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Happy New Year everybody!

I don’t think I’m alone when I say that I’m so relieved that 2010 is behind me.  Personally, it was a rough year and I sure hope that this new year has some nicer surprises in store for us all!

So in case you didn’t know, I went home for the holidays.  Home being my place of birth: the sleepy hollow of Bulawayo, in Zimbabaloo.  (That’s the new official name, by the way.  Write it down.)  I’ve not been back over Christmas for a number of years now, and normally miss the party bus mass exodus of Zimbos heading home for the holidays.  This results in missing special drinking time with friends from long, long ago.  There are a number of insanely awesome parties that take place (I know, right?), and I usually get to read about them over social networking channels, resulting in my achieving a non-Zen-like state of loser-dom.  It’s vicious.

Sista Bliss and I booked our tickets on a relatively new, low-cost (read dodgy & suspicious) airline called Kumba, operated by Air Namibia.  We overnighted in Jozi with family & flew into Bulawayo on a sunshiny Tuesday.  Or was it a Thursday?  I forget, mashed potato brains as a result of holiday-mode – nevertheless, unimportant.  We flew in, it was awesome, The End.  Here’s what we arrived to:

A rocking metropolis, you’ll agree?

Suffice to say that 10 days with our family consisted of a massive amount of bikini-time, good food and much needed rest. And the occasional scream through the house each day at a staggeringly earlier than normal time, “Its GIN O’CLOCK baby!”, culminating in a keen gathering at my dad’s bar.

Christmas Day was no different.  However, waking up to a very cheeky power cut at 7am and a mountain of food to cook didn’t do much to encourage our loving Christmas spirits; we bundled begrudgingly into the car and sped off to church in the hopes that whilst we were away giving thanks for all our blessings, the electricity fairies would magically come in, wave their ZESA wands, and all would be well again.  Yeah… not so much.  We had to move to Plan B, which came in the form of a Weber kettle braai and shoved the turkey and lamb in there for a few hours in the hopes that we could at least eat some meat with our cranberry jelly and mint sauce.  The power eventually came back on at 2pm, and we were able to furiously rattle the side dishes together, and enjoyed a wonderful, truly African Christmas lunch.

My mum bashed out a complete cracker of a festive punch, and I managed to smuggle the recipe out of the country to bring back and share with you all! I’m calling it Di’s Cherry Blossom Sherbet. You’re welcome!


What you’ll need: (serves 6)

4 Cherry Blossom tea bags

2 Rooibos tea bags

2 liters of water (you can substitute 1L of water for champagne at the last minute if you’re that way inclined)

100ml red berry juice

Juice of 1 lemon

Lots of ice

To garnish: sprigs of mint & miniature rose blossoms

And then…

Boil the water & allow the tea bags to steep for about 10 minutes.  Discard the tea bags and allow the tea to reach room temperature – this can be done the day before.  Add the remaining ingredients just before your guests arrive & decant into a large jug or punch bowl.

After an incredible holiday with our family, Sista Bliss and I reluctantly began the perilous trip home – it consisted of a delay of epic proportions on the first leg of our journey; our plane to Johannesburg had technical problems (read hung-over technicians) and we eventually departed Bulawayo 3 ½ hours behind schedule, resulting in our missing our connecting flights to Cape Town.  Being the silly season, there were no available seats left on any other flights that evening, and we had to again call upon our awesome family to put us up for the night until we could get back to the airport at 5am the next morning to be put on standby.  Here’s a snapshot of Sista Bliss and I two hours into aforementioned delay:

All smiles, see?  I unfortunately cannot show you smiles on the ass-end of our journey.  They simply did not exist. All I know is, by default 2011 is going to be a much happier year, I’m sure of it!

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Since the picnic season is upon us, I thought it would be nice to include ideas suitable for pack-up-and-go-ness.  Wait.  No, scratch that.  It’s not nice.  Mrs Jones down the road is nice. It’s a grand idea in fact!  These babies are also fab at a braai as a curtain raiser to fend off the hunger pangs before the main event.

