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Myrna Robins

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JAN - A Breath of French air by Jan Hendrik van der Westhuizen. Published by Struik Lifestyle, Penguin Random House, 2016.

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There can be very few chefs who not only cook and style their gastronomic creations, but complete the process by doing their own photography.

There are even fewer – in fact, just one - South African chef-patrons who can boast of cooking, styling and photographing fare in his renowned French Riviera restaurant JAN, a venue that has just been awarded a prestigious Michelin star.

Meet Jan Hendrik van der Westhuizen, South Africa’s first Michelin star chef, presently working his way through a hectic programme of launches, talk-shows, dinners and more in Gauteng and the Western Cape. His second glamorous cookery book, JAN, is getting star treatment, along with its author.

It’s a covetable hardback, lavishly illustrated with the chef’s photographs, both culinary and moody shots of antiques, bountiful floral arrangements, timeless French doorways and tiny balconies with curly balustrades. South African pincushions fill a small container, a touch of home in an otherwise Gallic book. Whereas The French Affair, published just three short years ago, contains much that was inspired by his mother and grandmother, this collection is sophisticated gourmet, up-to-the-minute fare, beautifully styled and presented. What adds hugely to each recipe is Jan’s generous instructions, enabling all but the most ignorant to reproduce their choice of his dishes.

From his childhood on a farm near Middelburg in Mpumalanga to the opening of his restaurant in Nice, is a story, he says, “filled with many obstacles, hard work, determination and more than a little bit of luck.” He took over a former motorbike repair shop, and dived into the world of doing business with French. As opening day grew near, Jan continued with his French classes, published his first book and shed a few kilograms. They were fully booked when they opened their doors to diners on a Saturday evening. A little later, with half the main courses yet to be prepared, a power failure led to a comedy of errors, when, Jan relates, there was only thing to do: drink a shot of your dad’s homemade mampoer, offer guests complimentary champagne, take a deep breath and regroup.

Today not only his guests but his staff come from all over the world, and his high standards of service and cuisine have brought plentiful rewards and awards.

The contents of JAN the book follow the menu formula, opening with Boulangerie, recipes for baguette and other French loaves. The Cape with its famous seed loaf, inspired by those served in a Stellenbosch restaurant where Jan had worked as a waiter is there, and another for mosbolletjies, which the French have taken to with enthusiasm. The ideas for amuse-bouche in the next section include squares of pissaladière, mini tarte tatins of fig and blue cheese, his mother’s souttert with sundried tomato jam and Charroux mustard, all easy to copy if you plan a bistro menu. Sophisticated alternatives will please ambitious cooks.

Seasonal dishes inspired by what’s available at the Nice market fill a chapter – salt-roasted beetroot and goat’s cheese crepes, shallot and orange custard, salads of glazed endive, spelt and caramelised sunflower seed and an easy roasted butternut and almond quiche. Meat and poultry are up next, starting with chicken liver and Parmesan mousse (it will be hard to improve on the liver paté in his first book, topped with a Old Brown sherry jelly). Duck, beef, pork and lamb – his lamb shanks look irresistible – precede fish and seafood. Sardines, scallops, and shellfish are given original treatment, alongside good ideas for salmon and trout. Patisserie encompasses several dessert delights – including a luxurious milk tart teamed with muscat-poached pears and quinces, perfect autumn fare for Cape hosts…

Chocaholics will hone in on Jan’s finale of berries and chocolate mousse, his pear and white chocolate hazelnut cake and a chocolate and cassis tart. Buchu sparks his version of classic madeleines with burned butter and honey, and locals will love naartjie panna cotta with white chocolate rocks. Cooking for the staff is a chapter one doesn’t often find in cookbooks but at Jan’s restaurant they can tuck into spag bol, pot-au-feu, courgette fries or a traditional Gallic banana rum and raisin rice cake before or after a busy evening’s work. Alternatively, they make themselves after-midnight snacks before heading home: these could include a banana and salted caramel popcorn smoothie, or Jan’s favourite, biltong, mayonnaise and Mrs Ball’s chutney filling a sandwich of white bread, with crinkle-cut chutney flavoured crisps on the side. Ah, clearly you cannot take South Africa out of this boy! A detailed index concludes the text.

Good food  is a popular subject in South Africa, and when a farm lad makes his mark in the glamorous Med region of the western world’s gastronomic champion, it’s a good news story indeed.

