Still Life With Wooden Spoon

Wooden Spoon Moves Home
October 24, 2010, 3:25 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

Hello all – from now on I’ll be blogging from – thanks to the ever-capable tech assistance of the avant-gardener. See you there…

Sprigging Marvellous
September 27, 2010, 10:22 am
Filed under: Musing

I am beyond proud of the Avant Gardener and his brother for the success of their blog, Sprig at the SA Blog Awards. We found out on Saturday night that the boys had won in their category (Best Green Blog) and much excitement ensued. All hail the kings of the Green blogosphere!

Thoroughly Marvellous Vegetables
September 25, 2010, 8:49 am
Filed under: Cooking | Tags: , ,

Getting over my fear of deep frying was a major milestone for me. I had heard too many horror stories in my life of kitchen infernos and the like, and was put off for ages. I’m not saying I don’t burn myself each and every time I do it, but I see the pain as penance for the calories that ensue. All this being said, I have been eyeing out this Jamie Oliver recipe for curry-infused veg fritters for ages, and with a friend’s coming home dinner on the cards, it was the perfect time for their debut.

You start by putting 1 tsp cumin seeds, 2 tsp mustard seeds, 2 dried chillies and 1 tsp black peppercorns in a dry pan and toasting them all off briefly. Then they go swiftly into the pestle and mortar to be ground to oblivion. Left to cool, they are then added to 200g flour that’s also had 1/2 tsp turmeric and a pinch of salt thrown in. Pour in a bottle of cold beer, mix it all up, and you’ve got a rather lovely (and quite versatile) batter.

Next you prep some veggies by chopping them up into mouthful sized pieces and dredging in flour. I went for cauliflower, red pepper and broccoli. Put a fair amount of oil on to heat (remember never to fill the pan more than a 1/3), batter the veg, and fry in batches until golden and crunchy. Serve with a sprinkle of salt and decent couple of squeezes of lemon juice and you’re done. Marvellous.

These veg were served with a truly amazing beetroot and creme fraiche salad whipped up by the Avant Gardener, using beetroot from the garden. After boiling them until tender they were simply chopped up and mixed together with a pot of creme fraiche, splash of red wine vinegar and some shredded rocket – creamy, tangy, and the perfect complement to the veg. All in all a delightful evening – and mostly virtuous…


The Joy of Surprise Sweets
September 21, 2010, 9:05 am
Filed under: Musing | Tags: , , ,

The office is a dangerous place. Temptation lies around every corner – specifically the corner outside with a rather lovely restaurant-cum-patisserie-spot. It also, however, lurks within our walls themselves in the form of a rather delightful designer named Gen, and her granny’s multitude of old-school treats. There’s something incredibly comforting about grandmotherly confectionary, and Gen’s is top notch, including something I’d completely forgotten I’d even liked… Coconut Ice…

After a stressful couple of days, finding this on my desk was a rather welcome surprise. I haven’t had coconut ice in ages, and it always reminds me of being little and learning how to cook. I’m a sucker for coconut, and since quitting smoking a couple of months ago, appreciate the kick of a sugar rush. There’s something incredibly toothsome about its texture, and it’s almost Proustian in its nostalgia-inducing qualities. Bizarrely, though, it always manages to taste as pink as it looks.

All in all, probably not something I should be eating, but considering my forays into Pilates and Yoga, combined with the panoply of virtuous meals to be had at the Avant Gardener’s house, I reckon it’s allowed.

Mmm… Meatballs
September 19, 2010, 5:28 pm
Filed under: Cooking | Tags: , , ,

It’s difficult to find out that you’ve been doing something the wrong way for years. This was most certainly the case with the way I make meatballs. For ages, I had soldiered on and done them the same way, using only beef mince. This is all well and good, but by doing so you run the risk of producing little beef-flavoured bullets because the mince tends towards dryness. The epiphany came for me a year or so ago, when I read about using a mix of half pork sausage meat, and half beef mince when making them, and life’s never been quite the same. Sure, I’ve seen plenty of recipes that call for a third of each of these, and then a third of veal mince, but when someone can find me a supplier and funder for the latter in Durban, then I’ll give it a go. Until then, this will do just fine, thank you.

Anyway – to make a rather lovely Sunday night meal, that’s just one notch above omelettes on the simplicity scale, you can’t do much better than this meatball recipe. You start with 500g beef mince (I like it quite lean) and 500g sausage meat, squeezed from the casings. Place in a bowl, and add a fistful or two of breadcrumbs*, some mixed herbs, one egg, crushed garlic and chill, and a touch of salt and pepper. Mix this all together – using your hands I’m afraid, no getting around it – and shape into little balls. I tend to make them about the diameter of a R5 coin.

