Thursday, January 26, 2012

I love smile maker season!

I have been eating the most perfect mangoes every day for about the last month. I am simply crazy about them. I like them best when they are still firm and quite tart, but bursting with real sun ripened sweetness. You really can taste the difference when they are out of season. They have an insipid taste which is so far from the seasonal mango experience that it really is not worth it. Rather eat paw paw and oranges in winter!

I have grown up with my Dad calling mangoes, smile makers. He had read somewhere that they had a serotonin stimulating quality. Now I have been searching the internet high and low and have found that mangoes are referred to as the King of fruits because of a whole slue of scientific information on how bally good they are for you, but sadly no mention of this serotonin stimulating quality.

I can, however, testify from personal experience that eating a perfectly ripe mango makes me not just smile but beam and that is good enough reason for me to carry on calling them smile makers!

This morning I decided to stray from my normal routine of eating my mango straight up and to make a banana, mango, almond and oats smoothie. 

1/2 - 1 frozen (or fresh) banana pieces
1/2 a fresh ripe mango pieces
3 Tbsp of oats
6 raw almonds
2 Tbsp of plain yogurt
3 ice cubes
1 Tbsp of lemon juice

I got my frozen bananas from the freezer, broke them up into pieces and combined all the ingredients into my blender jar and blended it up. You need to pulse the blender (a sort of bouncing motion) when you hit the frozen bits so that it will blend up easily. You don't want to force your blender onto a frozen piece of ice or fruit. You add some fruit juice or water if you want it thinner. 

Lastly I added a big squeeze of lemon juice as I wanted it a little tarter, and there I was set for the morning!

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

An unexpected pleasure

Yesterday my Dad was going to be in the area so I suggested he pop in when he was done. This ended up being 11h30 - so naturally I needed to prepare us a quick lunch. There really wasn't much in the pantry (which is when I get the most creative), but there were spuds, eggs and a jar of olives... for some this may seem like a strange combo to get excited about, but if you were raised by my Dad - you would have eaten many MANY Spanish tortillas. When my Dad was young he spent many memorable holidays in Spain. Tortillas and gazpacho were two dishes he learned there which he has all but perfected! 

Now cooking the perfect Spanish tortilla (potato and egg tart like thing... not to be mistaken for the Mexican wrap) takes slow cooking and patience to get it perfect. This was not on the cards yesterday. So I had to improvise a bit. My dad always adds green olives and often chorizo to his tortillas which give it fabulous flavour. 

So my express version ended up being more like a scramble or a breakfast hash - but man, did it taste good! 

I microwaved two medium sized potatoes for about 8 minutes. While they were cooking, I prepared a small bowl of ice water to cool them down in when they were ready (so they would keep there shape better while frying). I de-pitted about 15 olives (should be green, but I didn't have enough so I threw in a few black ones too). I then started heating my pot to medium high heat with a generous amount of olive oil. 
Once my spuds were cooked and mostly cooled, I chopped them up into bite sized pieces and started frying them in the oil. While frying them I broke three eggs into a bowl, added about 2 Tbsp of olive brine and then about 3 more Tbsp of water, some salt to taste and gently combined that with a fork.
To the frying potatoes I added a bit of salt and loads of black pepper. Once I felt the potatoes had crisped a little, I turned the heat right down, added the olives, crumbled a round of feta, poured over the egg mixture and closed the lid of the pot, leaving it to settle. I went to pick some chives and basil, made coffee and the got plates and cutlery out. 
After opening the lid, I gently turned the contents to get the last wet bits of the egg to firm up, garnished with herbs and served it. My dad did tease me a bit about the appearance, but had to concede that it tasted damned good. 

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

This is not a travel blog!

Picture care of

One of the many highlights of our trip was Hogsback and the place we stayed at, called Terra-khaya. Hogsback is every bit as magical as anyone had told me it would be. It is, kind of, Beatrix Potter meets Lord of the Rings - loads of enchanted forest meandering around waterfalls, streams and mountains, with little lanes, rustic cottages, rambling flowering creepers and fields of lilies

The place we stayed, to quote: 'Terra-Khaya (...), an eco-friendly sustainable project is an experimental venture that flagships the ethos of life “off the grid”. We aim, through our methods of living and building, to be an example to both our visitors and locals, that conscious living and respect for Mother Earth is something that is mutually simple and rewarding.'

