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eat. cook. write.

December 27, 2010

my Cunning Plan

Talking about Christmas on the 27th of December is like drinking apple sours on a hangover. A sour taste in the mouth and sentiments of despair from your stomach.  After weeks of commercial tinsel being thrust in your face, of gift-giving pressure and having to pretend that you are enamoured with every member of your vast extended family; it's understandable that no one wants to hear about it anymore.

However, this leaves the cook with the dilemma of  half a 6kg gammon on her hands and a fridge door that can barely close on all the left overs. What does she do? (Imagine the voice of one of those annoying chirrup-y motivational speakers, revving up as he tries to jive a bunch of bored employees into cheers and smiles at a lame staff retreat.)

Does she skulk around, lower lip to the floor because no-one cares for gammon anymore?
Does she throw a tantrum and give all the food away in a fit of helplessness?
Does she slyly start throwing away the turkey, strip for strip, in the hope that she will soon have empty tupperware containers again?

She does not.
She surveys the fridge, taking it in,
She musters her courage, flexes her muscles and...

Whips out a bundle of raffia.

Post- Christmas wraps

  • 2 packets of 5 wraps (hmmm don't know how to home- make, ideas welcome)
  • Gammon left overs with... 
  • apple sauce
  • celery, finely sliced
  • wholegrain mustard
  • sundried tomatoes (Ina Paarman's are The shiz)
  • Rocket leaves
  • Green peppercorn Camembert (or whatever yum cheese you have floating around)
  • Turkey left- overs with... 
  • Basil pesto ( I'm in love with the 'Pesto Princess' type you can buy in Spar. She's truly royal) 
  • spring onions, finely sliced
  • Hummus
  • salt and pepper 
  • cos lettuce
  • cherry tomatoes, slice and sprinkled with Maldon salt
  1. Gosh. You should know you to make a wrap. Or you should be able to figure it out if you don't. But if you're still hungover from Christmas, and can't get your brain to function, then start by microwaving them one by one for 30- 40 seconds, until soft. 
  2. Spread the mustard on a rectangular area the size of the filling in the top half, centred. Lay down the relevant leaves, then top with the other goodies. 
  3. Fold the bottom up first. (This prevents dripping and mess) then the fold the sides over one by one. Tie with rafia and a pretty bow. Shoo wee! That's nice hey.

December 26, 2010

Mullet with an 'o'

I attended a top- notch cooking school for three years. For the first of these three, I admit I found more enjoyment in social activities than I did in cookery demonstrations. To but it mildly, I spent a fair amount of time sleeping through the sessions on the bed upstairs in the gallery. This was the perfect position for a young socially- active person. You just arrived in time to call your name on the register, and then had a little doze until a friend shook you awake a few hours later.

Alas, this had grave consequences. To this day I cannot cook a boiled egg with the yolk perfectly centred, and I certainly can’t name all the ingredients in a sauce gribiche (I think it has parsley in it, though). I only very recently learnt how to the properly pronounce the name for soft- boiled eggs; eggs mollet. (It doesn't sound like mullet with an ‘o’- turns out.)

On the positive side, my alcohol- and party induced ignorance of yonder years has lead me to constant new discoveries.

For example, I beamed with joy when I found out that you can make pistachios even greener by boiling them for 10 minutes and then rubbing off the shells. Thanks to Sharon Glass and her cookbook Simply Too Delicious, I now know that if you dunk an avo in boiling water for 5 minutes before using it, it goes almost luminous green and stays that way far longer than usual. 

I can picture my cookery teacher cringing as she reads this, like she did in my second year teaching demonstration, where I re- taught the students some great tricks that they’d actually been over the week before.

The point is, my new super- green avo revelation is going to be very handy for up- coming guacamole and terrines.

Smoked fish and avocado terrine
Adapted from Sharon Glasses' recipe in her book Simply Too Delicious 

* My avo stayed bright green for about 8 hours. But since I made this on the 23rd, intending a stress- free dinner on Christmas Eve, it did go a little brown in the end. Lumo avo is a wonder, but with a twenty- four hour interim, I was pushing my luck. 

