Monday, 30 November 2009

The Year of Bread

As this year draws to a close, I look back at all the things I have achieved and I am very happy. I have failed in somethings, but my kitchen is one place that things are going well.

Not only have I got a whole new kitchen, thanks to my wonderfully talented husband, but I have learned so many new skills.

My biggest feat this year was overcoming my fear of bread baking. I am now a fully accomplished yeastie! I love working with dough - it's alive with so many possibilities.

Next year I am planning to do a big cooking project, I am very excited about the planning. I hope to introduce African food in a big way to the rest of the world - adapting and modernizing traditional recipes. Think Julia Child does Africa!

But this year needs to end first and in celebration of the year of bread I bring you this very simple Egg Bread. It is an all purpose white bread, with a wonderfully rich flavour and texture.

Egg Bread
Makes 1 Loaf

1 Whole egg plus 2 egg Yolks
100ml Warm Milk
75ml Warm Water
20ml Milk Powder
1½ Tablespoons of melted butter
3 Tablespoons Sugar
1½ Teaspoons Sugar
500g Bread Flour (or Cake flour for a softer texture)
2½ teaspoons Dry Active Yeast

I use my bread machine for this recipe, but if you do not have a bread machine you can use this technique -

-Combine the ingredients and mix well.
-Knead the dough until smooth and soft.
-Let rise until doubled.
-Punch down, and shape into a loaf.
-Place bread in a greased loaf pan, or on a baking sheet for a round loaf.
-Rise again until doubled.
-Bake, as most bread is baked in a moderate oven, about 350 degrees F (175 degrees C) this is a good temperature to start with.
-Bake for 40 to 50 minutes (this will depend on your oven and the bread itself so be careful here), or until the crust is golden brown and the loaf sounds hollow when tapped.

Enjoy hot with lots of butter!

Monday, 23 November 2009

All things Nice

This weekend I was rather busy. I had the pleasure to make 2 cakes for friends of mine. One was for a baptism and the other for a girl's 13th birthday.

The birthday cake idea I got from the Ideas magazine - a while ago, I can't remember which issue. It is very simple to do - and very impressive. You ice the cake normally - top and sides and then cut pink and white marshmallows into "petals" and place on the cake. I found I needed to work with damp hands to stop the petals sticking to my fingers. You then use a chocolate Whisper (or Maltese) for the centre of the flower.

The biggest treat for me came on Sunday, while watering my garden, I picked 2 purple figs from my tree. I can not tell you the pleasure I got from eating these sweet juicy gems!

Figs are my most favourite fruit in the world (especially the purple fig) - I just can't afford to buy them, but now that my tree is bearing, I can eat my full and then some! Are you jealous yet?

Wednesday, 18 November 2009

Keeping it Simple

I love cheese and biscuits - it is one of my all time favourite lunch time meals. I really don't care what cheese (although I am partial to stronger cheeses), or what biscuits (I love Salticrax the best).

Most days it's just a quick plate of biscuits with cheese and I am good to go another 8 rounds, but some days I do take a little care, and use a topping with the cheese. Pepperdews, gherkins (think end of the month), watermelon or fig preserve (think just after pay day) all work really well.

This little topping of pickled onion, not only tastes good, it takes a few minutes prepare, is really easy on the month-end-wallet but most of all, it is so very pretty!

Quick Pickle Onion
1 Red Onion thinly sliced
10ml Red Wine vinegar
5ml Sea Salt Flakes (less if you using table salt)
5ml Sugar

Mix all the ingredients together, check the seasoning to taste (this will vary depending on your preference for sweet, salty or tart)
Level to stand for about 15-30 minutes.
Serve with biscuits.

This pickle is also great with grilled fish.

Tuesday, 17 November 2009

Bouillabaisse a la Cape Town

If you have been following my blog for a while ( a week would be long enough), you'll know I have been reading Julia Child: A Life by Laura Shapiro.

