The S Word

These days I often find myself with the telly on in the background and considering my interests it's no surprise that it is usually on one of the food channels. 

I don't often get time to sit and watch a program but I still find the sound soothing and it makes the house feel somehow more friendly, it is also a great way to get some inspiration while planning the weekly menu or shopping list.

One thing I have noticed though is how often the discussions turn to seasoning, you often hear someone pointing out that a dish is over seasoned, under seasoned or perfectly seasoned. I find this a bit puzzling as we all have different pallets so what is perfectly seasoned for one person might be completely unacceptable to someone else yet so many chefs claim to have the answer and seem very indignant if their food is not to everyones liking.

What ever happened to putting some salt and pepper on the table and allowing everyone to adjust the seasoning to their own taste without upsetting the chef's ego?

I know these days everyone is very concerned about their health and I can't even remember how many times I have heard of people cutting salt out of their diet because they believe it to be bad for them, however they seem to forget that we all actually need some salt to function normally. Salt not only helps to maintain the flow of water in the body but the sodium ion itself plays a role in the electrical signaling of the nervous system. In Roman times soldiers even received part of their salary paid out to them in salt, bringing about the still popular expression of someone being worth his salt.

I'm not saying everyone should rush out and start eating salt by the spoonfuls, but I do feel it has been getting so much bad press in the last few years that these days a lot of prepared food come across quite bland and lacking in that little something to make it stand out.

Salt is not just great for preserving food but it also has the ability to enhance other flavors, bringing them together and lifting a dish to new heights. Not convinced? Try and make a basic curry from scratch, adding all your normal herbs and spices but leaving out the salt, once cooked have a taste - then add the salt, give it a good stir and taste again. You will be amazed at the difference, without the salt the flavors will be dull and somehow separate, but once you add the salt it becomes a complete dish with all these subtle flavors coming alive and making it a real joy to eat.

Rediscover this simple, essential seasoning and give your taste buds a real treat. 

The long journey

It's been just over two months since our family arrived in the UK to start our big new adventure. During the past 10 weeks we have explored castles and waterways, walked through historic towns and ancient forests, experimented with new flavors and discovered a few new favorites. Although we are still a long way from being settled in this wonderful country and spend most days riding an emotional roller-coaster we know this is were we want to be and all we can do for now is to take it one day at at time, enjoy the ride and share the journey.

Walmer Castle

The Garden of England

At the moment we are staying with family in the county of Kent that lies South East of London and is known as the Garden of England, driving through it's forests and farmlands it's not hard to see why. The little winding country roads are lined with hedgerows teaming with life and everyday when we return to the cottage we drive through a tunnel of trees with rays of light shining through in places casting light and shadow all around us. Squirrels, peacocks and pheasants are our daily companions on the winding narrow roads, along with horse riders, dog walkers and day hikers, occasionally we might even meet another car - although that is an adventure in itself.

Meeting a car going in the opposite direction on a narrow, winding road can go a number of ways; the right way would be for both cars to slow down, and whomever has the most space on their side of the road will pull over to let the other car pass while both drivers give each other a friendly nod or wave, and this actually happens most of the time, however you also get the rude, grumpy ones who just stare straight ahead, put foot and expect everything else to get out of the way. These are the ones who scare the horses, squish the squirrels and miss all the beauty around them, they should do the forest a favor and just stick to the highways.

Denge Wood
Retail Therapy

Shopping in England is still a bit new to us although we are slowly starting to get the hang of it. It is an adventure trying to buy even the most basic ingredients as the variety and quality of foodstuffs available are absolutely mind-boggling; just after we got here we went to buy some plain white sugar for the kids to use on their cereal but even this turned into a 5 minute debate while we tried to decide whether we wanted normal white sugar, half-spoon white sugar (which is made so that you only need half a spoon full to get the same amount of sweetness as a normal full teaspoon of plain sugar) or half-calorie white sugar (which, as the name suggests, has half the calories as other white sugar but tastes the same)? The result of this is that running into the shop to grab a few basics can easily turn into a two hour debate trying to decide between all the different brands and slight variations available on the shelves. I can only imagine what it is going to be like shopping for Christmas.

The Long Wait

Although I fully understand the reasoning behind the UK's strict policies and quarantine rules for animals coming from other countries I still feel being separated from the furry, four-footed member of the family for 6 whole months is torture. We miss him dearly and can't wait for the day he will be able to come home so we can cuddle and spoil him again. I know he is well looked after at the kennels and I will gladly recommend them to anyone but it's just not the same as having him home where he belongs.

Quarantine is a necessary evil but the fact that the UK's quarantine rules are changing from January 2012 shows that there are better ways of making sure that the animals coming into the country are healthy and that separating them from their families that love them for such a long time is just cruel.

JD (aka Lumpy) is the most gentle, loving dog that steals hearts wherever he goes and I can only hope that he will remember how loved he is and that we are all waiting for him to join us on this big new adventure.

JD (aka Lumpy)

What is tradition?

One of my favorite blogs is Life as Mom and recently I saw that she was looking at traditional foods from different countries, which got me thinking, what is traditional South African food?

We are a country made up of people from many different cultures and backgrounds, and inevitably, different tastes. One person might feel that pap and wors is the true backbone of South African cuisine while someone else might argue that it is bobotie or 'bunny chow'.

But what does 'traditional food' really mean? Is it the food that everyone in the country eats most regularly or is it the food the country is best known for?

Let us take America; I have quite a few American friends and I know from their food blogs that they enjoy a wide variety of different cuisines, yet when we think of American food the first thing that comes to mind is burgers. When ever we have been invited to or even hosted an 'American' evening everyone expects that there will be burgers on the menu, even though logically we know that not all Americans eat burgers all the time.

