Rescue Me

All the things necessary to make A Happy Dannyrocketer are in this picture.

Being drunk is a curious thing.  It’s curious, because firstly you don’t try and dry-hump a lamp-post when you’re just having an orange juice.   Secondly, being drunk also means having to Eventually Be Sober – which is just horrible.  Being suddenly sober is crappy in a way only comparable with men who wear leather waistcoats, couples who feed each other cheesecake in public and people who laugh loudly and disproportionately at newspaper articles that you know for a fact aren’t that funny.

…just in case you were wondering, all three of those things are in fact within five feet of me right now, are more annoying than a seasonal novelty dance-move and have plunged my mood straight to I Will Stab You.

I think it’s why the French and Italians are so good at being drunk.  You pair up their lower-in-alcohol wine (traditionally 11% to 12.5% as opposed to our reds which sometime top out at 16% – a case in point being a Zorgfliet I had recently that was like drinking a salami), and their starch-and-sauce heavy food and those guys are ready to rip it until someone punches them in the face just to get them to stand still for a bit.  Us, not so much. Our thirst is strong, and we tend to think Protein is the solution to everything.

There’s a fantastic moment at any party which I call ‘carb o’clock’, where suddenly, everything that even vaguely looks like you can eat it is fair game.  This is usually where people start licking bovril out the bottle and smashing dry packet soup in their faces like its cake. A case in point being a birthday piss-up I was at recently, where a massive pot of french onion soup (which in itself is a fairly odd thing to have at a party) was taken down so comprehensively by tequila-fueled Professor Plums and Miss Scarlets (it was a Cluedo-themed dress-up) that I’m pretty sure at one point someone was cradling the pot in a corner and singing it nursery rhymes while keeping everyone else at bay with a rifle.

Good times.

The next morning is of course where the wheels fall off, which the day after the French Onion Bash – they did.  This is where if you don’t have a solid rescue-plan in place – you’re going to have what’s technically termed A Fucking Horrible Day.

Fresh rocket and shaved parmesan, penne pesto, OLIVES!, caramelised butternut with feta, fantastic meatballs, and that lamb. Oh. The. Lamb.

Enter the buffet.

The Sunday buffet is the best possible thing in these circumstances and it was in search of just such a monster that I recently re-stumbled (it’d been years since I’d last gone) across the fantastic La Rustica in Houghton, Johannesburg  (103 Houghton Drive – 011 728 2092).  Tables literally groaning with antipasti, a second table laden with a giant Kabeljou (the size of a comfortable three-seater couch), a vast array of pastas, three (yes…THREE) lambs roasting on spits outside, and that most Italian of things…Yorkshire pudding.  It was totally the land at the top of the Faraway Tree that Enid Blyton never got round to describing. Probably because she was too busy thinking up new names for pixies that were always Winky, for some reason.

Never have three more desperately in-need people slumped down at a table, ordered themselves a Bloody Mary and then proceeded to eat for about 3 hours straight.  It was utterly glorious and restored spirits we didn’t even know we had in the first place.  Of course, there’s only one way to do this properly, and that’s to go and chug two liters of wine first, just so that, you know…you too can get the full impact.

Okay, so drinking is a curious thing, but if meals like this are at the end of it, then it’s fine by me…

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And on the third day, he cooked something and ate it.

Someone who knows me better than just about anyone else, recently sent me a link to a 365 project by a guy called Jonathan Harris (http://vimeo.com/mssngpeces/today).

It wasn’t the first 365 project I’d come across (the idea of taking and posting up a photo every single day for a year), but in this particular instance, not only were the pictures insanely batshit incredible, what was more affecting however was the way he spoke about how the act of taking the pictures had forced him into the habit of remembering. Something I think we all take for granted, and therefore don’t do nearly as often as we imagine.

