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Jorgensen’s Distillery

Savingnac brandy & chocolate truffles

A few weeks ago, I met Dawn Jorgensen after having mentioned that I was a huge limoncello fan.  Dawn kindly offered to do a tasting of her and her husband Roger’s Primitiv vodka and organic limoncello.  Roger is the master distiller and an alchemist of all things boozy!  Dawn handles the marketing, and has generated an incredible amount of excitement around the brand in a very short space of time.  After tasting their delicious vodka and limoncello, and hearing how passionate these people were about what they were doing, I knew there was a trip to the Jorgensen’s farm in Wellington to plan and a wonderful story waiting to be told.

Primitiv vodka dinkies & the organic spelt it's made from

I visited the distillery on the first day of Roger’s absinthe production, and couldn’t believe my luck!  Rog had laid out all of the ingredients out for me and took me through each one, how it was grown, where it came from and the part that it played in the final product.  I was astounded at the number of herbs and spices that made up the absinthe, and took pictures of each to bring back and show you.  Certain ingredients are used to flavour the spirit, thus they are added at the beginning of the process.  Others are added after distillation and are used to colour the absinthe and add lighter notes, creating a complex, well-balanced flavour.   The absinthe is distilled in a copper pot still at a consistent temperature of 75’C, and takes about 24 hours to distill 1000 liters of spirit.  I never got to taste the final product that day unfortunately, but Dawn and Roger had a stable full of other equally enticing treats up their sleeves for me to try.

Field of Dreams absinthe

The copper pot still during absinthe distillation

Dawn and Rog founded their distillery on their gorgeous farm Versailles, in the heart of Wellington, and it is from here that Rog first grew and nurtured the Chenin Blanc grapes that feature in his pot still Savingnac brandy.  The brandy is made in the typical cognac style, is twice distilled in a traditional copper pot still and matured for a minimum of 10 years in French oak.  I tasted the brandy in its 13th year, and it was surprisingly smooth yet incredibly complex and rich. Exotic spices, molasses, chocolate and sandalwood all come through on the nose, and the palate is just as delightful.  We tasted the Savingnac accompanied by local handmade chocolate truffles filled with a rich ganache center.  A sip of brandy, swirled in the mouth and swallowed, a bite of chocolate, letting the chocolate linger on your tongue while taking another sip of brandy, letting the two do a little dance inside your mouth… Sheer heaven!  What’s interesting is how the flavour of the brandy changes when you have the chocolate in your mouth.  It becomes nuttier, spicier & more bold in flavour. An absolute joy to encounter.

The Savingnac was Dawn and Rog’s initial venture, but it was going to take the better part of a decade and then some to yield anything near desirable in Roger’s opinion, so the couple decided to look into other boozy projects to pass the time while their beloved golden nectar aged. They didn’t have to look very far.  Organic lemons grown in the valley, organic spelt grown above the snowline in the Cederberg mountains, exotic African Grains of Paradise and a host of rare and mysterious herbs & spices that make up Roger’s acclaimed and authentic Field of Dreams Absinthe.

Angelica root & seed, coriander seed & star anise

Roman wormwood, khaat, southern wormwood

Melissa, grand wormwood & sweet flag

Buchu, wild dagga & hyssop giant anise

Hyssop & liquorice root

After a long stay in Italy, Rog and Dawn were captivated by limoncello, and  introduced the first product in their Naked range, using the organic lemons mentioned earlier, which rivals most of the Italian varieties I tasted during my travels to Amalfi and the rest of the Campania region in Italy. Rog and Dawn will also be extending the Naked range to include more fruity liqueurs, so look out for these on their website.

Launching in March 2011 is Jorgensen’s Gin, a fascinating blend of Macedonian juniper and Grains of Paradise (a peppery-flavoured spice grown for the Jorgensen’s as part of a community upliftment program in Ghana).  I’m super excited about tasting this one in particular, as I do fancy my gin!

Roger recently listed the Primitiv vodka and Naked limoncello with Pick n Pay’s flagship store PnP on Nicol in Johannesburg, which will be sold in their bottle store. It’s pretty clear that Jorgensen’s Distillery is going places, and I’m hard-pressed to find two other equally passionate people who are more deserving of having their products flourish as Roger and Dawn have!

Visit Jorgensen’s Distillery or contact them on 021 864 1777 or email Dawn on dawn@jd7.co.za for stockists around the country.

