Tuesday, 15 November 2011

The Whale Trail

The De Hoop Nature Reserve, located about 60km south of Swellendam in the Western Cape, has got to be one of most beautiful in the country. And that’s saying something! SA has a lot of very good ones.

I recently joined friends and family and took on a journey through the area using the recommended vehicle, ones feet. The Whale Trail is a 60km hike that takes you from hut to hut on a roughly circular route through the picture perfect landscape of the park. The accommodation along the way is not 5 star but is way more comfortable than I expected. There were always hot showers and most had indoor and outdoor braai (BBQ) areas. The kitchen had all the crockery and cutlery you’d need and the bunk beds were fine. The best thing about the walk is the way it’s organised. If you pay a little extra you can have your luggage transported for you, and this comes in very handy when you’re taking cooler boxes and wine. The huts are cleaned every day and at the end of the trail, at Koppie Aleen, there’s a shuttle bus that takes you back to your vehicle at Potberg, where the walk started.

After climbing the Potberg Mountain, first thing on day 1, you meander along a ridge dominated by the colour of fynbos and proteas, with views over the Breede River Valley and the ocean in the distance. By early afternoon on day 2, you finally reach the sea as you drop down into the rocky cove of Noetzie, to what was my favourite overnight stop of the trip. About half an hour later a whale drifted past and greeted us with a couple of fin flaps. Day 3, 4 and 5 are spent making your way back along the beach and rocky coastline and the geographical beauty would under normal circumstances be more than enough to keep one entertained. But The Whale Trail is certainly not normal, and if you get the season right, like we did, you’ll have the added bonus of whale shows the whole way to the end. There are tidal pools to wallow in, beaches to laze on and if you’re of the birding variety you will be in your element.

As I mentioned earlier the fact that you can get your cooler box transported for you on a magic carpet is very convenient. We took wine, braai stuff and plenty of other goodies, way more than we would have been able to take if we were carting it around ourselves. We braaied most evenings and one night, to give us a bit of an energy boost, I made an easy puttanesca.

My easy camping puttanesca


- a blob of olive oil
- 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
- chilli seasoning (to taste)
- 2 tsp dried origanum
- 2 packets of black olives
- 2 tins of capers wrapped in anchovies
- salt and pepper
- a packet of pasta
- 2 cans chopped tomatoes


- heat olive oil, add garlic and spices
- add tomato, olives and caper/anchovy mix
- season
- while this cooks slowly for around 15 mins cook the pasta
- mix all and serve hot with an extra glug of olive oil

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Saturday, 12 November 2011

Thank God for Creation (Wines)

The Hemel-en-Aarde valley, just inland from Hermanus, has made serious inroads in the South African wine industry. You can’t go wrong with the likes of Newton Johnson, Ataraxia and Bouchard Finlayson but there was only one estate that was going to cheer me up after the generally unfriendly Franschhoek folk. Creation makes great wine and after my recent and first visit to their estate I can tell you that it’s not just their wine that’s good. Their restaurant and tasting room has views over the vineyard and with a menu that offers pies, salads and some great platters, I was a happy boy. But the wines were the main attraction and I was thrilled to find out that you get to taste their entire range. Yes, are you listening Franschhoek, even their premium wines.

They have a new ‘Whale Pod’ label, which includes a white blend and an incredibly good Syrah/Malbec that I predict is not going to be that easy to get hold of fairly soon.

Creation has given me a recipe to enjoy with their Sauvignon Blanc.

Salmon cheese cake


- 910g cream cheese
- 6 eggs
- 250ml cream
- ½ cup spring onions
- ½ tsp Tabasco sauce
- 1 tsp Worcester sauce
- ¼ tsp paprika
- ¼ cup chopped parsley
- 450g smoked salmon, cut in small cubes


- 1 cup bread crumbs
- ¾ cup parmesan cheese
- 4 Tbsp melted butter

Vegetable mix:

- 1 cup chopped onions
- ½ cup chopped red peppers
- ½ cup chopped yellow peppers
- 2 Tbsp shallots
- 1 tsp garlic


- for the base, mix breadcrumbs, parmesan and butter
- line a 30cm glass pie dish with the above mix
- saute the veg mix in olive oil until soft
- allow it to cool on paper to remove moisture
- beat the cream cheese and add eggs, one at a time
- add the cream
- fold in the rest of the ingredients using a spatula
- add the veg mix
- fill up the pie dish with the cake mixture and bake at 180 C for 1½ hrs, until golden and almost set
- remove from oven and allow to cool down
- serve with a crisp green salad and Creation Sauvignon Blanc

Huguenot hospitality - Franschhoek's 2 H's?

I’ve only ever driven through Franschhoek and once or twice sat up on a hill looking down over the town, pondering life and the valley below. If you do some research you’ll discover that the town is one of South Africa’s culinary superstars and when you combine that with a generous scattering of vineyards you’re bound to have some fun. Or so we thought as we decided to spend 2 nights on the outskirts of town. We visited most of the wine estates and had dinner at the highly rated and recommended ‘Le Bon Vivant’ and even though I’d love to report back on just how wonderful everything was, unfortunately that’s not going to happen. I’m not big on complaining and will therefore keep this brief and try to give it a bit of a positive spin.

The town has thoroughly embraced its heritage and in feable economic times, with less opportunity for international travel, given all Southern Africans an easily accessible opportunity to appreciate genuine French hospitality. The wine estates worth a stop are La Bri, Stony Brook, Haute Cabriere and Dieu Donne and Anthonij Rupert's Motor Museum at L’Ormarins is fantastic, even if you’re not a petrol-head.


I am a big fan of well done wine dinners, the sort of occasions that see chefs putting a bit more punch on their plates and winemakers bragging about just how good they really are. I’ve been fortunate enough to attend quite a few in recent times and I don’t think I've ever walked out unhappy.

The latest of these events, a tasting of Morgenhof at Scotty's, in Plettenberg Bay, sits at the top of my scoreboard and will be there for a while. The 5 courses of exquisite fare was flawless; great food cleverly and perfectly paired with good wines. The stand out for me was the marriage of the Merlot with the meat course, a grilled fillet of beef with peppered blackcurrant jus served with a pumpkin puree and parsley mash.

