Aga Goodies

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It feels like this year is just galloping away from us! With my preggie brain, I am struggling to keep up with things and feel torn in a hundred different directions. In the next three months we have to host our 3rd annual Vastrap Boran auction (14 August), finish the building work that we are doing on the new baby room, attend various other auctions around the country, whilst at the same time trying to make sure that I don’t have any final stage complications in my pregnancy like we did last time. The only sure way of achieving this is to put my feet up, but there’s not much chance of that happening with an 18 month old toddler making mischief around the house and demanding her mommy’s attention!

It doesn’t help that we’ve been away from home a lot this year and every time we get back there’s an adjustment phase to get back into routine. I really can’t complain though. We had a lovely trip to the UK recently. Livia and I tagged along for the ride, while Quentin joined some friends on a week long golf tour. We had a fantastic time in London and visited a friend and my God-daughter Daisy, near the sea in West Sussex. It was a real treat to relax and enjoy some warmer weather whilst doing fun things with Livia.

I bought some fabulous accessories for the Aga in London. An old Aga like ours doesn’t have all the cooking attachments that the new ones have. I didn’t even realise this until I saw them at another friend’s house. The most useful thing I got was a cooking grid that slides into the Aga runners so that you don’t have to cook straight on the solid bottom plate of the oven. There is also a shelf that slides in to make the oven a bit cooler and more suitable for cooking when the fire is burning really hot. I also love the oven gloves and chef’s pad that protects the chrome top of the Aga stove. It is so useful and totally solves the problem of where to put hot things when moving them from the stove to the oven or from the hot plate to the cool plate. I wanted to get the baking trays that slide into the oven runners, but there wasn’t enough space in my luggage!

I made some enquiries when I got home to see if these things are available from the Aga agent locally. The full catalogue is here –> AGA Cookshop Spring Summer 2015 or click on the link for the local Aga Living website. They don’t stock the full range, but if you’re willing to wait for the next container load you can do a special order. I really would highly recommend the textiles and simple accessories for those wanting to make their old anthracite Aga’s more user friendly. 2015-07-03_0001 2015-07-03_00022015-07-03_00032015-07-03_0005

Winter is Here!

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Winter has finally arrived at Vastrap. We’ve been bracing ourselves for the cold for a while now, but May was unusually sunny and warm. We spent some of the time on holiday down in the Transkei and Kwazulu Natal where it really felt like summer so that also saved us a bit. Last night the first big cold front of winter hit us and we were treated to some early morning rain and much colder temperatures. The forecast for the next while looks bitterly cold, as it should be for this time of year. This is the perfect start to the winter crop season so my farmer love is in a happy mood today!

At times like these, I’m always so grateful to have a warm and cosy home. It definitely wasn’t like this when I first arrived on the farm 5 years ago. My first experience of winter in the house was almost unbearable. There was no insulation in the ceiling, huge glass windows everywhere and only one or two heaters in the main living areas. We were always dressed in our warmest winter jackets and watched TV wrapped in blankets sitting on top of the heater. My hands even froze just sitting in bed drinking coffee or typing at my computer. Needless to say, it was absolute hell during a power outage. Not my idea of fun!

When we renovated the house about 3 years ago I insisted on installing double glazing and insulating the ceilings. We also made sure that there were multiple sources of heating – a Morsø fireplace and an Aga stove – and gas for cooking. With all these options we can cope well without power on a cold day.  We also put some underfloor heating in the main bathroom and kitchen just to take the chill off the tiles.

The Aga stove really is at the heart of our home and it’s an annual ritual getting it clean and lighting it for winter (see Lighting the Aga). This year Quentin had a brainwave to use the vacuum cleaner to suck out all the old grit and residue left inside the chimney from last winter. In two minutes everything looked spick and span and good as new so the fire should draw nicely.

Having the Aga lit changes the whole dynamic of the house. I use it a lot for cooking and everyone automatically gravitates towards the heat. New visitors to the house can’t help but admire it and share memories of old Aga’s from their childhoods. I was a bit worried how Livia would cope with such a big exposed heater, but so far she’s steered clear of it and she seems to understand that it’s hot. We’ve had to do a lot of childproofing in the house with a toddler cruising around. I’ve installed a safety guard around our fireplace and I found a lovely old oregon pine kitchen cupboard at one of the antique shops in town to store breakable things that were lying around. Now I just need some locks for our toilets to stop her throwing things into them, my car keys and remotes being the most recent victims!

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Cooking with Livia

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I spent the morning with my cooking club today and Livia came with for a change of scenery. There was a constant stream of entertainment as she was passed from one adoring aunty to another and showered with love by her godmother Vicky. She should be a junior Masterchef in the making with all the food loving ladies she spends time with! With the temperatures rising, we decided to focus on a summer theme of salads and ice creams. I cannot think of many better ways to spend a Friday, cooking with friends, eating good food and delicious ice cream!

