Category Archives: Cook

Jew’s ear soup (hold the Jew’s ear)

Jew’s ear soup (hold the Jew’s ear)
Jew's ear fungus
Jew's ear fungus

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.

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

Cheesy pork chops au gratin with creamy asparagus

Serves 4


Recipe type: Main


  • 4 large pork chops – rinds removed and reserved
  • a bunch of fresh, green asparagus, cleaned, chopped into 1 inch pieces and tough bits discarded
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 10ml flour
  • 125ml cream
  • 200ml grated white cheddar or Monterey Jack cheese (optional)
  • seasoning


  1. Season the chops and grill in the oven till just done. Use the smallest dish you can that will hold the chops and the asparagus sauce.
  2. Meanwhile, melt the butter in a saucepan and saute the asparagus for two or three minutes until tender.
  3. Add the flour to the asparagus and stir to combine with butter. Cook for a further minute.
  4. Add the cream to the asparagus and stir until you have a smooth sauce.
  5. Pour any pan juices that might have collected from the chops into the sauce and stir.
  6. Pour the sauce over the chops, top with the cheese and grill until golden and bubbly.
  7. Season the pork rind and place under a hot grill till it goes crackly. Serve with the chops. Good with mash or hot chips!

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


1 head of Hangzhou bok choi, finely sliced (equivalent to a 300g pillow pack of lettuce)

4 large potatoes, boiled, peeled and cubed

250g bacon, cooked and chopped

4 to 6 eggs, hard boiled, peeled and sliced in half

3 spring onions, finely sliced

Caesar dressing to taste

Mayo to taste


1) Combine equal quantities of dressing and mayo (as much as you prefer on a salad), season and set aside.

2) Toss the potatoes and bok choi together, pour over the dressing and give a light stir.

3) Pile the potatoes on a plate and top with the eggs, bacon & spring onions.

Spicy prawn & coconut cream soup

Spicy prawn & coconut cream soup

There has been no time for cooking these last two months. Dinner has consisted mostly of Grand Chicken Ranch burgers from McDonald’s (the three lettuce leaves, slice of tomato and single onion ring constituting my 5-a-day as far as I am concerned) or toast. So it’s been rather nice to have someone to cook for and have a bit of time to get into the kitchen again. Even if that kitchen is a desk and toaster oven in a tiny Chinese hotel room, and finding ingredients for a specific recipe could mean a three hour round trip to the Avo Lady. If you’re in Shanghai, you can find lemon grass here (and only here, as far as I have been able to tell).

This is one of my all-time favourite recipes. The extremely obliging people at  Woodall Country House & Spa in the Sundays River Valley were kind enough to pass the recipe along after my book club spent a pampered weekend there a few years ago, reading nothing but wine labels and enjoying their exceptional cuisine and warm hospitality. It is dead easy and very, very good. The butternut blends to a velvety, smooth soup without the need for straining and the Thai flavours turn what would ordinarily be standard weekday fare into something a little special.

Thai butternut soup

Serves 4


15ml oil

1 onion

2 cloves garlic

3 small chillies (or to taste), chopped

20ml lemon grass, minced

2 chicken stock cubes (or tubs, or sachets, depending on your budget) dissolved in 750ml water

500g butternut (or pumpkin), diced

400ml coconut cream

250g cooked prawns (I like to grill whole prawns and then deglaze the oven dish with the water I need to use for the stock. I also prefer whole prawns in the soup, even if it’s a bit messy.)

1) Heat oil in a pan. Add the garlic, onions, chillies & lemon grass. Cook until the onions are soft.

2) Add the stock and bring to a boil. Add the butternut and simmer for ten minutes until soft.

3) Blend. (With a blender, if “blend” isn’t clear enough.)

4) Stir in the coconut cream and heat through.

5) Add the prawns and serve. Alternatively pour the soup into bowls and top with the prawns.

Cooking with kids: Ye ol’ standby muffins

Cooking with kids: Ye ol’ standby muffins

A guest post by Miss Rachel Carlin

Kiddie muffins

My mom always told me that there are two things every girl should have: a qualification and a driver’s license. I have increased the list to include a dress that makes you feel like a diva, a string of pearls and a flattering bathing suit. I would like to add a sub clause to this. Anybody who spends a significant time with children, be it as babysitter, parent, grandparent or teacher should have at least one book they know off by heart that they can “read” to the child whilst fantasising about an ice cold glass of bubbly to be had once the child is in bed; a simple craft activity using an old loo roll; and a basic muffin recipe.