Morgenhof’s wines were very good but struggled to shine on an evening dominated by a very talented kitchen. The wine estate, nestled just outside Stellenbosch on the slopes of the Simonsberg Mountains, is owned by Anne Cointreau, a lady with a family tree that has aged roots in the business of making Cognac and liqueurs. Their Fantail range seems very affordable and even though the Pinotage was by far the most reasonable of the wines tasted, it was, in my opinion, probably the best.

If you ever find yourself in ‘The Garden Route’ make sure you ask around and find Scotty's, you won’t be disappointed. Owner/chef Scott Rattray came second in the Sunday times chef of the year in 2010 and Delvin Reck, who recently joined the team, won 'The Stalwart of the Kitchen' award in this years competition. They certainly don't show off, with food that is unpretentious, interesting and bold at the same time, and there’s something for everyone. Scott has given me his delicious Blackcurrant jus recipe. Give it a try.

Blackcurrant jus


- 50ml veg oil
- 1 Tbsp butter
- 500g beef trimmings – not fatty
- 1 onion, sliced
- 2 tsp whole black peppercorns
- 6 white mushrooms, sliced
- 1 stick celery, sliced
- 2 cloves garlic, whole
- 1 carrot, peeled and sliced
- 1 tsp salt
- 2 tsp tomato paste
- 2 tsp white flour
- 200ml cassis
- 500ml red wine
- 3 litres chicken or beef stock
- 25g lump of chilled butter
- 2 cups of fresh or frozen blackcurrants


- heat a large pan, add butter and oil
- add meat trimmings and fry for 20 mins
- add onion, carrot, celery, mushrooms, pepper, garlic and salt
- cook for another 15 mins, until veg has taken colour
- add tomato paste and flour, cook for 5 mins more
- add cassis and cook it off until dry
- add red wine and reduce by half, then add stock
- gently simmer for 30 mins, then strain through a fine sieve
- return to a clean pan and reduce the sauce down to about 600ml
- if you need, thicken with a bit of cornflour
- check seasoning, stir in lump of butter
- just before serving, add the berries, bring back to the boil, skim and then serve

Friday, 21 October 2011

The Ballinderry - more than just a guest house

The Ballinderry is a guest house in the town of Robertson, situated in one of the most fantastic wine valleys of the Western Cape. Somehow Belgian owners Luc and Hilde have managed to create an interior that is both modern and chic but more importantly relaxed and comfortable, quite literally a home away from home. The two of them are very good at what they do and if you’ve never met them have a look at the photograph above. A great picture that I managed to find in the dictionary under ‘hospitality’. They have a passion for what they do and this translates beautifully into all that is around them but most noticeably onto the exciting plates of food that leave Hilde’s ordered and immaculate kitchen. Her breakfasts are exceptional but what takes me back every time I am anywhere near them is the 3 course dinners that seem to get better and better. With the combination of her Belgian heritage, a love for Mediterranean cuisine, her natural palate and some true creative genius, Hilde never disappoints and puts amazing things together.

The menu last Friday was a perfect example of the type of food she likes to cook (and I like to eat).

Starter: Cheese soufflé and salad

Very light Old Amsterdam cheese soufflé, side salad with dried fruits and slow roasted cherry tomatoes.

Main: Duck a l’ Orange, gratin potatoes and veg

Duck leg slow roasted in an orange and port marinade, duck breast pan-fried and flambéed with brandy, gratin potatoes, red cabbage and fried apple and a port orange sauce.

Dessert: White Belgian chocolate icetart, dark chocolate sauce and fresh strawberries.

Yes please!

Hilde has very kindly given me her Cheese soufflé recipe and I’m going to share it with you.

Ballinderry’s Cheese soufflé (for 6)


- 120g Old Amsterdam Cheese, grated
- 20g white flour
- 12g butter (+ extra for the ramekins)
- 300ml hot milk
- 4 fresh jumbo egg whites (or 5 large) – room temperature
- 1 tsp of baking powder
- a few fresh sage leaves, chopped
- black pepper
- salt
- nutmeg
- 6 lightly buttered ramekins


- melt butter in a pan on a low heat and add flour
- use wooden spoon to stir the dry mixture.
- gently pour in the hot milk while whisking firmly, using a hand whisk
- as soon as starts to boil, switch of the heat
- add cheese (keep on whisking) followed by baking powder
- season with sage, salt, pepper and nutmeg
- not too much salt or nutmeg as the cheese is rather salty
- let the mixture cool down a little while you beat the egg whites
- gently fold in the egg whites and pour into the ramekins (3/4 full)
- preheat the oven to 175 C
- put ramekins on a baking tray a bit below the middle
- bake for 12 to 15 minutes
- souffles are ready when their top is golden and centre moist
- do not open the oven while baking.
- serve immediately with a little salad on the side with slow-roasted cherry tomatoes, dried fruits and a drizzle of olive oil.

TIP: You can make the mixture a few hours in advance but without the baking powder and egg whites, which you only add to the mixture (room temperature!) before baking.

Wednesday, 12 October 2011

Weltevrede - a sense of place

The Wine Estate of Weltevrede (or fully satisfied) sits near Bonnievale on the banks of the Breede River. The funnel shaped Robertson Valley, between the mountains of Langeberg and Riviersonderend, channels the flow of air which is cooled by the river and then carried gently across the vineyards. This is exactly what the farmers want and is one of the reasons the region is able to produce such outstanding wine.

The Jonker family has been wandering the farm of Weltevrede since 1912 and the running of the estate now rests on the very capable shoulders of Phillip Jonker. He’s had some experience in both California and Bordeax and has become somewhat of a Chardonnay expert; but the family’s intimate knowledge of the place, passed down through generations, cannot be underestimated. The Jonkers believe that when the earth was created and decorated with soil, water and vegetation, off-cuts of some of the very best bits were taken and joined together to form the patchwork of terroir that surrounds Bonnievale. A good example of this is their ‘Place of Rocks’ and ‘Rusted Soil’ Chardonnays, exactly the same grape but very different wines, both produced on the estate but nurtured on different sides of a little hill.