The same goes for other countries, mention England and we thinks of tea with freshly fried fish and chips, or Scotland with their haggis and deep fried mars bars and of cause everyone knows the Italians only eat pasta and pizza.

But what about us here at the tip of the African Continent? What do people really know about our food? I'm sure some will think we all eat mopani worms (never tried it thank you) or crickets (again, no thank you) and although I am sure there are perhaps some people who would enjoy such things they are not at all commonly available ingredients.  I for one would not even know how to get my hands on one mopani worm let alone enough to feed a family of four, besides we prefer pasta or a good currie.

There is one type of 'food' though that is enjoyed by most people in our Rainbow Nation, although it is not really a food but more an occasion. This would be the well known South African braai, and no this is not the same as a barbecue or a grill, it is an event and as South African as blue skies, biltong and Table Mountain.

National Braai day is celebrated on the 24th of September every year as part of our Heritage Day celebrations, with Emeritus Archbishop Desmond Tutu as its official patron. South Africans from all walks of life, all cultures, ethnic groups and social standing all love a really good braai and there is always a story of how someone had a braai in the rain, snow or storm somewhere in the world whether on top of a mountain, deep in bush or the middle of a desert. It is the glue that holds our nation together, the one thing we can all agree on and the one topic of conversation that always brings a big smile to a South African's face, no matter where in the world they now happen to live.

We have a doctor friend who always tells of how a small group of South African doctors had a braai on the roof of a UK hospital they were working in at the time in the middle of a bitterly cold English winter while it was snowing. They bought the little portable braai from a local shop keeper who thought they were crazy asking for it and just kept telling them 'but it's winter' before eventually giving in and letting them have it.

We even have our own Braai Boy, who after a dare from friends in 2009, to braai every day for a year, has now become so well known that he is still at it, not only braaing for his own family but also being involved in braai events all over the country and even the world.

What makes a braai different from a barbecue or a grill?

 A proper braai starts with the fire, although gas has gained in popularity and I personally prefer the speed and cleanliness of gas, for it to be a true braai it has to be a wood or charcoal fire. Half the fun is in watching the men trying to get it going and then sitting around and visiting with your friends while you wait for the fire to reach the right temperature.

The next part would be your meat and other bits that you intend to cook on the fire. This can vary greatly from person to person, although most South Africans would think it absolute sacrilege to cook burgers or hot dogs on a braai, it has to be some sort of sausage and at least one or two types of meat, which can be marinated or coated with a spice rub. Other popular things you might find cooking on the fire would be corn on the cob, braai bread, mushrooms, potatoes or oepsies (bacon or other cured meat on a stick, marinated in a sweet sticky sauce and then cooked on the fire) to name but a few.

Side dishes are just as important at these gatherings and there are as many variations as there are people. If its a payday braai you might be served a selection of salads, dips and snacks with your meat where as the last braai before the end of the month might see you only getting a garlic roll or pap - either way, both braais will be equally enjoyable as the most important thing to remember about a braai is that its not just about the food, its about family and friends sitting around the fire sharing a laugh and making memory that can last a life time.

Magical Chicken Breasts

Chicken breasts are some of the most versatile things to keep in your freezer. They are quick to defrost and can be used in a hundred different ways to suit everyone’s taste, pocket and time, so to get things cooking here are two of my favorite things to do with them.

(Please note all amounts are based on what I would use for my family of four)

1. Green Chicken Curry

- 4 chicken breasts – cut into bite size cubes
- Green curry paste (to taste)
- 1 tin coconut milk
- 1 green/red/yellow pepper cut into julienne slices
- 2 large carrots cut into julienne slices
- 3 spring onions cut into julienne slices
- Thumb size piece of ginger – peeled and grated
- 1 tsp crushed garlic
- Cooking spray or 1 tbls oil
- Cooked rice or noodles to serve

Heat a large frying pan or wok and spray with the cooking spray or coat with the oil, stir-fry the vegetables till just cooked but still crunchy.
Take the vegetables out of the pan and stir-fry the chicken pieces.
When the chicken is cooked through add the green curry paste, ginger and garlic and fry for a minute.
Then add the vegetables and coconut milk and heat through.

Serve with cooked rice or noodles.

2. Lemon Chicken

- 4 chicken breasts
- 1 cup plain flour
- salt and pepper
- 1 tsp dried thyme (or your favorite spice)
- 60ml lemon juice (about a quarter cup)
- 250ml chicken stock (1 cup)
- 30ml cooking oil (2tbs)

Cut each chicken breast in two then place each piece between two sheets of plastic wrap and pound flat (I just use a rolling pin).

In a dry bowl mix the plain flour, salt, pepper and spices.

Heat a large frying pan and lightly coat with the oil.

Take the flattened chicken pieces and coat them all over with the spiced flour.

Lightly fry the floured chicken pieces turning regularly till the chicken is just

cooked through and no longer pink, take the chicken out and keep warm.

Add the lemon juice and chicken stock to the hot pan and stir continuously, the flour from the chicken will start to thicken the sauce - if its to thick add more chicken stock.

Put the chicken pieces back in the pan with the sauce and let it coat the chicken.

Serve while still piping hot with green vegetables and mashed potatoes (to soak up all that lovely lemon sauce) or with pasta and a side salad.

Chicken and Chorizo Magic

Yesterday was birthday and to celebrate my kiddies each made me a chocolate cake while hubby made my all time favorite supper.