If you’re not mad about lamb, what’s wrong with you? you can substitute it with beef – a well matured rump or rib eye will do the job.  If you don’t have a griddle pan, shame on you.  That’s completely unforgivable.  Only kidding, darlings!  Heat the grill element in your oven and set up a rack as close to the hot stuff as possible.  Alternatively, toast the pita on your braai grid.

 

What you’ll need… (serves 4)

450g lamb leg or rump, cubed into bite-sized pieces

1 tbsp salt

1 tbsp ground cumin

½ tbsp paprika (if you have smoked paprika, this would also be nice grand, just halve the quantity as it’s very potent)

1 tsp coarse black pepper

Fresh mint leaves, chopped finely

1-2 tbsp red pepper pesto or sun-dried tomato pesto (you’re looking for something punchy, kittens)

A 200 g tub of tzatziki (I always go for low fat tzatziki, because it still has that rich mouthfeel and doesn’t get as cosy with my hips)

8-10 mini pita

And then…

Heat a non-stick (griddle) pan to our favourite setting: blady hot.  In a bowl, coat the lamb in the salt, cumin, paprika, pepper & mint.  No need for oil to fry your lamb, as the rump and leg cuts contain enough fat to get the meat frying & keep it moist.  Throw in the marinated bits of lamb, ensuring the pan is not overcrowded.  Leave the meat alone for at least 3 minutes.  If you are scared the meat will stick, you’re right.  It will.  But it will eventually UN-stick itself in time.  You just need to exercise some patience, darlings.  All good things… blah blah fish paste.  Turn the meat once it’s stopped sticking and brown the other side.  Remove once this is done & transfer to a bowl.  Repeat with the remaining lamb bits.  Once the meat is cooked, toss this in the red pepper or sun-dried tomato pesto & set aside while you toast the pita.

If you have a griddle pan, clean it and re-heat it to create those lovely charred lines we all love in food styling so much.  Alternatively, heat your grill & toast each pocket, turning regularly so they don’t burn.  When the pita are ready, they will puff up.  Carefully slice them open (not all the way, just half way) & be aware that steam will most likely escape from the pocket.

Spoon some tzatziki & some lamb into each pocket and you’re done!  See how easy that was?  Happy picnicking!

 

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I’m really getting into these summer vibes, my angels. South Africa is a wondrous place to live – we literally have a smorgasbord of sun-ripened fruit & vegetables available at the moment.  This is our time to get greedy on locally grown produce. No need for the big retailers to be importing naughty fruits n veggies from lands faraway…  All those gorgeous things are now all at the tip of our fingers, it’s so incredibly exciting, don’t you think?!

In light of this, I took a drive down to my favourite fish shop Fish4Africa, which is just off Roodebloem Road in Woodstock. If you’re a fish lover like me and you haven’t been here, step to my darlings. The good folk who run the show will even sort you out with SMS updates to let you know when your favourite fish is in stock. You just need to scribble your details down for them, and let them know what fishies you’re keen on, and they’ll do the rest. They also prepare your fish to your exact specifications – they have a team of talented & keen fishmongers with extraordinarily sharp knives at the ready. Honestly, why go anywhere else?

This is one of the simplest and easiest dishes I could share with you. It’s one of those really versatile meals, where it could be played down slightly for a simple meal for 1, or taken up a few skoochy notches for a dinner party.

Here’s what you’ll need… (Serves 4)

1x500g side/fillet of hake* (fresh is the only option, preferably scaled and filleted the same day) *You could also use yellowtail/kob/gurnard/panga – all these fish are fished or farmed in our waters & are on SASSI’s green list.

½ medium onion, chopped

Paprika, salt and black pepper

1 cup Roma tomatoes, halved

1 cup basil leaves, torn

½ cup black olives, pitted

2 cloves garlic, sliced

1 tbsp olive oil

2 tbsp good white wine (we used Du Toitskloof Chardonnay)

And then…

Preheat your oven to 220`C. You’re going to need to create a bag for your fish to bake in. This should be done with foil, as you’ll be creating a lovely sauce in the bottom of the bag to pour over your fish. Make your foil bag deep and strong. Alternatively you could use a roasting bag, but ensure the fish is not cramped inside the bag. Cramping a fish’s style is just not cricket man.

