Life at the Feeding Trough

I can’t queue for food. I just won’t do it.

Which is a problem, because it means that at any party where there are two or more people even near the potato salad, it means that I have to go somewhere and wait until they decide to drift off and stand somewhere else. This never happens. People will insist on hovering near the fucking food table and talking about whatever juice-cleanse they’re about to do, of course with a mouth full of mini chicken sosatie, which means getting to the chicken sosaties yourself becomes like some ridiculous game of Deathmatch Twister, where the loser is forced to starve and die in the corner.

Which is why at these parties my plate usually only ever has an olive on it and the funny zig zaggy carrot thing that was actually meant to be a decoration.

It’s not that I’m a snob, or don’t want to be touched, or find the idea beneath me – the answer is much simpler: boarding school.

Like a couple of other things in my life (churches with ghosts in them, but that’s another story), boarding school is to blame for the fact that I find being smooshed together with a bunch of other people so that we can collectively pick things off the same plate, about as appealing as licking flies. And by flies, I mean the zipper in the crotch of a stranger’s pants.

Standing in a sweaty queue with hundreds of other kids every day for 10 years with a greasy, warm tray that smelled of armpit, to be given a plate with something grey on it, has cured me of any remote desire to ever do that again in my life. Which means a lunchtime that looks like this, is literally my worst nightmare:

Milling and uncertain, little did they know that they were about to become Cornish Pasties.

This is tricky, because that’s what I spent all of last week doing. Three times a day.

Conferences are inescapably weird. Mostly because you spend the entire time in a big lecture hall watching people saying things at you for a couple of hours, after which you file into another hall to feed, then back into the auditorium for more people with European accents to say things like ‘modular’, ‘user-generated content’ and ‘flat-pack’. As an aside, it’s a staggering insight into how battery animals are fattened up and turned into wieners or whatever.

Sit, feed, sit, coffee, sit, donut, sit, marshmellows-on-a-stick, sit, French guy.

And the funny thing is that it’s got very little to do with the food, which at this year’s Design Indaba (which is where I was) was actually very good. It’s more that the primordial oddness of humanity’s baked-in competitive spirit, and also that thing we have where we don’t want it if everyone else also has one – don’t really mix when you’ve got 2000 people all figuring out if they want a slice of quiche or that other thing.

It basically means that no matter how well-planned something like this might be, it’s always a mad scramble where most of the time people end up with giant plates of things they a) didn’t really want but just didn’t want to the next guy to have, and b) things that make them look like they avoided falling into the bourgeois trap of just loading up with bacon sandwiches.

So herewith the All You Can Eat For Free conference eating rules:

1)    If you think it could be chicken, but you’re not quite sure – it means it’s almost always fish and will be a nasty surprise in about 30 second’s time when you put it in your mouth.

2)   The tools with which you will be supplied to get the thing off the serving plate and onto your plate, will never actually work and will usually be supremely inappropriate for whatever it is that you’re meant to be serving. There is no feeling worse than being watched by an impatient line of strangers as you try and separate, then lift an appropriate amount of nachos onto your plate, using a small fork, and not your fingers (because apparently people are soooo judgy about that sort of thing). Because unless you’re the first to have done it and the cheese is still all melty and stuff, then inevitably all you’re going to get is a giant cold cheese slab that you couldn’t break off properly without touching it, and then whatever miserable soggy nachos were clinging on at the bottom. This will not be delicious and will only fill you with awful self-loathing later on.

3)   Always consider whatever food you choose through the filter of, ‘Can I eat this on the floor?’ Anything that actually has to be cut into pieces before eating will inevitably end in an accidental stabbing, so avoid and move on.

Trixie put on a brave face, but her silent scream was deafening.

4)   Controversial, but always avoid the delicious-looking saucy chicken wings. These can inevitably only be eaten with your fingers (see rule 3), and will always make your fingers smell of whatever insane BBQ-sauce they’ve been doused with – which in twenty minute’s time is going to make life tricksy when the hot girl you’ve been furiously ignoring sits next to you, and it will now seem like you literally sluiced smoked chicken all over yourself just before you came in and sat down. Repeat after me, BBQ-sauce is not a gateway drug to hot conference sex.