Chicken and Choriza Jambalaya

225g chorizo sausage (1/2 lb) cut into thin slices
4 skinless, deboned chicken breasts, cut into bite size pieces
1 large onion, chopped
2 green peppers (one red one green) chopped
3 garlic cloves, crushed
2tbls olive oil (30ml)
600ml chicken stock (1pt)
2 cups long-grain white rice
2 tsp chopped fresh thyme
salt to taste

- Heat the oil over a medium heat in a large pot.
- Add the sausage and the chicken and fry for 5 minutes or untill the chicken is just cooked through.
- Add the onions, green pepper and garlic and fry while stirring for 1 minute.
- Pour in the stock then stir in the thyme and rice.
- Bring to the boil then reduce the heat, cover the pot and let simmer till the stock has been absorbed and the rice is cooked through.
- Once cooked season to taste and serve.

To me this must be one of the ultimate comfort food recipes, it hits all the right spots and is completely delicious.

If you have any trouble with converting any of the amounts in this, or any other, recipe then have a look at this very useful converstion chart .

If Chorizo is not available in your area you can use any other spicy, smoked sausage as a substitute.

For those days you want to splash out you can also add some cleaned, shelled prawns to the Jambalaya when you add the rice to turn this into a real dinner party dish.

Viva Ristorante - Hong Kong

Candy says,

It was Ash Wednesday in a foreign city and our first priority was to find a church.  We had no idea what we were going to do for supper.

As we walked down towards the MTR, on our way back,  I said to John "take me somewhere Italian" and at that moment we passed a restaurant only to find that it was,  amazingly enough, an Italian Restaurant.

It was a small place seating only about 12 people inside and about 8 outside but the music and the ambience was appealing so we decided to give it a try.

First to arrive was a bread basket along with ample supplies of olive oil and a good balsamic vinegar.  We ordered a bottle of Italian red wine.  It was really good but very pricey.  I had to use both hands to lift the glass as the wine was served in brandy snifters which were difficult to handle with one hand especially after dipping your bread in the Evoo.

Next we ordered the tomato and lemon soup.  It was a perfect blend of tomato, lemon and basil,  divinely delicious.  By then our bread basket was empty and they brought us another.  Next we shared a Margherita Pizza with thin crust, just the way we like it.

John being a sweet tooth, there always has to be dessert, so we ended off the evening with home-made Tiramusu and cappuccino's.  Even my no-fun one (decaf) was good, but the Tiramisu was disappointing.

Our bill was over R700, which in my humble opinion, was far too much.  I think what redeemed them was, the very homey feeling of the place and the friendly interaction and attentiveness of the staff.

I would give this restaurant a 7 out of 10.

A better aproach to wine

Avondale owner and winemaker Johnathan Grieve is not an accountant. Although he has been making wines for over twelve years, he received his training in fine arts, and this has made all the difference to his business.

Grieve approaches viniculture with a holistic vision, and while he is no doubt a savvy entrepreneur who is in business to make money, he has broken away from conventional methods and refuses to grow his bottom line by treating the process of winemaking as a profit-at-all-costs venture.

He says modern wine-making has in many ways become purely chemical-driven, with huge amounts of fertilizers, soil conditioners, pesticides and commercial yeasts involved in creating the product. When he joined Avondale in 1999, it was a “chemical abuse” farm suffering from years of commercially-accepted agricultural practices.

He set about turning the farm into a truly green operation using USDA and European Union quality standards, which are based on measurable attributes that describe the value and utility of the product. “This is not just about replacing each chemical practice with an organic one, it is redesigning the agricultural process in its entirety,” says Grieve, noting that he views the development of the farm as an ongoing process.

Avondale covers about 100 hectares and has been broken down into 1-hectare plots that are each managed separately. Moisture sensors and drip systems mete out just the right amount of irrigation for each plot. Habitats for natural predators of vine pests are located on some of the plots, at the same time forming green barriers that keep the soil, flora and fauna healthy. 

Trained ducks keep the vines free of snails, which form part of their natural diet. They spend part of their time in a ‘bunkhouse’ located near the vineyard and happily waddle aboard a large tractor-driven trailer that transports them to the vineyard, where they spend part of the day pruning the gastropods from the plants.

“Once the ducklings recognize that the sound of the tractor means food, they quickly and happily will board the trailer. It takes only about two to three days to teach them to walk the ramp into the trailer,” says Grieve.

Grieve says he soon realized that spraying pesticides and herbicides was a continuous battle, one that did not bring many victories.  “Nothing is completely eliminated from the farm,” he says, adding that all the processes on the farm focus on natural control of the environment.

Under this system weeds replace fertilizers and supplements. Grieve says these cover crops help fine tune the soil for each plot and have a symbiotic relationship with the vines. The vines feed the weeds, which in turn create nutrients for the soil and vines.

The process continues after the grapes are harvested, where bag presses replace steel screws and gravity fed systems eliminate powered pumps. Avondale’s wine-maker, Corne Marais, employs only natural yeast fermentation and does not add enzymes, catalysing agents or softeners in the production process.  The wines are matured slowly – months more than on the majority of commercial wine farms – before finally being presented to customers.

What makes Grieve’s approach so exceptional is that he treats the entire wine-making business – from the land, to the grapes, to the wine – as an interconnected and interdependent network. It clearly explains Avondale’s guiding principle of “Terra est vita”(“Soil is life”).

Grieve is building a highly sustainable business model with his holistic ‘green’ approach, a system which he is more than willing to share with other producers. The results of his labour can be found in his wines. Avondale’s range of seven new wines is exceptionally delicious, with flavours and fragrances that linger long after the wine is gone. They are in sharp, and pleasant, contrast to the winery’s ‘old’ collection, which shows many of the harsher tones and short-lived flavours found in contemporary wines.