The famous Niles
  • 500g smoked fish (I combined some nice orange haddock with some mackerel)
  • 70ml home-made mayonnaise ( recipe follows)
  • 400g cream cheese 
  • 50 g greek or bulgarian- style yoghurt
  • 5 radishes ( the pinkest you can find), finely grated
  • 4  ripe but firm avocados
  • juice and zest of 2 limes
  • 4 spring onions, thinly sliced
  • 2 tbs chopped chives
  • 3ml smoked paprika\
  • salt and pepper
  1. Shred the fish and carefully remove all bones. South Africans, if you fear choking due to a lazy eye for picking out bones, buy smoked fish from Woolworths. They do spoil us. Season and set aside. 
  2. Whisk up the cream cheese and yoghurt and add the pretty pink radish. Season. 
  3. Plunge the avocados, with their skin on, into a pot of boiling water. Time for 5 minutes and remove, cool under cold running water. Mash up really well with a fork, add the lime juice and zest, spring onion, chives, paprika and plenty of seasoning. Don't expect it to taste nice- hot avo is repulsive in my opinion, but it magically returns to it's old flavour upon cooling. 
  4. Line a medium- sized bread tin with cling wrap. Start with the cream cheese mixture- spread half on the base. Top with half of the fish and then half of the avo. Repeat the layers, ending with an avo layer. 
  5. Cover the top with cling film and press down lightly. Refrigerate for no more than eight hours. 
  6. To serve, remove top layer of cling film and turn out on a platter. Remove outer cling wrap and smooth surface with a knife dipped in hot water. Put some pretty herbs on top if you want to be cute-sie like me. 

*serve with some crusty Artichoke, Feta and Herb Bread
  • 2 shop-bought french baguettes 
  • about 30ml good olive oil
  • 200g good quality feta cheese (you want the kind that's not so synthetic that it won't melt), sliced thinly
  • 100g or so bottled artichokes, thinly sliced (if you can get hold of a brand called Mediterranea it will most likely blow your mind) 
  • handful of basil, nicely ripped up 
  • salt and pepper
  1. Preheat the oven to 180 degrees. Make gashes in the loaf, about 1cm apart (don't cut all the way through).  
  2. Brush with olive oil. Poke the feta and artichoke slices, and the basil, into the slits. Season
  3. Bake for about 15 minutes or until crusty. 
  4. Just before serving, turn on the grill for a few minutes to get the top really crisp.  

  • 3 egg yolks
  • 2 tablespoons white vinegar (use any type but I like white wine vinegar)
  • 2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
  • Salt
  • 700ml vegetable oil
  1. Place the egg yolks, vinegar and mustard in a magi- mix or in a blender (I've even made this in a Kenwood fitted with a whisk attachment ) and blitz. You can also do this by hand, but you have to be strong, like bull. 
  2. Gradually add the oil in a thin stream. If you are whisking by hand, use a large bowl and add the oil drop by drop.
  3. If the mixture get's a bit thick, thin it down with a bit of water and whisk it up again as you add the oil. You may have to do this a few times before all the oil is used up.
  4. Season to taste and store in glass jars or bottles in the fridge. 
Spice it up:
  • Cook 2-3 cloves of a garlic with a mit of milk, wrapped in a foil bundle in a low heat oven for about 30- 40 minutes until softened. Blend into your mayonnaise to make aioli.
  • Use lemon juice in place of the vinegar and add some grated lemon zest (from 1 lemon) to the mayonnaise at the end
  • Add in chopped coriander and crushed, lightly toasted coriander seeds  for a North- African flavour.
  • Add a dash of smoked paprika. 
  • Make yummy sarmies with rocket and gypsy ham and sliced tomato!
  • Served with cold crayfish (a favourite in this house)
  • Spread some mustard on to a white fish fillet. Season. Spread some mayonnaise on next. Make a mixture of breadcrumbs, grated parmesan and plenty of chopped herbs and press on top of the maYo! Drizzle with a little melted butter and bake in a 200 C oven for 15- 20 minutes until fish is firm and just cooked through. Hmmmm:)

December 24, 2010

words cannot describe yesterday, today

Prawn, asparagus, mascarpone tarts

Frozen lemon meringue cake

Christmas Mince Pies

Devil- red macaroons

Oysters with vodka, cucumber and mint jelly.