Heidi and Vicky made some great dishes with cheese and pears – the one was a fresh pear wrapped in home made ricotta, drizzled with honey and served with caramelised onion focaccia, the other was poached pears stuffed with camembert ice cream. Wow, what a treat!

I made brown bread ice cream with a butterscotch sauce, which I saw in an old copy of Vogue Entertaining and Travel from 1999. I’ve been doing a major spring clean at Vastrap which has led me to rediscover many gems that have been gathering dust under counters over the past few years. These magazines are such a treasure trove and I’ve dusted off all the summer ones to use this season. To be honest, brown bread ice cream doesn’t sound like it has much going for it, but the bread crumbs are toasted and caramelised in sugar, which makes it crunchy and delicious. Click HERE for a great recipe and serve it with some butterscotch sauce. Lucky for Quentin, I’ve come home with a whole tub full as there was so much to taste that we hardly made a dent in it. Wishing everyone a very happy weekend!

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Nuts about cards and granola!

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We had a lovely Father’s Day weekend on the farm with a few visitors from Joburg and a special visit from Ashley. We hadn’t seen her since the end of April so it was a real treat to have her in the house again. It was quite cold so we all just snuggled up in front of the fire and played endless games of Uno together. I never grew up in a house of card players, but Quentin’s family are crazy for cards especially his mum. Ashley’s caught the bug from her granny and absolutely loves playing Uno and rummy. For some reason the adults joined in with gusto this weekend spurred on by Quentin and James’ competitive streak. We had such a laugh and needless to say Ashley loved it! Livia was so happy to see her sister again and gave her lots of smiles. She is very chilled at the moment and is observing the world from every angle. I can’t believe how fast the time is passing just two weeks short of her six month birthday!

2014-06-16_0011I did lots of cooking before the weekend to fill the house with some of Quentin’s favourite food for Father’s Day. While he drove to Joburg on Friday to fetch Ashley, I cooked my first ever oxtail, experimented with filleting and smoking a beautiful rainbow trout we got from Lesotho, made his favourite cheese cake with vanilla ice cream and a batch of nutty granola. Everything turned out really well and having pre-prepared it all I could relax over the weekend. The only disaster was that the Beagles jumped on the counter and polished off half of the cheese cake this morning after I forgot to put it back in the fridge last night!! I managed to salvage a last little slither for our afternoon tea, but it was such a waste.

I’ve recently started posting photos to Instagram (http://instagram.com/marisdbruyn/) and have been participating in a photography challenge called #clickaday. It’s been quite fun finding things to photograph each day and it’s obviously much quicker than sitting down to write a whole blog post (something I seem to have less and less time for). After posting a photo of the granola on Friday quite a few people liked the look of it and so I promised to share the recipe. The recipe is from the Woolworths Taste magazine with a few of my own tweaks. What I love is that it’s not full of sugar and the nuts are soaked overnight to make them more easy to digest. It’s great to have a stash in the cupboard for a quick breakfast with yoghurt and fruit and even Quentin loves adding it to Pronutro or Wheatbix. It’s very easy to make so give it a try!

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Nutty Granola

(Makes 1kg)

250g raw Pecan nuts

250g raw Almonds

500g Rolled Oats

A few handfuls of mixed seeds to taste (pumpkin, sunflower, linseed, flaxseed etc)

3t ground cinnamon

1 cup Agave syrup (can be substituted with honey)

2t vanilla paste

1 cup melted coconut oil (or macadamia oil)

Soak the nuts in water for 8-12 hours (almonds need a bit longer than pecan nuts). Rinse well with cold water and dry spread out on kitchen paper or in the sun. Preheat the oven to 180 degrees Celsius. Roughly chop the nuts and combine with the oats, seeds and cinnamon in a mixing bowl. Mix the melted coconut oil, agave syrup and vanilla paste together and combine with the dry ingredients. Line a large baking tray (or 2) with tinfoil and spread the granola mixture in a thin layer. Bake for 15-20 minutes stirring a few times to make sure it bakes evenly. Don’t leave the room to do something else without setting a timer or the nuts will burn (I speak from experience)!! Cook for longer if need be until the granola has a nice golden colour (if the nuts are still wet it will take longer to cook). Remove from the oven and stir to make sure it doesn’t stick. Leave to cool completely and crisp up. Store in an airtight container.

