Happy Cooking Pasta (Again!)

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We had a long-overdue meeting of our cooking club last week hosted by Heidi at the White House (so called because it’s 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. We kicked off the day with some champagne to celebrate the happy news of my pregnancy. I sipped on a small glass! Vicky bought bags full of lemons for everyone from her garden, which added an amazing splash of colour to the table.

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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, I like to use 1/2 white bread flour to 1/2 ’00 flour 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!

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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 my 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 my mother taught me.

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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 (Cola Tonic and soda for me!) and enjoy the last rays of late afternoon sun. On the way home, I couldn’t help thinking of all the poor people sitting in Friday afternoon rush-hour traffic in cities all over the country. What a pleasure to be the only car on our farm road home. It’s only a pity about all the potholes I had to negotiate to get out of town!

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Cooking in a Castle

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I had the most wonderful weekend of cooking with good friends from Ladybrand, Maseru and Bloemfontein. The cooking club I belong to, which is called “Happy Cooking”, organised a two day course with a well-known Johannesburg-based teacher, Alexis Kriel, who specialises in vegetarian Indian cooking. Unfortunately I have missed all our cooking club meetings this year, which have included a Spanish day and a master class in meat cutting (for examples of what we did last year see our blog Happy Cooking Club). I wasn’t going to miss out on this weekend though as I knew it would be special. Our friend 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.

DSC_4163We 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 Dhapa Dhoi.

DSC_4209On 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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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.

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Christmas Countdown

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It’s that time of year when things have to get more hectic before the slow wind down to Christmas can begin. I’ve been back and forth to Joburg twice in the past week and in between there has been much socializing, cooking, baking, gardening, etcetera! When I drove home on Thursday my mother came back to the farm with me for a few days of well-deserved relaxation. She had not been to Vastrap since February and hadn’t seen the end result of our renovation. Happily she brought some rain with her! Not enough to break the drought, but at this stage we are grateful for every drop.

With my mom at cooking club.

My mom came along to our cooking club meeting on Saturday. For our year-end meeting we decided to bake biscuits and package them in boxes as gifts for the Ladybrand old-age home. I am not a big baker, but I tried really hard to get it right this time. With a little more practice hopefully there will be full cookie tins around the house for Christmas!

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. I made 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. I also made Marachino Cherry Chocolate biscuits using the Marachino cherries I bought at the 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.

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.

Too soon it was time to pack up and drive my mom back to Joburg. After the rain on Saturday I woke up early on Sunday for a thorough garden inspection. Getting into the Christmas spirit I could not resist picking some flowers and gathering some herbs, lemons and zucchini to bring back as gifts to the city. The hydrangeas are in full bloom now, a sure sign that December is near. In Afrikaans they are known as “Krismisrose” or “Christmas Roses” and they always make me think of summer holidays at the coast in Natures’ Valley. I also picked my very first Dahlia flowers. I can’t wait to see how they turn out this year, because I planted another whole patch of Dahlia’s in different colours, which are starting to come up. There should be no shortage of flowers for the house by Christmas. A very happy thought indeed!

Krismisrose.

The first Dahlia bush to flower.

Dahlia’s for my sister – the more you pick them the more they flower!

Gifts from the Vastrap garden.

Happy Cooking Thai

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We had a meeting of our cooking club on Friday and the theme was Thai food. I’ve written about our  Happy Cooking Club before (see Happy Cooking Pasta!). 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 our friend 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.

I arrived at this stylish, elegant location straight from our cattle course so the contrast couldn’t have been greater! I was immediately served a delicious strong cappuccino since I had complained that there was no good coffee in sight at the Stockman School (see The stockman and his love).

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. 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!

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.

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!

Happy Cooking Pasta!

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We had a long overdue meeting of our cooking club on Friday afternoon. It is called “Happy Cooking”, because all eight of us are very happy when we are doing fun things in the kitchen! So far this year we’ve done Chinese, Indian and a master class in bread baking. It was my turn to host the meeting. Earlier in the year I volunteered to do pasta making, because of our trip to Italy in July (see Mid Year Resolutions). After delaying and rescheduling we eventually got six of us together for an afternoon. My friend Vicky who lives on a beautiful farm near Clocolan also joined us. It was the perfect day for cooking – cool and overcast. I restarted the Aga so that we had more space for cooking and Poepsie cat was thrilled to have her heater back! The wisteria creeper outside the kitchen has also sprung into bloom bringing a gorgeous perfume to the air. I love how the purple rain comes alive with bumble bees – poor Coco even got a bee sting on her mouth earlier in the week.

Herb garden slowly coming to life.

Contrast of purple wisteria and orange clivias.

Happy Cooking girls at the new Vastrap veggie garden – Heidi, me, Jenny, Wendy, Kathryn, Adri.

But I digress, this day was all about the food, and LOTS of it! On the menu: home-made fettuccine with a fresh tomato and basil sauce; beetroot and goats cheese ravioli with burnt sage butter; spinach and ricotta ravioli with sage butter; and potato gnocchi with ragu/bolognese sauce. All the recipes came from two Italian food blogs: Juls’ Kitchen and The Italian Dish. I had never made gnocchi so Quentin had to be my guinea pig for a few days. In desperation I turned to YouTube to see how real Italian Mama’s do it… it really helped my technique and the ones we made on the day were the best so far. I am keen to try lots of different types made with sweet potato or pumpkin. I also made Nigel Slater’s rose water panna cotta with passion fruit purée, but we were all so full by the end that we could not finish it all! Kathryn brought her pasta machine along which had never been used. Now that she knows how easy it is to make pasta it will hopefully be a permanent fixture in her kitchen.

I have not mastered the art of cooking and taking photos. I was so busy that I did not take ONE photo all day, which really is very unusual for me. My hands were constantly full of dough and flour! So, this photo essay comes courtesy of Heidi and Vicky who were clicking away through the afternoon. The lighting was bad, but as you can see we had lots of fun. A great way to spend an afternoon. Lucky for me there were some raviolis left over, which I have frozen and I made a lasagna with the left over ragu. Buenisimo!

Sage, basil, thyme, parsley, chives with sweet peas from Vicky’s garden.

Passata di Pomodoro for the ragu.

Rolling the pasta.

Home made fettuccine.

Into the pot to cook for 1 minute!

Delicious pomodoro sauce.

Pasta al sugo di Pomodoro e basilico.

Adri and Wendy.

Spinach and ricotta ravioli filling.

Perfect ravioli parcels.

Beetroot pasta with goats cheese and chive filling.

Pink parcels!

The ravioli press I bought in Florence.

Preparing the sage butter.

The favourite dish of the day!

Jenny and Kathryn.

Adri and Wendy preparing the potato for the gnocchi.

Ready to add the flour and egg.

Adding the last ingredients to the ragu.

Delicious after 3 hours of cooking