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It’s not only the Orange River winemakers that are notching up praise – and medals – for their wines, but there are now a couple of fine craft beers flowing out of Upington, that can take on any of the others being produced in various South African provinces.

Early this year Kalahari Craft Beer was launched in Upington, one of the first from that arid region. Playing on the desert theme, founder Renier Baard chose to name his creations after animals that cope particularly well with the hot dry climate: so there is a Gemsbok Lager and a Puffadder Weiss, both 440ml bottles retailing for around R23,50.

They share alcohol levels of 5% and taste great to me, but then I am no expert on beer. So I got keen beer drinkers to try them, and the result was what I expected – these are fine examples of the burgeoning craft beer industry, and you definitely don’t need to be in the Kalahari to enjoy them.

To order or to find your nearest stockist, log on to www.kalaharicraft.co.za  or contact Renier on 072 827 0009. I predict we are going to see a great deal more of these attractive bottles across the country this summer.

Here’s to the Kalahari, both the dry land and its excellent wet beer!

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Whether it's a treat of a meal for Father’s Day or a supper to mark mid-winter, June is the right month to create a menu that incorporates our fabulous South African brandies, from cocktail to dessert.

Brandy imparts a special flavour when used in cooking, enhancing the final taste of any dish. The spirit can be flamed, simmered, stewed, or used to deglaze a pan in order to produce an irresistible sauce.

Don’t be bound by quantities of brandy as listed in recipes, as you may prefer less or more – but note that too much brandy will simply overpower the flavours of the food it is supposed to embellish. You want aroma and flavour of the spirit to elevate your creation to gourmet heights. The alcohol evaporates during cooking so there is no need to worry about after-effects.

South Africans are so fortunate when it comes to brandy – we really do make some of the best in the world – not that this is always appreciated. But the top judges in the northern hemisphere do – they are continually placing our brandies up there on top where they belong: the results below are two of the latest stash of awards scooped by our clever craftsmen and blenders.

Our brandies made a clean sweep at the 2017 World Drinks Awards recently, claiming gold, plus the title of World’s Best Brandy for the Oude Meester Demant. This contest takes place in London, hosted by TheDrinksReport.com with a judging panel of respected and experienced authorities from the drinks and hospitality industry. They score entries on nose, palate, finish, balance, character and quality. 

Last month our brandies wowed the judges in America’s prestigious San Francisco’s World Spirits Competition. The SFWSC awarded Oude Meester three Double Golds  for their 12- year-old, 18-year-old and Demant brandies. Van Ryn’s Distillery claimed two Double Gold medals for the Van Ryn’s 12-Year-Old Distiller’sRreserve and the Van Ryn’s 20-Year-Old Collectors Reserve respectively.This competition is among the most widely respected in the world, attracting more than 2 100 entries of spirits for evaluation by a judging panel comprising of 43 international experts.

Now to a celebratory meal: I have started the dinner with my own version of  brandied mushroom soup – if this doesn’t appeal, think about a delicious chicken liver terrine flavoured with fresh orange and brandy or a brinjal paté, baked and mashed with cottage cheese, brandy, yoghurt and fresh herbs for a trendy vegetarian first course.

For the main course I settled for a quickly prepared lamb chop recipe, Banting-friendly, a change from casseroles, curries, potjies and the like, which can be teamed with seasonal veggies or  salads.  It comes from a well-used book entitled California Brandy Cuisine written some years ago to mark 200 of Californian brandy production.

And then a trad Cape finale, given a twist, which you can find in Bertus Basson’s enjoyable cookbook Homegrown, published by Jacana Media and released earlier this year.

BRANDIED MUSHROOM SOUP

I have deliberately left off quantities, but have mentioned approximate ones in the method. They can be increased or decreased according to the cook’s taste.