I went through a particular phase where I was an obsessive photograph-taker for that very reason. After a time where I’d sort of just let things drift by, I suddenly realised that I had absolutely no real recollection of a lot of what had happened in those years – none of the moments, the little things, or even the big things that make up the million-thread tapestry that is any given moment in our lives.  This is why I scrounged an ancient sony camera and a lens for it from some kind friends – and began taking photographs. It’s a habit that ran strongly with me for many years, and in a lot of ways was part of the reason for making this blog in the first place.  Of course lately, my camera has mainly been used to capture (mostly badly, but that’s my fault not the camera’s) the stuff I do in the kitchen, and maybe the quite narrow focus of doing that for the blog has stopped me from using it to look at the other things, the life around me that I used to look at all the time.

And so, with this guy’s 365 project rattling around in my brain in an annoyingly inspiring way, this time I thought it’d be nice to put some of that cooking stuff in more context. Capture a sense of what was going on at the time around the kitchen and all the food.  Because hearing this guy speak about photographs and remembrance so hauntingly, instantly made me miss my camera’s ability to see the things, that at the time, I didn’t know were one day going to become my memories.

So, here’s the Easter Weekend in food and passing, and of course a recipe at the end.

Thank you buffel.

Pistou Soup (for 4)

Ingredients

2 potatoes, roughly chopped

250g green beans, topped, tailed and cut into 1 inch pieces

1 pack of bacon, cut into chunks

1 brown onion, diced

3 leeks, sliced

1 large stick of celery cut into pieces

3 carrots, cut into pieces

1 can of borlotti beans, drained

1 dried chilli, finely chopped

3 garlic cloves, finely chopped

2 heaped tablespoons of fresh thyme leaves

6 tomatoes

2 garlic cloves, cut into slices

1 cup of white wine

1 tspn of smoked paprika

70g of linguine, broken into 2-inch pieces

for the Pistou

1 healthy handful of rocket leaves

1 handful of grated parmesan

1 garlic clove

olive oil

salt

pepper

What to do

Slice the tomatoes in half, fit them tightly, cut-side up, in a baking tray. Sprinkle with salt, pepper, olive oil and 1 tablespoon of thyme leaves. Turn your oven to 180 degrees celsius and let them bake for about 2 hours.

Add a splash of olive oil to a heavy-based pot on a high heat and fry the bacon. When it’s getting crisp, add the chopped onions, leeks, chilli, garlic and the rest of the thyme.  Get it all nicely mixed together, stirring with a wooden spoon. When it’s combined and starting to soften, add the rest of the vegetables, the white wine, paprika and then cover with water. Bring it to a gentle simmer and let it go for about an hour and a half, stirring occasionally and adding a bit of water if it looks like it’s drying out. About fifteen minutes before you plan to get it to the table, add the dried pasta, stir in and let it cook through. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

For the pistou, blend the rocket, garlic, parmesan, salt and pepper into a paste.

Serve the soup straight from the pot, with crusty bread and a dollop of both the pistou and some of the chopped, baked tomatoes in each bowl. Easy, freakin’ peasy.

A Little Bit of Everything (and dangly bull bits) part II

 

It's like it came with its very own ray of light.

In Jamaica they have a soup that’s brilliantly named “Mannish Water”.

There’s a good reason for this, in that it’s essentially the brains, cock and balls of a bull boiled up good and proper with jerk spice. Seriously.  No wonder Ursain Bolt runs so fucking fast – he’s just trying to get away from someone trying to feed him boiled bull-penis.

And so, if that’s not Mannish Water I seriously don’t know what is (although my bath after a good post-gym soak probably comes close).

So, you know what’s the opposite of Mannish Water? Salad. That’s what. Except there is a clever and subtle way to make a salad more testosterony (not a failed brand of polony), and that’s by adding alcohol and meat. Yes sirree. That’ll man that green thing right up, but still have the sophisticated appeal of leafy stuff in a bowl that the fairer sex love so much (and by extension the men who make them…just saying guys).

This was a product of seeing the first batch of fresh figs at my local greengrocers, and wanting to do something with them.  Because who can leave fresh figs on the shelf and just walk on by? Okay well, a lot of people, but I can’t – it’s compulsive that way (figs figs figs figs). I also had some of the chorizo left over from the other salad, so that got thrown in the mix as well, and what came out was this.

