Monday, October 17, 2011

Memoirs of a chocoholic

A photograph stashed away in a shoebox in the house I grew up in contains a photograph of me, aged 3, absolutely covered in chocolate. And by covered I mean coated; my whole face smeared with chocolatey goodness and tiny hands bearing evidence to the origin of the sweet melted mess. This very picture is a testimony to one of my favourite sayings 'If you get chocolate on your fingers, you're not eating it fast enough!'. Luckily, I learn from my mistakes. 

My entire childhood is sprinkled with chocolate-flavoured memories. As a child, my father used to create the most elaborate Easter Egg hunts with trails leading to nooks in every part of our large farmhouse and the sprawling garden outdoors. Oats for my little sister and rice for me, we had to work hard to discover the treasures hidden in potplants, shoes, peanut butter jars, grassy hollows and even the microwave. I admire my father's creativity and dedication to the time-consuming task which was done in the wee hours of the morning. Rather ironic to me now, when I consider my father's lack of patience and self-control when there is chocolate in the house. I'm sure there's a saying which applies here... something about an apple and a tree? Anyway, I have him to thank for my impossibly sweet tooth and to this day, he is still the only person who can devour a chocolate slab faster than I can say 'sharing is caring'! The lengthy build-up of the hunt only intensified the craving which led up to that sweet moment when patience was rewarded and we both sat clad in dew-soaked pajamas, with piles of jewel-wrapped chocolate orbs on our laps, devouring the candy with chocolate-induced bliss all over our faces.

Christmas was not without it's cocoa confections, with mom choosing the easiest (and most delicious) stocking fillers from the chocolate aisle. My fondest memory, however, of Christmas and chocolate, is filled with Quality Streets. Each year we eagerly await the family gift from our most favourite neighbour – a gigantic box of Quality Streets that don't last more than a day in the antique tin my mom places them in, rendering the effort completely pointless. After observing the Quality Street-eating habits of the rest of the family, and taking note that the orange-centred gems always got left behind, I resolved to force myself to like them (an evil laugh would be appropriate here as my chocolate genius knows no bounds!). I'm pretty sure this is the ultimate definition of gluttony, a deadly sin I am unashamedly guilty of. The bright orange enrobed Quality Streets were, however, the beginning of my love affair with dark chocolate, for which I am eternally grateful for, and led to the ultimate epiphany that it was in fact good for you. Chocolate is a vegetable. It comes from a bean. No scientists required thank you very much.

Growing up, Fridays were chocolate days. Standing in the sweetest part of Pick 'n Pay, we'd be given our weekly pocket money – which was always oddly enough, the exact amount for a Cadbury's bar, and allowed to choose an entire slab of 'a glass and a half' for ourselves. Yes, we were perfectly aware that our mom was awesome. As we got older, and Cadbury's more expensive, I thought my prayers had been answered when a chocolate factory shop aptly named 'Sweet Dreams' opened up on the route home from school. Shelves and shelves piled with chocolate bars rejected by factory standards but welcomed with an open mouth by me. And yes, when it comes to chocolate, I unashamedly have no standards. At least not when it comes to looks.

High School presented its own set of sweet memories. I fondly remember the Tempo's and P.S bars my first boyfriend bought me on an almost daily basis – each with a little handwritten note stapled to the wrapper as if professing his undying love to me should I indeed get fat from said chocolate. My obsession with chocolate ran so deep that each teenage year was celebrated with it –  the best of which was my  sweet16th birthday – an apt name indeed. It consisted of a mass of giggling girls sprawled over the house in pink pajamas with a midnight chocolate fondue. Through trial and error (and there was lots of it) I have learnt that my favourite delights to drown in molten chocolate are my sister's homemade toasted coconut marshmallows, soft Wilson's toffies, tuisnywerheid koeksisters  and Romany Creams. I've also learnt that half-way in, skewers and dippers should be abandoned and the fondue rather tackled with a spoon. That is how I roll.