Christmas Eve Croquembouche

December 22, 2010

The Crayfish Waggle

The moment you spend a bit of time with something or someone, you inevitably start to form a bit of a bond with it/him/her.

I go to pick up 6 critters from 'the crayfish family' on the other side of town. Of course, today is the day I decide to drive my own car (and not Mrs X’s staff station wagon). Of course, today is the day that the crayfish lady decides to ask me for a lift down the road; with a bulging, holey packet that bleeds crayfish juice all over her lap, and trickles the pungent liquid down onto my freshly cleaned seats.

I drive home. I keep an eye on that white packet on the passenger seat floor. The packet waggles. I imagine it bursting open, red beasts escaping and crawling all over my car. We make it home in one piece. Shoo.
I get a large pot on the stove and pour some beer and rooibos tea in the bottom. I put my hands in a pair of heavy- duty yellow gloves (I’m rather allergic to crustaceans) and cringe while I open the packet. They are still waggling. One by one I grip them with the tongs, while their tails clap and their legs claw the air, and submerge them in the pot, shuddering.  I can’t bear to hold the lid down while they scratch the sides to death.

I call on the butler (we’ll call him ‘Niles’) to hold the lid down firmly. Niles obliges, laughing. Their little antennae are poking out of the pot. He chuckles and says that the crayfish are waving goodbye.

As a carnivore and meat lover, I’m all for acknowledging the animal you kill for consumption. I like to think I could look a lamb in the face. I like to think I’m a little less na├»ve than those who think chickens come cling- wrapped in polystyrene trays.

But I don’t really dig watching a crayfish’s eyes glazing over as he slips into a rooibos- induced coma.

I must mention at this point that the first time that I ever I touched crayfish my tongue started to itch and swell, filling my mouth. My hands blossomed a prickly pink rash that spread quickly and lasted for hours.

All six souls died for a good cause, however. A recipe for Lobster salad with warm-rooibos-gooseberry-and-wasabi- butter that I found in the Woolworths Taste Magazine has always intrigued me. I like the marriage of colours: Green, white, orange. It’s a subtle dish that doesn't try too hard. I made it as part of a kind of 'surf and turf' main course, alongside salt- crusted fillet with caramel fish sauce and a light lime- juice dressed raw coleslaw.

By the time I finished this dish; tasted the perfect butter sauce, and gave some thought to the delicate flavours, I was ready to slip a piece of my old travelling companion, my glossy eyed red shelled victim, into my mouth. It slipped down like silk.

Yes (if you are wondering), my tongue itches. One of my fingers is a little red where a claw punctured my glove, and I had to get Niles to dispose of the gleaming red corpses. But my guilt has certainly subsided. 
The crayfish waggle is actually nothing more that cute.

Crayfish salad with warm Rooibos-Gooseberry-and Wasabi butter sauce
Serves 5 as a starter, or as a main course alongside a hearty steak
Adapted from Woolworths Taste Magazine, October 2007 page 17

  • 6 legally sized, legally sourced fresh crayfish 
  • 60ml rooibos tea sticks, or 10 sachets best- quality rooibos, opened
  • 2 beers ( I'm an Amstel fan, but whatever floats your boat)
  • 2 avocados, ripe but firm, cut into 0.5cm lengths and sprinkled with
  • the juice of 1 lemon
  • 400g tenderstem broccoli
  • 2 handfuls fresh basil
  • 200g gooseberries
  • 10ml extra virgin olive oil
  • maldon salt
For the sauce: 
  • 130g butter, clarified is preferable
  • 30ml rooibos sticks or 5 top- qualitiy rooibags, opened
  • 5ml wasabi sauce, or 3 ml wasabi paste
  • 50ml balsamic reduction*
  • 15ml honey
  • salt
  1. Place a stock pot on the stove with a round trivet inside (I use one that used to be in an old microwave). Pour in the beers and tea sticks and bring to a boil, lid on.
  2. Knuckle down, get a hold of those critters with a pair of tongs and settle them onto that trivet. Shove the lid on, ignore the waving antennae and hold into down until silence ensues. Time about six minutes from the moment of silence, or wait until the bad boys are bright red. 
  3. In a basin, rip the heads off (grrrr) and slit the tail down the centre. Maneuver the flesh out, keeping the tail in tact. Slit down the centre of the flesh, and remove the entails. Set aside. 
  4. Blanch the tenderstem broccoli until just tender and plunge into ice water to refresh. 
  5. Halve all the gooseberries for the salad. 
  6. For the sauce: Bring the rooibos sticks or bag contents to boil with 200ml water and boil until about 30ml remains. Melt the butter in the saucepan and strain in the rooibos mixture, along with the wasabi paste, balsamic reduction, honey and half of the gooseberries. Whisk well, and keep on low heat until ready to serve. 
  7. To serve, you can heat up the crayfish tails a little in the same steam- contraption, or leave them cold. Drizzle with olive oil to moisten, and season with maldon salt. On a platter, arrange the broccoli and avocado slices, scatter the basil leaves and top with the crayfish tails (cut them in half if you like) and the remaining gooseberries. Drizzle with a touch of olive oil and some of the butter sauce. Serve the rest in a sauce boat. Real suave. 

