Something Fishy!

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A few weeks ago our cooking club met for the day to improve our cooking skills with fish. Living inland as we do, we tend not to cook that much fish and most of us feel intimidated by filleting a whole fish. Some of the best trout and salmon in the country is farmed in the highlands of Lesotho though and we were lucky enough to get some beautiful trout to work with. We also had some whole red roman that was spearfished by Marisa’s brother in the Cape. We called in some experts from town to help us with filleting skills – Seppie and his friend from Knysna are passionate about fishing and they had a lot of insights to share on how best to cook seafood – preferably fresh out of the sea cooked over hot coals on the beach!

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We fried the filleted red roman in butter with a dusting of seasoned flour (put the fillets and flour in a plastic tub and shake it all up). It was surprisingly tasty considering that it had been frozen for quite a while. A great tip we were given was to defrost frozen fish in salt water to help bring out the flavour.

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The trout was cured for a few hours in a rub of salt, sugar and pepper (1 tblsp each of salt and sugar and 1 tsp of crushed black pepper corns) before smoking it briefly in a hot wok over some oak chips (about 15 minutes). It was served with two salads from Ottolenghi’s Jerusalem book.

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As if there wasn’t already enough food, Adri spoilt us all by making a delicious bouillabaisse with rouille. Click HERE for the recipe. And Heidi made prawns on noodles with soy beurre blancIt was all absolutely delicious and we had a feast of a lunch afterwards. Marisa’s daughter Livia was very much part of the action being passed around from one adoring auntie to the next! Yet another great day learning new things with our group of inspiring women and two very helpful fishermen!

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Pastry Masterclass

We were extremely lucky to organise a course in French pastry making by a very talented young pastry chef from Johannesburg, Else Roome. It was a full day of baking and we ended up with the most beautiful looking creations. The whole process gave us renewed respect for pastry chefs who spend hours painstakingly creating beautiful patisserie only for them to be devoured in minutes! Seeing exactly how much work goes into these little temptations and actually making them side-by-side with Else, Vicky commented that she will never again think that patisseries are expensive!

We made pâte sucre with crème d’amandes chocolate and ganache chocolate chloé (almond short crust pastry with chocolate almond paste and raspberry chocolate ganache); choux pastry filled with crème patisserie ananas (pineapple pastry cream); and a financier cake with fondant icing (petit four).

Click on the link for the recipes – PASTRY RECIPES

Ready for a day of baking!

Ready for a day of baking!

Recipe cards.

Recipe cards.

Making páte sucre, almond short crust pastry.

Making páte sucre, almond short crust pastry.

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Shaping the tart cases.

Choux pastry ready for the oven.

Choux pastry ready for the oven.

On top of the Páte Sucre layer of the Crème d'amandes Chocolat and then topping the tart with Canache Chocolat Cloè.

Layering the Páte Sucre with Crème d’amandes Chocolat and Canache Chocolat Cloè.

Adri with her daughter Neydine.

Adri with her daughter Neydine.

Preparation for the Financier cake.

Preparation for the Financier cake.

Elze with her ever so happy smile.

Elze with her ever so happy smile!

Making the Crème Patissiere Ananas.

Making the Crème Patissiere Ananas.

A little tip: how do you get the edge of a tart smooth... use a cheese grater!

A little tip: use a cheese grater to get a smooth edge on the tart!

Filling and assembling our Choux pastries.

Filling and assembling our Choux pastries.

Gold dust tip: cover a brush in gold dust and then softly blow it to cover patisserie.

Gold dust tip: cover a brush in gold dust and then softly blow it to cover patisserie.

Beautiful creations!

Beautiful creations!

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Cutting the Financier cake.

Cutting and covering the Financier cake.

A beautiful Petit Four, Financier cake make from almond powder, layered with fondant icing and finished off with sugared pearls.

A beautiful Petit Four, Financier cake covered with fondant icing and finished off with sugared pearls.

Happy Cooking Fish!