I am totally inspired to stretch my South African culinary boarders to France. As you read how Julia explains French food, it no longer seems daunting. She said "
Once you have mastered a technique, you barely have to look at a recipe again", and this is so true about all cooking.

So I thought I would start with something simple, yet quintessentially French - Bouillabaisse. This dish is a bit of a scared cow in France, each chef claiming their version as the only truly authentic dish. I looked through all my cook books, scoured the Internet and finally came full circle back to Julia's interpretation as the only one I felt confident enough to try. Who better to ask about French food than an American?

I sourced the recipe here. Using as much French flair as I could muster, I ended up only making one change. I used a fresh fennel bulb thinly sliced and added with the leeks and onions, instead of using fennel seeds as instructed.

While the recipe looks long and complicated, it is really very easy and is perfect for entertaining, because everything revolves around the stock, which you can even make a day ahead if you think you will be pressed for time.

I did spend a fair amount of time preparing my fish and seafood, so that everything would be bone free and perfectly portioned. I used the following fish - yellowtail, sole and panga, as this is what I could get at my fish monger, but so long as you follow the "rules" set out in the beginning of the recipe, you can use whatever is local and lekker (nice)! I also included prawns and calamari - again these are ingredients which are easily available and within my price range.

I strained the stock twice - once as instructed and again after I had cooked the fish in it - just to ensure it was perfectly (my new favourite word) clear.

I served this with heaps of French bread and a homemade olive focaccia. My guests and husband loved the meal and I will definitely be making this again soon.

The best way to execute French cooking -
is to get good and loaded and
whack the hell out of a chicken.
Bon appétit.

Monday, 16 November 2009

Can you Chef

A couple of months ago I entered a competition "Can you Chef". I certainly didn't hold out any hope of getting through, so when I got a phone call telling me I had been chosen, I was blown away!

The event was held at the new Cape Quarter centre in Green Point.

The competition was stiff, and in both rounds I found myself up against 2 very confident and organised gentlemen! The format was, you were given a selection of ingredients, and 30 minutes to prepare at least one dish.

In the first round I prepared a Thai chicken green curry and a fillet steak salad. Cooking under pressure is not really something I am not used to, you had to think and cook at the same time - so there was no time for smiling at the camera!

Despite the fact that my curry was a little too hot for the judges (those chillies were hotter than I thought), they still decided I'd done enough to win and so I was through to the finals. My prize, amongst other things, was a new slow cooker - which is fortuitous, because my old one I inherited from my mother, and it's ready for retirement.

Even though I knew what to expect the next day, I still remained nervous. The other finalist, Justin, was not going to be easy to beat - he knew his stuff and the judges loved his food the day before and could not fault it.

I kept it very simple in the second round - fried kingklip with coleslaw, topped with fried capers and a second dish of simple chicken curry. After seeing what Justin had prepared, I didn't think for one minute I could win. I sat there waiting for the judges, and I kept saying - "I wish I had done more"!

To my surprise and delight, I was announced as the winner - and I won the most amazing prizes, the best being a cooking course at Jenny's cook school! I also received a gift voucher from Spar, 2 black truffles, a Crystal wine decanter and a whole bag filled with of the most wonderful goodies from various shops at the Cape Quarter.

All that said - I had a totally wonderful weekend - and I must say a huge thank you to Keith - official chairman of my fan club (okay it wasn't the Oscars, but it was a pretty big deal to me) and Jenny Morris.

Sunday night's supper was scrambled eggs on toast with truffles - not bad for a whip-up meal!

Tuesday, 10 November 2009

Goulash to Curry

Yesterday I took out my last pack of goulash from the freezer (from the hind-quarter we bought earlier this year). I was so looking forward to going home and trying my hand at a genuine Hungarian Goulash recipe.

I chopped the onions, washed and dried the meat and after I had softened the onions just perfectly, I discovered that all my paprika was finished - nothing, nada, gone, finished, missing. How did this happen? I think I might have thrown it out by mistake when I repacked my kitchen after extreme makeover - kitchen edition!