 

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A CULINARY JOURNEY OF SOUTH AFRICAN INDIGENOUS FOODS [compiled] by Kgaladi Thema-Sethoga and Ursula Moroane-Kgomo. Published by Indiza Co-operative and Modjaji Books. 2015.

 

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Myrna Robins enjoyed the gastronomic trip through our provinces, but questions the fare included in one of the chapters.

Those following western diets may gulp at thought of a snack of salted stinkbugs fried in butter, while others – who spend as little time as possible in the kitchen – may appreciate the Swati dish Indakala,or boiled,salted peanuts. Both can be found in the second edition of a compilation of our indigenous dishes, following on the original, published in 2000 through the CSIR.

The new and intriguing collection of heritage recipes from 11 ethnic groups across South Africa, reveals that much of the fare is also contemporary, as current generations of rural cooks continue to use local ingredients and traditional recipes to feed their families.

IndiZA Foods is a Pretoria-based company headed by MD Kgaladi Thema-Sethoga and Operations Director Ursula Moroane-Kgomo, both high-powered businesswomen with degrees in food science, business management and considerable experience in the food industry. Both are also passionate about the preservation of indigenous culinary cultures, women empowerment and rural development. Their joint enthusiasm resulted in the publication of this worthy addition to our traditional culinary literature.

Women in the rural communities were invited to submit recipes for the food they cook daily: These reveal simple fare using local ingredients, occasionally enlivened by stock cubes, seasonings, and items like margarine. Several high schools were also involved in the project.

The compilers started in North West, with Tswana dishes and went on to Mpumalanga where Ndebele and Swati specialities were hunted down. The Free State yielded Sotho staple fare and the northern province of Limpopo saw recipes collected from Tsonga, Pedi and Venda cuisines. In the Eastern Cape the Xhosa gastronomic heritage was celebrated and Kwa –Zulu Natal presented Zulu menus. From the Western Cape comes a listing described as Khoisan recipes and the final grouping is Afrikaans marked, somewhat strangely, as centred in Gauteng.

The dishes are, as one would expect, simple, largely straightforward renderings of grains, legumes and leaves, gourds and tubers, sparked by indigenous fruits and enlivened by worms and insects. Beef and chicken feature occasionally. There is not a single seafood recipe in this collection.

Perhaps because of their (comparatively) exotic nature, I enjoyed browsing through the cuisines of the northern groups in particular: Among the Pedi recipes is one labelled baobab-fruit yoghurt, a good start to the day, while Venda cooks lift their protein intake with Mashonzha (mopani worms and peanuts) and Thongolifha (stinkbugs fried in butter ). Several species of Morogo, or wild leaves are used, including Pigweed or Amarinth, Blackjack, Spider plant, pumpkin, and wild jute. Breads are uncommon, but the Tswana make Diphaphata, a flatbread using wheat flour, Ndebele cooks use brown bread flour for their steamed bread, while others are based on mealie meal. Desserts are almost non-existent although there’s a Sotho recipe for bottling peaches in sugar syrup.

I contacted the compilers to ask why Gauteng was used as a source for Afrikaans recipes and was told that they invited several groups in the Western and Northern Cape to take part, without success, so eventually resorted to finding them from Gauteng-based Afrikaners. The recipes are authentic Cape cuisine, dishes that have become South African classics.

I gazed, somewhat incredulously, at the pictures and recipes in the Khoisan section, pages where I expected to find items like shellfish, venison, ghaap, sour figs, veldkool, waterblommetjies, and perhaps drinks based on milk. Instead, there’s a Greek-style salad with feta and olives, a caramel pud and a standard white bread recipe. Liver and onions and a mutton potjie (with red wine and packet soup powder) could just pass muster but there is virtually nothing that says “Khoisan” or “Khoi-khoin” in this mini-collection. The recipes were sourced from a group of cooks in Vredendal, and I contacted one of the contributors to ask her how these came to be regarded as Khoisan. Freda Wicomb is the housekeeper at a local boarding school, and is a popular and capable cook, but she had no answer, saying this was how she cooked.

Khoisan, referring to two distinct groups of early South African inhabitants, is a term that should not be applied to their cuisines, as they were very different. The Bushmen, or San were hunter-gatherers while the Khoi were herders. The latter group’s culinary and cultural heritage has been well researched, by fundis such as Dr Renata Coetzee whose brilliant book Kukumakranka presents an exhaustive discussion on the subject. Ingredients used in the past can still be found today, and cooks of both Griqua and Nama descent use veldkos in their potjies, and make askoek, potbrood and vetkoek, as did their forbears.