Sprinkle the onions down the center of the foil before placing your fillet of fish on top. Season the fish well with the paprika, salt & pepper before scattering & drizzling all the remaining ingredients over. Seal the fish completely so that no steam will escape, but don’t wrap the fish up tight. There should be enough space for the fish to have a nice sauna in there.

Place the fish bag on a baking tray & bung it in the oven. Depending on the size of your fish, your cooking time will vary. Our 500g fillet of fish took 20 minutes to cook. Once the fish is cooked – remove it from the oven and tear the foil open neatly so that the fish is exposed, yet the juices are still contained to sauce each portion. Top with a few more torn basil leaves and some creamy Danish feta cheese if you’re feeling crazy. Serve it with garlicky new potatoes tossed in olive oil & loads of fresh Italian parsley. I’d have died for some aioli to spoon over the potatoes instead, but I’m trying very hard to avoid the fattynomnoms of life, but you can totally go for your badge if you like?

As BondJamesBond would say, “Born up a Tree.”

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Admittedly, the last two or three days in Cape Town haven’t yielded the best weather, so a change in tune was required when preparing dessert for a dinner party I had the other evening.

Poached pears are undoubtedly one of the most simplest desserts to make, and always come out looking completely glamorous, like they belong on the menu of a fabulous fine-dining establishment.  Ensure you have 4 great quality pears that are fairly ripe, yet still have a firm crunch when you bite into them.  The Co-Pilot won the award for Best Dinner Guest In The World, as he brought along the very last bottle of William Everson’s experimental Shiraz Dessert Wine 2007.  I have it on good authority that due to the phenomenally positive reviews of this little gem, the dessert wine will be produced again, on a larger scale so that more of you wine freaks out there will be able to get your paws on this kind of Shiraz magic.  The bush vine Shiraz grapes are not irrigated, which results in an almost pea-sized grape that’s smacking of concentrated Shiraz flavour.  It rocks those typically dry Shiraz vibes, yet has a very Port-y nose.  When it hits your palate, it’s a huge contradiction of dryness at the back of the palate & sticky red berry sweetness at the front.  Heavenly, kittens.  Heavenly!

You won’t find this dessert wine around for a while yet, so use 2 bottles of great quality Shiraz, like the Ataraxia Mountain Vineyards Serenity 2006.  You’ll also need 1/2 a cup of sugar and a split vanilla pod.  To serve, you can really go to town:  home-made honeycomb ice cream (honeycomb is made by melting sugar to a caramel and stirring in bicarb), blue cheese mascarpone, or simple Chantilly cream.  I served mine with vanilla mascarpone and gold sugar shards.

To poach the pears, pour the 2 bottles of Shiraz, sugar & the vanilla pod into a smallish saucepan – the pears need to be completely submersed in the wine, otherwise you’ll find yourself standing over them & turning them as they cook.  Not glam at all, blue birds!  Heat the wine and the vanilla pod to a simmer, while you carefully peel the pears.  Make sure your strokes are even and the pears have a flat base, so they don’t topple over & sit nicely on your plate.  Poach the pears in the wine for 20 minutes, then remove them and set aside.  Bring the wine up to a boil and reduce down to a thick syrup.  Cool this syrup completely, and then pour over your pears & leave in the fridge for at least 3 hours.  If you can prepare this the night before, even better.  The pears will soak up all that yummy flavour & take on a richer, darker hue.  Serve warm if weather permitting, or at room temperature, drizzled with some of the syrup & accompanying garnish & your guests will forever sing your praises as a domestic god(dess) with some serious clout!

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Fynbos, cityscape & ocean views. Paradise!