I’ve just done a tasting with Weltevrede and had the chance to revisit their Rusted Soil Chardonnay, undoubtedly one of my favourites. I also had my first taste of their new Vanilla Chardonnay; something they’re doing in an attempt to attract those who aren’t mad about the varietal. Through specific soil and barrel selection they’ve managed to create something that is crisp and un-wooded, with a lingering hint of vanilla. I think they might be on to something with this one and it’s certainly good value for money. I reckon on a hot day it would go superbly with a salad, maybe something like bacon, prawn and papaya.

Bacon, prawn and papaya salad


- a handful of young leaf spinach
- a good glug of olive oil
- 2 Tbsp lime juice
- 10 bacon rashers
- 1 large papaya, cut into large cubes
- 1 ripe avocado, cut into lengths
- 10 prawns
- 2 tsp cumin
- butter
- salt and pepper


- season prawns with cumin, salt and pepper
- heat butter in a pan and cook the prawns until just done
- mix olive oil and lime juice in a bowl
- grill bacon until crisp and cut each streak in half
- add prawns, bacon, spinach, papaya to the bowl and mix well
- serve with a chilled glass of Vanilla Chardonnay

Saturday, 1 October 2011

Genuine passion, real flavour; Micro-breweries deserve more attention

Micro-breweries face a number of challenges in a market dominated by the copiously advertised and distributed brands that are not short on pocket change. What sets them apart from these beer Goliaths is the fact that they use no preservatives or additives and don’t pasteurize to lengthen shelf-life. Their beers are natural and hand-crafted; with lots of variety and superb quality and flavour.

Living in England for a couple of years, I got the chance to explore the regional real ales but travelling Australia’s East Coast is what really opened my eyes to micro-breweries and their magical liquid produce.

South Africa is relatively new to the micro-brewing scene but hopefully, with the support of discerning beer lovers, they’ll gain popularity and create ripples throughout the marketplace. The general public has begun to be a little more in tune and inquisitive with what they’re consuming, like where and how products are made and the things that are put in them.

I’ve chosen a couple of micro-breweries to highlight, one fairly well known, the other young but certainly making inroads.

Knysna has been the home of Mitchell’s Brewery since 1983, but because of growing demand, the brand has spread countrywide with a branch opening in Cape Town in 1989. They use only local ingredients, in a process that combines German lagering and British mashing techniques, and produce beers that are high in flavour and low in alcohol. They have the Forester’s Lager, the Bosun’s Bitter, the Raven Stout and last but certainly not least the 90 Shilling Ale, a full-bodied traditional Scottish Ale that I encountered only recently for the very first time, but is actually their biggest award winner. It's made from malted barley, yeast, hops, water and cinnamon and the end result is a spicy ale that is big on flavour.

Mitchell’s recommends an Asian Pork Stir-fry with the 90 Shilling and they were kind enough to give me a recipe for exactly that.


- 300g medium egg noodles, cooked
- Chinese 5 spice
- 700g pork belly, sliced
- 2 tsp sesame oil
- 2 Tbsp sunflower oil
- 2 Tbsp freshly grated ginger
- 2 red chillies, deseeded and chopped fine
- 1 red pepper, deseeded and roughly chopped
- a bunch of spring onions, trimmed and sliced
- 2 cloves garlic, peeled and finely chopped
- 5 carrots, julienned
- a packet of red cabbage, sliced
- a handful of green beans
- 1 Tbsp honey
- 2 Tbsp dark soy sauce
- a bunch of fresh coriander, leaves and stems chopped and separated


- heat a wok and another smaller pan
- pour oils in the wok and fry ginger,chillies and coriander roots for a minute
- add peppers, spring onions, garlic and veggies and fry until wilted
- add noodles, coriander leaves, honey and soy
- fry for 3 mins until noodles are steaming hot
- at the same time drizzle a little olive oil in a pan
- rub pork with 5 spice and then fry for 2 mins each side
- serve all together with a 90 Shilling

Camelthorn Brewery, the dream and baby of Jorg Finkeldey, was opened in Windhoek in 2009. He, a South African trained chemical engineer, named his brand after an indigenous tree to highlight it’s resilience in challenging environmental conditions. There are 5 different craft beers under their umbrella and occasionally Jorg creates an additional seasonal delight. Their Brauhaus or Weissbier, a Bavarian style wheat beer, is something very special and even better when combined with an Eisbein. Try the recipe below, get yourself a top wheat beer and see what I mean.

Eisbein with sauerkraut and bread dumplings


- kosher salt
- curing salt
- 1 litre water
- 3 bay leaves
- 1 tsp marjoram
- 2 tsp all spice
- 1tsp black pepper
- 2 tsp bashed coriander seeds
- 1 tsp juniper berries
- 2 carrots finely diced
- 1 onions, finely chopped
- 2 tsp sugar
- 5 garlic cloves, bashed


- make the brine by mixing 120g of kosher salt and 12g of curing salt per litre of water
- make enough to cover the pork completely
- make sure you chill the water thoroughly before continuing
- put pork in a plastic container and cover with the brine
- leave in the fridge for 4 days
- bring a pot of water to the boil
- rinse the pork under running water and pop in the pot
- bring back to the boil, remove scum from the surface and turn heat to low
- simmer the pork gently for 3 hours

Bread Dumplings


- 2 stale rolls, torn into cubes
- 1 cup of warm milk
- 3 eggs, beaten
- a handful of fresh parsley, finely chopped
- a pinch of nutmeg
- salt and pepper to taste


- put the bread in a bowl and knead in the milk lightly
- cover and leave to rest for 30 mins
- mash up the soaked mix to form a thick dough
- mix in eggs one at a time
- add the rest of the ingredients and knead until smooth
- if the dough is too sticky add some breadcrumbs
- wet hands and form balls with dough, setting aside on a baking sheet
- bring a pot of salted water to the boil, then reduce heat to a simmer
- drop dumplings in and simmer for 20 mins, gently stirring
- remove and serve hot with Eisbein and some sauerkraut

Friday, 23 September 2011

The 'Tour Mont Blanc'

So, we’ve just moved house and once you get past the packing, carrying, sweat and tears there are usually a few positives. You get to go evaluate your possessions, cutting the fat so to speak, keeping only your most essential goodies and discovering memorabilia that are long forgotten. Going through our box of files and books I came upon some old snaps of holidays that took me on a meander down memory lane. One such trip was the ‘Tour Mont Blanc’, a 170km clockwise trail around the highest mountain in the Alps that starts in Chamonix, France, and winds its way through the villages and valleys in neighbouring Italy and Switzerland.