5)     He who waits, wins. I know this runs counter to our Great Depression era-of-austerity trained lizard-brains, but these shindigs are usually always very well catered. And (this is the important bit) there is always a second round, where more of everything is dutifully trundled out. So, take a breath, and when everyone else is biting and scratching and running to be the first person to get to the falafels, just wait. Get a coffee. Make a phonecall. Retain your dignity. And then when the death-match has subsided and the second wave is brought out, saunter over and pick over at your leisure. Be the person everyone else wishes they were.

As a final note, the cure to all to all of this, always looks like this, which is the first thing I did when I got home:

Hardened arteries. Come to me.

What To Do

Throw everything you like to eat for breakfast into a hot pan. Fry. Serve. Remember life before queues.

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Plum position.

Behold my muffin-top and tremble before it.

Sometimes, okay… most of the time, our intentions and the reality of what ends up actually happening are about as far apart as the legs of a particularly bendy stripper.

It’s annoying, because even the word ‘intentions’ has got that pathetic acknowledgment of failure inbuilt into its meaning, and so you know you’re fucked as soon as it comes out your mouth.

It’s on my mind at the moment because the last three weeks have been a spectacular failure on my part to bring together what I’d like to happen with what actually ended up happening. It also explains how I ended up eating about 49 toasted sandwiches in the space of 11 days or so, and inevitably what that’s done to my a) self-esteem, and b) my internal organs – which have by now mostly been replaced by melted cheese.

Let me explain how post-production on a commercial (which is what I do for a living) works. After you’ve shot, you go to what’s called ‘First Light’, which is where you see your footage for the first time and you do a very rough grade of the film, mainly just to get it to match so that it doesn’t jump all over the place in the edit. This takes pace in a very dim room where the first thing that happens is that you get offered coffee and toasted sandwiches, which of course, because it’s 7am on Monday morning and you were at the cricket all the previous day drinking tequila, you gratefully accept. Maybe you have two. You know, just to make sure.

After that you go through to your offline edit, which is in a similar darkened room, but this time there are couches. Which you gratefully lie on a lot. Mostly because you’re still hungover and also now full of toasted sandwiches and caffeine and you need to just be still for a bit so that between those two they can figure out who’s boss. But now of course it’s lunchtime, so there’s more offerings of toasted sandwiches and coffee. Maybe pizza too. Which you technically say yes to, because you were semi-comatose, and that was taken as a thumbs up.

And then you spend three days there.

Wash, rinse, repeat.

And like clockwork, every 20 minutes or so, someone pops their head around the door to offer you more coffee and toasted sandwiches, which of course you always say yes to, because you don’t want to seem rude. This happens so much that after a while you suspect you may have been sucked into a worm-hole where you now exist as a fictional character in The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo (which if you haven’t read, could be the basis of an incredibly successful drinking game where you take a shot every time someone has “coffee and a sandwich”, which is seemingly every half a page).

Then your clients and your agency arrive, and to celebrate that – everyone has some coffee and a toasted sandwich, and because you don’t want to be left out, you join in. Then you trundle off to your grade, where the dude who’s making all the colours come out prettily, asks if you want ‘the special’ which is apparently a toasted sandwich made with bacon and brie. Which sounds like the last three days, but on steroids, and because by this point (in your head), you’ve elevated eating fried bread and drinking coffee to almost martial-arts-like divine heights, you can’t exactly say no, now that the equivalent of a Bruce Lee-esque fight to the death has been laid down.

Then you go next door to do the online edit, and the burly Chinese guy with the bad-ass ink who’s operating the suite offers you something to eat or drink. And because he quite scary you say yes, otherwise you’re afraid you might get stuffed into a dustbin or something.  Even though at this point, your mouth doesn’t work so well, your skin feels like its being rubbed with dead leaves, and generally you just wish someone would scrub you from the inside with a wire brush. A nice lady arrives ten minutes later with a tray of, yes…those things.

Because this is getting repetitive, all I’m going to say is that after that comes a music recording session, a VO recording and a final audio mix, all of which are accompanied by a never-ending, inexorable supply of coffee and toasted sandwiches, all made with more melted cheese than you thought possible to fit between two pieces of butter-grilled bread, and all impossible to resist.

All of this has contributed significantly to the fact that I probably won’t make it to Haley’s Comet’s return (which will be when I’m 84 and was near the top of my bucket list), and was also a huge contributing factor to me just sitting at home this weekend failing to muster up enthusiasm for anything other than season three of Community.

