One man’s cake is another man’s….also cake. The return of Foodhall.

So, I used to do this thing called Foodhall, and it was more fun than having a fish in your pants. Or having no pants at all. There is probably still even a brief description of all the details on the other end of the ‘Foodhall’ link at the top of the main page.

Well, mostly because I’m lame, it sort of fell by the wayside for a bit (the story of which ends with me sitting with R1000’s worth of Norwegian salmon in my fridge and no one to eat it because I was too busy looking at my dear deceased granny in a box – which is actually a lot funnier than it sounds…).  However, I’ve made a premature resolution to be less lame, and with that comes this announcement that Foodhall will be returning at the end of November for a brief run up until December, mostly as a practice-run for a fully-fledged comeback in 2010.

Want to know what it’s really about? Watch the video.

Ravioli is not for pussies.

I have nothing interesting or funny to say about this photograph. Bugger.
I have nothing interesting or funny to say about this photograph. Bugger.

So, I’m still housesitting for my deliriously happy honeymooning friends – and while I was being supremely lazy on their fancy couch, drinking their beer and watching cricket on their criminally enormous flatscreen TV, I had an idea.

Sometimes (I assume) people get ideas in this completely random way – you don’t know it comes from, you don’t know how exactly it arrived in your head – but you’re incredibly glad you had it, because it just goes to show that your brain is still on the job, and not…you know, running an interior-decorating business on the side.

This was one of those moments, which was gratifying. Alas it was about ravioli. Which was not.

Ravioli is a fiendishly labour-intensive business, one of those things I always start off with naïve enthusiasm and then end up wondering what the fuck was I thinking, mostly drunk on the wine that should be gently reducing with some tomato in a heavy-based saucepan and cursing through my tears at whichever sniveling Italian prick first thought that little stuffed pockets of pasta was a good idea. This is a cycle, however which I’m doomed to repeat, because like most difficult things, the end result is worth it no matter how much one likes to whine about it afterwards.

I think, like a lot of slightly more involved foods, pasta is one of those things that a lot of people will try and convince you is a marvelous thing to make at home from scratch – but this is mostly so that they can sell you pasta-makers that you’ll use once and then forget on the top shelf of your store-room, like novelty socks with individualized places for your toes.

But, like a persistent woman with a low-cut neckline, the idea wouldn’t go away.

And so – my mind started to tinker with the notion of ravioli as a base for something rather than as a focus. I prefer my pasta-sauces on the dry side of things rather than swimming in sauce (foodnerdspeak alert, apologies) – it allows the flavour of the pasta itself to also have a chance of playing on the swings like a big boy. So, if you use a simple tomato ravioli as the base of a topping that’s more about ingredients rather than ‘how much cream and cheese can I pack into this bowl’, each bite should release just enough liquid to make it awesome. Well, this was the theory at any rate…

Ravioli with Broccoli, White Wine and Capers

...I'm assuming that a plate of half-eaten pasta can somehow be considered aesthetically pleasing.
...I'm assuming that a plate of half-eaten pasta can somehow be considered aesthetically pleasing.

Ingredients (serves 4)

Before I get into the rest of this, I wasn’t going to mess about with making my ravioli from scratch as well as a sauce – and so I got decent quality dried tomato-filled ravioli from the Italian supermarket around the corner from my house (it’s in the second story of an office block, hiding behind a dried-up pot plant – it’s the bizarrest thing), but if you want, most delis will also sell freshly made vacuum-packed ravioli that’s usually pretty good, if a bit more expensive.

Half a head of broccoli, broken into florets

2 chicken breasts

a small handful of capers, soaked in water

a medium-sized red onion, finely chopped

2 small brinjals (or Eggplant if you’re American)

4 goodish stalks of rosemary, stripped of leaves and finely chopped

paprika

flour

salt

pepper

olive oil

1 full glass of white wine

What to do

First up, slice up the brinjal into discs and then into strips, put them into a colander, sprinkle with a decent amount of salt and then leave them for about half an hour. A fair amount of juice will hopefully drain away – which is a good thing, because it’s a bitter as a horse-riding aunt.