There are a number of ways of taking on the trek. We chose the camping option and used a UK based tour company that pointed us in the right direction, fed us and carted the kitchen and sink from A to B. We woke each morning, had a quick bite to eat, packed up camp and set off into the hills, usually going up. The soaring mountain peaks, creaking glaciers and immense valleys offered something new and exciting every day and there was always a refuge around the corner with a hot coffee, some fresh cake or a cold beer to give us the required boost.

The walk is tough but as long as you’re fit and confident on rocky and steep trails it’s no problem at all. We had a couple of rest days which gave the legs a breather and us the chance to explore the towns of Courmayeur and Les Contamine, grappa, wine, Raclette and all.

Centuries ago people walked up mountains to achieve higher status in their communities and a lot of mountaineers maintain that they climb mountains because they’re there. One thing that is a given is that being around the beauty and enormity of mountain landscapes forces us to appreciate the little things, like ourselves, and strolling around Mont Blanc is something that does just that.

Raclette is a Swiss and French dish that's named after a specific fatty cheese. It's a bit like a fondue, I suppose, but better because you not only get beautiful oozy cheese but also some crisp stuff, a bit like what you sometimes find on the sides of a toasted sandwich.

Easy Raclette

- 800g Raclette cheese (search for it)
- 100g cooked prawns
- some pickled onions
- a selection of cured/dried meats and hams
- some fried garlic mushrooms
- crusty bread
- some gherkins

- on a big platter, serve everything but the cheese
- heat the cheese in the oven at 180 C until gooey
- slice thick wedges of the cheese onto plates
- pop the plates under the grill for a minute or 2
- you want the cheese to have soft and crispy sections
- serve cheese plates, mix and enjoy

Wednesday, 14 September 2011

Moving house

I've been a little quiet lately but I've been moving so that'll just have to be my excuse. Sorry. Back in action very soon.

Tuesday, 23 August 2011

Rasberry chilli chicken livers

I made a chicken liver dish a while ago with reduced pomegranate juice, red chilli and a bit of parsley and it was a winner. Last night I decided to try a similar sort of thing, using a great raspberry jam that someone had given me. If you're a chicken liver fan try it out.


- 250g chicken livers
- flour
- salt and pepper
- a blob of butter
- 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
- 1 green chilli, seeds removed, finely chopped
- 3 tsp raspberry jam
- 1 spring onion, finely chopped


- put flour, salt and pepper in a bowl
- add livers and mix well, you want a light covering
- heat butter in a pan and add garlic and chilli
- throw in livers and cook through
- add spring onion and jam for last 2 mins of cooking
- serve with green salad

Friday, 19 August 2011

Pea and hazelnut soup

George Jardine, head chef at Jordan’s restaurant has given me a recipe that he recommends with their award winning Riesling 2009. He says it’s an easy but rich dish with the peas adding a fantastic sweetness and the hazelnut oil a great textural quality.

Pea and hazelnut soup with porcini


- 500g fresh peas
- 1lt good chicken stock (or veg if required)
- salt and white pepper to taste
- 50g butter
- 1 tsp hazelnut oil
- some porcini powder


- boil the chicken stock and cook the peas in this until tender
- blend all until smooth, adding more liquid if required
- finish with the butter, season with the hazelnut oil, salt and pepper
- pour a generous portion into a bowl
- steam the milk until frothy and spoon over like a cappuccino
- sprinkle the porcini powder over the froth

Serve with a glass of chilled Jordan Riesling.

Thursday, 18 August 2011

Jordan Wine Estate = soul + soil

I reckon the Jordan Riesling is a very worthwhile buy. It won the Riesling Trophy at the ‘SA Trophy Wine Show’ and it was one of the wines that contributed to Jordan winning top estate at the recent ‘SA Terroir Wine Awards’. In case it hadn’t yet done enough, it’s also just come out on top at the tri-nations of wine, against Australia and New Zealand. Maybe our rugby guys need a glass and a half of the stuff?

The Riesling vineyard is on one of the highest and coolest spots on the estate and the result is a crisp food wine with a smattering of spice. Jordan is a newish family-owned estate in Stellenbosch; the old dame of South African towns and one of the world’s celebrated old wine regions. The hard work of Gary and Kathy Jordan, the husband and wife wine-making team, pays off with wines that boast both a new world flair and a touch of classic elegance.

I’ve always liked the Jordan Merlot but I must confess that at a tasting on Monday night, it was the Jordan whites that gave me a whack across the face. Very good indeed!

Sunday, 14 August 2011

Steak done right

When you’re shopping for a piece of steak there are a few things to remember. Always get the best quality meat you can and make sure it’s thick enough. Really thin pieces will dry out too easily. The raw meat must feel fairly firm and should be cherry red in colour, not dark plum. A marbling of fat (the thin threads weaving their way between the lean meat) is what you want and adds a huge amount of flavour during cooking.

When you’re ready to cook the steak, make sure you’ve had it out of the fridge for long enough. Half an hour is usually sufficient unless you’re at the North Pole. It should be at room temperature because throwing a cold steak over heat will result in tightening of the meat and an unwanted loss of tenderness.

Prepare the steaks by rubbing with olive oil and then give them a good sprinkling of salt and pepper.