Last night was then the final straw, the moment where I decided ‘enough’, and hauled myself bodily out of the murderous pit of my own design with a handful of plums, some couscous and a chicken. Which sounds like the beginning of a joke, but is not.

Plum Chicken

Ingredients (for 2)

4 pieces chicken, skin on (use what you prefer, if youre a leg enthusiast, so be it. Me, wild horses couldnt drag me away from a good bit of thigh)

5 large ripe plums

1 cinnamon stick

2 shallots, very finely chopped

1 tbsp butter

Half a glass of red wine

2 tbsp sugar

2 tbsp assorted seeds ( I used the woollies mix of sesame, pumpkin and sunflower seeds)

1 cup of couscous

1 handful of dried dates (chopped)

1 handful of rosa tomatoes ( quartered)

1 stick of celery (chopped)

A splash of olive oil

Salt

Pepper

What to do 

In a pan, heat a splash of olive oil – season the chicken pieces and fry over a high heat until browned but by no means cooked through, then set aside.

Chop up the plums, removing the stone from each and set aside. In a saucepan, melt the butter – and just as its  beginning to foam, throw in the chopped shallots. When they’ve softened and have turned translucent, add the chopped plums stirring vigorously until they’ve started to break up a bit. Get the heat so that the mix is energetically simmering away, add the cinnamon stick, a splash of water to loosen and the sugar. Stir again for about 2 minutes, turn the heat down and leave on a gentle bubble for about 20 minutes, until the plums have fully disintegrated and its taken on a thickish saucy quality.  At this point, add the red wine, stir again and leave for another 10 minutes to bubble away. Then, remove the cinnamon stick, and empty into a blender or use a stick blender to pulse until smooth. Generously coat the chicken in the plum sauce, and set aside for half an hour.

Turn your oven up to 200 degrees Celsius, lay the chicken out on a roasting and get them in the heat until golden and plummy and sticky (about half an hour should do it), sprinkle with the seeds for the last 5 minutes of cooking.

Quickly fry the dates, celery and tomatoes in a pan with some olive oil. Decant the couscous into a pot, then cover with just enough freshly boiled water. Stir vigorously with a fork, then put on the lid to let it steam. After about five minutes, loosen with the fork again, then replace the lid for another 5 minutes. The third time you stir, the couscous should be lovely and fluffy. Add the celery, dates and tomatoes and stir them in.

Serve the chicken with the couscous, a crisp glass of Chardonnay and try to get your arteries to be your friend again.

Chicken Nerdvana

Disclaimer!

Okay, all you heart-ridden Valentines boobies. Listen up. There will be none of that Hallmark rubbish in this little corner of the Internet today. It will be business as usual here, which means at least one dubious joke about genitals, a picture of something in my only good serving bowl, and a couple of pop-culture references that are hopelessly out of date, which just illustrates how direly out of touch I am.
Right. Carry on.

This how how they should have taught me topography at school

While some people might say ‘let Jesus take the wheel’, I’m usually more comfortable when my wheel is being taken by a 15th-level Barbarian with a Greatsword +5.

And by ‘wheel’ I don’t mean…okay never mind.

Surprise. I can be a gigantic raging nerd sometimes, but here’s the thing; the older I get the less inclined I am to hide it. Back in the day, it was a one-way ticket to getting either my head stuffed down a toilet or having to lick a door handle, but these days it’s a totally viable alternative to, like…having children. Or pets. Or a job.

I mean, in a world where pushing a ‘like’ button on the bajillionth picture of a cat doing something cute can be passed off as a legitimate way to spend one’s free time, I feel I can be totally left alone to read books that have wizards with pointy hats on the cover and play boardgames that require me every now and again to say something like: “Agarthan the Bard casts Flaming Hands at the Orc leader.” You know?

Better than scraping clean the grouting in the guest-shower I say.

So, when about two weeks ago I stumbled onto this:

aaaaah.....choirs of angels choirs of angels choirs of angels

…there was absolutely no way I was going to leave it there for some sweaty fifteen year-old to buy for his friends to touch (sweatily), rather than me buying it for mine (look, we’re just as sweaty, but the reason for that is all the expensive drugs we take, not pre-teen slime). So I pushed aside the gaggle of rank, shiny kids who were trying to pool R10 notes and some guy who swore he could remember the numbers off his mom’s credit card, and got that thing in a plastic bag and into my car before any of them knew what hit them.

It’s like bullying, just with money.