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There have been a few unhappy chappies about town after a number of unsavoury restaurant reviews had been published via blogs. Whilst I enjoy visiting restaurants and writing about my dining experiences, I do not claim to be a food critic, nor do I pretend I have any clout as an official restaurant reviewer when visiting such establishments. Nor do I slate the establishments and their management to the extent that these critics do. I do however feel that it is necessary to continue to share my dining experiences with my readership, and not simply bail out when the blogging community comes under scrutiny.

I am not one of those people who only dine at fancy 5 star establishments. I enjoy eating a bunny chow on the sidewalk from Rose Cafe in Bo Kaap just as much as the next person. I’ll totally blog about it as well. Which brings us to the reason for this blog post: Curry Quest. A true gem. Not a particularly shiny or fancy gem, but one of those stellar curry houses that will continue to do good business long after the fanciful, trendy establishments with fantastic views have opened and closed. When the beautiful people move onto the next ‘right now’ place, Curry Quest will still be serving consistently good food, at very reasonable prices.

It’s located on Durban road in Mowbray, and serves the best Durban curry this side of Chatsworth. A fitting address, you’ll agree. It’s positioned along a road with other similarly decent restaurants – a great Greek place that’s sadly closing soon, a good Thai cafe, and a Mexican joint at which I can only pass judgement on the frozen margaritas.

I went there for lunch last week, and upon arrival was met with an empty restaurant. I will admit that I felt a tad sceptical, but my lunch companion insisted that this was the place for a good curry, of which I am a big fan, so we sat down and ordered some drinks and starters. The decor is simple; bright orange walls with wooden chairs and tables decorated with intricately hand-stitched table mats. Framed accolades & magazine clippings adorn the walls, highlighting just how proud the owners are that their humble establishment has tickled so many diners.

Our mince samoosas and potato & coriander samoosas (R3 each) arrived within minutes, piping hot and incredibly crispy. They were served with a spicy dipping sauce which I discovered after the second bite was in fact Chippies prego sauce (I am their biggest fan!) that had been transformed with the help of some fragrant Indian spices into an Eastern dipping delight. It went particularly well with the potato & coriander samoosa, and for the grand total of R6 per person, that was our starter.

The menu is basic, and features a handful of vegetarian, chicken-based and lamb-based dishes. Each dish is available in two sizes, so it becomes possible to try a few different dishes, rather than order just one. I am told that the bunny chows make men cry tears of joy. Same goes for the biryani, equally famous for authenticity & delivering on the delicious factor. I’m looking forward to trying one on my next visit.

Our waitress was very helpful & elaborated confidently on the dishes we were considering. We eventually settled on a lamb curry (on the bone, R63 for the large portion), a chicken curry (R48 for the large portion), some basmati rice (R8), a side of raita (R9) and 2 roti (R8 each).

The lamb curry’s heat index was high, yet the flavour was not compromised. Notes of cloves, cinnamon, garam masala came through the flavoursome gravy strongly. The portion was large, with lots of chunky lamb, tender potatoes & tasty sauce. The rice would have been better served with this curry, as the sauce was more liquid than the chicken curry, but my companion endured with the roti, and fared well.

My chicken curry was absolutely mouth-watering. Cardamom, mustard seeds, coriander leaves & loads of fresh, zingy ginger and garlic in a tomato gravy. It took me straight back to Durban, to that dodgy curry shop in Pinetown where I almost sold my shoes for another fix. (Almost being the operative word there.) I had it with basmati rice, and a side of raita. It turned out my sniffling compadre needed the raita more than I did to put out the fire in his mouth, but the little that I did taste was refreshing – very crunchy cucumber & cool Bulgarian-style yoghurt.

Our bill came to R163, and by the time we walked out the restaurant, all the tables were full with equally content customers. If you enjoy a good Durban curry, or just great Indian food, this is the place to visit.

Find Curry Quest at 89 Durban Road, Mowbray. Contact them on 021 686 3157 or email curryquest@mweb.co.za

Restaurants. Reviews. Drama..

Porcini madness

In light of the recent (and somewhat strangely) cool & rainy weather we’d had in Cape Town, I thought I might call upon the services of Mushroom Hunter Gary Goldman – a guru of all things fungi and a man whose keen sense & sharp eye would spot an out-of-season porcini at 50 paces.

Naturally, The Co-Pilot was totally in on this little adventure, and we met Gary and an equally fungi-mad acquaintance of his in the car park of Newlands Forest early one morning. We started off up one of the main trails, and then veered off-course into the thick of the forest, where only the most serious of foragers dare to venture.