Our October Cooking Club meeting was hosted by Ilse who kindly agreed to share some tips on cooking fish. Ilse is Belgian, but she fell in love with Thai cooking whilst living in Thailand for a few years before moving to South Africa. She pulled out a well worn copy of her favourite Thai cook book – Heritage Edition Thailand the Beautiful Cookbook, recipes by Panurat Polanditmontri – and revealed some secrets of cooking the perfect Tom Yum soup with prawns (here is the recipe – Tom Yum Goong). The soup was spicy and deliciously fragrant and we were all thrilled to hear that most of the ingredients could be found locally. For ingredients that may be tricky to find there some easy substitutes. For example, one can simply use normal white mushrooms instead of straw mushrooms and lemon leaves instead of kaffir lime leaves. Ginger root is also a reasonable substitute for galangal. The soup seemed really easy to make and Ilse suggested that it could be served with rice as a more substantial meal. We all agreed it was delicious!

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Ilse explaining the basics of Thai cooking.

Cleaning the prawns.

Cleaning the prawns.

Adding the finishing touches.

Adding the finishing touches.

2013-10-16_0005As a tribute to her European roots, Ilse also showed us how to cook fish en papillote. We had some delicious fresh soles that were wrapped in foil with a selection of onion, tomato, mushroom, coriander, lemon, butter and white wine, seasoned with salt and pepper and paprika. The foil parcels were baked in the oven for about 20 minutes. This is a very easy way to prepare fish, which ensures it stays nice and moist and full of flavour. You could use any kind of white fish and whatever mix of soft veggies, fresh herbs and flavourings you have on hand. It can be served as is or with mashed potato or rice.

Laura and Wendy.

Laura and Wendy.

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As much as we enjoyed the fish, the pìece de résistance was definitely Ilse’s desert – a Belgian chocolate fondue served with fresh fruit. What a simple, yet utterly delicious way to end a meal! It is as simple as melting some Côte d’Or or similarly high quality Belgian chocolate and serving it in a fondue pot with seasonal fresh fruit on the side. Fresh strawberries work particularly well with this!

Yet another great afternoon spent learning some new tricks with the lovely ladies from Happy Cooking. Thank you for your hospitality Ilse!

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Happy Cooking Pasta (Again!)

We had a long-overdue meeting of our cooking club last week hosted by Heidi at the White House (called such because it is painted white inside and out, including the floors!) Last year, we had lots of fun making pasta and all the girls had requested that we have another session to brush up on our skills (see Happy Cooking Pasta!) It is always great to get together on a Friday afternoon to share our common interest in cooking and learn something new.

Heidi and Ilse with handsome Juma.

Heidi and Ilse with handsome Juma.

A splash of colour from Vicky's garden!

A splash of winter colour from Vicky’s garden!

Most of us have our own pasta rollers, but some of us have been too nervous to use them.  After this session I think we are all sorted and ready to show off our skills! We experimented with different flours, like cake flour, ’00 and semolina and how they impact on the texture of the pasta.  The semolina is much courser and requires a lot more kneading, whereas the ’00 flour very quickly results in a smooth fine texture. It really depends on individual taste which one you prefer and also the kind of pasta you are making. We use a general guide of 1 egg to 100g of flour with a touch of olive oil and some extra water if needed to bind it all together. Depending on the consistency you are after you can combine the different flours. For example, we found that 1/2 white bread flour to 1/2 ’00 flour is great for ravioli pasta because it creates something more robust that won’t fall apart easily with a wet filling inside. For fettucine ’00 flour creates a beautifully smooth texture, but Wendy’s boys (who have become pasta making experts since our last session!) prefer the bite of semolina pasta. That is the beauty of it – you can do pretty much whatever you like!  We all had a go at kneading and rolling different kinds of pasta which were then combined with different sauces. Laura made a delicious saffron and prawn sauce, which we paired with fettucine infused with saffron water. We also made a butternut and pork filling for ravioli, which goes perfectly with burnt butter and sage – a firm favourite with all of us! Wendy made a red pepper pesto, which we combined with the thin spaghetti pasta. All totally delicious!

Wendy demonstrating the semolina pasta.

Wendy demonstrating the semolina pasta.

Vicky and Jenny looking like pros working on the fettucine.

Vicky and Jenny looking like pros working on the fettucine.

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The end result!

The end result!

Butternut ravioli filling.

Butternut ravioli filling.

Perfect parcels!

Perfect parcels!