The nice thing about playing these types of games when you’re (slightly) more grown up. Is that the catering is always a lot better. For one thing, we can drink whiskey now, and our perception of what makes a legitimate party snack has progressed beyond “I don’t really care, as long as its got melted cheese on it.”

For example, as a kid, our gaming menu was always inevitably something along the lines of:

Soya mince bolognese.
Cheese Curls (or, Cheese Hurls as we thought we were so clever calling them)
Coke (a cola, not the other kind)
Unfathomably sweet tea and Marie biscuits.
Scully and Mulder impressions.

So, because people need to eat when they’re locked in a death-struggle for the Iron Throne (and I mean something other than the flesh and blood of their enemies), some wine was thrown on the table, a pot and pan or two were theatrically rattled in the kitchen, and people happily got their fantasy ass-kick on.

Chicken Nerdvana (adapted from a Jamie Oliver recipe in the 2011 round-up edition of his magazine)

This recipe makes truly the best sauce ever, and the use of the limes really does give it a fantastically fresh zing which I reeeally like.

"I think I can I think I can," said Jono's one good serving dish.

Ingredients


a whole chicken, cut into pieces
1 large carrot, chopped up
1 large stick of celery, chopped up
1 large red onion, chopped up
1 large handful of button mushrooms, quartered
A splash of olive oil
1 large bunch of thyme, bound up with string
500 ml of chicken stock
1 glass of white wine
5 bay leaves
1 knob of butter
2 egg yolks
40 g of flour
1 cup of cream
The juice of one lime
2 tbsp dried tarragon
Salt
Pepper

What to do


Heat some olive oil in a pan, season your chicken pieces with a generous sprinkling of salt and pepper, and brown them until golden. Set aside on a plate lined with paper towel to drain off the excess oil.

Pour some of the olive oil and chicken juices from the frying pan you’ve just used into a fresh, large pot, heat and add the celery, onion and carrot. Fry it all up until soft and fragrant – which should take about five minutes or so. Then pour in the wine and vigorously simmer that off until about reduced in volume by half. Now bung in the thyme, the mushrooms and the bay leaves, stir it up and let that simmer for another ten minutes. Finally add the chicken pieces and the stock, reduce the heat so that it settles into a gentle bubbling, and leave it for an hour.

Once that’s done, remove the pot from the heat and strain out the liquid into a bowl to set aside (you can also fish out and throw away the thyme at this point, it’s done it’s job). Gently heat the butter in a saucepan, add the flour and quickly stir together. When it’s just foaming and starting to bubble, mix in the liquid from the chicken that you’ve strained out. Whisk it up and let that roll for ten minutes or so until silky.

While that’s on the go, whisk together the two egg yolks with the cream and then sprinkle in the dried tarragon. Combine this with the chicken liquid mix, stir it up good and proper, and as a finishing kick, add the lime juice. Season to taste, then pour over the chicken pieces and vegetables. Top with a bit of chopped parsley if you fancy, and serve it with potatoes and crusty bread to a room full of hungry nerds doing this:

This is what slaughtering your cowardly enemies looks like at my house on a Sunday.

Collective Noun: A Harass of Holidays

Niknaks on a roll, *totally* befitting a man who claims to write a food blog.

Holidays have changed over the last couple of years.

These days if you don’t social media the shit out of every mozzarella ball that lands in front of you, there’s this overriding fear that no-one will know you actually had a good time. And in our socially-networked era where pictures of you looking great in a pair of Wayfarers is social currency – its a miracle that any of us get anything done in-between all the instagramming. Fuck you hipsters, you’ve made it impossible to just go and be somewhere without it having to be the Blog Event Of The Year.

It also means that I’ve painted myself into something of a corner, because I’m desperate to tell this story about how a carnivorous bantam stole a piece of ham from a sandwich I happened to be eating at the time, but I can’t now because I’m too busy being righteously indignant.

The second anyone so much as tweets that they’re off to some remote beach in the middle of wherever-the-fuck, it basically means we can all strap ourselves in for an atomic stream of smartphone-snapped cocktails on some seemingly art-directed beach with painstakingly photoshopped de-sat contrast, studiously ‘Oh, what? There’s a camera? Psssh…’ expressions, and a new profile pic that’s been culled from a photo-roll of about a billion, especially chosen to make the person in it look thin.

I was recently stopped at the first Neighbourgoods Market of the year by someone who asked me why I’d gone so quiet over the last couple of weeks. Of course the answer was that I was on fucking holiday and that I was kinda too busy doing that to be preoccupied with how I was going to tweet about it.