Grieves has listened carefully to the Earth and his diligence is being handsomely rewarded. Avondale is proof that a business can be both socially and environmentally responsible to a high degree while still producing a quality product and creating a sustainable revenue model.

Nanxiang Steamed Bun Restaurant - Singapore

A very sweet friend of mine, Candy, who now lives in Singapore and is a fellow foodie found a new restaurant to tantalise the tastebuds.

Candy Says;

 When we first landed in Singapore in 2009, we thought we were in food heaven. 

There literally was food everywhere.  We were told that there were specific shops for signature dishes and the longer the queue at the stall, the better the food.  Sometimes that was true but sometimes Singaporeans would just queue out of curiosity, so we found it best to check out the stalls first hand. 

Our first experience with steamed dumplings was at Prima revolving restaurant near Vivocity.  The view was amazing but the buns were not to our liking so we avoided them until friends of mine took me to Nanxiang Steamed Bun Restaurant on the second level at Plaza Singapura, about two months ago. I had to drag John there as he remembered our first experience.  I daresay he was pleasantly surprised. 

We ordered the Spring Roll with Crab Roe stuffing as a starter.  They were two deep fried triangles and the filling had a subtle seafood taste and were absolutely delicious.  Then we ordered the Shangai vegetarian vegetable rice, Braised "Lions' Head",  Pork filled steam buns,  Pork Shanghai pan fried dumplings and Stir Fried Baby Green Beans for mains. 

The rice was so good, it could easily be a meal on its own and one portion was enough for both of us.  The Braised "Lions Head" was minced pork frikkadels in a dark sauce.  Very tasty. 

The green beans were firm, flavoured with garlic and topped with crisp pork pieces. Last but not least, we tried the Golden Pumpkin Cakes for dessert.  We had no idea what to expect but turns out they were pumpkin fritters.  I found them very oily and had to dab them with my serviette to get rid of some of the oil. 

Cost was about $25 per person, which was reasonable. I liked the decor but the tables for two were too small and cramped. They didn't serve wine but we could have as much green tea as we liked.  All the foods we ordered were very yummy and I will definitely be going back to try out some of the other dishes on the menu. I'd give this restaurant an 8 out of 10.

Candy's blog

Banana Muffins

The one thing in this world I really hate is wasting food, so this morning when I discovered two very sad-looking bananas in my fruit bowl I knew it was time to get out the old Banana Muffin recipe and put them to good use.

Spread with butter and drizzled with honey these make a fantastic afternoon snack or serve them with cream cheese and diced bacon for an alternative breakfast.

Banana Muffins

2 eggs
50g castor sugar  (2oz superfine sugar)
150ml milk (5 fl oz or just over half a cup)
50g melted butter / baking margarine (2oz)
2 over ripe bananas mashed with a fork
275g self-raising flour (10oz)
1tsp baking powder (5ml)
1tsp ground cinnamon (5ml)

Paper muffin cases or use silicone muffin cups so they slide out easily

- Heat over to 200C (400F or gas 6)
- Line a muffin pan with the paper cases.
- Wisk eggs, sugar, milk and butter together in a mixing bowl.
- Stir in the mashed banana, baking powder, flour and cinnamon till the mixture is just combined, do not over mix.
-  Spoon mixture into prepared muffin pan and bake for about 30 min or untill golden brown and cooked through.
- Let them stand for about 5 min in the baking dish before taking them out and serving, they are delicious hot or cold.

Just for fun

I love browsing the internet for anything from new recipes to try out, fun places to visit, latest movies previews and games but my all time favorite thing to look for is fun new gadgets, especially if they have a Dr.Who, Star Wars or any geeky related theme. So here are 3 of my current favorite sites to look at next time you need to waste some time.

1) Think Geek

This site should come with a warning, only enter if you have lots of time on your hands. With everything from Star Wars Lightsaber Popsicle makers, Edible Gummy iPhone Covers, USB Pet Rocks and the fun USB Fishquarium (which allows you to keep a real fish in a USB powered aquarium), trust me once you innocently click on this link you will be stuck there for hours.

2) Perpetual Kid

We all need to listen to our inner child and make some time every day to have a little fun and this is the site to help you do just that. Liven up a day at the office with this handy little Decision Maker or a Paper Voodoo Notepad, which is sure to get everyone to treat you extra nice to ensure you don't use it on them. Once home stop the evening battle of getting your baby, toddler or hubby (sorry love) to eat their veggies with this super fun Constructive Eating Set or these Chimpsticks Chopsticks , then when everyone in the family is fed, washed and tucked up for the night treat yourself to a 2 Carat Cup of cocoa and a reminder that life should be fun.

3) Geek Stuff 4 U

Where better to find fun geeky toys than Japan? This Japanese site has it all from a Workaholic Pillow, Lightsaber Chopstics, USB Underwater HD Camcorder and a Gummix Jelly Insect Maker to USB powered Heated Slippers, Blankets and Mouse Pads to keep you cosy at the PC during those long cold nights and even Magic Musical Gloves, that allow you to make music by touching any surface.

Always remember to make time for a little fun every day.

On set

After a few weeks of rushing around we had planned to spend this past weekend relaxing at home and catching on a few DVDs, however on Saturday we got a call from my kids casting agent asking if they could please take part in a film shoot for a UK TV Series on Sunday morning.

It was a great opportunity for the kids so we spend the rest of the afternoon co-ordinating with the wardrobe department, washing and ironing back-up outfits and generally getting everything ready for a very early start.

