of wine bars and restaurants serving meze (and you know meze means getting stuck for hours) and is where it all happens after dark on this side of the Galata tower. Even at 5:00 in the morning you will find groups of people scattered up İstiklâl, gathered around singing along to a fairly inebriated guitarist or just strolling off last night’s party.
The call to prayer.
I realise I can just stick my head out the door at work six times a day and hear the Muslim call to prayer back home, but there is something special about hearing the calls emanate from the great mosques all over the city, especially the akşam at sunset when the last light has settled over the minarets of the Süleymaniye Mosque. It is too beautiful! But take it from me and ensure you are nowhere near a mosque when the call starts. Hearing one up close instead of as part of a whole is like standing in front of that tone deaf Maria Callas wannabe who used to belt out false hymns at church on Sunday mornings. In chorus though, it can instill in one a sense of calm and rightness with the world which, like the rest of this warm city, gives you hope that in the end we really can all just get along.
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.
1 hour 10 mins
Recipe type: Snacks & starters
Cuisine: Cape Malay
Serves: makes about 40
500g smoked snoek, deboned (good luck with that) and flaked
1 medium onion, diced
200g tinned whole tomatoes (about half a tin with the juice), chopped
1 clove garlic, crushed
10ml vegetable oil
500g phyllo pastry, each sheet cut into 10cm strips (or to whatever size samoosa you want)
1 egg, beaten
1L cooking oil
sweet chilli sauce to serve
In a pan or skillet, heat the vegetable oil over medium heat. Add the onions and saute till lightly golden.
Add the garlic and spices and saute for a further 5 minutes.
Add the snoek and tomatoes, turn down the heat and cook for ten minutes or so, stirring occasionally until the liquid from the tomatoes has evaporated. Cool (not cool as in awesome, cool as in let it get colder.)
Brush the edges of a pastry strip with egg wash. Place a tablespoon of snoek mixture on the end and fold the samoosa into a neat little package.
Heat the cooking oil to 200˚C and deep fry the samoosas in batches till golden brown. Serve with sweet chilli sauce.
Okay, 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.
Back when we still had a life, we had a lovely, leisurely lunch at La Rosa Blu 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.
The 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 – not too concerned with the happiness of my food – I opted for The Taxi Driver, that came with chicken, crispy bacon, red onions, cherry tomatoes, basil pesto and my Achilles heel, truffle oil. I don’t know why it’s called The Taxi Driver, but it was delicious! Burgers are equally creative, and I’m sure there are few men who would pass up the opportunity to try The Italian Stallion, topped with bacon, feta, mozzarella and salami. Breakfasts range from R36 to R65 and pastas and burgers from R60 to R85. There weren’t flatbreads when we were there, but I am told by a very reliable foodie friend that he has had them and they are phenomenal.
When you’ve had your fill (don’t miss out on the gourmet milkshakes), take your Karoo cocktail outside and sip on this white port and tonic concoction while you drink in the views from the patio. Yeah, I’m jealous.
Is it ethical to review a restaurant when you own one? Or is that only okay when you’re Gordon Ramsay?
La Rosa Blu Café
Rosenhof Estate, N9, Waboomskraal, George, South Africa
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 & herb stuffed chicken with braised leeks & bacon
1 hour 30 mins
Recipe type: Main
8 chicken thighs, skin on and bone in
cream cheese, sour cream & full cream Greek yogurt totaling 250ml (you can use only one or all three combined in whatever quantities you like, depending on what you have in the fridge, but I would definitely recommend the cheese & sour cream)
hand full of chopped, fresh herbs (thyme and chives work particularly well)
125 grams bacon, diced
300g leeks, thinly sliced
1 cup chicken stock
a squeeze of lemon juice if you don’t use sour cream
1 tablespoon flour
2 tablespoons butter
Preheat the oven to 180 degrees C.
Fry the bacon and leeks together over medium heat until softened. This should take about ten minutes. Sprinkle over the flour, stir through, transfer to a baking dish and pour over 250ml chicken stock.
Combine the cheese mixture, herbs and seasoning. Gently ease the skin on the chicken loose with your fingers, keeping the side bits attached to create a pocket. That would be gross if it was Hannibal Lecter creating a skin pocket, but here it’s just clever.
Using a spoon, gently stuff the cheese mixture under the skin, using it all up. It should be well stuffed.
Place the chicken on top of the leeks and bacon, dot with butter and cover in foil. Bake for 40 minutes, remove the foil, and bake for a further 25 minutes or until golden. Serve with mash.
This recipe is lovely made with turkey at Christmas time!
Lime 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.
We 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.