Said the guy. With a blog.

Next week I’ll tell unicorns and fairies to go fuck themselves, I promise.

Now of course my hypocrisy-o-meter has totally just gone off the scale, because if I didn’t write about things that happen to me on weekends away and special dinner parties and all that stuff, this little corner of the Internet would suddenly dry up into three mediocre dick jokes and a grainy picture of my cat. Maybe it’s just because there seems to be such a huge amount of hysteria around the end of the year and where you’re going and with who and for how long, that it seems to have become the massive Internet *event* that it is, based on ultimately not much. I don’t know. Maybe I’m just grumpy today. It’s entirely possible that someone messed with my yoghurt this morning and now I just think everything in the world is crap.

I guess my point (such that it is), is that if something fucking insane and unique and wondrous and brilliant happened to you while you were on holiday, then sure … tell me about it. But you know what? That picture of your feet you took in the toilets of that club you went to doesn’t fall into any of those categories. Just the fact that you went on holiday isn’t enough to warrant trying to dress it up as the greatest thing that’s happened to humanity since the invention of the toilets in that club you went to, on every social media platform you can get your hands on.

Okay – enough of that, I’m tired now, and have probably alienated just about everyone who reads this blog. So, here’s the best thing you can do with some cubed kudu. So much so that I think the new collective noun for kudu should be ‘kebab’. To go along with ‘a flange of baboons’ – which is a real thing by the way…

Spicy Kudu Kebabs

If I'd taken this picture on a mountain top, the things in it would still have tasted pretty nice.

Ingredients

1 kg of cubed kudu (or other venison)

 

2 fat cloves of garlic

2 tsp of cumin seeds

2 tsp of coriander seeds

2 tsp of fennel seeds

2 tsp of smoked paprika (if you’re struggling to find any, Woolworths have it in a small red tin in their spices section)

2 tsp of dried thyme

4 tsp of lemon juice

4 tbsp of olive oil

1 large red pepper

Pain Greek yoghurt

Freshly chopper coriander or parsley

Salt

Pepper

12 bamboo kebab skewers

 

What to do

 

Peel the garlic cloves and cover them with some salt, then, using the blade of a flat knife, crush the garlic into the salt so that it absorbs the juices and forms a thickish paste. Mix up the garlic salt paste with the kudu, add a little more salt and a generous twist of freshly-ground black pepper.

Grind the fennel, coriander and coriander seeds into a powder, and in a bowl mix together with the paprika, lemon, olive oil and thyme. Mix this up with the kudu and put in the fridge for a couple of hours to get all intimate and stuff.

Meanwhile, soak the bamboo skewers in water, and slice up the red pepper into thickish chunks. Thread the kudu cubes onto the skewers alternating every now and again with pieces of red pepper, and lay them out on a roasting tray, covering with any remaining marinating juice.

Get the grill in your oven good and hot, pop the tray in and let it brown for about 20 minutes. Turning every seven minutes or so.

Once they’re out, drizzle with Greek yoghurt and sprinkle over the freshly shopped coriander, or parsley if coriander offends you. You can serve it with flatbreads if you like or just eat as they come.

 

120

Almost exactly two weeks ago, I posted this as my facebook status update:

This is the story of how that happened.

So, I used to be married.

I’m not anymore – but at one point in my life I was in love, had the ring on my finger, struggled to remember anniversaries and all the rest of it.

Around about the time that we’d just gotten engaged, her family organized for the whole lot of us to spend a weekend away at a bush lodge in Natal. It was a big deal and I was apprehensively looking forward to it (apprehensive because I’m not great with people at the best of times, and abseiling off a waterfall is probably not the best way to overcome that. Or maybe it is and I’ve been missing out all these years).

Now, at the time I worked the kind of job where one was never entirely sure what one’s schedule was going to be like. It was possible (and almost routine) to make plans for a weekend only to be told at the last possible second that in fact you were going to be needed in the office. It’s one of those things you see in movies that feature An Evil Boss, but I guess anyone who’s been employed anywhere quickly realizes that this is one of the things that just happens when you’re at the bottom of the gravel-pit. You kinda just have to accept it, grit your teeth and get on with things, or resign in a hail of righteous indignation and possibly a flaming bag of poo.