We also experimented with a slightly different kind of “pasta” called malfatti, which is a spinach and ricotta gnocchi served with a napolitana sauce. This has been a staple recipe in Marisa’s family for years and is a perfect vegetarian alternative. Good quality ricotta cheese is hard to come by in a small town so we decided to make some after reading a very easy looking recipe on the Bartolini Kitchen’s blog (click HERE for the recipe). It is so simple and totally delicious! Absolutely perfect for the job. Making the malfatti is a messy business because you have to roll the little balls with your hands. Our mixture was slightly too wet and extra messy, but still worked out well. We used the recipe from Tessa Kiros’ book Twelve, with slight adjustments to reflect the way Marisa’s mother taught her.

Parmesan for the malfatti.

Parmesan for the malfatti.

Ready for the oven.

Ready for the oven.

After far too many courses we moved on to the all-important desert! Heidi presented affogato made with home-made ice cream which was amazing and some Italian pastries called crostoli. Some chocolate salami bought in Clarens rounded it all off perfectly.

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After such exertion there was nothing left to do, but fill a glass of wine and enjoy the last rays of late afternoon sun. Until the next time when Ilse will be showing us some ideas for cooking fish!

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Cooking in a Castle with Alexis Kriel

For our June meeting we organised something very special: a two day course with a well-known Johannesburg-based teacher, Alexis Kriel, who specialises in vegetarian Indian cooking. We were so happy that Alexis agreed to travel all the way to the Free State to share her classes and we were determined to make it worth her while. Since all of our club ladies couldn’t make it, we invited some extra friends who are also interested in cooking. Adri organised for us to stay at a wonderful guest house called Union House near Fouriesburg and we spent the whole of Saturday cooking in the kitchen of Destiny Castle, which is perched on a cliff with 360 degree views of the Maluti mountains. It was simply spectacular. In Alexis’ words: like being on top of the beanstalk!

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And the cooking was spectacular too. Alexis has a very particular food philosophy or consciousness, which stems from her years living in a hindu temple in Chastworth. In essence, it is thought that the person who cooks the food and the way in which they interact with it makes a huge difference to how the food is experienced on a physical, emotional and spiritual level. Before we started she explained all the different spices we would use. There were some that we had never heard of like asafoetida (hing), which is often used in place of onion or garlic. Then she requested us to use all of our senses whilst cooking so that rather than constantly tasting everything we should touch, smell, listen and observe the food to assess when it is ready. We should also not tamper with or stir the food too much. This was quite a difficult thing for many of us, but it really worked to maintain the integrity and beauty of the final dishes.

We chose to cook her Bollywood menu, which includes deep and pungent Indian flavours based on dishes we know well from restaurants. Although everything was vegetarian, most of the dishes could be easily done with meat too. The first day included: Paneer Tikka Masala (including home made paneer); Mushroom Rogan Josh; Apricot Chutney; Biryani; and a sweet dessert called Bhapa Dhoi. Everything was prepped and ready to go when we started cooking, thanks to lots of hard work by Alexis and her assistant Malita.

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Apricot chutney, paneer tikka masala and biryani.

Apricot chutney, paneer tikka masala and biryani.

On the second day we combined all the dishes that she would normally teach in two classes: Cashew Nut Curry; Soy Beef Vindaloo; Pear Chutney with Star Anise; Dried Fruit Pulao; Paneer Makhani; Coconut and Cashew Nut Rice with Mustard Seed and Curry Leaf Tempering; Pistachio Korma with Cauliflower; Green Chutney; and dessert of  Choclat Burfie and Black Tea Cinnamon Truffles. We also begged Alexis to share her secret for perfect rotis, which she graciously did and they were a big hit!

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Laura and Lisa with their cauliflower pistachio korma.

Laura and Lisa with their cauliflower pistachio korma.


Wendy and Jackie with the paneer and soy vindaloo.

Wendy and Jackie with their paneer makhani and soy beef vindaloo.


Pear chutney and cashew curry on the boil.

Pear chutney and cashew curry on the boil.


Busy kitchen!

Busy kitchen!


Adri and Maggie with the black tea truffles.

Adri and Maggie with the black tea truffles.


Jenny and Ilse with the choclat burfie.

Jenny and Ilse with the choclat burfie.


Rotis in the making!

Rotis in the making!

We cooked in the amazing kitchen in the castle with a roaring log fire in the dining room. Destiny Castle used to run as a guest house, but the owners recently tithed it to the Church and plan to use it as the location for a very high level faith-based leadership academy. It certainly is the right place for quiet thought and contemplation of the complex leadership issues facing our continent.

