Wednesday, June 27, 2012

God bless my housekeeper Phiwe!

My housekeeper Phiwe on the right and Nomiki, one of the ladies I've taught to cook, on the left. 
Five weeks of living and working in Europe has been a lesson in gratitude on so many fronts. Gratitude for my amazing husband, family and friends who fill my life with so much joy. Gratitude for being able to speak English in South Africa. I am finally understating how frustrating life must be for the millions of people in South Africa for whom English is not a mother tongue.

And today I am especially grateful for my fabulous, caring, loving housekeeper, Phiwe, who is not just my housekeeper but also my friend. In Europe house-help is a luxury afforded to only the wealthiest few. Most people have to manage their cooking, cleaning and laundry on top of their job, kids and social life...  I feel like I never stop cleaning. In my work and at home. It's non stop.

So my message for today is - be so very very grateful to the people who help you at home and at work. To those people who move so quietly through our lives making things clean, fresh and tidy around us and at such a low cost that most of us middle class South Africans can afford it.

Monday, June 25, 2012

A very good day!

It is the last of my days in France for the next two months, as I head off to Norway this week. The owner of the yacht has asked me to come with them for the summer and I thought that was quite an interesting turn of events. Norway has never been on my top 10 places to visit, but now that I have researched it a bit further it seems like a phenomenal place and I am excited about this adventure.

So, aside from working on the boat, I have been able to enjoy quite a bit of Antibes life. Meeting new friends and spending time with my nephew. I have been on the beach quite a lot too which is amazing for me. The sun is so much milder, a fair skinned lass like me can really enjoy the beach here. The swimming is also such a unique experience for me, coming from our wild and dangerous oceans. The calm, clear, warm Mediterranean water is so tranquil and relaxing.

On Saturday a group of us gathered on the beach to celebrate a friend’s birthday. I took a few pictures which I feel sum up the day. It was a good day!

Cheese platter care of Rob, styling care of me! 

Luke and Anna relaxing in the sun.

The birthday girl, Ashley and moi

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Thank you Elle Magazine!

My apologies for my long silence. My time is not really my own at the moment and as much as I would like to take pictures of the food I am cooking, it just doesn't seem right to say to the guests on board, "hold it, I just need to take some pictures first...". In the time I have had free, I have not really been in the mood for cooking. So in short I don't have very much to write about right now. 

BUT... before I left Cape Town a few months ago, I was asked by Elle magazine to contribute to a piece they were wanting to run about six food bloggers they think highly of. This is a huge huge honor for me, as the bloggers I was chosen to contribute with are the real deal. Fabulously talented Chefs, food stylists and photographers and then there's little old me, just telling my story day by day.

I didn't have much time to get the story together as I was insanely busy at the time and had to leave for France within days. But the dish I did choose to contribute is such a winner.  The article has been released now and can be found in the July issue of Elle Magazine South Africa. I have sadly not been able to see it yet (being on the other side of the plant and all). But I do, of course, have the original pictures and recipe here.  

Lemon and thyme chicken casserole
Serves 4 – 6

2 small ripe lemons
2 Tbsp of olive oil
2 Tbsp of smooth Dijon mustard
4 Tbsp of peach chutney
1 Tbsp of fresh thyme leaves (1 ½ tsp of dried thyme)
1 tsp of salt
½ tsp of fresh ground black pepper
8 chicken pieces, 4 legs and 4 thighs with the skin on
6 small potatoes, well washed with skins on and quartered lengthways
6 shallots (or 4 small onions), with skins on, halved or quartered
1 whole bulb of garlic, cut in half across the width with skin still on
Extra salt, pepper and fresh thyme for seasoning

Preheat your oven to 160˚C and place the rack in the middle of the oven.

In a casserole dish (large enough to hold all of your ingredients) add the marinade ingredients. Halve the lemons and squeeze them by hand into the dish, picking out any pips. Place the squeezed out lemon in the dish (they will give off a great aroma while baking). Add the oil, mustard, chutney, thyme, salt and pepper to the lemon juice and mix this up to combine. Add your chicken pieces and swish them around the dish to cover them with the sauce. Leave them skin side up for baking. 

To the dish add the potatoes also covering them with the sauce. Add the shallots and the bulb of garlic slightly broken up. Arrange the ingredients so that they look attractive and with the skin of the chicken uncovered for better roasting. 

Season the dish with extra salt and freshly ground black pepper and scatter it with extra fresh thyme sprigs. Bake this for about 45 minutes to an hour, until the chicken and potatoes are tender. If they have not got enough colour, you can turn up the grill for a few minutes until the chicken is golden brown. 

Serve with fine green beans, lightly steamed until bright green in colour and still firm. Toss them with butter, a little salt and flaked almonds. 

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Spicy coconut chicken and veg soup

Today the mistral was blowing even harder than it has the last few days and all my ideas of going for a leisurely wander down to the old part of Antibes to the famous food market there were blown away with the wind.