Salad of Figs Poached in Red Wine

Ingredients (for 4-6)

The key to this is the lovely combination of sweet figs, wine, peppery rocket and radishes and the creamy/salty quality of the Danish feta.

Winner.

1 pack of watercress

1 pack of rocket

1 pack of Danish feta

1 pack of prosciutto/smoked bacon or half a chorizo sausage (sliced fine)

a handful of radishes

12 figs

red wine

sugar

olive oil

balsamic vinegar

What to do

Pre-heat your oven to 200 degrees Celsius (I had to write this out because the insert function seems to have gone on holiday). Remove the stems from the figs, and then slice the fruit lengthways into quarters. Brush a shallow roasting-tray with a bit of olive oil, and then place the figs on the tray. Pack them quite close together, then with a table spoon, start drizzling red wine over them. You want to give them all a good lick of the wine so that they all get a coating, and so that they’re also sitting in what should become a small puddle of the liquid. Then sprinkle a tablespoon of sugar over the figs, and pop the tray in the oven for about 20 minutes. When you take them out, the wine should have bubbled into a jammy syrupy goodness, and the figs should have darkened and roasted nicely.

In the mean-time, if you’re using bacon or chorizo, fry it up in a pan and then set aside on some paper towel to drain the oil (you’ll need to cut the bacon up after cooking). If you’re using prosciutto this isn’t necessary, you can just shred it with your hands and add it to the salad fresh.

Wash and thinly slice up your radishes, add them to the mixed leaves, crumble the feta over the top add your bacon/prosciutto/chorizo and then add the figs hot from the oven (with as much of the juice that will want to part from the pan). Splash a lick of olive oil and balsamic over it all and you’re good to go.

This little piggy went to market.

Triptychs are cool. Especially if they are of things you can stuff in your face.

Intense pride, based purely on the city you happen to live in is something that happens everywhere. Except maybe for Uitenhage. That place just sucks and I think everyone who lives there knows it. That’s why they all wear Ed Hardy tracksuit pants.  In the day.  It’s the first sign of having given up on life.

Okay…carrying on. This, ‘home town pride’ thing happens everywhere, right? The bloody Parisians are just rotten with smugness with how their ‘city of lights’ is the cultural center of the known universe. New York has all that legendary rudeness that they seem to be so happy about, London has all those skinny boys with floppy hair that live on the dole until…you know, the band takes off. Melbourne seems to like coffee a lot, and Rio has all the beaches with hot people on them.  Whatever it is – there’s a thing that binds humans who live in a particular place together as being from that place and damn proud of it: an architectural, social or creative pole around which to build an intense feeling of shared identity.

Oh, hello Johannesburg, what were you doing over there? Oh I see, someone’s left their car in this parking lot? Of course, you were just making sure it was safe. I totally understand. Oh what? The safest place for it is in your garage? Um…okay, I guess so, just don’t break the…window. What? Oh, yes I just bought these shoes yesterday, nice hey? Oh…really? But, then I wont have any nice shoes and that would make me sad. Oh well, I guess I can’t argue with that large knife and your gold tooth. Wow, this pavement isn’t fun to walk on at all.

You see… in dear, amazing Jozi it’s something different.  Because let’s face it – Joburg is not pretty, it doesn’t work very well as a city (too big and too much Midrand), and although money doesn’t grow on trees just yet (despite the best efforts of some idiot gang who were so bad at faking R200 notes that absolutely no-one accepts them anymore and they might as well just be uncomfortably-shaped pieces of orange paper that you can’t even wipe your bum with because they chafe…), money is the root of just about everything that happens here – which does mean that people’s priorities are quite fundamentally skewed a lot of the time.  But you know what?  We’re extraordinarily proud that we are able to call a place that’s doing it’s damnedest to kill us, ‘home’.  And what’s more, we’re kinda cool with that – in fact it defines us to some extent. And don’t you dare say anything bad about it – because we’ll hijack your car and steal your watch. And then also possibly try and sleep with your sister just to prove a point.  At the end of the day; the more that the traffic lights don’t work, the more the roads look like a cheese that is more hole than cheese, the more we hear that rising acid mine water is going to sweep us away out of our own bathtubs, the more we accept that the best view we’re likely to get while eating at a restaurant is of a parking lot (where usually some people are trying to rob some other people), the more intensely we love this this place. And that’s what makes us us.