Boy-o-boy did I enjoy myself this weekend!  I’m not sure if it was the long weekend or National Braai Day or the fact that I got to hang out with The Co-Pilot all weekend long, but wowaweewa I had a good time!  I hope you guys did too!  I heard someone mention last week that they thought it was interesting that the biggest thing we have in common culturally in this country (or at least that which all the focus has been put on surrounding Heritage Day) is turning raw meat on an open flame, but I think there’s so much more to it than that, don’t you think?

After a wonderful day of braai-ing on Friday there were lots of yummy leftovers which were surreptitiously packed up into a picnic basket & bundled into the car which sped off in the direction of Deer Park.  I’d never been there before, yet heard so many people gush over how lovely it is, so was super stoked when The Co-Pilot suggested we take our carcinogenic picnicings there..

 

Our little corner of picnicdom next to a lovely burbling stream.

It must be said at this point in time that The Co-Pilot is a master of sandwich-making.  The man is known far and wide for his magical skills with bread and fillings.  No two sandwiches are the same, and ingredients range from random to exotic & always delight the salivary glands.  My cue to down tools, pick up a refreshing beverage & assume a position of chillage.

Assuming the position. Boom!

Some of the ingredients we used: Paul's Chilli; Tarragon Mustard; char-grilled peppers; mixed wild mushrooms & fine beans

We also took along some red onions, tomatoes, some old-school iceberg lettuce (LOVE that stuff) & a big chunk of medium-rare rib eye steak.  Earlier that day we’d got a fresh loaf of ciabatta from the blokes selling bread out their Venter trailer at the Biscuit Mill.  You guys know who I mean right? Of course you do!

Here’s what went down on my sandie:

And The Co-Pilot’s sandie… (it should be noted at this stage that off-camera I am guzzling 1 x nomalicious sandie!)

Go on, tell me you're not drooling?

The Big Kahuna of Yumminess

And then there was none. Well, not much, anyway. Nom!

As you can see, much nomming & chillaxing done.  I recommend you get your picnic baskets out this summer & take advantage of all the beautiful places our beautiful city offers.  Happy Heritage Day!

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This is my all-time favourite dish to make.  It’s not something you can just throw together at the last minute, but it is the process of preparation that is so wonderfully therapeutic, and ultimately when this dish is ready, I can guarantee you’ll be totally excited to make it again & again.  The flavours only get better over time, so if you can, make this at least 1-2 days before you’re planning on eating it.

There are 2 vital components to making this gorgeously rustic dish: the brown base, and the Neapoletana sauce.  If you put time, effort & great quality ingredients into making these, your osso buco is guaranteed to be a sure-fire success.  We serve osso buco with gremolata, my darlings – a combination of Italian parsley, lemon zest, garlic & anchovies.  This glorious creation cuts the richness of the stew & brings a light, zesty & salty dimension to the dish, meaning it is perfectly seasoned & balanced in flavour.  I like to make extra and roll in it, rather like cats do with catnip.  I can’t help myself.  It’s that good.

Osso buco is originally made with veal shin, but since we live in a slightly more sensitive society than our French & Italian hombres, beef shin has been substituted & doesn’t let the team down in the slightest.  If you can’t find beef shin, the only other cut I’d suggest for this dish is lamb knuckle.  The texture of the meat at the end of the cooking process is hugely important – just trust me on this one!  And always, bone-in.  Don’t let your butcherman separate the meat from the bone.  Beef shin contains the sexiest bone marrow compared to any other cut, and if you know what’s good for you, you’ll get your slurp on once it’s all cooked.   I like chocolates & flowers in my gift baskets, thank you very much!

What you’ll need… (serves 6)

12 medium-sized beef shin pieces

Seasoned flour

1 small bag baby carrots, peeled & cut into halves or thirds

3 medium onions, peeled & roughly chopped

5 sticks of celery, peeled & roughly chopped

3 cups brown base

2 cups Neapoletana sauce

For the brown base:

1kg beef bones – ask you butcher for some bones that still have a fair amount of meat attached

1 sachet tomato paste – about 80g

1 tbsp olive oil

1 cup celery (leaves & stalks) roughly chopped

2 medium white onions, chopped

1 cup carrots, peeled & sliced

1 bay leaf

2 cups red wine (quality in, quality out so use something decent please!)