On Sunday we left home at 5:30am and headed off to the film base camp, only problem was that they had moved location without telling the agent we were dealing with. After a few quick phone calls we finally managed to get to location at the W&A Waterfront with even still some time to spare.

The kids played the children of one of the central characters for that episode, so first up they needed a few still photos to use as props on set, the kids posed with their film parents in both formal and informal outfits. Then it was time for a wardrobe change before we set off to the beautiful Camps Bay to film on the beach.

The film crew was lovely and everyone was very sweet to the kids making them feel at ease and ensuring that they had fun doing the shoot. We were especially taken with British actor Alistair Petrie, who played their dad for the day. He had the kids laughing from the first moment they met and when he was not needed at the beach shoot he came and sat with Fu and me and had a long chat.

Once finish with the film shoot the kids posed for a few more 'family' still shots at the beach and a second location in Camps Bay before heading back to the base camp.

By the time we got back to the Waterfront we had just enough time for the kids to pack up their bag and get changed before sitting down to a delicious curry buffet lunch finished off with their favorite ice cream and chocolate sauce before we headed back home again.

All in all it was a busy but fun day and an amazing introduction to the film world for both kids.

I am so proud of them, they were very well behaved and we got a number of compliments from the crew saying they were a pleasure to work with. The Monday after the shoot we got a call inviting our teen son to attend another audition for an international fruit juice TV advert.

We took him to the audition and now we just have to wait and see what happens.


Fu and I got to attend the 14th Annual Prism Awards to recognise the work done by public relations and communications companies. This was the first time the awards were held in Cape Town and the organisers pulled out all the stops to make sure it would not be the last time.

The venue was the beautiful Vineyard Hotel and Spa. We started the evening with a selection of wine and snacks at the Splash Cafe where we listened to soft jazz by the South African Navy Marimba Ensemble while watching the final rays of the setting sun bathing the back of Table Mountain in a golden glow.

The only thing better that the delicious finger snacks were the friendly ladies serving them. Their warm smiles, quick humor and knowledge about the snacks they were serving added a special touch to the start of the evening.

I loved this 'fishy' statue at the Splash Cafe and had to stop for a good giggle when I saw the tortoise sign on our way through the lovely gardens to the Awards event on the Camphor Level of the hotel.

Well known South African entertainer Soli Philander was our master of ceremonies for the evening and kept us all laughing with his witty comments and friendly banter with the Executive Deputy Mayor of Cape Town. He also reminded us to vote for Table Mountain to be recognised as one of the new seven natural wonders of the world, so if you have not yet done this go ahead click on the link and add your vote.

Half way through the ceremony I got an sms from our son to say he was feeling ill so Fu and I decided to skip the after-party and headed home to fetch our kids from our friend's house. I'm happy to report it was nothing to serious and by the end of the weekend he was feeling right as rain again.

To all the Prism winners, congratulations on your awards and to the sposors thank you for the lovely goodies bags we got to take home, my kids loved the giant pen and the chocolates while my favorite was the little statue of Table Mountain.

In search of better Biltong

Fu says:

If you don't get excited at the mention of the word Biltong, then you're missing a vital food experience. Granted, the idea of salted, dried meat as a delicacy probably doesn't turn many heads - but it's an institution in South Africa.

Biltong, for those unfamiliar with the subject, has its origins from the days when my great, great grandmother and her parents trekked across SA in the 1820s (No, I'm not kidding - my family really did come here with the '1820 settlers'). Many pioneers around the world at the time were using various pickling, salting and drying techniques to preserve meat.

Somewhere along the line, somebody obviously got tired of rehydrating and cooking the preserved meat and just decided to eat the bloody stuff as it was. As proof of how stubborn my ancestors were, the salty, tough plank-o-cow did not dampen their spirits or cause them to surrender and go back to rehydrating it. No, they just decided there had to be a way to make it more palatable. Thus biltong was born.

Now some people may tell you that it is just dried meat, others will say it is like American jerky, but they are oh so wrong. Well-made biltong is as delicious and delectable as parma ham or smoked salmon.

The problem is that with the rising price of meat - and the growing greed of some producers - this staple of the SA weekend braai (barbeque) is now incredibly pricy. Average prices are now sitting at anywhere between R150 to R250 per kilogram (15.25 - 25 British pounds per kilogram, $11 - $18 per pound).

For me, that's now way out of my price league and for years I've been grumbling about how easy it would be to make my own biltong. Being deprived of this treat for a few months was enough to spur me on to do something about it.

After reading an article in Popular Mechanics describing how to make a simple biltong drying cabinet, I scrounged around the house and discovered I had the hardware to make a tiny drying box. I figured that starting small would be good, so I could learn as I went along and apply that at a later stage to a much bigger project.

I used a sealable plastic bin (roughly 20 litres capacity), window frame cornice, a 12v PC cooling fan and a transformer that converts 250 volts AC to 9 Volts DC.

The assembly is relatively simple: Cut a hole for the fan in the lid of the bin and afix the fan with self-tapping screws. Cut lengths of the window frame wood (dowels can also be used, but then holes must be drilled in the container sides) and fix in place with self-tapping screws. Drill some holes in the side of the bin for ventilation and wire the PC fan to the transformer. Voila!

It took me all of thirty minutes to make and is robust enough to withstand repeated use, but simple enough so that I didn't excessive waste time or money on it. I couldn't tell you what it cost, because the materials were all either bought months ago, or scrounged for free from friends.

Nonetheless, I was really chuffed with the results and was now more determined than ever to make my own biltong.