As that great purple dinosaur keeps telling us, sharing is caring, so here is my basic muffin recipe. Think of it as the maxi dress of baked goods: pretty good for most occasions and one size fits all. I halve the amounts (well, not the egg) and make mini muffins. I add sprinkles to the batter and make rainbow muffins.  I mash up bananas and add cinnamon for – and here is the kicker – banana and cinnamon muffins. I have even added grated apple, blue cheese and walnuts and served them to adults. If I add anything obviously savoury, I omit the sugar and vanilla essence.


  • 1 cup regular flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1/8 C butter, softened
  • ½ C sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1 t Vanilla essence
  1. Preheat the oven to 180C
  2. Line a 12 muffin pan with muffin casings.
  3. Sift the flour with the baking powder, bicarbonate of soda and salt.
  4. Cream butter with the sugar until light and fluffy in a large mixing bowl. Obviously the softer the butter, the easier this is.
  5. Add egg to sugar and butter mixture and beat well.
  6. Add flour mixture to wet mixture and mix until smooth.
  7. Pour into the muffin casings and bake for approximately 20 minutes.
  8. Turn out and cool.

If you are that way inclined, you could ice the little darlings. And also the muffins.

Banger & bacon breakfast scones

Banger & bacon breakfast scones

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!

Banger and bacon burger

Serves 6:


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.

Cong you bing revisited

Cong you bing revisited

I have not been sleeping well at all. My bed has once again become that magical place where I suddenly remember everything I was supposed to do that day, but didn’t. And I know that once I crawl out from beneath that white duvet I will once again, in a foggy haze of procrastination, forget everything that I vowed to do in the wee hours of the morning. So I have taken to sleeping with a pen and notepad next to my bed so that I can jot down things in the dark as I remember them and clear them from my mind. This hasn’t worked as well as you would think. Upon waking this morning I found a message to myself reminding me to “Char doc squikle skorf”. While I don’t think this was intended to be an inspired grill idea, it did remind me that I still need to post my cong you bing recipe. I have adapted the recipe from one found at Traditional Chinese Recipes to more closely resemble the thin and crispy pancakes that our local vendor made. It is essential that you make the dough two days before you intend to use it to allow the gluten to bind. This is a great recipe to use when doing a Mongolian grill and everyone can get their hands dirty cooking their own (in which case most of the pancakes will, in all likelihood,  be wonky, a little burnt and the object of much ridicule).

Cong you bing


300g all purpose flour

6 spring onions, leafy green parts finely chopped (you can reserve the chopped whites and use in the paste)

1/2 tsp salt

1 tb vegetable oil

115g of boiling water (yes, grams Heston)

70g of cold water

spicy basting paste

Add the boiling water to the flour and stir. When it is well incorporated, add the cold water and continue mixing until it is smooth. You will have a very wet dough. Oil your hands and collect the dough into a ball. Place in a plastic bag in the refrigerator and allow to stand for two days or so.

With oiled hands, turn the dough out on to a smooth, oiled surface and flatten into a rectangle approximately 1cm thick. Sprinkle with the salt and spring onions and press them into the dough. Fold the dough in half and press down to 1 cm thick again. Rub the surface of the dough with your oiled hands, fold and press down again. Do this four or five times so that you layer the dough with oil and spring onions, similar to what you would do with puff pastry. Now grab a hand full of dough (a little bigger than the size of a golf ball) and roll it out with an oiled roller till you have a disk about 2mm thick. It’s a little slippery and tricky, but you’ll get the hang of it eventually. If a hole appears, don’t worry about it.

In a heavy bottomed pan, heat a few tablespoons of oil. (If you haven’t noticed by now, this is not Weigh Less and enough oil in the pan is essential or it’ll taste yuck.) Lay the pancake in the oil, away from you. Cook until lightly browned and then flip it over. Brush with the paste, cook the other side until browned and then flip back for 5 more seconds, just to heat the paste through. The sugar in the paste will burn if you leave it too long. Serve cut into rectangular slices.

For the spicy basting paste:

2 onions, very finely chopped

chopped fresh red chillies to taste

80ml oil

15ml paprika

10ml cumin

20ml coriander

4T sweet chilli sauce (pretty sure the Chinese don’t use this, but it works!)

Heat the oil in a heavy based saucepan and add the onions. Cook slowly until they begin to caramelise. Add the chillies and spices and continue cooking until the whole mixture turns into a gloriously, jammy, paprika hued concoction. Add the sweet chilli sauce and cook for a few more minutes. You’ll be left with a jammy oil that is perfect for basting your cong you bing.

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.

Simple souffles

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!