With your meatballs ready, fry them off in batches in the tiniest touch of oil. You’re not looking to cook them, but just brown them for now. Put them into a baking dish as you go. When you’re done, place a knob of butter in the frying pan, add some garlic and chilli. Add two tins of chopped tomatoes, a squeeze of tomato past, some mixed herbs, and a sprinkle of sugar if it’s tasting a bit tart. Simmer away for about 15 mins or so. Once the tomato is fairly soft, pour over the meatballs and bake for 25 mins or so at 180ºC. About halfway through the cooking time, take out the dish and sprinkle over some parmesan and mozzarella. Once the cheese is golden and the meatballs are cooked through, you’re done.

You can either serve this with some cooked pasta or, more simply, with a couple of hunks of decent bread and a green salad. I tend more towards the latter, but either way it’s well a great dish. Delicious.

*Tip: if you ever find yourself with a substantial amount of stale bread, blitz it all up in a food processer and place in a Glad bag in the freezer. That way you’ve got breadcrumbs on demand for the foreseeable future. A touch of foresight required, but rather useful nonetheless.

On the Virtue of a Well-Prepared Chicken
September 15, 2010, 5:52 pm
Filed under: Cooking | Tags: , , , ,

I used to hate roast chicken. When I was little it was the bane of my existence. In my mind it was always so dry it squeaked against your teeth, and was devoid of any flavour whatsoever, striking fear into my prepubescent heart. This may, however, be due to the fact that our much-loved domestic at the time was no kitchen virtuoso. There were many things that she was a pro at, though. She made amazing banana bread and scones the size of your head, the likes of which I have never been able to replicate. Chicken, unfortunately, was not her forte.

When I began to learn to cook, then, I was determined to make the roast palatable, and it was dear Delia Smith who showed how. The secret – as in so many dishes – lies in butter. Lots and lots of butter. Smooshed up with garlic and lemon zest and shoved under the skin, you just roast away and can be sure in the amazingness of the results. For this evening’s chicken, however, there was to be an added element. We have had a glut of pork sausages in the house for various reasons, and so some stuffing was the designated way to use them up.

So, with the meat of four sausages squeezed out of the skins, a single apple was peeled, cored and grated and then chucked in the bowl. With an onion grated and fried to join this mix, a healthy dose of sage was added, a couple of handfuls of breadcrumbs co-opted into the mix, and an egg introduced to bind the lot. Shoved up the chicken’s jacksie till bursting, the bird was then oiled up, seasoned and banged in the braai.

After about 50 minutes or so on the braai (it was a small-ish bird), it was ready to carve up. The lemony tang from the top of the bird mingled beautifully with the appley savoury flavours underneath, and much joy resulted. If you’re not feeling the stuffing vibe – and to be honest, we seldom do – just quarter up the lemon that you zested to go under the skin and then chuck it in the cavity with some garlic before roasting. A different dish results, but one that is just as pleasing in its own right. And so the humble roast can be lifted to something rather lovely – expecially when you serve it up with a nice green salad and some crisp roasted potato wedges. How marvellous.

Behold the Flammkuchen
September 11, 2010, 2:41 pm
Filed under: Cooking | Tags: ,

You may have read in one of my previous posts about a rather memorable encounter with Flammkuchen at the Old Biscuit Mill when I was in Cape Town recently. This completely addictive dish involves spreading pizza dough with crème fraiche and then sprinkling with onion, spring onion, smoked ham and a touch of cheese before baking in a blisteringly hot oven. It was possibly a strange choice for Saturday morning breakfast, but it was suitably memorable to bear replication when I returned home to Durban.

So, on my way out of the house to the Avant Gardener’s, with a vague promise of producing dinner for the evening, I remembered some pizza dough that I had made a week or so ago. It is remarkably freezer tolerant, and simply needs to be left out on the counter for an hour or so to be revived for use. A few balls were quickly whisked into a bag, and I was off, with my eyes squarly set on an evening of Flammkuchen. A quick stop off at Woolworths was, however, necessary. Say what you will about dear old WW, where else can one get crème fraiche at 6:30 in the evening?

Once arrived at the AG’s place, we fired up the oven and began the cooking. With the dough rolled out using a bottle of that student favourite, Cheateau Libertas, the crème fraiche and other toppings were liberally applied. I had read online that one could use emmental cheese as a topping in order to complement the sour cream taste, but we opted for plain old mozzarella. It should be noted too that, if cooking this for vegetarians, the ham can be substituted with spinach and/or mushrooms. Not tonight though. It was to be Flammkuchen as the Germans/French/Alsatians intended…

Et voila. With 15 minutes or so at 200 degrees the Flammkuchen emerged from the oven in all their golden glory. With a masterfully prepared side salad, care of the AG, and making use of garden harvested rocket, dinner was served. Delicious.