Facebook and twitter are full of a constant stream of my fellow South Africans complaining about the cold weather. So whether in sympathy with my cold loved ones back home or just because I love soup no matter what the weather I made soup today.

It is such an easy and oh so rewarding recipe and sure to warm the cockles of your heart no matter where in the world you are.
PS - See the packet of butter in the bottom right corner of the photo - this is my new favorite thing in the whole world - it's salted butter (awesome quality butter) with added sea salt crystals laced through it. It is heaven!

Spicy coconut chicken and veg soup
Serves 6

1 Tbsp of olive oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1 clove of garlic, finely chopped
1 Tbsp of fresh ginger, finely chopped
1 small chilli, finely chopped (or to taste)
2 tsp of hot and sour tom yum soup paste (or to taste)
1 litre of good chicken stock
400g tin of coconut milk
1 tsp of lemon zest, finely grated
Juice of a small lemon
200g of chicken breast or deboned thigh, cut into small pieces
2 medium carrots, diced into small pieces
200g of frozen sweetcorn
½ a red pepper, cut into small squares
salt and pepper to taste
2 Tbsp of roughly chopped coriander, for serving

Fry the onion and garlic in the oil for a few minutes.  Add the ginger, chilli and tom yum paste and fry for a minute. Add the stock, coconut milk, lemon zest, juice and carrots and simmer until the carrots are tender. Add the chicken, sweet corn and red pepper and simmer for a further 5 minutes. Season with a little salt and pepper if needed.

Serve with fresh coriander to garnish.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

When it's overcast and windy.

On Sunday a mistral started blowing across the Cote d'Azur so our intended beach day was now out of the question. So we decided to drive up into the mountains for a picnic instead. We found a sheltered spot on a field full of summer flowers, with a great view over the coast. 

Katie had packed us a superb picnic which we washed down with a chilled bottle of Louis Roederer Champagne.

I ended up taking so many pictures of flowers - but I have spared you and only posted a few...

We stopped in at a little village called Gourdon on the way back for coffee and something sweet.
You can see the wind lashing through here! 
Now that's a sweet shop for you! 
It's so perfect, I almost felt like I was at Monte Casino in Joburg!  

We decided on this cafe with a gorgeous view over the Riviera. 

Katie and I both ordered a mini dessert platter. I almost platzed it was so good!
I promised not too many pictures of flowers, but these little posies were growing out of cracks all over.
Just too gorgeous for words! 

Baking with the boys


Two weeks ago I had my nephews over to stay for the weekend. I find it pretty difficult to relate to boy children. I'm a girly girl and I don't like sports, shooting, racing, rough play, teasing, silly buggers and all the stuff little boys seem to like. Luckily I have discovered that baking seems to be the universal leveler and without exception I do not know any child without a sweet tooth. So, cup cakes it was! 
We walked down to the store to buy ingredients. Basic stuff - castor sugar, vanilla essence, cup cake papers. Who would have known that the cup cake phenomenon has not hit the french main stream yet! There were no cup cake papers to be bought. Luckily I found these little box things which worked fantastically, especially since I was baking with boys. Brown paper boxes just would not have cut it with my nieces. But for the boys these were perfect!   
The next hurdle was mini sweets. I like decorating cup cakes not with hard tasteless balls and sprinkles but with mini sweets, easily available in all manner of shapes, colours and flavours in South Africa. This led to me getting suckered into buying a massive tub of sweets which seemed to be the only source of smallish colourful ones available in the entire isle. 
Needless to say, the exercise ended up being a roaring success. So much so that all the cupcakes were devoured that night and we had to bake some more in a hurry the next morning as a mother's day gift (the French mother's day) for the boys mom. 

I ended up going with the family to a trout lake in the hills behind Antibes for some fishing and a picnic that day. Even though the fish weren't biting the scenery and the picnic were a joy!  

Vanilla cup cakes
Makes about 8 medium cup cakes

125g of butter (room temperature) 
½ a cup of castor sugar
2 large eggs
2 Tbsp whole milk
1 tsp of vanilla extract
1 tsp of baking powder
1 cup of cake flour (sifted)
1 pinch of salt

Preheat the oven to 180C˚ and place the rack in the middle of the oven.
With a cake mixer, blend together the butter and castor sugar until light and creamy. Add to this the eggs, vanilla and milk and blend to combine. Add the cake flour, baking powder and salt and blend until smooth.

Place your cup cake papers into the holes of a muffin tin. Spoon the mixture into the cup cake moulds until ¾ full. Flatten the mixture with the back of spoon. 

Bake for 15 – 20 minutes until golden and springy. Allow them to cool before decorating.

I like to use nutella or caramel to ice my cupcakes and then decorate them with mini sweets. 

Monday, June 11, 2012

Everything just tastes better here!

The view from the kitchen at the flat. 