Well, it was "think on your feet time" - the onions were starting to brown just a little too much and the clock was ticking (I could even hear the digital clock on the microwave)! I opened my beautifully new pantry cupboard, with the slide out shelves and inspiration hit me - curry! The weather was perfect and I had just enough time to make it and would not require me running out to the shop to buy any supplies.

This curry is slightly different to what I would usually make - more like braised meat with a thick curry sauce.

Goulash to Curry

500g Beef Goulash (which is just topside cut into 2" chunks)
1 Large Brown Onion
15 -20 ml Curry Powder (depending on how hot you like it)
10 -15ml Dried chili Flakes (again some like it hot and some like it when the heat it on)
10ml Garlic Paste
¼ teaspoon Cumin
¼ teaspoon Coriander
¼ teaspoon Turmeric
½ teaspoon Dry Ginger Powder
¼ tin of tomato puree
1 large handful of Fresh thyme
10ml Sugar
Salt and Pepper
1 tin Cooked Lentils (optional), drained and washed

Fry the onions until they are nicely caramelized.
Add the meat, which is washed and dried and fry on high heat with the onions.
Once the meat is browned on all sides,
Add all the spices and continue to fry for another 2 minutes.
Add the tomato and the sugar, keep stirring.
Add just enough water (¼ cup max) to help work off the bits that have stuck to the pot.
You must keep stirring until all the bits are off the bottom, that is where all the flavour is.
Reduce to the lowest heat you have, and allow to simmer very slowly, stirring and adding as little water as you can to stop it catching and burning.
I simmer this for about 60 -80 minutes, until I have a wonderfully thick gravy and the meat is tender.
If you are using the lentils, add them at the end and allow to cook for another 10-15 minutes.
Serve with steamed white rice.

And here is a wonderful quote from my new hero Julia Child

“I wouldn't keep him around long if I didn't feed him well.”

Monday, 9 November 2009

My friend Julia

I am proudly Capetonian and while it's not New York or Paris, it's not as backward as some people think.

After reading some of these questions - I cringe to think what people think of South Africa and Africa.

I don't understand anything about football or baseball, I can't buy milk by the gallon, unless I have a dairy (do people really drink that much milk? or do you have calves in your back yard), we don't have snow at Christmas, but still we celebrate it anyway and I don't know what Graham crackers are and Starbucks does not exist in my world.

We do have a Jimmy Choo shop (don't have the courage to go in yet) and MacDonald's (Yippee!).

We do have elephants and lions, but we keep them in game parks (and not roaming in the street). The sad thing is that 90% of the population will never see a wild animal (except our taxi drivers) - a few might see them (the animals) at a zoo. I am one of the privileged that have actually seen the big five (lion, elephant, leopard, cheetah and buffalo) in the wild.

But I digress, there are things that the rest of the world know well, but I missed as an average South African growing up. One such phenomena is Julia Child -until 6 months ago, I had never heard of her. Should I be blushing?

Now I can see the entire North America frowning and deep in thought - did she live under a rock? I guess when it came to TV and food I did. Television only came to this country in 1976, and then it was only for a few hours a day. Many of the programs where dubbed (into Afrikaans). I don't think a big American woman (she is over 6ft tall) teaching people to cook French food would have been a huge hit in this country in the late '70's - we had other issues!. And even if we did, I doubt I would have been allowed to watch it anyway, my parents were pretty strict about bed times and TV watching.

But things have changed, I now know who Julia Child is. I have read Julie Powell's blog (the whole year) and am now I am reading Laura Shapiro's book, Julia Child ~ A Life, a book I received (won) from Coco @ Coco Cooks.

This is an incredible little book, I'm about half way through and I can't put it down. If you are looking for a great little stocking filler for a foodie - even if they don't know Julia yet, this book is wonderful. With excerpts from letters her husband Paul wrote to his brother, things Julia wrote to her family and generally just the fly on the wall commentary on this extra-ordinary woman, you can't but help fall in love with Julia. And as you can see, I am already on a first name basis!