I suggested that the compilers also contact Chef Shaun Schoeman of Solms Delta’s Fyndraai restaurant, whose Heritage menu includes Khoe-Khoen breads, waterblommetjie soup and desserts starring herbs like buchu, for their next edition.

Kgaladi Thema-Sethoga assures me this section will be more authentic and will also include Cape Malay cuisine. Sadly we will have to wait until 2024 for the new edition.

Meanwhile, this title, illustrated with photographs of many of the recipes, is well-indexed and includes information on many of the ingredients unknown to western cooking. The book is endorsed by the SA Chefs Association and supported by the Department of Arts and Culture.

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Mariana’s Country Kitchen by Mariana Esterhuizen. Published by Human & Rousseau, 2015.

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It’s seasonal, down-to-earth and quite delicious. Everything you would expect from a country cook like Mariana, whose fame has had zero effect on one of South Africa’s most independent and honest cooks. It’s this honesty, unwavering culinary integrity, that has been transferred from cook to book – it permeates the attractive pages.

Mariana and Peter opened their renowned restaurant in Stanford nearly 16 years ago, and I hear you still have to wait up to three months for a table. Her heartfelt and amusing reminiscences about their first few months should be essential reading for any budding restaurateur.

Many ingredients are sourced from her extensive vegetable, fruit and herb garden, an aspect, now trendy, that is widely copied by cooks both in country and town. Local farms supply most of what she doesn’t grow herself. She sources her trout from the Kleinrivier valley, her free-range eggs from a nearby farm, fresh fish from Gansbaai harbour, free-range chickens and ducks from another farm, accepting them whenever they are available.

As vegetables and fruit ripen, so do her menus take shape, dishes that she has dreamed up, others based on those of favourite food writers like Elizabeth David and Louis Leipoldt. Many of Mariana’s creations are meat and poultry-free, without being listed as vegetarian. Most recipes are accompanied by a story, and - as autumn creeps in after a long and very hot summer –let’s take a quick peek at this section of her collection.

Pot-roasted quinces gleam from the page, followed by feathery pumpkin fritters. A Persian combination of baked brinjals and pomegranate seeds, dressed with tahini-spiked yoghurt intrigues. Chicken braised in apple cider is touched with tarragon, served on carrot mash.. Bakes consist of corn bread baked in a frying pan, bread sticks and biscotti – and don’t miss the story of how she obtained the recipe for this Italian classic. Among the autumnal preserves there is colourful atchar, inky tapenade, passionfruit curd, quince preserve and marinated sliced courgettes. Sweet treats include quince jam, plum compote and pears baked in fynbos honey and lemon juice, teamed with mascarpone or vanilla icecream.

Mariana sums up the essence of this compilation in characteristic style: “The garden prescribes and I have to keep in step to make it an enjoyable waltz on a plate. So here I share with you the way I experience life on a plate – by the season.”

Beautiful, mouthwatering food photographs by Stephen Inggs, complemented by others of locals harvesting, collecting honey, shaking olives into a basket and collecting garden produce add hugely to the book's appeal.

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TASTE THE LITTLE KAROO by Beate Joubert. Published by Struik Lifestyle, 2015.

Of all the 2015 crop of local cookbooks, this is, I think, the most appealing visually, inviting readers to revel in the rugged mountainous beauty of the Tradouw region contrasting with the ordered verdancy of productive orchards , vineyards and sweeping meadows of the Klein Karoo. They complement the images of Beate’s robust colourful fare, which range from al fresco appetizers through traditional braai to stylish desserts, some of which travellers can relish in her renowned Alfresco Deli on the family farm near Barrydale.

Traditional Cape and Karoo dishes play a major role in this collection: many have been updated or given additional twists to please contemporary palates. As one would expect, there is a chapter of recipes to cook over fire, which the Jouberts do often when entertaining, setting up the simplest of outdoor braais in the veld: a few bricks to hold the grid above the coals or to stand the traditional black pot over a small fire. The outdoor choice includes heritage skilpadjies made from lamb or kudu liver, well spiced and flavoured with chopped onion, garlic and rosemary . For a more exotic first course, Joubert suggests beef and lamb koftas, teamed with canned chickpeas and grilled brinjal slices . A traditional oxtail potjie is followed by another with gourmet aspirations: pheasant and chicken simmer in white wine with porcini and spiced butter beans, with chorizo, bacon and port providing additional flavours.