In the next installment ... Making the good stuff.

Ice Cream dreams

You might think the main ingredient in an ice cream cake would be ice cream, but actually what you need, what your REALLY need is patience, lots and lots of patience.

Last week I took up the challenge to make a cricket-themed ice cream cake for a very sweet client. I turned to my old friend google for a few tips and ideas but for once was left feeling rather let down by the lack of information. This time I was on my own.

After some brainstorming with my client we settled on a 23cm square cake with an oreo cookie base, a vanilla, caramel and peanut brittle swirl ice cream filling, all finished off in green ice cream.

For the Oreo base I used two boxes of oreos, crushed and mixed with a small amount of melted butter to help it stick together. This was pressed into the base of the cake tin and left in the freezer to set.

For the main cake I used 5 litres of good quality vanilla ice cream, left out just long enough so I could whip it up with a hand blender. To this I added the caramel and crushed peanut brittle.

The ice cream mix went on top of the oreo base and then it was back in the freezer for at least 8 hours to make sure it was frozen solid.

Once it was set I carefully removed the ice cream cake from the cake tin and covered it in vanilla icing mixed with some green food coloring. I must say this had to be done in stages as the temperature outside was around 38C (100F) so I could only work on the cake for about 5 minutes at a time before the ice cream started to melt and I had to rush it back to the freezer.

The main challenge was finding a way to make the edible decorations to go on top of the cake. I experimented with royal icing, butter icing and marshmallow icing. I found the royal icing looked great when it was frozen but once out of the freezer turned almost to water in no time at all. The butter icing kept its shape once out of the freezer but did not taste that great frozen. The marshmallow icing seemed to be the best bet. I made all the decorations from this and then let it harden in a sealed container on the counter before adding it to the cake the morning of the party.

My biggest concern was getting the cake from my house to the party venue without it turning into a big puddle. This time luck was really on my side, as my client was able to come early in the morning before the sun realised what was going on. Since she stays in the same area she managed to get it home and straight into her freezer before any disasters could strike.

The feedback I got from her was enough to put a huge grin on my face for days. Her hubby loved his suprise ice-cream cake and the party was a great success. I was very stunned when she dropped in a few days later to give me a thank you pressie for the cake - I am just so spoiled and very happy that this worked out.

I will definitely be open to more ice cream cake orders in the future - I just hope the weather cools down first.

Tea Time Treat

Everyone needs a quick and easy backup biscuit recipe for when unexpected visitors drop in for tea or when the family just feels like something sweet and you really don't want to go all the way to the shop.

So the next time the munchies grab hold of you just whip up a batch of these yummy little treats.

Vanilla Biscuits

125g margarine or butter
125g castor sugar
1 egg (lightly beaten)
250g cake flour
5ml Vanilla essence (1tsp)

- Cream margarine and sugar
- Stir in the egg and vanilla essence
- Add the flour and mix lightly till it forms a soft dough
- Roll the dough into little balls and flatten slightly with a fork
- Bake in a pre-heated oven at 180C for about 10-12 minutes (depending on your stove)

This is so easy and delicious you might want to make a double batch.

Restaurant Review - Nobu

Strawbz’s hubby says:

I’m hijacking this blog temporarily (upon Strawbz’ request) to tell you about a food experience I had a few weeks ago.

As a motoring journalist I end up at a lot of formal dinners, some for vehicle launches and some to meet industry people and fellow journalists. I have been to more four- and five-star hotels than I can count, and sadly many of them are found wanting when it comes to their menus.

Fancy bedrooms, helpful staff and beautiful surroundings – all of these are relatively easy to pull off when compared to creating really good food. After all my years in the motoring industry I would without hesitation opt for a home-cooked meal over one with claims of Michelin or five-star status.

So when General Motors invited me to a dinner with GM International Operations Communications vice president Johan Willems, I was both eager and wary. With GM, the company is always good – I was just hoping the food would match.

We headed for Nobu at the One & Only Hotel in Cape Town’s V&A Waterfront. The hotel and its surroundings are truly exquisite. The reception area is a vast, open room with a ceiling that hangs a good 30 metres or more above the main lounge,

There I waited at the central bar, sipping one of the best Mojitos I have had anywhere.

Soon the gang of local journos, along with GM communications manager for South Africa and sub-Saharan Africa, Denise van Huyssteen, were gathered and ready to go.

The Nobu restaurant branches off from the main reception area of the hotel and is relatively compact (about 100 seats) but stunningly decorated.

Our waitress quickly solved the dilemma of myriad menu choices and offered to bring us group platters until we said: “No more”. I lost out on tempura and Kobe (or Wagyu, as Nobu calls it) beef because of this – but the trade-off was worth it.

The food (finally)

We began the evening with a marinated salmon sashimi – soft, fresh and full of flavour. So far, so good – quality and presentation got really good points but originality scored low.

Along with this we had endamame salad. This is green soya-bean pods, picked before they get hard and then boiled and marinated. They have a hard, inedible outer skin and so you have to squeeze the bean out of the pod to eat it. I’ve had this before and this second tasting confirmed what I thought then – finicky to eat and tastes bloody awful!

This was followed by beef carpaccio and the most extraordinary salmon. The fish tasted as if it had been heavily barbequed in a sticky marinade, but the meat was visibly raw and fresh. The beef scored high – this is only the second time I have had buttery-soft meat in a restaurant (and it wasn’t even Wagyu).

Platters of beef kushisashi and chicken yakitori followed. In their very basic essence, these are simply beef and chicken kebabs. However, these were tender, flavourful little packages of meat. Wow!