Slice the chicken breasts into roughish chunks, sprinkle with salt, pepper and a teaspoon of paprika and set that aside as well.

Once the brinjals have been drained of their bitter juices, dry them off with paper towel and then cover them with a decent handful of flour, salt and pepper until they’re nicely coated. Get a good lug of olive oil smoking hot in a pan then add the brinjals and fry until they’re golden brown. Get them out of the pan and onto a plate layered with more paper towel so that the oil can be soaked up.

In the same pan (there should be a bit of olive oil left over) add the onions, rosemary, capers (taken out of their soaking water) and broccoli. Toss it about so that all get to know each other and get coated with the oil and crumbs from the pan. Once everything’s softened up and the onions are starting to brown, add half the white wine and let it reduce until there is almost no liquid left, at which point add the rest of the wine. Once that has also almost boiled away, add the chicken, and once that’s started to cook through add the fried brinjals.

Turn the heat down and let it all simmer gently for about 15 minutes.

Bring a pot of salted water to the boil, add the ravioli and cook it until done (usually about 20 minutes or so, but taste one when you think it’s done – if it’s nice and al dente (wanky-speak for just done) you’re golden), drain most of the liquid, but keep half a cup of it around, adding a bit of it to the simmering broccoli/chicken/brinjal extravaganza, and then give it a good stir.

Add the ravioli to the sauce, and serve with a bit of grated pecorino. Yee. Ha.

Fooling Around With Another Man’s Knife.

Trying to find a pot. Harder than it looks.
Trying to find a pot. Harder than it looks.
Found the pot. Obvs.
Found the pot. Obvs.

Cooking in another man’s kitchen is a lot like trying to wear his stokies on your head. Nothing fits the way it should, and in the end everything just smells a bit too much like other people’s feet.

I’ve been housesitting a newly-married couple’s place for about two weeks now while they’re on honeymoon (Mauritius, in case you were wondering…) and so of course this means I’ve had an entirely new environment in which to burn myself on a pot I’ve left on the stove for too long.

Now I have some incredibly nosey habits when it comes to temporarily occupying someone else’s house. For example, I will judge you on the contents of your bookshelf (one cock-punch for every book by Kathy Lette), I will judge you on the DVDs you have chosen to pay money for (one trip to the evil dentist for every Saw sequel), and I will also judge you on the content of your kitchen cupboard. According to this scorecard my honeymooning friend totally killed the first two categories, but was then sadly let down by cupboards that were almost entirely filled with bottles of Wimpy mustard and seven tubs of smooth peanut butter that wasn’t Black Cat.  Two cock-punches and a root canal for him then.

I don't understand the tomato-sauce-to-mustard ratio here...
I don't understand the tomato-sauce-to-mustard ratio here...

Cooking in a new environment is always simultaneously a totally fun thing and also the biggest pain in the ass ever. There’s usually only one knife for everything and it’s never as sharp as you’d like it. The oven requires you to sacrifice a virgin just to get the door open (this particular oven is a fancy-looking industrial beast with a polished metal door, the first time I opened it a piece of the handle literally pinged off it and across the room – wtf?), and there’s always some ridiculous situation where they have seven cheesegraters but no pot to boil pasta.

Anyway – I haven’t cooked properly in a while and for some reason I’d been obsessing about cauliflower cheese and so this seemed like as good a time as any.

Now firstly, the right thing to think at this point is in fact: what man in his right mind thinks about cauliflower cheese when there’s things like Currie Cup finals, Guitar Hero and naked girls with which to occupy his mind. I can’t offer any explanation other than… um, shurrup go bother someone else, cauliflower makes me happy dammit.

I have to say that I might have started this whole process thinking about alternate takes on cauliflower cheese, but ended up as something quite different, as is often the case. The guy who invented the fax machine originally started by trying to develop a waistcoat that also played vinyl.

Also, I totally didn’t have my camera with me at the time and so a Samsung cellphone had to come to the rescue.

It was like it was calling out. Uuuuuse me, uuuuuuuse me.
It was like it was calling out. Uuuuuse me, uuuuuuuse me.