Adam and I stayed in a room called 'Khayelitsha' which as its name congers up, is a structure made from corrugated iron and all kinds of found items and objects. Contrary to it's name, it was quiet, cozy and creatively decorated. We had a super comfortable double bed with a big down duvet, a large vase filled with arum lilies and view over the valley. Their was a short walk to the long drop loo, which was not my favorite, but one has to take all these things in ones' stride. 

The owner is also a Chef and the food was excellent. Creative yet accessible and just downright delicious. I was fascinated by the micro greens which Shane had in the salads. He then showed me where and how he grows them and I am hell bent on doing just the same in my home now. I found this link which illustrates just how easy it is. 

Picture care of

My 'blown away' moment however was the early morning horse ride Shane took us on. He practices a training method with the horses which is derived from the native american Indians and is a trust based approach. Shane rides bare back with no halter, using the pressure from his thighs, hand gestures and voice commands. Us mere mortals still used a saddle but rode bit-free just using halters. It was an awe inspiring ride - the methods, the horses, the landscape and Shane who is just super.

Picture care of facebook! 

Monday, January 23, 2012

Some thoughts about road trip food...

One of our shocking holiday food experiences - I had to take Adam to San Julian this week just to restore balance to the universe! 

While I was on holiday over December, I had the expressed intention of switching off from food. I asked Adam to try, as far as possible, to keep me out of the kitchen and to stop me from seeking out every foodie spot or interesting restaurant on our journey. I think, for a foodie, I did pretty well – except that I don’t think I can eat another Greek salad for at least the next year.

I did have quite a few thoughts along the way, though, of how to make eating well (and vegetarian for Adam) on future road trips easier. For starters – padkos!
Padkos – (the food you take with you on a road trip) seems to be a thing of the past. I remember my mom packing large tupperwares of sandwiches on whole grain bread filled with egg mayo and watercress or hummus and marinated sundried tomato, carrot sticks, fresh fruit and flasks with hot coffee and tea. If we were lucky she would pack travel sized coke cans half of which she left in the freezer over night so they were cold for the second half of the trip. We would pull over at road side picnic areas and sit together enjoying the view, fresh air and stretching our legs.

These road side picnic places are all but deserted now and everyone stops at the petrol station convenience shops and restaurants. Burgers, pies, hot chips, chocolates, sweets and fizzy drinks. I am the last person to turn down good junk food, but when you are sitting in a cramped car for hours on end, junk food really does make you feel sluggish and queasy.

On the way back home from our holiday I was wise enough to plan ahead this time. I found a Woollies along the way and bought fresh avos, rye bread, pre-packed carrot sticks and cherry tomatoes. I also packed a tupperware with a leftover salad, which Adam had prepared extra of, the night before. I had take away cutlery, salt and pepper and a cooler box to keep it all cool.

We stopped off at a thatched road side picnic stop along the N2 past Riversdale somewhere and enjoyed a spectacular view over rolling fields and the fresh country air. We swore never to rely on Steers and Wimpy for road side food again!

I think I may spend a bit more time on the topic of eating well while travelling (as the extra kilos are still fresh on my hips). I am sure I can come up with a fun enjoyable solution here.

PS – Adam’s parents used to put raw breakfast goodies into a foil container and put that in the engine of the car. When they stopped a few hours later they had a piping hot meal! Now that sounds like a fun a experiment for me to try! 

Friday, January 20, 2012

It's Friday, I can do what I want to!

I've been meat free, wheat free and sugar free all week and it's starting to lose it's charm now... I want meat and I want pasta. Last year I developed a really quick and easy creamy chicken and tomato pasta on request of a client of mine. So I think I'm going to use today's cooler overcast weather and the that fact that it's Friday as excellent reasons to make this for my lunch today! 

Creamy chicken and tomato pasta
Serves 4 - 6

400g of pasta of choice, cooked and drained
2 Tbsp of olive oil
1 large onion, finely chopped
1 tsp of paprika
½ tsp of garam marsala
½ tsp of turmeric
4 medium sized tomatoes, finely chopped
3 large chicken breasts (or 6 deboned skinless thighs), chopped into small bits
100g of tomato paste
250ml of cream (substitute with coconut milk for a dairy free option)
1 tsp of oregano
1 tsp of thyme
Salt to taste
Parmesan to serve (optional)

While your pasta is boiling, heat the oil in a medium sized pot and fry your onions until translucent. Add the spices and fry for a minute. Add your chopped tomato and chicken and fry until the chicken is almost cooked. Add the tomato paste, cream and herbs. Stir until well combined and salt to taste.