Also worth mentioning was a dish of grilled (or was that fried?) Salmon in a decadent, sticky soya and sherry sauce.

A few dishes later we were presented with one of the biggest bowls of sushi I have seen so far. Each piece was delicate and had a very unique flavour. Even the basics – like prawns over sushi rice – were scrumptious. The freshest sushi I have had to date.

Each course was washed down with some rather delicious wine – a Shiraz in my case (I really wish I had noted the label, because now I feel like a fool for not writing it down.)

Then it was on to desert – individual spoons of sorbet made from fresh fruits. Delicious, but not enough for my sweet tooth.

I could go on about the food in detail for pages and pages. What it boils down to is this: Nobu is truly an astounding restaurant and the menu, food, wine and service were spectacular.

Just note that you have to have very deep pockets to eat here. Very, very, very deep pockets.

(Review by Fu)

Pancake Day

Tomorrow is Ash Wednesday which, for us Catholics and many other Christian denominations, mark the start of Lent. This is a sacred time of fasting, sacrifice, prayer and penance which helps to prepare us for the celebration of Easter.

It is traditional during this time to forego all rich and fatty foods, especially on Wednesdays and Fridays when we are not allowed to eat meat. As I'm not a big fish fan this usually means that by the end of Lent my family is pretty sick of tuna pasta bake as that is one of the few fish meals I really enjoy. So this year I have decided it’s time to find a few alternatives. For the duration of Lent I will be trying out new fishy recipes on my family and sharing the results and their reactions to them.

Before we start on this special journey of Lent we have one last day to indulge. Shrove Tuesday also known as Pancake Day, is when we enjoy special treats many will forgo during Lent. We make huge stacks of pancakes that can be eaten with either savory or sweet fillings - some countries hold special pancake races where contestants have to flip pancakes in a pan while running.

In Iceland, Shrove Tuesday is known as Sprengidagur, which means Bursting Day. In France and French speaking regions in the USA it is called Mardi Gras, meaning Fat Tuesday. In Sweden it is Fettisdagen, which also translates as Fat Tuesday. To find out more about how this day is celebrated in different countries visit the British Life & Culture website by Mandy Barrow.

If you are looking for a easy and delicious pancake recipe to make for tonight try this one. It has never let me down and my family love it.

Pancake Batter

500ml cake flour (2 cups)
2 ml salt
2 eggs
500ml water (2 cups)
5ml lemon juice (1 teaspoon)

(This recipe can easily be doubled or even trippled depending on how many pancakes you need)

- Sift the flour and salt together.
- Mix the water, eggs and lemon juice.
- Pour the egg mixture into the flour and whisk till it forms a smooth batter.

Cover the batter and let it rest for an hour.

- Lightly oil a frying pan and heat to medium-high temperature.
- Add a ladle of batter to the pan and swirl it around till it covers the base of the pan.
- When the one side of the pancake is cooked flip it over to cook the other side.
- Keep the pancakes warm by gently simmering water in a big pot with a dinner plate on top, then simply place the cooked pancakes on top and close with a dome lid.
- When they are all finished serve hot with either a savoury or sweet filling.

Happy Shrove Tuesday everyone!! enjoy your pancakes.

Square one

It all started with a square. Actually it started with me deciding about a year ago that I wanted to learn a new craft. On an impulse I thought, what about knitting? I never like doing anything without purpose so I had to have a goal to work towards. Since I was looking for a new TV blanky it seemed only logical that this would be my first ever knitting project.

My darling hubby took me to the local wool shop where I bought a pair of knitting needles and some lovely balls of red and orange wool. I went home with a big smile, confident that I was going to somehow turn these balls into a fluffy blanky that will keep my family warm for generations to come.

The only little hiccough in my master plan was that I had not held a pair of knitting needles since I was a little girl and even then my granny used to put the stitches on, pick them up again when I dropped them and cast off the rows when I was done. Not that I was going to let this little detail get in my way.

I turned once again to my trusty friend Google and went searching for a 'how to start knitting' tutorial. It's amazing what you can find on the web when you know where to look. I was surprised to find how many different ways there are to just get the stitches onto the needles in the first place. After trying a few, I started to remember the way my granny did it; she used to twist the wool around her thumb and then hook it over the needle. I was amazed at how the memories started flooding back. It was like my hands remembered what to do and soon I was busy knitting away with a huge grin on my face.

The first little square took me about four days to complete but after a few weeks I was getting much better and although I would never win any speed-knitting competitions I was eventually able to do about one and a half squares per day.

I loved working on my blanky and was looking forward to the day I could cubble up under it to watch my favorite movie. Unfortunately after a few months I got side tracked and slowly but surely started to fall behind on my knitting. Eventually it got packed away along with my scrapbooking stuff, half-completed cross stitch projects and other bits and pieces I always tell myself I still want to make time for.

Currently we are slap dash in the middle of another blistering hot summer with temperatures reaching up to 39 degrees celsius and the heat making even breathing feel like a chore. Well what better time could there possible be to get back to my knitting? I know it seems insane, I mean who wants to sit with a bundle of wool on their lap while the sun is trying its best to boil your insides; but the thing is, the summer is not going to last forever and if I get going now I might just be able to finish my TV blanky before the winter has time to unpack its bags.

I calculated that my blanky will need ninety squares, nine squares wide and ten squares long, to be the perfect size to cuddle under, at the moment it has twenty seven squares, and since autumn is only a few weeks away I'd better get knitting.

A new year, a new outlook

Although we are already well into this (not so) new year this is my first blog post for 2011 and quite a lot has happened in the past few weeks and months.