1-2 tbsp corn flour & water for slurry

Water to cover

For the Neapoletana sauce:

1 tbsp olive oil

1 medium white onion, chopped

3 cloves of garlic, finely chopped or smashed

3 sprigs of basil, chopped

1 tsp dried oregano

2 tins whole peeled tomatoes

1 tsp sugar

2 tsp salt

1 tsp cracked black pepper

For the Gremolata:

1 cup finely chopped Italian parsley

½ cup finely grated lemon zest

5 garlic cloves, smashed

5 anchovies, chopped finely

And then…

To make the brown base – Heat your oven to blady hot.  Use your hands to coat the bones with the tomato paste & put these in a single layer on a roasting tray & roast them until they’re well caramelized & dark brown.  Heat the oil in a large saucepan & fry all your vegetables together on a high heat until they are nicely browned.  Add the browned bones to your veggies, as well as the bay leaf & red wine, and cover with some water if your bones are still poking out the water.  Let this simmer on a medium heat for approximately 1 hour until all that lovely flavour permeates the liquid.  Strain this, clean your saucepan & return the liquid to the pot & bring to the boil.  Once boiling rapidly, pour in your corn flour slurry & stir well.  Set aside for later.

To make the Neapoletana sauce – Heat the oil in a saucepan & sauté the onions & the garlic.  Once softened, add the basil & oregano & stir well.  Add the tomatoes & turn the heat down to a slow burble.  Leave this uncovered for 1 hour until the sauce has reduced slightly & the tomatoes have broken up.  Season with the sugar, salt & pepper & set aside for later.

To assemble the osso buco – Place your well-seasoned flour on a dinner plate & dust each beef shin in the flour.  Shake well & sear off in a very hot pan with a little olive oil.  Don’t crowd the pan, as the joints will not brown & seal properly.  Layer these browned beef shins in a large casserole with the vegetables, Neapoletana sauce & brown sauce.  Place the lid on the casserole or cover well with foil & place in a preheated oven at 180’C for 3 hours and not a minute less!

Toss all the ingredients together for the gremolata & chill before serving.  This dish is ideally served with pasta, specifically parpadelle or a similar long, thick tagliatelle pasta, but it is just as fabulous served with some fresh (preferably home-made) crusty bread, & accompanied by some awesome red wine.  We paired our osso buco with a Californian Cab Sav. which worked particularly well, or you could go for a 2007 Boekenhoutskloof Chocolate Block; it’s intense spicy notes, ripe plum & black fruit aromas accompany this dish perfectly.  I also paired this dish with a grilled vegetable herb salad, as we had a fairly healthy crowd round the table.

Buon appetito!

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Do you ever have days when all you want to do is hang out in the kitchen & play Suzie Homemaker around the stove? I have them often. Increasingly so in wintertime, when the weather is naff & all I can think about is yummy, warm food in my belly. I normally get completely inspired and carried away with what I’m going to cook for supper that evening, but since I’m cooking for one these days, the dishes I’m bashing out tend to be of the ‘meh’ variety. You know, “Meh. What am I going to cook?”, “Meh. It’s just me.”, “Meh. He’s gone.” So while I’m pulling myself towards myself, I thought I’d share a real goodie – a singleton curry. Good for one lonely soul and easy enough to bulk up for when you have company.

Now you could substitute beef for the lamb if you’re of the crazy non-lamb-eating variety, but honestly think about the Hindu community & how they revere the cow & view it as a sacred animal. That’s something to aspire to! Can you really ever use beef in your curries again? And also, when we’re talking slow-cooked meat, lamb does it sooooo much better.

The trick I learnt from a wonderful Kashmiri gentleman when making curry is that you need to grate your ingredients. Yes, it all sounds rather simple but don’t feel bad, sweet things. We’re all about working smart here, not hard okay? The ginger and the garlic get grated on a fine grate. You should grate the onions and the tomatoes on a bigger grate and make sure you catch all that lovely tomato water mkay? This is how they’re doing it in India, so why do we need to get our fancy-shmancy Global knives out and shave off our fingernails in the process? Nxa!