*Balsamic reduction is as easy as buying a bottle of balsamic vinegar, and reducing it on a hot stove until drizzling consistency. Test by putting a splodge on a plate in the freezer for a minute. Easy, now. It over- reduces easily. At least one high- end chef I know of cheats by adding sugar. Most foodies I know cheat by buying a bottle from the supermarket. Life is complicated enough as it is, I reckon. 

December 21, 2010

Day 2. Magazines and Cookie jars

Two of Mrs X's guests arrive tomorrow (by the way, I'm behind, its Day 4 already, so we're currently dealing with backlog) and its the calm before the storm. Nice.

Mrs X's nephew, lets call him Mr P, is coming for lunch, and is bringing with him the Awesome Magical Triangles. These crispy samoosas, with their perfect spicy flavour combination and faultless texture are made in a legendary little spaza- type spice shop in town, (called Village Foods) and are the bane and the blessing of my life.

The blessing because it is heaven to eat them, (and Mr P kindly bought enough for all to indulge in) and the bane because Mrs X inevitably says: "Can you make these?"  The answer is an irrevocable "no" and the insult to my ego is intensified by the fact that she wholeheartedly believes I could achieve this kind of perfection. It's not for lack of trying that I cannot. I have spent countless hours trying to make samoosa pastry, but there is clearly not even a touch of the required Inner- Indian  in my bloodstream. It's a ridiculous task that involves the thankless chore of separating paper thin sheets that have just been baked onto eachother. Don't try it if you value your sanity.

It has recently dawned on me why I can't achieve those perfect magic triangles.Its very obvious. The truth is (and I kid you not) that there is a legitimate kind of magic going on in Village Stores.  The proprietor Abie is a mind- reader, in my opinion. But I'll tell you more about his magic tricks later. I feel I have to go and test my theory one more time before I go. But just imagine his business card: Abie X- Samoosa Magician, Psychic Spy.

Enough whinging about food that I can't even give you the recipe for. I spent Day two just shuffling around the kitchen, flicking through Foodie magazines and vouching to cook all the snazzy- looking dishes I never get around to. I have this awesome stash of old Gourmet magazines. Sweet thing is, I don't even need it, because all their recipes are online at I don't even have to type out the recipe for the yummiest little snacks ever for you, wahaha.

So I made those two days ago and have since had to bake off two more batches from my handy roll of frozen dough. That's moreish for you. The Gouremt issue of December 2004 also turned out to be a gem- it has a grossly amazing section on biscuits. I tried these bad  boys:, just minus the espresso icing, and they were super- yum:

Day 2 was wrapped up with a luxurious diet platter (yet another weight loss tip for all those tipping the scale this season) which consists of 2 hard boiled eggs and a grilled tomato. Douse the tomato with balsamic vinegar and sprinkle some basil chiffonade for and be weightless in a wink.  (Jokes, man. What works for Mrs X will probably not work for you.)

Hermanus 2010 and Spice-crusted Yellowtail

It begins.

The hustle- bustle Christmas holidays that require many mugs of tea and coffee, and the wearing of crocs. Yes, I need plastic shoes to get through this. I resist and wear my Birkenstocks on day One and feel ready to sink into the floor, heavy- legged.