Now, I expected that my fiancé and her family were going to have a good time. I expected to hear stories about how much of a good time they’d had. And I had fully expected to feel pangs of Fuck My Life at having missed out.

What I didn’t expect was exactly how much of a good time it was going to be. You see, if a Standard Good Time is say… The Ancient Monument of Stonehenge, or perhaps the Arc de Triomphe in the center of Paris – both in their own right, magnificent and miraculous achievements of human creativity, then what they had was The Fucking Great Wall of China of good times. You could see it from space. People visited it and took photographs of themselves pretending to hold it up. There may have been a range of stamps. It was a truly awful feeling, both knowing that I’d missed out on this incredible experience that probably would have brought me closer to my new family, and then also having to endure the 32nd story in the space of a day that started with “Oh! And remember when …”, and ended with people literally slapping their thighs in uproarious laughter, while the most interesting thing that had happened to me in the same space of time was a takeaway plastic tub of potato-salad.

The one positive that came out of it however (and this would be odd for anyone but me…), was a description of a spicy lentil soup that everyone had had, which they all agreed was incredible. I was seriously taken by the idea, and quizzed them closely about what had gone into it, to the extent that I hunted down the recipe and then spent the next 7 years or so adapting and perfecting my own version of it, only settling on a final incarnation a couple of months ago. I even cooked it when the House and Leisure folks came to visit (the recipe is here). The point being that a place I hadn’t gone to, and had only heard described by people who’d been there once, fixed into my brain and became the emotional definition of ‘happy times’ for me.

Then a funny thing happened.

I became friends with the family who owned Zingela. Quite by accident.

I think I probably tried to tell them a couple of times what this place of theirs meant to me, but I don’t ever think they really understood – especially since I hadn’t actually ever even been to the bloody place.  Then, I got to go there on a weekend that was as wild, brilliant and chaotic as anything I could have invented in my head, and if I’d been in puppy love before, now I was red-hot with fairly embarrassing lust.

Long time readers of this ridiculous little corner of the internet will remember a post from a couple of years back when I mentioned that I’d been invited to cook for a wedding of two close friends, and that in a fit of impulsive craziness I’d actually said yes. They were smart those two, they got me drunk, kept the guestlist small (70 people) and appealed directly to my brash sense of adventure. Basically they know I’m an idiot – and preyed cleverly on my weakness.

Well, this was the family that owns Zingela, and it was to be the venue for the wedding. And so, years after cooking recipes from a place that I’d only really heard about, I was now going to cook in that kitchen. For a wedding. With 120 guests. With no experience or training of what it’s like to cook for more than a dinner-party of 20 drunk people who probably don’t have the highest standards.

Fuck.

One Hundred and Twenty.  It’s a lot of people. You order 120 quarter pounders with cheese from McDonalds and see if you can even fit them in your car. Try and imagine 120 cats stuffed into a toilet (okay that’s weird don’t think about that), or that the average domestic flight has less people on it than I was going to feed three courses of food to in a single evening.

I’m not going to lie, but in the final run-up to the big weekend, I was starting to seriously consider just buying a one-way ticket to Macau, changing my name to Jorge and taking up a job as a yak-whisperer. Which, considering they don’t have yaks in Macau, would have made my job-related stress-levels fairly low.

But, not to sound like the chapter from the motivational video entitled: How To Access Your Power Animal And Break Through The Barriers You Didn’t Even Know Existed, there comes a point where you’re strapped in, the roller-coaster has made all the clanking noises that mean it’s starting up now, and no matter your views might differ on the matter, you’re going on this fucking ride whether you like it or not.

Farm kitchens. Roomy.

So, for 48 hours (the final 3 of which were during a monstrous rainstorm) I chopped, peeled, roasted, diced, blended, mashed, baked, rolled, mixed, tasted, fried, crushed, sliced, boiled, glazed, crumbled, and finally… plated my way back to sanity and 120 successfully-fed wedding guests. Oh and the couple said ‘I do,’ and everything, which was nice.

After that, I smoked the fattest cigar I’d been able to get may hands on a few days earlier, danced ‘til 4am and woke up with a penis drawn on my arm in koki-pen.

I’d call that a pretty successfully weekend.

From the beginning, to (almost) the end.

This was the menu.

Starter

Potato & Leek Cupcakes, with hickory-smoked trout, garlic béarnaise and chili, lime and ginger dressing,

0r

Potato & Leek cupcakes with roasted red peppers, braised in white wine.