The Musing Continues
September 10, 2010, 9:30 am
Filed under: Musing | Tags: , , ,

After stuffing myself silly on patisserie and tacos, I was treated to a rather vibey meal at Mama Africa on Long Street. I’d only ever accompanied the Mountain Princess there during the day for a stop off during retail jaunts, and could never have imagined how groovy it became in the evening. So, this in mind, the Avant Gardener and I met the Mountain Princess and her beau there on a balmy Friday evening – after a brief trip along a contour path to watch the sun set – and quickly got stuck into a bottle of red wine.

With rather spirited musical accompaniment, and superlative dinner conversation, I tucked into a perfectly done steak, done with some idiosyncratic African side dishes. The Princess and AG went veg for the evening, and the Princess’s beau was kept busy with a mammoth helping of curry. All comments on the meals were positive – as was murmured between mouthfuls – and I was quite impressed overall, I must say.

The next day we ventured to Woodstock, and my absolutely favourite part of a Cape Town trip – the Biscuit Mill. I know its hipsterish to the Nth degree, but something about all that amazing food – even if it can be a tad overpriced – makes me slightly lightheaded even at the thought. We got there good and early – as opposed to my usual 10:30 arrival time – and did the saunter around the food stalls before going back to the cooked wonders in the courtyard. The AG and I were tempted by some eggs Benedict on a rosti, and dutifully stood in line, but before we could get there we were intercepted by occupants of the French-German stall, and what is possibly one of the most amazing things I have ever eaten: Flammkuchen.

With a super-thin sourdough base, these are something like the lovechild of a pizza and galette. They’re spread generously with sour cream and crème fraiche before being sprinkled with red onion, spring onion and smoked bacon. With a quick blast in a screamingly hot oven, they come out super crispy, and morish as all hell. Ours disappeared in a matter of minutes. This will definitely be something that I try and replicate soon.

Other highlights of the Biscuit Mill pilgrimage included an earthy, punchy porchini butter (also to be replicated), some rather delicious saucisson, and a potato bread loaf that made one question the nature of divinity. A rather enjoyable outing altogether, I must say.

Various Cape Town Musings
September 8, 2010, 7:29 pm
Filed under: Musing | Tags: ,

So, I was lucky enough to go down to Cape Town last week for a long weekend jaunt in the Mother City. What does an iterant foodie do when confronted with such an opportunity? Eat out for every meal possible, of course. While I did do the traditional wander down Long Street with a marvellous mountain friend, buying myself some supremely hipster shoes and a lovely print, I spent the rest of my four days down indulging in food that only the Cape can offer. This being the case, I’m going to devote the next couple of posts to some unabashed food musing. Enjoy…

First off was a trip to San Julian, in the Green Point-ish area for some Mexican food. Now, for my sins I went to the States a while ago, and sampled what I assumed was some pretty authentic Mexican cuisine. I have done the Mexican Kitchen vibe in CT before, but I reckon you need more than a couple of margaritas to consume that much ersatz cheese in one sitting. San Julian, luckily, is a taco vendor of a very different nature. Accompanying the Avant Gardener and brothers for a quiet-ish night, we pretty much ordered the whole menu (not as intense as it sounds) and were all left mumbling in approval with full mouths. While refried beans, barbequed “meat” (no further explanation on the menu) and, of course, tacos, all featured prominently it was all rather delicious. Even the Avant Gardener, who opted for the vegetarian option, was tempted by various plates. A definite yes for this one: the tequila is varied, the tacos are made in front of you, and the waiter is supremely friendly. Do it.

After a leisurely breakfast with the AG at the Daily Deli in Tamboerskloof, I spent the afternoon book shopping and drinking lunchtime beer with the CT partner in crime. That afternoon, however, I ventured into the Gardens Centre, tempted by the promise of uniquely delicious patisserie delights at Cassis. I couldn’t have even imagined what was in store. Aside from the various bits and pieces that the AG and I ploughed through – with riffs on chocolate, praline, pistachio goodness and the like – we also got some macarons. Now, I made some recently, and ended up with a rather more rustic result, but these were truly little almond-y masterpieces on the saucer. I feel I should be doing some kind of penance for calling my creations ‘macarons’ in the face of this damning evidence, but such is life.

So – thusly ends the first instalment. Next on the agenda – a trip to Mama’s, the Biscuit Mill, pancake perfection and more. What fun…

Various Bloggings
September 6, 2010, 10:51 am
Filed under: Musing

So… another micro-post today, I’m afraid. After a whirlwind tour of Cape Town for this weekend, I do have various foodie musings to share, which will be updated in due course. Much excitement. What I did want to punt for this post, though, is the Avant Gardener’s rather lovely blog. It’s a finalist in the SA blog awards, and well worth your vote. So, head on over to Sprig, and show them some bloggy love… you know you want to.