 

Tempting Buttermilk Rusks

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I’ve started the month of June with a mission to shake some of the post-baby fat that’s settling all too comfortably on places it wasn’t before. Winter has never been a dieting season in my books, but I decided to reconsider when I learnt about the new high fat, low carb eating craze that’s taking South Africa by storm. How difficult can it be if you are encouraged to cook generously with real butter and bacon fat, eat as many eggs as you want and when it’s compulsory to eat the fat left on a lamb chop? That sounds just up my alley! But then comes the sting in the tail… no more rusks with morning coffee; no more rustling up a quick pasta on nights when I don’t know what to cook; no more shared bowls of ice cream in front of the TV with my love. A big sacrifice I think, which is why it’s taken me a while to get my head around it. Most people I’ve seen who’ve tried it are very impressed with the results so it’s worth a go. I’ve made peace with the fact that I’ll be in this alone. How could I possibly ask Quentin to give up sugar in his tea and coffee, bread, ice cream, cheese cake and more? Most of all, it would be sacrilege to deprive a farm boy of his rusks!

And so I faced the ultimate challenge this weekend of baking a batch of buttermilk rusks knowing that none of them will pass my lips (except the tiniest crumb to check the result!) I’ve been experimenting with recipes to improve on the Amasi rusks that Malefah usually bakes (see Malefah’s rusks) after I noticed a large number of referrals to this blog are via searches for buttermilk rusks recipes. This recipe is from a book I was given recently after we spent a very special family weekend at a place called Halfaampieskraal in the Overberg. The food at Halfaampies is legendary – generous, delicious and made with love. As with most boerekos (traditional Afrikaans food) very little about it suits a diet. The cookbook, Halfaampieskraal Celebrates, is full of their signature dishes most of which are off limits to me now. Still, I can extract an immense amount of joy paging through the recipes and remembering how good a few of them tasted during the long, lazy and luscious meals we enjoyed on the stoep and in their ornate dining room.

This recipe for buttermilk rusks has far more butter than other recipes I’ve used. It makes them beautifully rich and quite crumbly. The trick is to cream the butter and sugar together very well before mixing with the dry ingredients. If I do them again I might try to add a bit more buttermilk, because my mixture didn’t look as wet as in the pictures. They are quite perfect as is though. As rusks go, this one definitely suits the high fat part of my diet with the 1kg of butter used, but alas, the rest of the ingredients are a no go. My love is enjoying them though, which is the most important thing!

Halfaampieskraal Buttermilk Rusks (beskuit)

1kg butter, softened

3 cups sugar

4 eggs

250ml buttermilk

1.5kg self-raising flour

1.5 teaspoons baking powder

1.5 teaspoons salt

Preheat the oven to 180 degrees C. Whisk the softened butter and sugar together with an electric beater until pale and light. Add the eggs, beat until blended and then slowly add the buttermilk. Sift the dry ingredients and mix them well into the buttermilk mixture using a wooden spoon. The dough must be sticky and dense. Line a large, deep baking tin with baking paper. Spoon in the mixture with a greased dessertspoon so that the balls of dough touch each other (feel free to use your hands!)

Bake for an hour until golden brown (my oven always burns the top if I don’t watch carefully!). Leave the tin to cool on a rack. When completely cool, break the rusks apart along the markings that are still visible on them. Then use a fork to break them in half across the width (I struggle to break them into equal bits!) Place the rusks on a baking tray, crust side down, and leave in the oven overnight on the coolest setting (50-100 degrees) with the door slightly ajar.

Store in an airtight container and enjoy dunked in morning tea or coffee!

Recipe from Halfaampieskraal Celebrates – a visual feast of food, friendship and festivities on a South African farm (Maia du Plessis & Simon Scarboro).

 

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Marinated Artichokes

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I absolutely love marinated artichokes. Not the sloppy bland kind that come in a tin, but proper Italian ones marinated in olive oil, which invariably cost an arm and a leg. I don’t often buy them, but sometimes I indulge in a special treat and serve them up with a platter of antipasto or in a salad. I have a distinct memory from my childhood of a long afternoon in the kitchen with my mother making our own marinated artichokes. It must have been the end of season because she had bought a whole box of small ones for a steal and I helped her go through the laborious process of peeling the hard outer leaves off each one to reveal the sweat and tender heart. I will never forget the pleasure of dipping into our jar of homemade deliciousness and the disappointment when they were finished!

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Needless to say, one of the first things I did in the Vastrap veggie garden was to plant globe artichokes. I bought three established plants and started a few from seed. Having heard that they take quite a long time to produce anything, I didn’t expect much. We harvested a few last year, but only enough to eat there and then. This year it’s a completely different story! I have about seven plants and all of them are producing, including the ones I grew from seed last year. In a quick round of the garden last night I picked about eight beautiful artichokes, which was far too much for the two of us to eat so there was nothing to do but marinade them. It’s the first time I’ve done this since that day in the kitchen with my mom, but it’s really not rocket science. The recipe can easily be tweaked to suit individual taste. Unfortunately the preparation is a bit time consuming, but it’s definitely worth the effort and can be done in stages if you don’t have enough time all at once.