Main course

Individually hand-rolled Greek salads with olive paste (Neil Roarke’s excellent recipe from his Freedom Café book)

Venison pie, cooked in ale and a hint of dark chocolate.

Wild mushroom, Artichoke and Crème Fraiche bake, topped with rye bread crumbs and parmesan.

Spicy Moroccan chicken.

*****

I wish there were more pictures. But you know…all that chopping etc. was fairly intense. 

*****

Lastly – I’d just like to thank everyone who helped in the final moments (Claire, Morne and Schalk – you were magnificent), and for everyone who said nice things when their mouths weren’t full.

Simple Simon Says Sunday Seafood

Too small to jump through, we'll have to figure out something else to do with them...

Sometimes, the simplest things are the ones that end up being the most difficult to do properly. Of course, by extension, they’re often also the most satisfying to get right.

Shoelaces. A prime example.

I’m still ecstatic with surprise and delight every time I actually send the rabbit around the tree the right amount of times and in the right order, and my shoes don’t fall off 20 minutes later.  Similarly, rice has been my fucking nemesis for years – no matter how many ancient and wizened Chinese women I lure and trap in my basement then torture for information, I’ve never quite gotten the knack of making it anything but a glutinous, champy mess, best used to get RDP houses to actually stay up rather than to serve with a curry.  Of course most of you are silently sniggering at my unreasonable incompetence, but everyone has his or her thing. Like my aunt – who can’t say ‘herbaceous’. Go figure.

Maybe its because complicated things food-wise often need concentration – you know they’re complicated, and so you act accordingly. At least trying to make sure that every little thing goes in the right order in the right amounts and in the right place and whatnot, which is why (paradoxically) they often come out great. But when it comes to like … toast, there’s just this ridiculous assumption that it’ll just take care of itself and that we don’t really need to pay any kind of attention. Which is how we spend our lives scraping off the black bits into the bin.

This is why it’s a special kind of satisfaction to master something that feels simple, but isn’t really. This Sunday it was calamari – the kind that any Z-grade chippie on the coast can churn out by the bucketload, but try it at home and it’s usually like trying to eat old condoms.

Spicy Calamari Rings with Naartjie, Olives and Coriander.

Hold still damn you, you're going in my mouth.

This is based on a Spanish salad that uses salt cod and blood orange, but I really wanted to find a similar feel, but using things that felt more distinctly South African and also seasonally appropriate.  Naartjies are a citrus fruit unique to South Africa (they’re easy to peel and their sweetness is slightly denser than that of an orange), but you could easily substitute Clementines or Tangerines for a similar effect. The combination of crunchy, spicy calamari and the tart sweetness of naartjies is a madly unexpected, but lovely combo, and doesn’t really need anything more than a splash of citrus juice and olive oil as a dressing.

 

Ingredients (serves 6)

 

6 large calamari pouches, cleaned and sliced into rings

4 naartjies, skinned and separated into segments

1 red onion, sliced

1 handful of olives, de-pitted and halved

1 small bunch of fresh coriander leaves, finely chopped

half a tsp cayenne pepper

half a tsp turmeric

a generous pinch of salt

a generous pinch of black pepper

1 and a half cups of plain flour

half a cup of corn flour

1 bottle of sunflower oil (for deep-frying)

What to do

Sift together the flour, corn flour, black pepper, cayenne pepper, turmeric and salt together, then dust the calamari rings thoroughly in the mixture so that they’re generously coated.

Heat the oil in a large pot (making sure the oil doesn’t go any higher than one third up the side – spitting oil and grease fires are no joke, ask me I know…), and when a bit of bread bubbles immediately when lowered into the oil, you’re good to go.

It's like playschool for squids. Except instead of naptime you get eaten.

With a slotted spoon, carefully lower the calamari rings into the oil one by one, until you’ve used up available frying space (don’t crowd them!). After a minute (max! – this is the secret to non-condomy calamari, resisting the urge to over-fry…) the coating should be crispy and golden, so get them out the oil and onto some paper towel to drain. Keep this going until you’ve gotten through all your calamari.

In a wide, flat salad-bowl, mix up the calamari, naartjies, olives, red onion and fresh coriander. Squeeze over some naartjie juice, add a splash of olive oil and you’re good to go.

 

So, this was part of a lovely Sunday lunch on a ridiculously hot day – the rest of which went something like this:

Mad and beautiful friends. Sorry Justine, for some reason I don't have a pic of you, even though you were totally there.