Ingredients: (serves 4)

1 head of cauliflower, broken into florets

1 red onion, chopped

3 sprigs of rosemary stripped of leaves and then finely chopped

a handful of strong mushrooms, either Shitake or Porcini, chopped

half a chorizo sausage sliced into rounds

6 new potatoes

2 cans of whole peeled tomatoes

1 handful of grated mature cheddar cheese

salt

pepper

Mr Spice Portuguese Chicken Spice (hey – I found it the cupboard and was intrigued….what can I say?)

What to do

Fill a medium sized pot with water, add a general sprinkle of salt and bring it to the boil, then add the potatoes.

In the mean time, chop up the onions, rosemary, mushroom and chorizo and then break the cauliflower into florets.

Heat some olive oil in a pan, and add all the ingredients with a generous seasoning of salt and pepper and Mr Spice Portuguese Chicken Spice (or nearest crappy alternative). Once everything has started to brown, turn the heat down and go and play Guitar Hero for as long as it takes to not get booed off stage during Muse’s Knights of Cydonia.

You can't tell, but this solo was EPIC.
You can't tell, but this solo was EPIC.

Drain the potatoes and cut them roughly into halves and then add them and the two tins of peeled tomato to the pan, put the lid on and let things simmer gently for about 30 minutes.

Spoon portions into a bowl and grate some strong (mature) cheddar cheese over it and serve.

It seems that Wimpy tomato sauce is good for something after all...
It seems that Wimpy tomato sauce is good for something after all...

Things That I’ve Put In My Mouth That Make Me Ashamed

Just because it's thick doesn't make it "Deep Dish"...
Just because it's thick doesn't make it "Deep Dish"...

So, in case you haven’t noticed – I have been away.

Yes, without sounding similar to something you’d find on the side of a cereal box, I have been doing exciting and wondrous things that you probably wouldn’t believe if I told you.

Hint: It may or may not involve Handel’s Messiah sung entirely by a collection of women, all of whom missed out on the chorus-line for Cats.

A funny thing happens when you’ve been away from something for a while – even if it’s something you reckon you’re pretty good at: you lose your mojo. Or at least, you think you do. And then suddenly you’re paranoid you can’t do it anymore – that the knack has left you for lack of repetition, which would go some lengths to explaining my sex life in 2007.

The long and the short of it is that the intrusion of metallic birds on a kind of stick thing, slow-motion babies, some people getting married and a kid with a golf-club has meant that I haven’t chopped, diced, burned, or roasted a single thing in my kitchen for over three weeks now. Not even to peel a banana or open a packet of Big Korn Bites.

I have however been eating enough fast-food to cause kidney problems in a weekend conference of CTM Sales Executives, the highlights of which have included: never-before-tried Chicken Licken slyders (which make me feel dirty but at the same time gave me the impression I’d just ascended to a small piece of heaven and weirdly enough it looks like a mini-burger), Kuai wraps, Roadhouse BBQ burgers, KFC hotwings (before which I don’t think I’d ever truly understood the meaning of the phrase ‘ring sting’, and now that I do I’m not sure I’m a better man for it…), Cheese Chip ‘n Dip, hotdogs bought from a very suspicious man at the cricket, deep dish pizza from Romans (which should actually be re-named “pizza ingredients on bread”), Wimpy combos, a Cornish Pastie from the Sasol Garage and a pink coconut thing which I don’t want to talk about.

Forgive me Father, for I have sinned. And possibly will again....a lot.
Forgive me Father, for I have sinned. And possibly will again....a lot.

Incidentally I’m thinking of pitching a show called “Jono Eats the Whole World” and seeing how it flies.

So, if change is as good as a holiday, then I’ve just done the culinary equivalent of a dirty German sex-vacation in Mexico.

Now that I’ve come out the other end of this pornographic excess, this new week is going to be dedicated to erasing the memory of Things I’ve Put In My Mouth That Make Me Ashamed and losing the 3 kgs I’ve put on while doing it. Hopefully some of this will stack up in my karmic favour and I wont have to spend the afterlife shaving Julius Malema’s back.