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

Simple Soufflés

Makes 6 little soufflés


  • 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 young child to grate the cheese, but place your hand and fingers over theirs so they get the feeling and the motion of grating without the danger of shredding fingers.
  2. Using a regular size circle cookie cutter, cut out two circles from each slice of bread.
  3. Brush a muffin pan with some oil and then place the bread circle inside. This will form the base of your soufflé.
  4. In separate mixing bowls, break the eggs and separate.
  5.  Whisk the egg yolks together very quickly until they turn creamy.
  6. In another bowl stiffen the whites, not to the peaks needed for meringues but allow them to hold shape.
  7. Add the milk, herbs, salt and pepper to the yolks and mix thoroughly.
  8. Add half the cheese and give a good mix.
  9. Gently fold in the whites.
  10. Carefully pour over the 6 muffin pans ensuring even distribution of the mixture.
  11. Top each mini soufflé with the remaining cheese.
  12. Bake in the oven for 12 – 15 minutes until golden.

 And that’s it. A dollop of Mrs. Balls on the side is rather good.

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.


For the base

  • 200 grams tennis biscuits (Nigella uses digestives, but I have a debilitating weakness for tennis biscuit bases)
  • 50 grams salted peanuts
  • 100 grams dark chocolate chips or a slab broken into pieces
  • 50 grams butter

For the filling

  • 500 grams cream cheese
  • 3 medium eggs
  • 3 medium egg yolks
  • 200 grams castor sugar
  • 125 ml sour cream
  • 250 grams smooth peanut butter

For the topping

  • 250 ml sour cream
  • 100 grams milk chocolate
  • 30 grams soft light brown sugar


  1. Preheat the oven to 170°C.
  2. Process the biscuits, peanuts, dark chocolate and butter for the base in a food processor. (I only have that little food processor that you bung onto the end of a stickblender, but it worked just as well when you do it in batches this way and then mix it all together after. Great arm workout too.)
  3. Once it comes together in a clump, turn it out into a 23cm springform tin and press into the bottom. Reserve a good tablespoon full to consume right now. You know you have anyway!
  4. Put in the fridge while you make the filling.
  5. Process all the filling ingredients together till you have a smooth mixture. You can just whisk the whole lot if you don’t have a processor, but then be sure to bang out the air bubbles or there will be cracks in your cheesecake. Not the end of the world, but avoidable.
  6. Pour and scrape the filling onto the base in the tin and bake for 50 minutes. Check the cake and if necessary, bake for a further ten minutes. The cake should be like your thighs after Christmas when you’ve ruined a year’s workouts in two weeks – just, just firm to the touch but with a bit of a wobble perceptible underneath.
  7. Take the cheesecake out of the oven while you make the topping.
  8. Warm the sour cream and chocolate with the brown sugar gently in a small saucepan over a low heat, whisking to blend in the chocolate as it melts, and then take off the heat.
  9. Spread the topping very gently over the top of the cheesecake.
  10. Put it back in the oven for a final 10 minutes.
  11. Once out of the oven, let the cheesecake cool in its tin and then cover and put into the fridge overnight. It gets better the longer it stands.
  12. When you are ready to eat the cheesecake, take it out of the fridge, just to take the chill off, but note that it will get even more gloriously claggy the longer it stands.

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


5 large onions, sliced

1 kg lamb chops – loin is best, but any cut will do

salt and ground white pepper

3T canola or sunflower oil

2T butter

1) Place a heavy based pan (big enough to fit all the chops in a single layer) on medium heat and add the oil and butter.

2) Add the onions and a bit of salt and pepper and fry slowly. Slowly now. Don’t let it brown too quickly. Once the onions are translucent, push them aside in the pan and add the chops. Season and brown the chops on both sides and stir the whole lot around the pan every few minutes.

3) That’s pretty much it. But pour yourself a glass of wine, because you’re going to be here for a while. Now you just continue doing this for the next ninety minutes or so. As the onions and meat catch on the bottom of the pan, scrape those lovely caramelised bits off with a wooden spoon and keep incorporating them back into the onions. If you need to, add a tablespoon or two of water to deglaze the pan as you go, but keep it fairly dry. The closer to the end you get, the more it will catch and the more you’ll need to stir it. Season and don’t be shy with the salt.

What you’ll eventually be left with is a gorgeously glossy caramelised compote to go with the tender lamb chops that will taste even better if you leave the whole lot in the fridge for a day so that the flavours can develop. If it’s a little too fatty for your taste, just tilt the pan to the side and scoop off any excess fat. (Sorry Dad, I didn’t really mean that!)