Two hours alone + potato + cupcake tray = party in my mouth.

All the new neighbours could talk about was how brilliantly little Timmy was doing at his exclusive private school.

I have very little to say about potatoes, but this is usually because my mouth is too full of them to say much of anything about anything.

I honestly wish I were Irish so that I could claim some sort of deep-rooted cultural reason for my almost impossibly obsessive relationship with potatoes.  But I’m not.  So… bugger.

Instead, I offer:

a)    I like potatoes like a German nudist enjoys comfortable shoes. And being naked.

b)   I like potatoes like a 14 year-old girl from Sandton likes writing text messages that end with ‘omg lolz u bitch’.

c)    I like potatoes like the French enjoy being moody and dismissive about anything they didn’t invent.

d)   If asked whether I’d like to have sex or a potato, I’d actually have to think about it.

e)  If I were to suddenly become a one-person political party – I’m pretty sure my election manifesto would revolve around the compulsory eating of   mash and gravy.

f) Smash is not a potato, and anyone who thinks otherwise should go and attempt that thing where crazy Mexicans dive off cliffs to prove manhood – but, like…without practicing or anything so vaguely concerned with personal safety.

So it’s no surprise then that the other night I was tooling around with a cupcake tray (you know…as one does), and trying to figure out if it could be used to make some sort of shortcut to a potato noisette-type affair.  Needless to say, you leave me in the kitchen for an hour or two with a couple of potatoes, a bottle of wine and Miles Davis being ridiculously and unfathomably talented in the background, and I’m going to come up with something.

It’s simple, quick and you know…it has potatoes in it, so what’s not to love?

Potato and leek cupcakes (for 2)

3 large potatoes (peeled)

2 leeks (finely sliced)

1 tbsp wholegrain mustard

1 tbsp chopped thyme

75g butter

salt

pepper

olive oil

What to do

In a pot with a tight-fitting lid, boil the potatoes until a sharp knife passes through them easily. Drain the water, and quickly – before too much of the heat is lost – add the chopped leeks, mustard, thyme, butter and some salt and pepper.

With either a ladle or a potato masher – gently mix everything together gently crushing the potatoes as you go. Your aim isn’t to mash them, but rather to make a soft, chunky, buttery mix.

Pop on the lid, and let this steam for about twenty minutes.

Heat your oven to 180º Celsius, and lightly grease up a cupcake tray with butter.  Spoon in the potato mixture into the cupcake moulds, pressing it down so that it’s compacted nicely.  Brush with olive oil, stick them in the oven and bake until the tops are golden brown.

Once they’re cooked – turn them out and serve with a nice girl in a strappy top (or smoked salmon with coriander aioli – like in the picture) .

 ____________________________

It’s grassy, but you can drink it.

With names like these, how can we not be friends?

So, the other thing that’s happened in the time I’ve been on the quiet side – was that someone thought it’d be an excellent joke to put me on a list for another tasting of estate wines, alongside people who really do know what they’re talking about (I guess the lovely @KathrynWhite_za thought the comedy-value of me saying ‘yah bru – it tastes like my dad’s diesel lawnmower’, while sitting next to someone who’s just made an elegant and insightful comment about cool-climate vineyards, would off-set any potential loss of her reputation).

The result was a lovely evening hosted by the beautiful and uncondescendingly knowledgeable @giselabean held at The Attic restaurant’s newly revamped bar section (a massive improvement) in Johannesburg.  It was basically so that a couple of folks could taste the range of wines from the La Vierge estate, while simultaneously in Capetown, Pretoria and Amsterdam some other people, with probably more ironic pants and better haircuts than me, did the same.

The overexposed people were confused and nervous. @theonlycin looked like she was going to make a break for it. @samswaine was thinking about good names for her imaginary dog.

 So, it was about two wines in, and I was grappling with the onset of the whites, when something struck me (warning, this sounds like something Portentous and Important is coming. It’s not).  You see, the interesting thing about accidentally learning more about this stuff because some practical jokers think it’s funny to get me to explain myself with a mouth full of Pinotage, is how readily comparisons with other unexpected bits of life come to mind.  The very first time I lifted to bonnet of a car I actually owned – what was underneath might as well have been a conceptual sculpture made of old bits of a shoe factory, designed to ‘express the complex emotions associated with being bullied on the playground aged 7’, for all I actually understood what the fuck was going on in there.  However, a couple of years later – and mostly because I’ve spent a lot of time broken down on the side of the road trying to figure out why it’s not working again, and having my long-suffering mechanic swear at my ‘pile of shit’ (as he affectionately calls my beloved jeep usually while hitting it with a hammer), trying to explain to me what’s gone wrong this time – what’s underneath my bonnet has started to look less and less like that conceptual sculpture, and more and more like what it actually is: a complex puzzle of parts and machinery that all connect and feed each other with a specific and logical purpose that, in concert, all contribute towards a machine which can be a pure, humming expression of speed, freedom and human ingenuity when experienced at its highest level.

This is coincidentally also how I feel about white wine.

Wow, seriously? That indulgent paragraph about car engines and all you get is a crappy sentence about white wine?  I’d ask for my money back if I were you. Seriously, I could have said that whole wanky paragraph like this:

The more you’re forced to look at something, inevitably the more you’ll understand it – even if by accident.  Oh, and my car breaks down a lot.

Oh well. Moving on

Hugging the bottle was the only thing that was stopping the room from moving.

Alas it’s true.  In the beginning of my narrow existence, white wine just tasted like water that had gone sour.  And, because I didn’t really like it much, I didn’t bother to take it any further. As a result I can’t tell a Riesling from a Chardonnay or a Sauvignon Blanc or from an actual cup of sour water.  To me, they all just taste like…’white wine’. Yes, one might be “grassy”, and the other “with a hint of honey and melon” – but that’s about it really.  However, after being exposed to the three whites on offer from LaVierge; a Riesling, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc, and actually walking myself through each of the experiences – the characteristics, or at the very least the emergence of those distinct characteristics in my brain – started to register.  Which is, I guess, the point.

In this case, the Riesling – with it’s appealing mineral quality, Chardonnay – faintly wooded, fresh and light, and Sauvignon – crisp and cleansing – started to actually work.

Don’t get me wrong, my heart still belongs to red – but at least I don’t make a face like a five year-old being offered a vegetable when someone puts a glass of Chenin in front of me.

So thank you La Vierge – both for that – and allowing me to pose rather drunkenly with a bottle of wine called Nymphomane. Which I include for your viewing pleasure.

Oh – and if anyone’s interested, here is the experimental twitter stream I put together trying to review wines in the style of a Sunday World headline.

 

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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.