Serve on pasta with grated Parmesan. 

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Aubergine Masala

I have never particularly cared for aubergines, but lately I have more and more often been encountering aubergine dishes which have been really good. I think the secret for me is that they need to be cooked long enough to loose their spongy texture and go over to the soft creamy texture and nutty flavor. 

Last week a client asked me to cooked a dish, among others, which she had gotten from a magazine (I don't recall the magazine). It was fabulously spicy nutty creamy and moreish and I knew I would have to cook it for Adam as he loves aubergines and I hardly ever cook them for him. 

I have modified the recipe a little taking the amount of spices called for down a little and have adjusted the method somewhat to make it a little easier, less messy and I have cooked it  a bit longer to achieve that soft texture I like. 

For my client the aubergine dish was paired with a grilled fillet, lemony crispy potato wedges and green salad. 

I am really looking forward to my dinner tonight. 

Aubergine Masala
Serves 4

60ml of Olive or sunflower oil (30ml first and then dashes as needed to prevent sticking)
2 medium aubergines, cut into large cubes
2 tsp (10ml) of mustard seeds
2 tsp (10ml) of cumin seeds
2 tsp (10ml) of garum masala
A pinch of saffron (optional)
1 medium onion, chopped
4 cloves of garlic, chopped
2 Tbsp of fresh ginger, finely chopped
Fresh chopped chilli to taste
1 tsp of salt (or to taste)
2 fresh tomato, chopped
Fresh coriander leaves, chopped (I didn’t have any so I used basil and mint from my garden)

On medium high heat in a large no stick frying pan or wok fry the aubergine until they have started to turn golden brown, about 10 – 15 minutes.

Add the spices and fry for a minute. Add the onion, garlic, ginger and chilli and fry for a further 10 – 15 minutes. You can add dashes of water while frying to prevent sticking or burning and this will speed up the cooking too.

Drop the pan to low heat, stir in the tomatoes, cover with a lid allow this to cook for a further 10 minutes, stirring every now and again to prevent sticking or burning. You can cook this for longer if the aubergines are not yet soft and creamy in texture.

Stir in the herbs just before serving.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Lunch with friends!

So it’s been all about healthy eating lately, but when I have guests over I do want to spoil them a little. I was having some of my closest friends and family over for lunch this weekend for a post honeymoon catch up. So I used this opportunity to keep with my fresh, light and healthy eating plan but decided to really splurge a bit on some fabulous ingredients.

For many reasons I tend to be a Pick n Pay girl, but I treated myself this weekend to a full woollies goodies lunch. Their fresh produce selection and quality really does give me immense joy. Well the menu went as follows (and was created while walking the isles):

Baby potato salad with watercress and a truffle saffron Caesar dressing

Caprese salad with pesto marinated buffalo mozzarella

Mixed baby and micro salad leaves with sautéed exotic mushrooms, green asparagus and pistachio nuts (I would leave the sprouts off next time - they didn't add anything)

I served this with a pumpkin seed baguette from woollies. My mom brought a fantastic sour dough rye loaf from De OudeBank Bakkerij, marinated sundried tomatoes, olives from Komati and a cheese selection which she got from Get Stuffed just down the road from my house.

I ended the meal with a platter of white nectarines, litchis and black cherries.

I don’t think I could have enjoyed the meal more if I tried! It was perfect for a lazy summer lunch. My guests seem to have agreed with me – as there was not a morsel left over!

Caprese Salad
Serves four side salad portions

3 ripe tomatoes
2 mozzarella balls (mozzarella di bufala or Fior di latte)
24 big tender basil leaves

For the dressing
½ clove of garlic, finely chopped
1 Tbsp fresh lemon juice
1 tsp of sugar
1 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 Tbsp basil pesto
½ tsp salt
Freshly ground black pepper

Slice each mozzarella ball into 6 slices. Combine the dressing ingredients and rub the mozzarella slices in the dressing and set aside.
Slice each tomato into 6 slices (discarding the outer slices and removing the eye)
Using and appropriately sized platter, arrange the slices so that they are overlapping and fanned-out. Alternate between slices of tomato and mozzarella and a basil leaf between each slice.
Add some extra olive oil to the left over marinade from the mozzarella and then trickle that over the fanned-out salad.
Serve this with crusty bread as a light meal or as a side salad to a main meal. 