I learned that although Cadbury had served me well in my youth (or rather I had served its business well), my palate had grown more sophisticated and so I professed Lindt the love of my life. And in true teenage style, promptly changed the love of my life when I discovered artisan boutique chocolates such as Green & Blacks, Honest and our very own locally made DV Chocolate (Sorry Valhrona and Felchin!) Don't get me wrong, I'm still guilty of infidelity on occasion.  When that purple wrapper catches my attention while I'm standing in a queue at Spar with a trolleyfull of groceries, I don't hesitate for a second but rather quickly devour the evidence (and offending wrapper) in the car ride on the way home (oh the shame!). But my loyalties still lie with dark 70% plus chocolate. This passion was more deeply intrenched in me when I first watched a vivacious Juliet enchant the French towns people and viewers alike with her seductive truffles and oozing rich Mayan hot chocolate in the beautiful film, Chocolat. Johnny Depp's presence although only a minor bonus when compared to the extreme close-ups of molten chocolate and shelves of glossy pralines, cemented the motion picture at the top of my favourites list and led to my resolve that one day I too would become a professional chocoholic – I mean chocolatier. I can imagine no career more awesome than being paid to be surrounded by and tasting chocolate every day. It's a tough job but someone has to do it! But before I tackle the incredible suffering that comes with a career in chocolate, I first need to acquaint myself with this thing they call exercise... 

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

White chocolate, rosemary and pine nut pie

Adding savoury herbs such as rosemary, thyme and sage to sweet desserts is a big food trend this year and nothing is more impressive when entertaining than serving up cutting edge flavours. This pie is incredibly simple to make (especially if you buy ready-made pastry) and ticks all the right boxes for a delicious dessert. Crisp pastry holding a satiny smooth filling - ready to ooze onto the plate as soon as your fork plunges into it - and the pine nuts and rosemary offset the sweetness of the white chocolate perfectly. Yum!

(serves 6)

400g store-bought shortcrust pastry
375g white chocolate
50g unsalted butter
50g castor sugar
3 eggs
1T finely chopped rosemary
finely grated zest and juice of 1 lemon
125g self-raising flour
75g pine nuts

Thinly roll out the pastry and line 6 small tart tins. Bake blind* in a preheated oven at 180°C. Chop 250g of the chocolate and melt with the butter. Whisk together the sugar, eggs and rosemary. Stir in the melted chocolate, lemon zest, juice and flour. Pour into the tart case, scatter with the pine nuts and the chopped chocolate. Bake at 160°C for 25 minutes or until golden. Serve warm.

*To bake blind, place a piece of baking paper in the lined tart tin and fill with beans, rice or baking beads. Bake for 5-10 minutes or until just golden brown, remove the paper and beads and bake for a further 5 minutes until the centre is golden. Allow to cool.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Gooey chocolate brownie puds

It makes me blush now when I remember my attitude towards baked puddings as a child. S
ee, I wasn’t a normal child in any sense of the word. ‘Normal’ children don’t pour over cooking tomes or wish for measuring cups and spoons for their birthday; nor do they create intricate 5 component desserts for 16 family members at Christmas dinner or attempt spun sugar (the aftermath of which involved chiseling molten caramel off my mother’s kitchen tiles). Since the days of ‘Granny Muffin’s Kitchen’ all I wanted to be was a chef – and a pastry one at that – so perhaps with this in mind you’ll forgive the younger me for my snooty disdain for ‘boring old family baked puddings’.  After all, my imagination (and ‘cheffy’ cookbooks) extended much further than a quick-mix sponge drowned in thick UltraMel custard. Today though, I find myself humbly dedicating an entire story to the very indulgence I overlooked and underestimated as a child and this is perhaps the reason puddings are universally soothing and rich in nostalgia. The rich clouds of aroma that waft from the oven instantly take me back to Sunday afternoon lunches where the fragrance held the sweet promise of pudding and of the food that tastes like childhood. I adore the deceptive plainness of puddings – no fancy frills or fuss yet supremely indulgent and satisfying and this recipe has spoonfuls of all of the above and a bonus is that it's made in a microwave - perfect for those days where waiting anything longer than 10 minutes for a sweet fix is pure agony!

Gooey chocolate brownie puds
(makes 8)

175g butter 

250g quality dark chocolate, chopped 

175g light brown sugar 

200g self-raising flour 

1T cocoa powder 

2 eggs, beaten 

100g pecan nuts, toasted and roughly chopped 

Grease 8 microwavable tea cups. Melt the butter, 150g chocolate, the sugar and 200ml water in a microwave bowl on high for 4 minutes, stirring halfway through. Fold in the flour, cocoa, eggs, nuts and remaining chocolate. Spoon into the teacups, cover with cling film and pierce. Microwave 4 at a time for 5 minutes on medium. Stand for 2-3 minutes. Serve warm, dusted with cocoa powder and topped with whipped cream.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Stew for staying in

Red wine lamb shanks with orange mint gremolata

Filling your home with puffs of savoury aromas erupting from the pot as this rustic recipe trembles slowly on the stove will almost be as pleasurable as delving into a plateful. A hearty stew with tender, fall-off-the-bone lamb makes for a simple warming feast when chilly weather sets in. Food to warm the soul.

