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.