Dry heat is ideal for cooking steak. The combination of the evaporation of moisture on the surface of the meat, the juices and flavour concentrating and the caramelization of natural sugars gives you a wonderfully flavoursome crust and a great result.

Cooking on a dry griddle pan or over the coals is perfect. The steak should sizzle when it first hits the heat so make sure you’ve got the pan hot enough or that your fire is good. Depending on the thickness of the steak you should cook it for around 2 minutes each side for medium rare (the way I like it), a bit more for medium and a bit less for rare. I’m afraid that well done is not really an option and completely frowned upon by most. Don’t fiddle with the meat while it’s cooking; turn it gently and definitely not by poking it with a knife or fork.

Once you’ve cooked the steak to your liking, it should rest for at least half the cooking time. Put it on a rack and cover with foil. Juices will mingle throughout the meat which will be moist the whole way through. If you don’t rest it, all of the juices and flavour will escape when you cut into it.

Make sure you serve the steak on a hot plate and you should us a razor-sharp knife.

There is nothing like a steak done just right and if I was forced to mention the restaurant that gave me the best I’ve ever had it would be 'El Boliche de Alberto' in the holiday town of Bariloche, Argentina. They’re fortunate enough to be given an amazing raw product but they seriously respect their ingredients and produce steaks that have heavenly flavour and tenderness.

Friday, 12 August 2011

Delirium Tremens, the slightly bitter blonde

A while ago I spoke about the fantastic pub in Brugge called t' Brugs Beertje. I mentioned that one of the super beers availabe was the Delirium Nocturnum. I've been in touch with Delirium and they've given me what they feel is a great beer recipe. Preferably done with a blonde beer, but any good quality ale will do.

Turkey fillet with mushrooms, Gorgonzola and blonde beer


- 500g turkey fillet, cut into cubes
- 125g oyster mushrooms
- 1 small leek, cut into small rings
- 75g Gorgonzola
- 200ml chicken stock
- 8 Tbsp heavy blonde beer
- 4 Tbsp olive oil
- salt and pepper


- rinse the leek and allow to drain in a colander
- remove the hard bits from the mushrooms, cut into pieces
- season the turkey with salt and let it rest
- heat some oil in a pan and sear the turkey
- lower the temperature and add some stock
- keep stirring and let it simmer gently for about 15 mins
- add the leek and the mushrooms and simmer for another 10 mins
- add the gorgonzola and beer and stir well
- turn up the heat and season with pepper and salt
- cook for 2 mins more
- serve with pasta or saffron rice

Tuesday, 9 August 2011

The Robberg Nature Reserve

Robberg is a rocky peninsula that juts out into sea on the Western edge of Plettenberg Bay, a pretty coastal town with some of the Garden Routes best beaches. It’s a beautiful Nature Reserve that is easily explored on foot, with a couple of trails snaking around and over the top of the neck of land. The interesting flora and highly visual geological zones (some dating back to about 130 million years ago) offer more than enough for the eye but it’s really the animals that live on and visit the place that make it special. There is a noisy and decidedly smelly Cape fur seal colony, an abundance of Southern Right and Humpback whales that visit every year after winter and plenty of playful dolphins. The bird life is wonderful and I’ve even come across penguins on the beach every now and then.

The reason I decided to write a quick story about Robberg is that in the last 2 months I’ve seen Great White sharks on five occasions. This last Sunday I watched one the size of a bus, glide up and down along the rocks, seemingly hunting but staying confusingly far away from the seals. Maybe he’d just eaten or was vegetarian and looking for sea cucumbers? All I know is that I’m going to be a bit more careful the next time I’m flapping around in the waves like an injured walrus.

The entrance fee is R30 for adults and the park is open from 7 to 6 daily (with closing times being extended to 8 in summer). There are 3 circular hiking trails, ranging from 30 minutes to around 4 hours, if you’ve got the energy to go the whole way around. The full loop around the point must be done at low tide and is not really suitable for young kids. There have recently been a few incidents with freak waves but if you use common sense you should have no problems whatsoever.

The Nelson Bay Cave, which is located a little after the entrance gate and down to the sea on the right, is a really worthwhile attraction. It’s a significant middle and later stone-age archaeological site which was first inhabited around 120,000 years ago. At that time there were no braai (barbeque) or picnic facilities and residents scuttled around the rocks hunting sea life. Fortunately things have changed and today there are two braais and plenty of tables at the parking area. It’s a very special spot, even on a wild and windy evening, and ranks at the top of my ‘world’s best braai spots’ list.

Monday, 8 August 2011

Hermanuspietersfontein - a real mouthful

Hermanus is not only known around the world for its visiting whale population but is also gaining recognition as a superb wine producing part of South Africa. The Hemel-en-Aarde region is a very happy home to small production cool-climate wines; the likes of Ataraxia, Creation, Hamilton Russel, Newton Johnson and many more.

In the early part of the 19th century the farmers of the area wanted their kids to be taught in Dutch instead of English. A well respected school teacher named Hermanus Pieters was often only remunerated in sheep and these he would graze at a spring near the sea. In 1855, a while after his death, the village of Hermanuspietersfontein was founded in his honour. The name was shortened to Hermanus in the early 1900’s.

The winery of Hermanuspietersfontein chose to pay homage to this esteemed teacher and the people of 1855 by making the commitment to keep all their wine names and labels in Afrikaans. Bartho Eksteen was awarded Diners Club ‘Winemaker of the year 2010’ and has a collection of wines that are causing a bit of a stir in the wine community. He treats Sauvignon Blanc (SB) with the utmost care and attention, always hand selecting and grading and from then on minimizing grape handling and any unwanted exposure to friction.

Their Bloos (a ‘blush wine’) is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Malbec and Petit Verdot that is created through specific techniques like juice bleeding and subtle wood fermentation. Bartho is extremely happy with this wine and feels that it reflects the unique terroir they’re blessed with and confirms their belief that ‘good earth makes better wine’.