But why? Goddammit, why? Well… (and please set your cliche sensitivity setting right down to ‘punch me in the face I like it’) it’s because there’s a ridiculous energy to this town. It’s just so fucking there you feel it’s going to slap you in the face, or at the very least try and grab your ass.  Johannesburg bounces with an irrepressible ‘can do’ stubbornness and gusto that delights in creating something where previously there was perhaps just a nothing with some some drunk people trying to make a fire out of it.  People here positively crackle with a vigor and a whole-heartedness that is, I would like to think, unique in all the world (and if you disagree with me…those are some nice shoes you have).   We want to do something.  We want to make something, and we want other people to come along for the ride – and it’s crazily, utterly infectious.

I sometimes think it’s got a lot do with the fact that anyone who arrives here, actually likes it (usually after someone’s tried to run them over in a Hummer with customized number plates that say Sori4u GP) and decides to stay, is going to make damn sure that something positive is comes out of the experience.

That’s the scene. Consider it set.

So, about two years ago I pounded out a bit of a rant about how our dear city had fundamentally missed the boat on creating a vibrant market experience that was more than just someone selling jam out the boot of their car. Capetown was mocking us with the riotous success of the Biscuit Mill and the best we could do was say, “Oh….well, you know what? Your mountain sucks. And your mom’s ugly,” and then sulk off home to count our money and plan our next customized number plate.

It was distressing. Joburgers don’t like being beaten at stuff. And it might take us a while to get around to, but eventually we’ll stop being all materialistic and self-involved for just long enough to start figuring out just how best to go about beating your ass. And so, after about 18 months of false hopes with little market-type things popping up here and there, it seems a bunch of people might just have done it.

Finger’s crossed. The first Market on Main happened this Sunday at Arts on Main, and considering that it was the first one – it seemed that I wasn’t the only person who’s been desperate for a real market to come along – because everyone came along to see what was what.

Arts on Main is a venue that I think has had it’s heart firmly in the right place but has just struggled a little bit to really nail down its purpose. So yeah, William Kentridge has a studio there, and Black Coffee has an outlet there, and there’s a decent restaurant – but it always felt like it just didn’t have that….thing. Like meeting a beautiful and beguiling woman who oozes confidence and who has shiny hair and glamorous ankles and stuff, but then you realise she’s actually not a girl at all, it’s Mikhael Gorbachev.  And you don’t quite know why you spent the last three hours buying Mikhael Gorbachev all those vodka martinis – because you’re sure as hell you’re not going to let him stick his tongue down your throat, no matter how many languages he can say ‘you have pretty eyes’ in.

Okay – so that was, whatever…but hopefully you know what I mean. So, Arts on Main, now with it being the venue for a proper realive live grown up sunday food/clothes/wine/beer/fresh produce/live music/general fun-morning-out-market – has maybe just found that thing to help it really hit its stride.

And…there was food! And cheese! And wine! And trees to sit under! Clothes! Music! Beer! Girls in short skirts!  And … people having fun: wandering around in this sort of daze, with expressions that positively reeked of ‘I didn’t know we were capable of making something this…nice.’ It worked, and you could just feel that this is something that could potentially grow up to have a real identity and presence in the gastro/entertainment/whatever landscape of this city. Of course it wasn’t perfect, but that you can definitely chalk up to ‘learning curve’, but here’s hoping that this might be the real deal. Because I for one think that there’s more to be proud of about living in Joburg than “I am still alive” – and this sort of thing, is it.

Besides, how else am I supposed to wander around in public with a glass of wine before 12am on a Sunday?

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.

The “Pigs Are Awesome” Risotto

I tried to make it look more appetising. I should have hired some dancing girls...
I tried to make it look more appetising. I should have hired some dancing girls...

Yeah, so they might give us a weird form of flu that kills us, they can’t look up and quite a significant percentage of the world’s population won’t touch them for religious reasons, but I happen to think pigs are just great. Mostly because they taste so good I dearly hope that the afterlife comes stocked with a lot of bacon.