What you’ll need… (serves 1)

1 pack (400-500g) free-range lamb knuckles

Some seasoned flour

1 tbsp canola or peanut oil

1 sweet potato, peeled, cut into bite-size cubes & roasted until caramelized & soft

¼ cup cooked basmati or jasmine rice (you can toss in some cooked lentils at the end like mine if you like?)

2 tbsp yoghurt

2 tsp chopped coriander

To make the saucy-sauce:

1 All Gold tomato paste sachet (they’re about 80g each)
4 medium fresh tomatoes, (cores & skins removed) grated into a bowl to catch all that liquid
2 large onions, peeled & grated roughly
1 tbsp butter or ghee if you’re that way inclined
2 cups of water
1 tbsp canola or peanut oil
½ tbsp lemon juice
1 tsp garam masala
2 tsp finely grated fresh ginger
2 tsp finely grated fresh garlic
½ tsp chilli powder
1 green cardamom pod
1 fresh or dried bay leaf (naturally fresh is better)
1 green chilli, chopped up very fine
1 tbsp salt
1 tsp ground cumin (if you have a spice grinder or pestle & mortar, get the seeds & crush them yourselves)
1 tsp fennel seeds
½ tbsp corn starch for thickening (optional)

and then…

Heat the oil for the lamb in a frying pan. Dust your knuckles (no man, the other knuckles) in the seasoned flour & shake any excess off. Transfer the knuckles to the hot pan & ensure the pan is not overcrowded. This is not the London Underground folks. Turn them after a while & brown the other sides until they are looking well tanned. Remove them from the pan & set aside. In a separate saucepan, turn the heat up to medium-high. Once hot, toss in the cardamom pod, fennel seeds & cumin to develop the flavours. Once the spices start popping & giving off glorious aromas, toss in the butter or ghee and the canola/peanut oil. Stir in the grated onions & sauté these until nice and soft – you may do this with the lid on if you are naughty & impatient. Once the onions are soft, add in the garlic, ginger & chilli powder & fry for a further 2 minutes. Chuck in the bay leaf, garam masala, green chilli & salt. Cook this for a further minute or 2. Doesn’t it smell divine?? Mmm…

Stir in the tomato paste, then toss in the browned lamb. Add in the lemon juice, water & grated tomatoes & mix really well. Bring this all to the boil by turning up your heat. Once it’s boiled hard, reduce the heat right down to a gentle simmer, pop the lid on and leave this baby alone for about 1 ½ – 2 hours. Everybody’s hobs are different, so start checking it from the 1 hour mark. You’re looking for gorgeously tender meat, and a sauce that’s starting to thicken slightly.

Once the meat is melting, have a look at the sauce. If you like a more liquid curry sauce, leave it the way it is. Alternatively, if the sauce is too watery for you, you have 2 options (not exactly a democracy, but, um, well, Face the front!). You can either remove the meat & reduce the sauce down to your desired consistency, or you can get your hands on some cornflour & thicken the curry the way Granny used to do. I’m a bit of a traditionalist, so I’d definitely reduce the sauce, but honestly either way will yield the same result.

To finish, stir in the yoghurt and the fresh coriander, as well as the roasted sweet potato. You could use regular potatoes, but seriously where’s the excitement in that? The sweetness also counters the nice burn that this little baby rocks. Not a serious burn like BondJamesBond likes to often do in his shiny new Aston Martin DBS, but it’s also not your mam’s curry-flavoured stew alright? Taste your glorious creation to make sure the seasoning is right.

Your accompaniments to a curry are endless, you can serve it with fragrant long grain rice (not that regular brand that rhymes with shmastic), naan, roti, chapattis, poppadoms and so on… Your sambal opportunities are ridiculously vast too: raita, chopped tomato & onion, chillies, banana, yogurt, chutney, coconut and so on and so forth until the end of the world and they all lived happily ever after Amen!

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