(serves 4)

¼ cup olive oil
4 lamb shanks
4 carrots, chopped
2 onions, chopped
2 celery sticks, chopped
4 sprigs of thyme
2 bay leaves
6 garlic cloves, crushed
1T tomato paste
2 cups red wine
1 cup beef stock

zest of 1 orange
2T finely chopped mint
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped

butter beans or mashed potatoes, to serve

Heat a little olive oil in a large saucepan and brown the shanks well. Remove them before sautéing the carrots, onions and celery. Once softened, add the rest of the ingredients and simmer gently for 2-3 hours or until the meat falls off the bone. Make the gremolata by mixing all the ingredients. Serve the lamb shanks with butter beans or mashed potatoes and sprinkle with the gremolata.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Loving Livingstone

The locals have for centuries called it Mosi-oa-tunya or ‘The smoke that thunders’ but Dr David Livingstone takes the credit for naming one of the most spectacular natural wonders of the world, the Victoria Falls. More than 2km wide, 500 million litres of water surge over the falls every second, dropping 100 metres into the depths below. This, is what awaited photographer, Angie and I on our trip to Livingstone in Zambia for a magazine photo shoot. 

Situated on the banks of the Zambezi river and a mere 10 minute walk from the spectacular falls is the Royal Livingstone hotel with it’s majestic green lawns, colonial décor and breath-taking view of the mighty river. The thunderous roar of the gushing falls is a common sound here, as is the perfect rainbow which stretches over the clouds of spray which can be made out more than 30km away. 

On arriving at the hotel, we were greeted not only by a traditional Zambian welcome dance and a complimentary hand massage but also by a herd of hippos that happily wallowed in the fast-flowing river. After getting the planning for the next few days done with Executive chef Alex, Angie and I eagerly rushed off to the falls. No picture or words can do this magnificent attraction justice – witnessing such natural beauty and the power with which the water plummets down the gorge is a truly humbling and spiritual moment. Ignoring the locals hiring raincoats, we opted to experience the clouds of spray first-hand and the closer we got, the more we were drenched with pouring Zambezi water. And I mean absolutely bucketing down! While attempting to keep the camera snug and dry, Angie and I shared shrieks of laughter at the impossibility of just how much water there was.

Happy to return to the comfort of the Royal Livingstone, I marveled at the perfect contrast the hotel managed to pull off; the ultimate African safari adventure with zebra, giraffe and impala wondering around the manicured lawns, but with the colonial sophistication of Dr David Livingstone’s bygone era. It’s no wonder this 5 star establishment was recently rated 67th in the World’s Top 100 Hotels.

After shooting the hotel from top to toe on day two, Angie and I were in need of some relaxation and lucky for us, exploring the great Zambezi in style on a large catamaran called the African Princess was on the cards. Cocktails in hand and the sun setting in a spectacular splash of oranges and reds, we were satisfied with a hard days work!

Our last day was all about food as a full day of shooting lay ahead!

After shooting Chef Alex’s Zambian creations for an upcoming food and travel feature, we were whisked off to board the Royal Livingstone Express. Steaming off into the untamed Zambian bushveld, we were wined and dined by Royal Livingstone staff elegantly dressed in waistcoats and white gloves. A delicious end to an incredible trip and as the train left the Zambian sunset behind us I was reminded of the words Dr David Livingstone wrote when first setting sight on the area, ‘scenes so lovely must have been gazed upon by angels in their flight’ and so I realized that I must surely be in one of the most beautiful places in Africa.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Choux Pastry

It's my friends birthday tomorrow and I'm in a birthday cake mood - but I'm terribly over conventional cake so I dug up this recipe from my chef school days. When we shot this amazing cake for the magazine I work for, the entire office went nuts about it and it has become one of my favourites! And in case you're unsure of just how to make choux pastry, I've added a step-by-step how to as well. Enjoy!

Choux pastry
(makes 20)

1 cup cake flour
pinch of salt
80g butter, cut into small blocks
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup milk (or you can use water)
4 eggs, lightly beaten

1. Sift the flour and salt together. Heat the butter, water and milk until just melted, then bring to a rolling boil.

2. Immediately remove from the heat and add all the flour at once. Mix until a smooth dough forms, place back on the heat and cook for one minute or until the pastry pulls away from the sides of the pot. Allow to cool completely.