Baby potato salad
Serves four side salad portions

400g of baby potatoes (the smallest you can find) boiled until tender and cooled
2 handfuls of watercress and some extra for garnish
3/4 cup of truffle saffron Caesar dressing *

In a mixing bowl add your cooked baby potatoes and gently squeeze them with a fork, just to break them open a little. You don't want to mush them up, just to give them a little more surface area to pick up the dressing. Then add your watercress and your mayo and toss to combine. Serve them onto your serving dish and garnish with more watercress. 

*Truffle Saffron Caesar Dressing
4 tsp lemon juice
2 tsp Worchester sauce
1 medium sized clove of garlic
1 large pinch of saffron threads
Salt and pepper to taste
50g of parmesan cheese
1 tsp of good quality mustard
1 large egg
60ml of olive oil 
60ml of sunflower oil
30ml of truffle infused 

In a stick blender jar blend all the ingredients together, except the oil, until smooth. Add the oil, place the stick blender to the bottom of the blender jar and blend pulling the blender slowly from the bottom of the jar up through the mixture. Then pump the blender around until the mixture is smooth and lightly thickened. If you want the dressing a bit thinner, add some extra oil (sunflower oil if you think the olive oil taste is too strong). 

For a video on how to make mayonnaise please click here

Baby leaf salad with pan fried exotic mushrooms, asparagus and pistachio nuts
Serves four side salad portions

Two handfuls of baby salad leave
One handful of micro salad leaves
1 punnet of exotic mushrooms - sliced up, fried my way click here and cooled to room temp
1 punnet of mini green asparagus spears - blanched by submerging them in boiled water for a few minutes until bright green and slightly tender. Cool them under water and drain. 
50g of raw shelled pistachio nuts

Assemble the leaves on a platter, scatter the salad with the asparagus spears, then the mushrooms and then the pistachio nuts. Provide a good balsamic vinegar and olive for dressing. 

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Quick fix meal in one salad!

As I mentioned in my last post, we are trying to follow a post silly season sensible eating plan. I am pretty good at making healthy taste good so it hasn’t been that hard so far. We are missing the treats and snacking which seem to be synonymous with road trips and holidays, but chilled ripe mangoes and litchis have take the place of chocolates and deserts and flavoured rice cakes and corn crackers have taken the place of toasties and chips.

With Adam being a vegetarian I am always conscious about the protein content of our meals, and salads can easily fall down on non animal low fat  proteins. But a quick fix salad I made the other day with things I had in the house really hit the spot for us. It was filling, delicious and totally satisfying not leaving us craving for sweet things later.

In a mixing bowl I added a tin of PnP four bean mix (which I drained and rinsed); grated carrot; chopped avo; chopped tomato; crumbled feta, toasted and lightly spiced omega mix seeds and some left over brown rice. To this I added a squeeze of lemon juice a dash of white wine vinegar, salt, fresh garlic, whole grain mustard, black pepper and a pinch of sugar. I tossed the ingredients together, tasted it to see if I liked the dressing (here is where you would adjust the seasoning) and then spooned that over a handful of my favourite baby Asian leaf salad.

It was delicious and considering how unglamorous the ingredients and method are, I think it still looked quite nice too. 

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Living vicariously!

Pictures care of Walter and Colleen Köppe

Adam and I are back from holiday and enjoying settling back into our happy home. As with all the best holidays we have returned with a bit of overweight, sadly though, not in our suitcases but around our waists. Since our return I have been preparing very lean, healthy and low maintenance meals. My old favs like potato and rice moosh, have featured, various dalh dishes and salads and of course my all time weigh watch winner, veggie juice. So all in all nothing that I haven’t already blogged about before.

But this does not mean that I can’t live vicariously! My mom told me about a braai dish she made for guests the other day which I insisted she send me pictures of and a recipe for. 