I feel like a traitor saying the words, but – everything just tastes better on the Cote d’Azur. Now this might be because it is all so sparkly and new to me or because the Mediterranean sun and sea air is clouding my judgement. Or it may just be because they have access to the very best of everything here and have the discernment to expect and demand the best, at affordable prices.

Now my experiences here have been limited. Limited by the fact that I have been working most of the time and limited by the fact that I’ve been spending time with pretty health conscious people. But what I have been loving is the simplicity of the eating style. Simple dishes with few ingredients and a true celebration of the quality of the individual ingredients.

I have lost 2kgs in three weeks and all I have been doing is cooking, shopping and eating. The portions are smaller and with ingredients that shine, you don’t need to smother everything in sauces and spices. Viva the Mediterranean diet!

The view from the yacht

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Seafood braai with old friends!

For those of you who know me by now, you will know that braai's (BBQ) and Shellfish individually are not my favorite things. Put them together and they send a shiver down my spine. Well, a few days ago I was invited to one such occasion. 

The braai was hosted at the home of one of my brother's oldest friends, who has been tormenting me since I was a little girl. I am happy to say that age has mellowed him. No wedgies, bra strap snaps or teasing at all! Phew. 

My brother arrived at the braai loaded with masses of oysters, lobsters, giant and normal prawns. It was a feast (for the eyes, for me)! With Bec and Katie both being Chefs (and me knowing my way round a kitchen too) we were in safe hands. I wouldn't starve. 

The salads I made safely waiting on the table, for the lobster and giant prawns to be ready for the braai.

Platter of oysters ready for slurping! I had two. I quite like oysters.
Captain happiness! 

Garlic and herb butter, some sizzling smoky heat and voila! 

Spicy prawns flipping in the pan!

The first guests to the table couldn't hold back! 

I tasted everything and the flavoring and cooking were perfect! I'm just simply not a shellfish fan. I did however really enjoy the little spicy prawns. I had two. My salads did the trick for me. A platter of Lamingtons and chocolates rounded of the meal perfectly!

Friday, June 1, 2012

Dinner with friends in old Antibes!

Dinner at Mama Lu's in Antibes, a small Italian restaurant in the utterly charming old part of town. 

A few antipasti platters for the table. The presentation may be rustic but the quality of the ingredients, uncompromising!

Katie's vongole (Italian clam) pasta. I wish I enjoyed sea food as they have the most sublime sea food around here! 

My Cepes (porcini mushroom) ravioli with saffron cream sauce, was delicious. But hopelessly too rich for me.
I had to donate half of it to Dom. 
Dirk then decided to take us on a little tour of Antibes by night.
What a pleasure - felt like we were walking through a movie.

Look at the little balcony on the left - can't you just imagine Juliet staring off into the distance
being spied out by Romeo not far below?
And then look at the cars and realise that we know nothing about parking issues in South Africa. 

Our tour guide doing his thing. 
A place I still need to go.
And back to where we started! Could it get any prettier! 

Working the Monaco Grand Prix

Well, I got through it! That is the charter I worked on at the Grand Prix. For those of you who think that the Monaco Grand Prix has anything to do with racing well you would be right, but it is a teensy tiny bit of it. Mostly I think the racing gets in the way of the social activities, which are by far the focal point of the event.
The yacht I was working on had been hired for 5 days over the Grand Prix. There is accommodation for 12 guests on board but room for many many visitors, a cocktail party for 150 being the largest function we tackled. There were a steady stream of guests right from breakfast through to the toasted sandwich munchie run at 4 in the morning. 
The staff worked round the clock with the answer 'no' never being an option. The guests were taken care of in every possible way and I am told were over the moon with their stay. They have booked the yacht twice more in the year to come already. 
I managed to take a few pics on my way in to work and the next time I had time to think of getting my camera out was on the night of the last day of the event. We were manic!

My ride in to work.
With the race track being on the actual streets of Monaco, we could only reach the yacht by tender boat. I was most certainly not complaining. What a spectacular way to start the day!

One of the sites on my way to work - Oceanographic Museum of Monaco

View up to the Princes Palace from the port. 

Can you see the yellow and red thing dangling from a small crane from the yacht in the foreground?
Well that's what I got hoisted up onto the yacht in. 

Super quick pasta dinner, for two beyond exhausted girls.
We got back to the flat at about 20h30 on Tuesday evening 100% exhausted. Luckily there were a few goodies in the fridge. Enough to make a pasta to eat over a few episodes of House and then on to a 13 hour dead sleep!

The pasta a la Thekla consisted of about 20 ripe halved cherry tomatoes, gently fried in a pan on medium high heat with about 4 tablespoons of good olive oil and one clove of chopped garlic; some salt and pepper to taste. Once the tomatoes start becoming saucy, I added a little chopped fresh chilli; 5 slices of parma ham sliced into strip and a hand full of fresh basil roughly chopped. I let it heat through and then tossed with some fussili pasta and loads of grated Parmesan. It was delicious.