Ingredients:

6-8 globe artichokes

3-4 lemons

3-4 cloves of garlic

Dried chilli flakes

Dried origanum and thyme

Salt & pepper

Good quality extra virgin olive oil (about 500ml)

Method: 

Wash the artichokes thoroughly to remove any bugs that have settled between the leaves (save the ladybugs if you can!) Cut each artichoke in half from top to bottom. I like to keep the stems quite long. Scoop out the hairy choke with a spoon or pairing knife. Squeeze some lemon juice over each one to prevent the flesh going brown. Place in a pot and cover with salted water. Boil for about 20-30 minutes depending on the size of the hearts. Check the centre of the heart to see if a knife goes through easily – there should still be some resistance, but it must be cooked through.

2013-11-11_0001Once cooked drain off the water in a colander. I like to chargrill them a bit on a griddle pan, but it’s not strictly necessary. You can do this while they are still hot or even the next day when you have more time. Place each artichoke heart-side down on a hot grill pan until there are some nice brown stripes. At this point  you can set some of the artichokes aside to eat in the traditional way with olive oil, butter or mayonnaise. Otherwise start with the next process of removing all the hard outer leaves and cutting off the prickly tops. Some people do this before the artichoke is cooked, but I think that’s too difficult. My knives are not nearly sharp enough!

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You should be left with a pot full of artichoke hearts and the tender inner leaves. Add the garlic, chilli flakes, herbs, salt and pepper and olive oil. Bring to the boil for 5-10 minutes to allow the flavours to infuse. Add the juice of one lemon. Place the artichoke hearts in a glass bottle or container and cover with the oil, herb and lemon juice mixture. Store in the fridge and top up with new ones as you go along.
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Viva the Spice Girls!

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It was freezing cold this weekend, which put a bit of a dampener on our celebration of Spring Day. The Aga stove was fired up full steam hopefully for the last time this winter. The days are noticeably brighter and lighter and the jasmine outside my kitchen door is in full bloom so things can only get better from here! Fortunately, the cold weather didn’t stop us having a very enjoyable weekend, especially on Saturday when I joined three friends from cooking club to participate in the annual Masterchef competition at the Ladybrand church bazaar. It was a first for all of us, but we had a blast and our team, The Spice Girls, walked home with first prize!

The rules of the competition are simple. You need to bring all your own cooking equipment and be ready to face the elements cooking outside. Each team of four people has three hours to conjure a delicious main course dish using a meat cut provided by the judges and ingredients from the pantry. The judges had to score based on innovation, technique, creative use of ingredients, taste, presentation and team spirit. Heidi, Jenny, Vicky and I came well prepared with two Weber braais (gas and charcoal), a two-plate gas stove and every piece of kitchen equipment we could think of, including our pasta roller and ravioli cut-outs. We were only limited by the fact that there was no electricity so everything had to be done by hand. We had great moral support from our husbands, who sat in the morning sun drinking sherry and whisky happily banned from touching the fire or helping us in any way. My sister and nieces popped past for a visit on their way back from the farm to Johannesburg. City-slicker teenager, Sibella was mortified by the old-school “Boere musiek” blaring from the loudspeakers, but Sophia and Ashley were blissfully happy chomping cinnamon sugar pancakes and enjoying the cute home-made treats on sale at the bazaar.

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The look and feel of the Spice Girl tent was very understated compared to the other teams who went all out with coordinated uniforms and brightly decorated stands. We didn’t allow this to distract us from the task at hand though! At 9am the judges revealed that we had to cook with a rack of pork, which was a bit of a surprise as we were sure it would be lamb or beef. After a few minutes of consultation we rushed to the “pantry” to gather our ingredients. There was a reasonable selection of produce, but we had to make do without butter and olive oil and luxuries like parmesan and sage. We decided to risk it anyway and stuck to our plan of making ravioli to showcase some of the skills we’ve learnt over the past year in our cooking club. We made our own ricotta and two types of ravioli to complement the pork, one with roasted butternut, sweet potato and ricotta and the other with spinach and ricotta. We slow-roasted some tomatoes for a sauce. The pork was poached in a fragrant broth of apple, clove and thyme and then marinated in a sweet honey, ginger and mustard sauce before being seared on the gas. Instead of chops, we cut the pork into medallions for more elegant presentation. The crackling was salted and cooked on the braai until crisp and then cut finely and crumbled over the final dish to add texture and flavour.

We had lots of people stopping by to watch the pasta-making and the pork turned out deliciously succulent and full of flavour. The only down-side was the time it took for the judges to make their way to our table, which left the food ice cold! Fortunately, that didn’t matter too much and the Spice Girls went home victorious. All in all, it was a great way to spend a Saturday morning and we really enjoyed ourselves. My preggie belly especially enjoyed the steaming hot cinnamon pancakes our support team fed us through the morning and of course I could not leave without devouring a bowl of bazaar trifle for pudding! The things we do for entertainment in a small town….

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