It is very well written, witty and charming. Foodies will love it, just because you'll find a kindred spirit in Julia. I see myself in her, as someone who wasn't born with a natural ability to cook, but had a love for eating and went out and learned how to cook - reading and learning and never stopping until she was happy with the result.

I just love the easy to read language and I quote "Shapiro's Julia Child personifies her own most famous lesson: that learning how to cook means learning how to live" - how very true!

A Road less Travelled

A road less travelled took me away from blogging for 2 weeks. I discovered places in this beautiful country, things about myself, where I am going and where I want to be. I met new people and made friends that I hope I can nurture for years to come.

All this sounds very philosophical, but it's not really -time spent with yourself, outside of your comfort zone, can reveal things that get lost in a normally hectic life and routine.

So, let's start off with where I was.

I had to take a 5 day business trip to a little dorp (town) in the Eastern Cape called Humansdorp. While I was very busy sorting out the reason for my visit, I did have time to drive around and see some beautiful places and eat at some really wonderful restaurants.

One of these beautiful places was Cape St Fransis and the Port of St Fransis. A sleepy little hollow, right on the coast. Here is a picture of the lighthouse and the harbour pictured above.

Two of the restaurants at which I ate stand out, firstly Le Chameleom, in Humansdorp and the second was De Viswyf in Jefferies Bay. The third place is a coffee shop, cum second hand book shop, cum bonsai nursery, also in Humansdorp.

Le Chameleon is only open during the day and not only has a wonderful restaurant, but a gift shop and farm stall where I could have maxed out any credit card! There is not a person in the area who doesn't know this little gem, and even out of season you'll be hard pressed to get a table. They do not take reservations and close at 4pm on week days. The owners are always there, keeping a keen eye on every plate which leaves the kitchen.

I do apologize for the picture quality, but I think the excitement at seeing such a beautiful plate of food was just too much for even my camera to handle!

I ate at Le Chameleon twice, opting twice for a salad - and while this might sound boring, it was everything but, more like a culinary voyage into the heights of heaven. The first salad I had was grilled pear with blue cheese, crispy bacon and bruschetta. My soul shall never know such pleasure on a plate again. That was until the second master piece of grilled halloumi cheese with pine nuts and olives. I still can not decide which was best, but I could write a Mills and Boon novel on the pleasures thereof!

The second restaurant I went to was De Viswijf in Jeffreys Bay, an award winning restaurant. It is set right on the rocks, next to the lighthouse. The menu is very extensive, with fish, poultry and meat. I had the fish, being of the belief that when in a fish restaurant you should eat fish. I started with Mussels Maison, mussels in the shell with garlic white wine sauce, topped with cheese, oven baked and served on a bed of rice . And yes this is as good as it sounds!
The Yellow Fin Sole was "to die for", and I don't say that lightly - I can think of a few small countries I would invade for another chance to savour this dish. And just because I was alone and out of town I finished off with the créme brûlée.

Thirdly was the little coffee shop - Browns Cafe, in Main Street Humansdorp. It looks like nothing from outside, just another secondhand book shop, with perhaps an old Auntie making coffee and koek (cake) in the back. Oh no, as you walk through, you discover a beautiful nursery, filled with bonsai trees and tables where you sit and enjoy the view.

I tell you now, do not to waste your time thinking about what to order - coffee and lemon meringue pie! That's all you will need to make you realize that books and covers are never what they seem!

So there you have the first part of my voyage of discovery. It involves lots of food - but there was time to do some soul searching too. But I think I will keep that for another day- just in case you needed a reason to come again and visit!

Jeremiah 17: 7-8

"Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, whose confidence is in Him. He will be like a tree planted by the water."

It is not your business to succeed, but to do what is right : when you have done so, the rest lies with God.
C.S. Lewis

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