Needless to say, it all ended in a feast of flavours! The pictures speak for themselves. We drove down the treacherous hill back home sated and satisfied. Everyone agreed that we had experienced something truly unique in a quiet little corner of the Free State. Thank you to everyone who made it all possible, especially Adri, Alexis and our generous hosts Mike and Denyse.

The fruits of our labour.

The fruits of our labour.


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A beautiful feast of flavours!

Christmas Countdown

For the 2012 year-end meeting of the Happy Cooking Club we decided to bake biscuits and package them in boxes as gifts for the Ladybrand old-age home. Marisa’s mom, Marianne, was a special guest for the day as she was visiting the farm from Jobug.

Marisa and Marianne.

Marisa and Marianne.

We had a great assortment of biscuits, unfortunately not all of them home made because time is in such short supply at this time of year. There were scrumptious Lemon Ginger cookies from the Hot Polka Dot blog. There are some really delicious cookie recipes on that site and she makes it seem so simple. There were also Marachino Cherry Chocolate biscuits using the Marachino cherries bought at the Ficksburg cherry festival. They were real death by chocolate! We packaged 50 boxes of biscuits, which were happily received at the home this morning.

An assortment of biscuits.

Hard at work boxing biscuits.

Heidi and Adri.

Ready to go.

For lunch, Jenny made us some delicious roast lamb and Marianne made one of her old favourites, a pancake stack with layers of langoustine tails and mayonnaise, carrots and peas, and leek and spinach.

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Langoustine pancake stack.

Heidi made her signature meringue roulade and very kindly shared the recipe with us! You can find it HERE.

Heidi’s meringue roulade – our reward for hard work!

While we were busy over-indulging in lunch, Heidi’s husband Charles stopped by on his long Saturday ride around the district. This didn’t make us feel guilty about our lunch at all. Neither did the fact that we could not walk it off later because of the rain!

Charles and Heidi.

Happy Cooking Thai

We had a meeting of our cooking club on Friday and the theme was Thai food. This year so far we have done a master class in bread making, Chinese, Thai and Indian food and pasta making. We’ve decided to end off the year baking Christmas biscuits parcels for our local old age home. We have so many ideas and dreams about what we would like to do, but unfortunately not enough time between the eight of us so there are lots of adventures to look forward to next year!

This month’s meeting was hosted by Heidi in her new home, which has become known around town as the “White House”. Pretty much everything with a painted surface inside and out is white, making it a stunning backdrop for her collection of glass, silver and ceramic objects and a quirky, colourful art collection. There are views of the sandstone cliffs behind the house and out over Ladybrand town towards the Maluti mountains. It is situated next to an old Boer War graveyard for British soldiers, which adds even more character to the setting.

View of the graveyard.

Anyone for drinks?

Heidi prepared a feast of Thai food, while the rest of us mostly watched and enjoyed eating it! Many of the recipes were from the Wagamama Cookbook. We had sticky rice with coconut milk and shrimp, prawns with coriander and chilli, sweet corn cakes, fried fish cakes with green beans, char grilled chicken with yakitori sauce and various delicious side sauces. Click here for a full list of recipes – Thai recipes. There were also some steamed dumplings sourced from our local Chinese shop and delicious Thai lettuce rolls. My favourite side dish of the day was a cucumber relish or Ayat. It is sweet and sticky with roasted peanuts and cucumber. Yum, delicious yum! Click here for the recipe – Ayat – Cucumber relish.

Essential ingredients: garlic, chilli, coriander and lemon.

Cooking in the White House.

Lots of chatter…

While Jenny, Heidi and Wendy do all the work!

Noodles on the go.

Jenny taking care of the steamed dumplings from our local Chinese shop.

The recipes with a cover specially designed by Daisy Grobler.

Table setting with Thai lettuce wraps and sauces.

Jasmine tea.

The banquet table.

A feast of flavours!

The meal was ended off with a light and refreshing litchi and ginger sorbet. A perfect summer desert that we are all sure to make again in the coming months. Click here for the recipe – Litchi and ginger sorbet

Heidi putting the finishing touches on the litchi and ginger sorbet.

Thank you Heidi for a wonderful Thai demonstration and all the effort you made to present it so beautifully. We are very happy, lucky ladies indeed!

Eating is a tiring business!