Butter or  butter and olive oil

IX 350g punnet portabellini mushrooms, wiped and sliced, reserving a few left whole

1X350g  punnet white mushrooms, wiped and sliced

I large onion, chopped

2 cloves garlic, sliced

Fresh herbs tied together – eg thyme, bay leaf, rosemary, oregano, lovage

Chicken or vegetable stock

Milk

Cream

Salt and white pepper

Creamed horseradish

Fresh lemon juice

Brandy

Cornflour

Heat a generous quantity of butter or a mixture of butter and oil, and sauté the onion over medium heat until softened. Add garlic, stirring, then increase heat and toss mushrooms in the pan until their juices run, stirring frequently. Add the herb bunch, then about 2 cups of stock, bring to a simmer. After a few minutes add milk to taste – up to 2 cups if you want a cream of mushroom soup, less if not. Stir and simmer for about 10 minutes, then take off the heat and stir in cream – quantity depends on how rich you want the soup to be. Stir, then season with the salt, pepper, horseradish and lemon juice to taste. (The horseradish can be omitted, but I love the combination of this herb with mushrooms, they seem synergetic). Add more stock if you want increased quantities or a thinner soup. Finally mix brandy ( I use about 40ml or 3 scant tablespoons) into a spoonful of cornflour until well mixed, add to soup, bring back to a simmer, stir and remove from heat. Remove herbs. Cool, then using a hand held mixer, puree a soup a little, but still leaving it partly chunky.  Chill until serving time. Reheat and serve, topping each serving with a spoonful of grated raw portabellini mushrooms that you have tossed in a little lemon juice.  Serves 4 or more as a first course.

BRANDIED LAMB CHOPS

4 or more thick beautiful free-range lamb chops

Butter – about 4T

Finely chopped mild onion, red if possible – about 4T

Finely chopped Italian parsley – about 2T

Worcestershire sauce, about 2T

Salt and ground black pepper

Brandy, up to half a cup

Heat half the butter and sauté the chops over high heat for 2 minutes on each side. Remove chops from pan. Add the onion and cook gently until soft and golden. Return chops to pan, add the remaining butter,  parsley, Worcestershire sauce and seasoning to taste. Cook about one minute more, then heat the brandy, ignite and pour over chops and sauce. Serve immediately. Serves 4.

BERTUS BASSON’S CREPE SUZIE

Bertus describes this recipe as a kind of gentrification “of a church bazaar pannekoek by introducing it to some alcohol and a chafing dish.”

Pancakes:

375ml flour

Pinch of salt

Half tsp baking powder

250ml milk

125ml buttermilk

125ml water

2 eggs

30ml vegetable oil

Sauce:

3T sugar

2T butter

2 oranges, zest grated and juiced

2 oranges, segmented

2 naartjies, segmented

 2 lemons, zest grated and juiced

45ml good brandy

100ml van der Hum liqueur

Sift all dry ingredients together into a bowl and whisk the milk, buttermilk, water, eggs and oil together in another bowl. Slowly pour the liquid mix into the dry ingredients, whisking continuously to form a smooth batter. Rest the batter for at least an hour, preferably overnight, in the fridge.

Rub a good quality 24cm non-stick pan with a drop of vegetable oil. Heat to moderate heat and add about 80ml of batter. Roll the pan around to spread batter evenly. Cook until lightly browned on one side, flip over and lightly brown the other side. Fold into quarters, allocating two pancakes per person. Repeat process until batter is used up.

For sauce, heat a large pan, big enough to fit 8 folded pancakes. Sprinkle the sugar onto the dry pan and let it caramelise lightly. Add the butter and stir until melted. Add the orange and lemon juices and stir vigorously to form a syrup. Place the folded pancakes into the pan and coat with syrup. Add the orange and lemon zests Warm the brandy and van der Hum and ignite. Tilt the pan toward the flame  and add the flaming spirits to the pan. When flame dies, add the orange segments to the pan. Serve immediately with vanilla icecream. Serves 4.

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MY FAIR LADY AT WAHNFRIED – CATCH ONE OF THE JANUARY PERFORMANCES.

Howzat! A theatrical hat-trick plus one as Atholl Hay and his impressive cast present the fourth consecutive end-of-year triumph to locals and visitors from near and far. A brilliant adaptation of the timeless classic that is My Fair Lady exploded onto the little Wahnfried stage last week, and, after a short break over the New Year holiday, will resume behind the footlights for a scintillating start to 2016.