I attended a recent gourmet food and wine evening and got the chance to listen to Bartho harp on about his wine and all sorts of other things. He’s a loud bellowing sort of character who speaks with a fairly rugged intensity, quite similar to what you’d expect from a rugby line-out call. We tasted 3 SB's which is, I suppose, what you’d expect at a tasting involving the self proclaimed ‘monster of SB’. All were quality and my pick of the night would have to be ‘die Bartho’, a SB, Semillon and Nouvelle blend, that had its own little party in my mouth.

I asked Bartho for a family recipe that would be good with one of their SB's and his wife Sune has very kindly done just that. She said that would be no problem at all because they're SB fanatics and therefore a lot of the meals in their house rotate around that variety.

Sune’s fresh white mussel soup


- 2-3kg fresh white mussels
- a bottle of white wine
- good quality fish stock
- 6 medium potatoes
- a bunch of chopped leaks
- a knob of butter
- 3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
- a blob of crème fraiche


- lightly steam the mussels in wine, discard any unopened
- take mussels out shell, clean away intestine sack and rinse
- pour white wine stock through muslin cloth
- add fish stock until your get around 2 litres of liquid
- add potatoes and leaks, boil until tender
- chop cleaned mussels and fry in butter with garlic
- liquidise potatoes and leaks in stock and add mussels
- warm through and serve with a blob of crème fraiche and bread

According to Sune their Nr. 5 is super with the soup.

Friday, 5 August 2011


The farm was established by French Huguenots in 1776 and is one of the oldest in the Franschoek area. Boekenhout, or Cape Beech, is a sought after timber used in furniture making. The pictures of chairs that you’ll find on some of their labels and the name itself pays tribute to talented 18th century craftsmen who were able to create beauty from natural resources. A little like the art of good wine making.

The vineyards at Boekenhoutskloof cover an area of only 20 hectares, of which 75% are red. They buy their grapes from all over, ensuring that they get what they’re looking for. The very good Syrah, as an example, is bought from Schalk Burger’s farm in Wellington and their Grenache comes from Citrusdal, South Africa’s oldest vineyards for that varietal.

Marc Kent has been winemaker and part owner since 1994 and he and the team are not only good on the wine production side of things but also with the marketing and selling of the stuff. Their labels are the Boekenhoutskloof, the Chocolate Block, the Wolftrap and the well known Porcupine Ridge. At a recent tasting I got to sample some of the above and finished with a hit of the Chocolate Block. The stand out on the night for me was the Porcupine Ridge Merlot. Great value for money and pleasant up the nose and on the palate.

See their website for more info.


Thursday, 4 August 2011

Silom Thai Cooking School

I’ve done a few cooking courses in the last couple of years and all of them were good fun but the one that really stands out was Silom Thai, in Bangkok. We were met by our teacher at a hotel near the sad but popular Khaosan Road and walked to a market around the corner where we explored the stalls and ingredients on sale. There were about 6 doing the course and each of us was given a list of a few things to buy. After strolling to a house nearby we started preparing ingredients and putting them together into different dishes, like a spicy chicken galangal coconut soup, some zingy fried fish cakes and a fiery red chicken curry. We had plenty of time to not only understand what we were doing but also to appreciate the importance of the beautiful fresh ingredients, the balance of salty, sweet, spice and sour, and the colours and textures of Thai cooking.

Don’t be lazy – make your own Red Curry Paste


- 5 dried chillies, soaked in water
- 3 tsp shallots, chopped
- 4 tsp garlic, finely chopped
- 1 Tbsp galangal (Siamese ginger), grated
- 2 Tbsp lemongrass, chopped
- 2 Tbsp lime rind, chopped
- 1 Tbsp coriander root, chopped
- 20 peppercorns
- 1 tsp shrimp paste
- 1 Tbsp coriander seeds
- 1 tsp cumin seeds


- heat a dry pan to a low heat, roast coriander and cumin seeds for 5 mins
- grind the seeds to a powder
- add the rest of the ingredients and bash to a paste
- refrigerate in a glass container
- the paste will keep for a few months

Make sure you check out the Silom Thai website.

Monday, 1 August 2011

The Swartberg Pass and Prince Albert

Just North of Oudsthoorn (in the Western Cape), past the well trodden chambers of the Cango Caves, is the start of, in my opinion, one of the most spectacular mountain passes in South Africa. The Swartberg Pass takes you 27km up and over the Swarterg Range and then down into the little hamlet of Prince Albert. Any car can do it, but if you're worried about sheer drops and blind corners, let someone else drive or avoid it altogether. The scenery along the way is truly spectacular and from the top, at an altitude of 1583m above sea level, you can really appreciate the effort that went into the last of Thomas Bain's engineering masterpieces.

Every time I drive into Prince Albert I'm amazed that even though it's in such a dry area, the gardens are always full of colour. The reason is that there is an abundance of water carried from up in the mountains and then around town via a network of channels that residents have allocated times to access. There is a wide variety of shops, galleries and restaurants and plenty of activities. Soet Karoo (or sweet karoo) is a sort of one woman one garage winery that, as one would expect, produces wine of the sweet persuasion. There is a lady named Ailsa who takes visitors on both historical and ghost walks around town and there's even a cooking school. If you feel like getting completely lost and escaping for a while then a few nights at the fig farm of Weltevrede is a good option. You can book the whole farmhouse and hibernate with some fine wine, a few kilo's of lamb and a good book. For the more energetic there are a number of hiking trails and there's also the opportunity of cycling the pass, preferably down.

Saturday, 30 July 2011

't Brugs Beertje

Anyone visiting Belgium for the first time would be crazy not to take in the touristy but quaint character of Brugge, spending time in one of the pubs and indulging in the incredible quality and quantity of beers available.

I did this a few years ago, with wife and cousin in tow, and walked into 't Brugs Beertje, one of the most popular drinking venues in town. At the bar, acknowledging our arrival with a nod of her head, was Daisy Claeys, the lady who opened the bar back in 1983. She started out with around 120 beers on offer and hasn't looked back since. On our visit she had a menu of 300 different brews (which is apparently still the case) which makes for some tough decision making. Daisy kindly offered to take the choice out of our naive hands and told us that she'd keep them coming. This she did, and with beers like the Babbelaar and the Delirium Nocturnum arriving in tailor made glasses, we were in hop heaven.