Gary, a former IT man, is completely self-taught when it comes to mushrooms. Armed with a number of mushroom encyclopedias, a pocket knife and a basket, he would forage Newlands, Tokai & Celia forests, studying & identifying each species he came across. It seems to me that the public study of mushrooms in this country is a fairly elusive one. No-one seems to admit to being an ‘expert’, or knowing anything more than the basics when questioned, as if an underground Mushroom Order existed!  To find like-minded people at the time, Gary posted a fairly cryptic message in a local bulletin, to which only one person responded. That person – we’ll call her Mary – happened to be foraging with us this very morning! Super mysterious, non?

The actual foraging process was quite stressful for The Co-Pilot and I. Gary & Mary moved very quickly over the areas they were foraging, knowing exactly what they were looking for. Our instruction was to look for ‘bumps’ in pine needle thickets… When you’re in a forest and there are ‘bumps’ everywhere, it takes time to study each one & we found ourselves lagging behind, petrified that we might miss something important. Mary was extraordinarily lucky skilled, and found three nice sized porcinis in the first thirty minutes.

The SMFB (Stealth Mushroom Foraging Brigade)

As we moved up the mountain, we spread out to cover a larger area. In a few short minutes, the rest of the group was completely out of sight; all I heard was the sound of my own breath, the crunch of pine needles underfoot & the birds, keeping me company. I searched next to fallen trees, I searched at the base of trees, I searched near rocks… There were a number of other species of mushrooms, which Gary had identified earlier as edible, but no signs of the elusive porcini. Until… wait! There! A little ‘bump’! Could it be? I crouched down on my hands and knees and gently cleared away the brush around the mushroom, being careful not to touch or remove it before I was able to confidently identify it. Gary and the rest of my foraging buddies were nowhere to be seen, so I continued peering intently at my prize. After a moment, I was certain it was a porcini, and thus proceeded to do a little victory dance in the forest. I had foraged my very first porcini!! Much excitement! I gently grabbed the base of the mushroom, and twisted the root gently, as Gary has said. It loosened easily from the earth, and I carefully pushed down the pine needles & the earth to close the hole. Mushrooms multiply via spores, so with some care and good weather conditions, that little spot would yield another gorgeous porcini, perhaps for another lucky forager to enjoy.

I bounded across the forest to show The Co-Pilot, who graciously put on an air of excitement for me but who was secretly cursing inside, as he’d not been as lucky. Our walk took us through a large section of the forest, and we met other people along the way who were also just ‘taking the dogs for a walk’. Foraging for mushrooms in Newlands forest is not actually allowed, only in Tokai and Celia forests, so when you come across other people off the trails, it’s with a knowing smile that you greet them & move off again.

A few pointers if you’re going to forage for mushrooms yourselves: Don’t pick anything that you cannot positively identify. Place your ‘shrooms in a well ventilated container once picked, never in a plastic bag as they’ll start to sweat. It’s best to go hunting early in the morning – there’s more chance of you finding a good collection at this time, and your find will be fresh after the cool of the night. Technically, mushroom season is between March and May when the temperature drops between 12-22 degrees celcius, the atmosphere is humid & there has been some rain. Our forage was a bit cheeky, and Gary wasn’t entirely hopeful at a good yield, but we weren’t embarrassed at all about our find.

Not kak

Once home, we brushed the dirt carefully off each mushroom – never wash them. We then sliced the porcini into thick pieces & seared them in a very hot pan with a little drizzle of olive oil & fresh lemon juice. We ate this with scrambled egg for breakfast – if I try to explain all the shades of nomness to you, I could very well be here all day. Suffice to say that there is nothing like eating a freshly picked porcini mushroom. We made a sort of mushroom stroganoff later with the other mushrooms – first by gently sautéing onions & garlic until very soft, adding some fresh thyme & lemon zest. We then poured in a tub of fresh cream, and let that reduce down until it was nice and thick. We then sautéed each species of mushroom separately (and tasted each of them) and added those to the stroganoff sauce & let them simmer together for a few minutes to impart their flavor. We enjoyed this on freshly toasted ciabatta bread, which was super tasty!

If you’d like to go on a similar adventure or if you’d just like to learn more about mushrooms in South Africa, give Gary Goldman a call on 021 686 7188 or email him on gary.goldman@cybersmart.co.za

Gary runs The Mushroom Factory, and supplies wild mushrooms to local restaurants & cafes. You will also find his mushrooms at the Biscuit Mill, being sold by the lovely folk mentioned here.

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!

 

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.”

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!