Imagine hearing this in the kind of voice used in film previews:
One chef.
One kitchen,
One elderly lady,
Three extended families.
53 days.

I feel like the first dish I make this season should be original, my own creation. I haven't really held a chef's knife in a few months, but I reckon inspiration will strike me like a lightning bolt while I stride through the Supermarket aisles. 

The word on the street is that there is a brand spanking new MALL in Hermanus. This news is about as big as the Titanic was in 1912. Plus, there is a new super-sized Checkers grocery store inside.The Checkers is indeed big- in fact it's almost beautiful, and it has a very nice icy fish counter. The fresh Yellowtail looks so firm, so juicy, that inspiration has no choice. It strikes. 

Spice- crusted Yellowtail with baked Baby Aubergines, snappy Summer Veg, and Basil Dressing
( serves four) 

For the fish: 
  • 4 Yellowtail fillets, skin- on
  • 10 ml each whole coriander and cumin seeds
  • 5ml chilli powder (adjust according to taste) 
  • 2ml freshly grated nutmeg
  • 30ml black sesame seeds 
  • salt and black pepper
  • 30ml butter
  • 1 lemon
For the veg: 
  • 4- 6 baby aubergines
  • 20ml olive oil
  • handful of basil, shredded
  • salt and pepper
  • 200g fresh asparagus, peeled if necessary
  • 200g fresh sugar snaps, cut in half diagonally
  • 100g mixed baby tomatoes, halved
  • 10- 20 good red olives, de- pipped if you please
  • 2 handfuls rocket
For the dressing: 
  • 60ml extra- virgin olive oil
  • 40ml balsamic vinegar
  • juice of 1 lemon
  • 1 handful basil, chopped
  • salt and pepper

  1. Preheat the oven to 180 degrees. Fish first. Get a frying pan nice and hot and dry fry all the spices separately, except for the nutmeg. You'll know they're ready when the spicy aromas start to catch you in the nose. Mix the spices up and leave them in the pan. 
  2. Season the fish on both sides, and brush the skin sides with olive oil. Brush the top side generously with the melted butter and smack, flesh side down, onto the spice and sesame mixture to create the crust. Squeeze the juice of one lemon onto the flesh side. Yum. 
  3. Get a griddle pan smoking hot. Fry the fillets, skin side first, not moving them for the first minute. Then pick them up and turn them 90 degrees to make a snazzy criss- cross pattern. If it doesn't char, your pan is not hot enough. Finally, flip them over and cook the spice- crusted side for a minute or two. The fillets won't be cooked through yet, so pop them onto a baking tray and drizzle with remaining butter until ready to be cooked through ten minutes before dinner. 
  4. Give that same griddle pan a little wipe down, and keep it hot. Brush the aubergines with olive oil and rub generously with salt and pepper. Its all about the criss- cross today, so slash the flesh into a diamond pattern and char the little brinjal babies on all sides. Poke the shredded basil bits inside and pop into the oven. 
  5. Blanch the asparagus and sugar snaps until still very crunchy. Plunge into cold water and drain. Combine with the olives and olives. Zest the lemon reserved for the dressing and add. 
  6. Whisk together the olive oil, lemon juice, balsamic, basil and seasoning. Serve the majority in a jug on the table but toss a bit of it in with the veg and the rocket. But take it easy on the rocket. You don't want a soggy bunch of greens ruining a summer day. If you're feeling artsy, drizzle some dressing on the plate. 
  7. As dinner time approaches, cook those yellowtail fillets through, testing with a sharp knife for doneness. Serve on a cold plate, with the little baby aubergines, snappy veg and perhaps a bright lemon wedge alongside. Pretty, nice. 

Ps. Mrs X doesn't eat carbohydrates (and she's a exceptionally fit looking elderly lady if any of you are looking for a tip) but I would recommend serving this with blanched pasta rice that has been seasoned, drizzled generously with olive oil, and tarted up with some chopped parsley.Pasta rice is nothing too riveting- just pasta that is shaped liked rice. But it wriggles down nicely with fish for some reason. It is also known as risoni or orzo and is quite readily available.