The address is Kemelstraat 5 or have a look at their website.

Tuesday, 26 July 2011

Ostrich anyone?

I'm sure most of us know that ostriches are being used for more than just leather and feathers. The meat has a similar flavour and texture to lean beef but is a whole lot healthier. I'm not suggesting you eat it all the time but including it in your diet is a good idea. It has lower calories, cholesterol and fat than beef and even chicken and is extremely high in protein and iron. On average ostrich meat has 0.5% fat and 21% protein.

Rich ostrich stew


- 400g ostrich cubes/goulash
- 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
- 1 small green chilli, seeds removed, finely chopped
- 1/2 a cup of flour
- 2 Tbsp olive oil
- a knob of butter
- 1 onion, finely chopped
- a glass of red wine
- 300ml beef stock
- 2 tsp dried rosemary
- 2 tsp dried thyme
- salt and pepper to taste
- a handful of fresh parsley, finely chopped


- coat the meat well in flour
- heat the oil and butter in a pan, fry onion, garlic and chilli until soft
- brown the meat, then add rosemary and thyme
- add beef stock and wine and bring to the boil
- turn down the heat and allow to simmer for 15 mins, until meat is med rare
- check seasoning
- remove from heat, add parsley and stir
- serve with rice or creamy mashed potato

Sunday, 24 July 2011

The Currywurst

On a brief weekend break in Berlin, some time ago, I decided to investigate the national treasure that is the currywurst. A simple sliced hot pork sausage with curry tomato sauce; of which there are in the region of 800 million servings sold per year in Germany alone. Prior to the trip I did some online research and set myself the objective of finding my favourite. The ladies at Curry 36 would definitely not win any awards for friendliness but in my opinion their currywurst was the pinnacle of what Berlin had to offer. They're a bit out of town but worth the trip. Their address is Mehringdamm 36, 10961 Berlin.

According to Wikipedia the currywurst was invented in Berlin in 1949, after a woman named Herta Heuwer obtained tomato sauce, Worcestershire sauce and curry powder from British soldiers. She combined the lot, gave it a stir, chucked it over some hot pork sausages and the rest is history. In 2009, in Berlin, a museum was opened in honour of the dish, celebrating the 60th anniversary of its creation.

My Currywurst


- some good quality German pork sausages
- 2 Tbsp olive oil
- 1 onion, finely chopped
- 1 Tbsp medium curry powder and a bit more when serving
- 1 Tbsp smoked paprika
- 1 can of whole peeled tomatoes
- 2 Tbsp sugar
- 1/4 cup red wine vinegar
- salt to taste


- heat the oil in a pan, add the onion and cook slowly until soft
- add curry powder and paprika and cook for another 2 mins
- add the tomatoes, sugar, vinegar and salt and bring to the boil, stirring well
- reduce the heat to low and simmer for a further 20 mins
- cook sausages according to instructions on pack
- blend the sauce until smooth, then strain through a sieve
- pour hot sauce over sausage and shake on some curry powder
- eat with a crispy roll or some hot chips (french fries)

Thursday, 21 July 2011

A good whack of Thailand in a bottle

You'll probably need to visit your local Asian or Speciality food store for this, but I can promise you it's worth it. It's a thick chunky paste of chilli, onion, garlic, vegetable oil, dried shrimp, sugar, salt and tamarind. It literally gives life to anything on a plate and I am a big fan. If you're cooking any meat, just before it's done, spread a good dollop of paste on both sides, and give it another 30 seconds on the heat.

My fresh spring rolls with Thai coconut sauce:


  • a good few sheets of rice paper

  • 1 tin of coconut milk

  • 2 stalks of lemongrass, each cut in half

  • 8 lime leaves, torn

  • 1 Tbsp fish sauce

  • 3 tsp above chilli paste

  • 2 tsp palm sugar

  • 3 spring onions, finely sliced length ways

  • 2 carrots, julienned

  • half a cucumber, julienned

  • 2 handfuls fresh coriander leaves

  • 2 handfulls fresh mint leaves

  • 400g cooked pork or shrimp or both

  • 100g rice vermicelli

  • Method:

  • bring the coconut milk to the boil, add lemongrass, lime leaves, chilli paste, fish sauce and palm sugar, then reduce at least by half to a sauce like consistency

  • cook vermicelli according to packet instructions

  • present all the ingredients on a platter and put the coconut sauce in a bowl

  • soak individual rice paper sheets in water for around 30 seconds, then leave to rest on a clean towel for a minute

  • put a paper sheet on your plate, add whatever ingredients you want to form a line on one side of the circle, fold the paper over on each side of this line, and across it from the closest side, then roll tightly all the way to the side

  • dip in the sauce and enjoy

    • Karusa

      My featured wine estate of the moment is Karusa, a family operated and managed premium private winery. It’s situated in the foothills of the Swartberg Mountain Range, just north of Oudsthoorn, in the scenic settlement of Schoemanshoek. Jacques Conradie, the cellar master, has created something truly special with the wines through a sustainable organic approach that guarantees an end product that overflows with individuality and character.

      Karusa is the first Southern Cape producer to plant Mouvedre, Grenache Noir and Petit Sirah, cultivars that are perfectly matched to our warm continental climate. They also have Shiraz, Pinotage, Viognier, Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay. Jacques specialises in making Cap Classiques and Mediterranean style red and white wines; most of which find their way to Garden Route hotels, guesthouses and restaurants.
      I recently had a chat with Jacques and asked him a few questions.

      (Me) How long have you been involved in the wine industry?

      (Jacques) I’ve been making wine for 12 years with stints at Mooiuitsig Winery (Bonnievale), Graham Beck and Bon Cap Organic Wines (Robertson), Boplaas (Calitzdorp) and also been involved in harvests in France in 2003 and 2005. I’ve made Karusa wines on the side since 2004 and full-time from 2009.