3. Beat the eggs into the pastry a little at a time until smooth and shiny.

4. Place in a piping bag with a large fluted nozzle. Pipe round profiteroles or elongated shapes for eclairs onto lined baking trays and bake at 200 degrees celsius for 25 minutes or until puffed and golden.

Photography by Angie Lazaro

Chocolate hazelnut choux ring
(serves 6)

1 x 400g store-bought short crust pastry
1 x basic choux pastry recipe (above)
1/2 cup readymade vanilla custard
1 cup cream, whipped
2T hazelnut liqueur
4T chopped hazelnuts
1 cup chocolate hazelnut spread
melted dark chocolate, for drizzling
extra chopped hazelnuts, to decorate

Roll out the pastry and cut out a large 20 cm disc. Prick with a fork and bake at 200 degrees celsius for about 15 minutes or until golden. Pipe the choux pastry into a 20 cm ring on a greased baking sheet and bake at 200 degrees celsius for 25 minutes or until golden brown and puffed. Turn oven off, remove the choux ring and cut in half horizontally. Return to the oven to dry out for 15 minutes. Fold the custard, whipped cream, liqueur and hazelnuts together and use to fill the ring. Spread the chocolate hazelnut spread on the short crust disc and top with the filled ring. Decorate with melted chocolate and extra chopped hazelnuts. 

Friday, March 25, 2011

Dinner at Pierneef a La Motte

I often joke that my expanding waistline is the only disadvantage of my job and although it sounds glorious to dine at numerous restaurants each month, I often long for the days when eating out was a special occasion.  With so many amuse bouche’s passing my palate and wines being sipped it often all becomes a blur and it’s a rare moment when a meal has me closing my eyes in sheer culinary enjoyment… this is why I believe Pierneef à La Motte is so incredibly special.

Words cannot describe the breathtaking beauty of this estate with its sprawling green lawns, towering oaks and stylish design. The restaurant interior oozes sophistication and it’s clear that quality was not spared. Neither was the personal touch of owners Hein and Hanneli Rupert-Koegelenberg who sourced small items such as the beautiful salt and pepper grinders found on each table.

The launch of the new Chef’s Table concept offers an experience like no other if mine is anything to go by. The Chef’s Table is situated in a cozy corner of the restaurant close enough to the kitchen to catch a sneak peak of Chef Chris Erasmus at work. What makes this culinary adventure so special is that you will have the knowledge of this outstanding chef at your disposal, assisting you in creating a completely personal menu for you and your guests.

The 6-course meal Chris created for the launch evening designed around 6 carefully selected wines, was flawless, imaginative and had me holding my breath in anticipation with the arrival of each course. Chris’s dedication to absolute perfection of both presentation and flavour is admirable, but it was his ability to elevate both the food and wine to deliciously new levels that earned him the title of true culinary genius in my books.  A remarkable culinary experience that will not easily be forgotten. 

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Tea time!

If names like China rose, Blood Orange Rooibos, Gunpowder Mint or Lady Grey Blend have you reaching for your teapot then a visit to O’Ways is definitely needed. Yesterday I spent the afternoon at the launch of O'Ways Tea Cafe and coffee emporium in Claremont, Cape Town.

Photographer Angie and I were welcomed with jasmine and oolong ice tea, which we sipped with the scent of what seemed like hundreds of fresh orchid blooms hanging in the air. The interior of the café is calm and tranquil with shelves of pretty glass jars filled with over 64 various teas to allow for casual sniffing. Urns spilling over with fresh orchids on dark wooden surfaces give the space a subtle oriental feel. Tea is expertly brewed and served in glass teapots - each with its very own little timer for perfect brewing. A highlight is definitely the ceremonial tea table, which can be booked for tea ceremonies led by master tea merchant Mingwei Tsai.

The menu is completely vegetarian so with interest and anticipation we sat down to tasting portions of items of various dishes off the menu all paired with exotic teas. Chilled watermelon and wasabi soup, Fried tofu nuggets with daikon carrot salad, Traditional Chinese dumplings and miniature fruit tartlets with mango and litchi all nodded towards the Asian influence chef Marion Kumpf has given to the menu.

Speciality coffee beans sourced from our own continent are given an artisan roasting before being brewed by barista’s trained at the Origin Coffee Roasting Company. Both coffee and tea leaves can be purchased as well as traditional teapots, canisters and teacups.

I left with a bag of Sakura green sencha tea flavoured with Japanese cherry blossoms and will definitely be returning to this calm sanctuary to enjoy the breathtaking orchids, piano tinkling in the background, tasty, healthy food and of course, for an aromatic tea fix.