While working in France and Spain Beate became an enthusiastic fan of Med flavours, now reflected in her farm deli as“ boere tapas” starring mostly local ingredients. Camembert, sliced and filled with preserved green figs, is phyllo-wrapped and served with berry sauce, while lamb and chicken livers, spiced and cooked in red and white wine respectively, make delicious toppings for home-baked breads. Brinjal and red pepper terrine is sparked with feta and parmesan and presented on homemade tomato sauce. Corn stars in chilli-spiked pastry triangles and in down-home mealie fritters with bacon

Brawn is enjoying a comeback among contemporary chefs, but Beate’s version comes from her grandmother in Sutherland, who also inspired much of the comfort food featured in the following chapter. Melkkos, vetkoek and roosterkoek are slotted between warming barley and mutton soup and four-bean tomato soup with beef. During the hot Karoo summer a kaleidoscope of salads take centre stage – protein centerpieces like biltong, gruyere, tuna or hard-boiled eggs are teamed with an array of veggies, leaves, even fruit.

Tradouw boboties comes with a fruit compote and Beate’s curries benefit from buttermilk and are finished with yoghurt, Sweet and sour beef tongue stays trad with slaphakskeentjies on the side. A friend’s chicken pie is more than a little redolent of 19th century Cape cuisine. Baby chickens rather than an elderly cock star in coq au vin, and duck breasts are citrus-spiked with oranges and lemons, orange liqueur and brandy. Venison, prunes and muscadel combine to make an original and delicious sounding bredie. Tradouw desserts present a mix of “memory food” - rice and sago puds and koeksusters alternating with exotic finales like panna cotta with lemon and rose syrup, berry trifle, lime soufflé and lavender crème brûlée.

The index is followed with a short list of Klein Karoo wines and spirits recommended as partners for Joubert feasts. This title well reflects the generosity of rural hospitality presented in unpretentious style against a background of spellbinding beauty. Available in Afrikaans as Proe die Klein-Karoo.

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For fortunate wine lovers who still have gift vouchers waiting to be spent, here are details of two vinous guides that make invaluable reference tools as well as being treasuries of info.

Thousands of South Africans as well as winelovers and industry players on every continent turn to the annual edition of Platter’s SA Wine Guide for accurate, up-to-date information on many aspects of our world of wine.

Then there is the annual SA Wine Industry Directory, which title indicates that it is geared to those in the industry, both local and overseas. Together these titles make an indispensable and complementary duo, and are always at my elbow whenever I pen words on wine.

Turning first to Platter, which is now owned and published by Diners Club International, this is their second publication of the guide, and it incorporates a few items which the first one omitted: Readers will be pleased that their complaints have been noted and acted upon – one such is that four and a half and five-star wines have been returned to their red ink status – this may sound like a small deal, but it was really tiresome to have to wade through every cellar’s ranges to see how many stars each wine had been awarded.

Otherwise, editor Philip van Zyl and his team have done their usual impressive job of listing and describing 8 000 labels available to consumers. As always, it’s important to emphasise that this is a guide not a list of competition entrants, where each wine is not only rated for quality, but icons mark factors like good value, new wine, organic, etc. The info on the wineries is equally important – symbols covering whether they are open for tasting, have a restaurant, accommodation, any other amenities and attractions, are child friendly, wheelchair friendly and more. Good maps to the regions are also invaluable as are the sections on wine routes and associations, wineland tourism offices, restaurants, and accommodation available in the regions – although the latter two are paid for and therefore not independent entries, with info provided by the hosts. There is much more, enough to keep both new and established enthusiasts digesting facts and figures for weeks on end. The hardback costs R215. See also www.wineonaplatter.com for more.

The industry directory, edited by Wanda Augustyn of Wineland magazine fame, includes many statistics that are of little interest – until you need them! They also include laws governing the industry, label requirements , a comprehensive list of wine industry organizations and education bodies, competitions and awards and writers. Details on the extent of hectaries occupied by various cultivars, viticultural information on aspects like IPW, WIETA (ethical trading), available clones etc  are followed by lists of producers, brand names, winemakers and viticulturists. The final chapter contains industry statistics in tabular form.

Published by WineLand media, selling for R240, the book can be ordered online from http://sales.vinpro.co.za. Also available as an e-book, see www.wineland.co.za.

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