Below is the amazingly simple and very soon to be tested by myself recipe!

Over to my Mom…

Chenin potato potjie!

“Braai” - that iconic but very tricky S.A. National occupation, separating the men from the boys sort of thing. Generally fairly frightful and definitely close to nightmarish for any self-respecting vegetarian (which we are).
How to negotiate a “braai” or a “bring ‘n braai” (ref. Gert Vlok Nel, troubadour and poet - “Die lewe is ‘n bring ‘n braai”) is what this is about. Arrive with an iron pot of “Chenin Blanc potatoes” and your reputation, will be saved, and you‘ll be able to eat something if you shoulder in early enough.
The iron pot is, for this version, fairly mandatory, because you’ll need to nurse it over the coals, for a good hour! This puts you right where the action is, beer clutched to the chest, smoke in the eyes, and talking a lot of stuff about a lot of stuff.

Quantities for about 6-8 people and a pot of ca. 40 cm diameter.

15 medium potatoes
3 large onions (optional)
1 bottle of Chenin Blanc (off-dry)
Salt to taste
250g good butter

Peel, wash and slice the potatoes and onions, and layer them into the iron pot. Add salt and pour over the bottle of wine. Place over the coals with lid on and let it simmer away gently for about twenty minutes until done. Take the lid off and let the liquid bubble down. The acid in the wine stops the potatoes from becoming mushy. When the wine is about a centimeter from the bottom, add plenty of knobs of butter and let it melt into the potatoes. Be generous and take care that the bottom is brown and crusty but does not become burnt, no mean feat! You will have to keep an eye on the last few minutes. This recipe comes from a friend and wine maker, Hajo, with whom we have enjoyed some splendid meals. 

Friday, January 6, 2012

Fricken' fabulous veggie stacks

Pictures take by Walter Köppe

I am still on holiday! We have now spent time in Knysna, Kleinemonde, Hogsback and been up the wild coast. But alas, as with all good things we are winding our way back home now and have just arrived in the Tsitsikama forest for the final stretch of our trip.

On New Year's Eve Adam and I cooked a very spontaneous dinner for the family which had unanimously been decided would be light and easy. We had all been eating non-stop and were feeling a touch overwhelmed at the prospect of another rich meal.

We did end up with four courses but each was small and light and well spaced out to leave space for chatter and chilled bubbles. The one course which Adam prepared (under my guidance) was a dish very much influenced by my mother’s cooking. I remembered her telling me about a meal she made last year, while visiting my brother in France, which was very similar. So I gave her a call yesterday and asked her if she could send me a guideline for her recipe and some pictures, which I knew my step dad had taken. The below is what she sent me.

Vegetable “Stack”

This dish looks spectacular served on beautiful plates and can be a starter or a light main course. The idea came from a promotion at the Mega French supermarket Carrefour fresh produce department, so I went home to do something similar at my son, Dirki’s Antibes apartment. 

The two interesting tweeks to this recipe are: 1) the aubergines are dry-fried, so not fatty at all and; 2) one can replace the crème fraîche topping with a slightly thinned hummus which can make this a vegan option as well as low-fat.

Ingredients for four
4 medium sized fresh beetroots
4 medium sized courgettes
1 Tbsp of olive oil
1 Tbsp of fresh lemon juice
1 tsp of crushed garlic
¼ tsp of salt
1 large aubergine
4 tsp of toasted seed mix 
and/or fresh chopped chives
4 Tbsp of crème fraîche (or hummus)

Roast the trimmed and washed beets for one hour at 175˚C until cooked through. Peel and slice into rounds of about ½ a centimetre.
Slice the courgettes lengthwise into thin ribbons. Cover them with boiling water from the kettle and leave them for 5 – 10 minutes. Drain them and gently toss them in the olive oil, lemon juice, garlic and salt.
Slice the aubergine width wise into 4 thick round slices and dry fry on medium high heat in a thick-bottomed non stick pan or griddle until scorched on both sides. 

Assemble as illustrated: the beets in a circle overlapping on each plate. Then a pile of marinated courgette slices, after which a slice of browned aubergine. Top with a dollop of crème fraîche or hummus and garnish with toasted seeds and or chopped chives. Serve immediately.

To thin the hummus (if using), add water, olive oil and or lemon juice until it has thinned to the consistency of thick cream.