I ended 2010 by living out one of my biggest dreams as our family got to spend about three weeks touring the UK with my mom. We left Cape Town on my son's 13th birthday and after a brief stop over in Johannesburg and a loooooooong flight right through the night, we finally made it to Heathrow early the next morning.

The UK is everything we hoped for and more; there was history and wonder waiting for us around every corner. I felt like a weary wanderer coming out of the desert and stumbling into a pool of clear, sparkling water - I can not get enough of this country or its people and I wanted to drink it all in and store it away safely so I would never forget a single moment.

In London we spend two days on the Big Red Bus having all the best-known sights pointed out to us by our friendly, helpful tour guides and then ended our second day with a Thames River cruise. The great thing about the Big Red Bus is that you can get on or off as many times as you want while your ticket is still valid, so when you see a place you want to investigate, you just jump off and then catch the next Big Red Bus that comes along.

Before going to the UK, London was the place I was least excited to visit. I thought it would be just another big city and they are all pretty much the same. I was so wrong, I don't think I could ever get tired of London; whether it's walking in St James' Park and feeding the cheeky squirrels, enjoying the festive atmosphere at the annual Hyde Park Christmas Market (where we had roasted chestnuts), standing next to the 900-year-old Tower of London or finding a favorite pub where you can warm up over a bowl of hot soup and a generous glass of mulled wine. As Samuel Johnson once said; "When a man is tired of London he is tired of life; for there is in London all that life can afford."

From London we traveled north to the breathtaking town of York, with its rich Roman and Viking history. We walked along its ancient wall, sipped mulled cider, climbed up to Clifford's Tower and learned more about the Vikings at the Norvic Museum. In the evening we were privileged to celebrate mass at St Wilfrid's, which dates back to 1864 and stands not far from the York Minster cathedral.

My daughter and I could have spent an entire day at the Beatrix Potter gift shop with trinkets and collectables to suit anyone’s budget. However, a visit to York would not be complete without lunch at the famous Golden Fleece, the most haunted pub in York; but we were not there for the ghosts, we wanted to try their legendary Yorkshire Puddings. I have never seen a Yorkie that size before, it was as big as a dinner plate yet as light as a feather. We decided we had to go try these out at home.

Saying goodbye to the magical town of York, we continued North to Edinburgh in Scotland where we finally caught up with the snow. The kids (and us) loved the fluffy, freshly fallen snow and they played outside till we finally lured them in with a cup of hot chocolate.

We stayed in a lovely holiday apartment on the Royal Mile half way between Hollyrood Palace and Edinburgh Castle in a street called Old Tollbooth Wynd. The first night we got there we had supper at the Old Tolbooth Tavern just a few slippery steps away from our front door. This was where we had our first taste of the famous Scottich Haggis, and to our surprise we found that we all loved it. We spent the rest of the week eating Haggis at some of the pubs up and down the Royal Mile but in the end we all decided that our favorite was still that served at the Old Tolbooth Tavern.

We shopped along Princess Street, spend a morning exploring the majestic Edinburgh Castle, admired the dark stone buildings and looked for treasures in the interesting little gift shops.

The only thing we did not like was the place where we had planned to have our Christmas lunch. The pub was called The Bank Hotel, they were completely disorganised, rude and unfriendly, however we were not going to let them upset our Christmas so we ended up going to the Bay of Bengal where we had a fantastic lunch and the staff were eager to please. The atmosphere was warm and friendly and we enjoyed the most delicious curries and biryani, a great alternative to our usual traditional Christmas lunch.

After Christmas we were back on the road, this time to explore Shakespeare’s place of birth, Stratford-upon-Avon. We stayed at the New Inn Hotel in a little village just outside of Stratford called Clifford Chambers.

We met some of the villagers one morning as we were heading into Stratford. We were amazed to be told by one very elderly lady with a twinkle in her eye that she only went home after midnight on Christmas eve as she was playing cards with her friends and lost track of time. This pretty much sums up most of the local people we met in Clifford Chambers, friendly, fun and with a mischievous sparkle. We went on long walks around the Village and took some photos of the local Manor House that dates back to the 15th or 16th century and was redesigned by Edwin Lutyens after it was badly damaged in a fire in 1918.

In Stratford we got to see The Holy Trinity Church where William Shakespeare was baptised and later buried. After exploring the church we went for a walk in a beautiful park, it was covered in a light layer of snow and ice and there was a soft mist in the air that added a real storybook feel to it. Walking in that park was one of those moments in life that you want to bottle and keep forever; it was the place of dreams.

We loved our time in Stratford and Cliffords Chamber but all too soon it was time to pack our bags and head back to Heathrow for our flight home.

When we booked in for our flight the friendly ground hostess offered to change our tickets as there were a few open seats available on a direct flight from London to Cape Town, which would cut five hours out of our traveling time.

By the time we landed in Cape Town we were all ready to turn around and go back, the only thing we knew for sure was that we had all left our hearts in England and we can't wait to go back.

England is a magical country and it is clear where authors like Terry Pratchett and J.K. Rowling get their inspiration. Surrounded by all that history, architecture, parks, museums and cathedrals it was like stepping right into one of their books. Walking around the outer wall of Buckingham Palace, all I could think of was the wall around the Unseen University and I wanted to look for the 'secret' back entrance used by the students who return after curfew.

We have now been back for almost eight weeks but it feels like it's been a life time, as Tiffany says in A Hat Full of Sky; "Coming back to where you started is not the same as never leaving." (Terry Pratchett) This trip has changed us all and forced us to take a long hard look at our life and where it is going; we know now where we want to be.