      (Me) What do you enjoy most about being in the industry?

      (Jacques) The combination of the different facets involved in making wine, in and outdoors – vineyards, winery, marketing, creativity, meeting people....... eating and drinking!

      (Me) What are the challenges of making wine on a farm north of Oudsthoorn, in the Klein Karoo?

      (Jacques) The natural elements are pretty much against you 100% of the time..... extreme heat, drought and bird-baboon-porcupine damage. On the upside, if you do it right, you get noticed very quickly and that helps in such a competitive market. Pre-planning the vineyard site, clone, irrigation etc are all crucial in extreme vineyard growing areas.

      (Me) What made you decide on that part of SA?

      (Jacques) It’s different, unspoiled and loaded with possibility, if you know what you’re doing. We’re also situated on a major tourism route, close to the Cango Caves. Thousands of people pass our front door every year and there are no competing wineries around us, as is the case in Stellenbosch and Robertson etc.

      (Me) Can you give us a brief rundown of your wine portfolio?

      (Jacques) We cater for various styles and price points with quite a big portfolio of wine, but extremely limited volumes, ensuring exclusivity to our clients. We don’t sell to supermarkets or liquor stores and refrain from being corrupted by commercialism – we sell an art not a beverage. Prices range from R40 – R120 a bottle with a Lifestyle, Vineyard Specific and Reserve Collection. Cultivars include Sauvignon Blanc, Viognier, Pinotage and Shiraz and we have red and white blends. We are the first and only producer in the Klein Karoo to produce Cap Classique.

      (Me) What’s your favourite thing to eat when you’re at home with family and friends? and drink?

      (Jacques) Plain and simple – give me a medium rare rump steak, potato wedges and a salad of tomato and onion dressed with olive oil and balsamic and I’m satisfied. In winter I’ll enjoy a full bodied Pinotage and either Sauvingon Blanc or Chenin Blanc in summer. The occasional Rose and barrel matured Viognier are also favourites. A refreshing pale ale is always welcome, especially since we’re adding a micro-brewery to the winery to be up and running by around September/October.

      (Me) Maybe you could give me one of your favourite family recipes?

      (Jacques) My wife Saretha makes a killer lamb shank. Marinade the lamb in Viognier, then rub with olive oil and mixed herbs and simmer in a low oven for a few hours in its own juice. Re-heat the next day, adding a reduction of canned whole tomatoes, balsamic, olive oil, salt, pepper and lots of Shiraz. Simmer in the oven for another 2 hours. Serve with samp and roasted veg (marrows, mushroom, carrots, onion etc). Wash down with a Karusa 5th Element Syrah/Viognier.... then go for a 2/3 hour nap!
      Check out their website for more details.

      Zimbabwe - it's time to go back

      Zimbabwe is regarded more as a catastrophic political situation than a country.  It’s seen the full spectrum of problems that the combination of greed and poor leadership can bring - fraud, intimidation, a completely shattered economy, an unimaginably shocking land redistribution policy and a clear up of the so-called urban slums that destroyed 18% of the population’s homes and livelihoods.  Most notably, the year on year inflation, which was sitting at 32% in 1998, reached all time highs of 231,000,000% in July 2008.

      Since taking power in 1980, Robert Mugabe and his Zanu-PF have worked to bring the country to its knees but they have failed to remove the smiles from the faces of the warm and friendly people that have somehow endured.In the beginning of 2009 a power-sharing deal between Zanu PF and the MDC was signed and since then there have been a few moves in the right direction.  The introduction of the US$ has provided some stability and the stores and petrol stations are once again stocked.  Public workers are being paid and schools and hospitals are open for business.  Even the economic situation has shown some improvement, with the GDP showing growth for the first time in a decade, thanks to high mineral prices and improved agriculture.

      The tourist industry that all but died in the first decade of the 21st century is thankfully also seeing some renewed interest.  This is not a huge surprise.  Zimbabwe is home to the friendliest people on the planet with the highest literacy rate in all of Africa (92%).  It boasts the majestic beauty of Victoria Falls which becomes the world’s longest curtain of falling water during the river’s peak flow.  Nature abounds with the spectacular wildlife of Mana Pools and Hwange National Park.  There is the mighty Zambezi River, the gigantic playground of Lake Kariba, the eerie landscapes of the Eastern Highlands and the peaceful mountains of Nyanga.

      The continuing worries are food shortage, unemployment, corruption and the warped ideas of an ageing leader, who stated that ‘in most recent times, as the West started being hostile to us, we deliberately declared a Look East policy’.  Hopefully he’s being metaphorical about looking out towards the rising sun and a new dawn for a land that has been savaged for far too long.  Stop reading about Zimbabwe and go see for yourself.  Discover a place of true natural beauty and be part of and witness a regeneration that is inevitable.

      The hopes and dreams of most Zimbabweans were summed up very well for my by an anonymous writer in a forum linked to the Zimbawean, an online newspaper.  He asked the old leaders to go fishing and let the youngsters show everyone what they’re made of and take their country into a bright and prosperous future.  I couldn’t agree more.  Change is as good as a holiday, or is it? 

      With all of the above in mind we recently decided to drive up into Zim to see for ourselves.  Our route took us through Harare, for a 90th birthday lunch and a walk up the huge granite slab of Dombashava.  Next stop was Kariba, where we first spent 2 unforgettable nights on a houseboat and then crossed the length of dam on the overnight ferry.  From there we travelled across to Victoria Falls, where we spent 2 days, witnessing the Zambezi and falls in full flow and the spectacular fauna and flora that along it's banks.  On the way back South, towards South Africa, we pulled into Hwange National Park, where we gawked at the marvel of its bountiful natural spread.  Huge herds of Elephants and Buffalo, teams of lion and wild dog, and beautiful landscapes, the park certainly hasn't lost all of it's wildlife.  The roads weren't as bad as expected, there was fuel in every station and the police at the 20 plus roadblocks we encountered were fairly courtious.  The people of Zimbabwe are desperate for us to return but more importantly, they are so good at having us.