As Jean van Elden of Durban Theatre Awards has already put up a brief review of the musical on Facebook – one with which we all agree enthusiastically – I am going to quote some of it here, and then focus on a more intimate villagy write-up to pay tribute to a bunch of talented, dedicated, hard-working McGregor locals.

Van Elden: “An impressive well-crafted piece of theatre by an extremely talented cast of performers… A cleverly adapted, succinct script retained the essence of George Bernard Shaw's writing and delivered the charm of a full-length stage production… Beautiful voices, great energy and sincere polished performances were delivered by all.”

Hear, hear – or should that be “ear, ear.”

Mary Corpe is a wonderful Eliza, which we expected her to be, and impresses as she subtly changes accents from London cockney to queen’s English. John Hargreaves is a natural for Professor Higgins, and fulfils a demanding singing and talking role with his usual professional sang-froid. David Magner is a welcome addition to the core of McGregor players, lessening his military aloofness as he warms to his role in support of Eliza. Mrs Pearce, Professor Higgins’ housekeeper, is beautifully portrayed by Barbara Jacobs, while Atholl Hay manages to include a convincing picture of a lovelorn Freddy Eynsford-Hill in spite of demands as director. Gentle Lisa van Zyl-Jones comes across as a delightfully querulous mother to Henry Higgins, while the trio - which constitute the roles of chorus, flower-sellers, maids and race-goers – presents an admirable example of multi-faceted talent: singers, dancers and quick-change artistes. Heidi Muller, Corli van Wyk and Ilana van der Colff , take a bow.

I would like to comment on the impressive quality of costumes – no mention of a wardrobe mistress, but someone (or maybe more than one) deserves applause, while Debbie Mosca does sterling work on the cast’s hair and makeup. As usual, Pieter Holloway sits quietly on one side, ensuring the lighting is faultless, while Michael MacKenzie fulfils the nail-biting post of sound operator – of course he and Freddie are generous hosts as well, welcoming audiences to their charming theatrical venue Wahnfried, which, thanks to a programme of continuous and classy entertainment, has made a difference to many McGregor lives.

As the Worst End Theatre Company’s January production comes to an end, it’s possible to hear My Fair Lady’s classic tunes being whistled and hummed all over McGregor. Perhaps we can get some of that rain on the Spanish plain diverted south as well.

Myrna Robins. Dec 31, 2015.

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The availability of these mature wines from our most southerly region should get serious sauvignon blanc fans salivating.

 

 As the summer season comes to a close, and  thoughts move from lively sauvignon to fuller chardonnays and wooded chenins for cool weather drinking, I stopped short after sampling  three duos of mature sauvignons from the Agulhas area.

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The Lomond sauvignons, one called Pincushion the other Sugarbush,  have  offered superior quality since their maiden vintage nearly a decade ago. Allied to elegance are their  flavours – either and herby or floral and fruity,  complemented by substantial acidity that could could double as a wake-up call.

 

Now, after eight years, the 2007 vintages have matured impressively, the Pincushion has deepened to a golden hue, the full-bodied wine offering a richness and appealing texture.  The Sugarbush seems to have lagged behind somwewhat, development-wise, still retaining its herby aromas, gooseberry and verdant tones. But both can be savoured even when the weather calls for bold red warmth, as they have acquired the depth that only time can bring.

 

The 2010 pair was less appealing – my Pincushion was faulty, I think, while the Sugarbush did not seem to have developed much  in spite of five years of ageing.

 

On to the 2012 which are both worth acquiring for seafood feasting: the Pincushion, in particular, I really relish, the floral nose leads to a mix of citrussy notes plus definite hints of fynbos herbiness.

 

They are all available from specialist wine shops and online, priced between R120 and R140. The Bergkelder in Stellenbosch stocks them too, or order through Cape Legend’s Vinoteque by visiting www.vinoteque.co.za/collections/lomond?page=1.

 

 

 

 

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