The best compliments are always unspoken.

Eat the Welsh for Breakfast

The off-screen dialogue was a lot saltier than this plate, and featured people saying 'fuck you ref' a lot.

So, I had this cute idea the other day.

Wait, let me re-phrase:  I had an idea the other day.  In my head it seemed like a good one, but then again the last time I felt that way I ended up carrying a girl with a sprained ankle on my back for 2 kms at 5:30 in the morning. So….

A bunch of us were planning on getting together for the first South African game in the Rugby World Cup. But because the whole thing’s being held at literally the bottom of the world – it means rugby at breakfast time – which is a slightly different dynamic than a lot of us are used to (in the pub you always see large, confused men resolutely ordering coffee, usually to reckon ah fuck it, and getting rounds of beer by half-time).

So the plan was some mates, breakfast and early morning drinking – a conversation that inevitably turned to talk of me making the breakfast and then doing a lot of the early work when it came to the drinking, so that everyone else didn’t feel quite as bad about cracking the champagne. Yes, I’m selfless that way.

Breakfast for ten people is never really that much of a big deal – mostly because there’s a lot of frying involved and just about everyone can do that.   You fry enough things and the happy silence that surrounds the hardening of a room full of arteries is music to a breakfast-maker’s ears.  So the cuteness of the idea came when I was thinking what to do for the breakfast itself, and I was struck by the fact that we were playing Wales, and so we should have a Welsh-influenced meal so that we could literally eat the Welsh for breakfast.

I will now break off for applause.

The first problem is that, when it comes to breakfast the Welsh are fucking insane.  Because sure as I don’t really fit into my pants as well as I should, aint none of the people who were going to gather at nine in the morning to watch a rugby match going to be interested in savoury cakes made of seaweed and clotted-blood sausage.  No sirree bob.

Thankfully the Welsh are famous for something else which not enough people have discovered  because they think it’s made of rabbits, but is in fact one of the more glorious things you can do with bread and cheese.  Clue, you add beer to it.

It was a good thing the boks managed to cling on for the win (Francois Hougaard you ridiculously idiot-hairstyled beauty) – otherwise the whole idea would have been fucked, this post would have been pointless, and I would have been sad and possibly wandered out into traffic, come what may.

Rugby Breakfast Welsh Rarebit. (feeds 10)

It’s probably best not let anyone actually see you make this, as it’s just chock-full of butter, cheese, more cheese, more cheese and then some beer – just to seal the deal. It also looks like vomit when it’s being made – but trust me, tastes like golden naked angels when it’s all done.

Ingredients

 

100g butter

60ml Dijon Mustard

2ml Tabasco

2ml Worcester sauce

210 ml good beer (if you can get hold of a good micro-brewed ale you’ll be smiling – I used the new Robsons East Coast Ale, excellent)

100g camembert (make sure you cut off the rind)

300g mature cheddar

2 egg yolks

2 eggs

1 large handful of chives, finely chopped

salt

pepper

1 large loaf of bakery-fresh sourdough bread, cut into thick slices

What to do

Get a large pot, and into it put the butter, Worcester sauce, Tabasco, mustard and beer.  Turn the heat up to a gentle simmer and let it all melt together, stirring occasionally.  Turn the heat up slightly and add the two types of cheese and the chopped chives.  Stirring gently but constantly, let all the cheese melt and mix with the rest of it until you’ve got a thick, velvety, cheesy sauce – maybe about 20 minutes worth.

Now this is key. Take the pot off the heat, and let it cool for at least ten minutes.   The reason for this is that you’re about to add the eggs and the last thing you want is for them to scramble the second you add them to the sauce.

While the cheese is cooling, turn the oven to 220ºC, then separately beat the two yolks together and the two eggs and have them ready.  Then add them to the sauce and gently mix them in – it should create an extra silky sheen and thicken it slightly.

Rarebits in a row, bubble-and-squeak cakes, and many many roast tomatoes. This is not a nursery rhyme.

Lay all the sliced pieces of sourdough onto a baking tray, then spoon a goodly amount of the cheese sauce onto each slice.  Season generously with salt and pepper, whack them in the oven and wait for them to toast up until golden brown.  Serve on their own, or with poached eggs and fresh rocket.

Right after this photograph was taken, everyone dispensed with all drinks that weren't beer.