In celebration of swine-amazingness, here’s a recipe I’m very, very proud of.

Before we kick off, just a quick word about risotto. Despite its recent rise in popularity as a menu-item in restaurants (I mean seriously – it’s like we only found out about it like…yesterday and now its this new ‘wonder-food’), there’s still a general skepticism about cooking it at home. Mostly I guess because of its perceived “difficulty” to make. Well, stop getting all knotted up – because it’s actually one of the easiest things in the world, it just requires a bit of stirring, that’s all.

Okay, a lot of stirring, but you know…that happens. I usually just make sure I’ve got a very full glass of wine at my elbow and my computer propped up where I can see it (playing an episode of something or other) before I get going, and the whole process doesn’t take long at all.

Another thing, don’t be put off by the fact that for the first 20 minutes or so, your risotto is going to look like a weird gloopy soup with bits in it. It’s meant to. An amazing, almost miraculous thing will happen in the last ten minutes of cooking time, when suddenly the rice softens and swells, the last of your stock boils off and you’re left with the ridiculous deliciousness of your finished risotto.

Okay – enough of that.

Ingredients

1 cup of risotto (Arborio) rice

My cat Ella is very good at stalking stationary objects.
My cat Ella is very good at stalking stationary objects.

1 small brown onion
1 clove of garlic
1 small handful of rosa tomatoes
smoked bacon (or good quality streaky bacon)
dried apricots
1 cup of white wine
1 handful of parmesan cheese (finely grated)
fresh basil
about 1 liter of fresh stock (chicken or beef)
1 knob of butter
1 tbsp of olive oil
salt
pepper

What to do

Oh, one cup of risotto rice does enough for about 4 people.

So, first things first, soak your dried apricots in some freshly boiled water. You can put them aside, they need about twenty minutes to plump and soften up.

Peel and finely chop the onion and the clove of garlic, slice the rosa tomatoes into halves and chop a large handful of bacon into smallish chunks.

Okay – this is the only bit that’s going to take a bit of judgment on your part: the sweet apricot flavour is what makes this dish, but too much of it and it quickly becomes overbearing. I usually add just less than one part of finely chopped apricots (that’s the key – no big pieces) to two parts bacon to get the right balance. I hope that makes sense. Ultimately the trick is to get a predominant flavour of smoky bacon, just underpinned with the sweet apricot.

In a pan, heat the butter and the olive oil, then add the onions, garlic, tomatoes, bacon and apricots and let them sweat in the heat for about 3 minutes or so. Then add the cup of rice and stir it all up, coating the rice with the juices from everything that’s in the pan. Once it’s all been getting to know each other for about 2 minutes or so. Add the cup of wine and then stir as the alcohol burns off and the rice starts to absorb the liquid.

Then add a ladle of stock, keep stirring until its absorbed, and then add another.

Now it’s just a question of stir, add stock, stir, add stock, stir…drink wine, stir, add stock, watch Gossip Girl, stir.

It should take about 20 minutes to half an hour (depending on the quality of your rice) for it to cook through. But if you’re not sure, just taste some – if its still a bit crunchy – keep going.

And then, just as your last bit of liquid has been nicely absorbed, add a handful of parmesan cheese and some chopped fresh basil, and stir a bit more. I usually don’t bother to put it into a different dish to serve, but just put the pan on the table and let people help themselves, topped with the leftover basil and parmesan.

Wine Bastards

So, I guess the lesson of this weekend is that I’m not nearly as clever as I think I am. Well, I guess that’s the lesson of just about every day, but you know…this weekend was just the freshest example of it.

The reason? I got totally suckered by a restaurant that sneakily managed to sell me a R270 bottle of wine that I could’ve bought at Spar for R80. Needless to say I was gutted, mostly because it was my own stupidity that landed me with a bill that was almost R300 heftier than I thought it was going to be.

Just so that we're clear, I'm not angry at Diemersfontein, I *love* their wine. It's the ratty restaurant sommeliers who peddle it that make me all hulkified.
Just so that we're clear, I'm not angry at Diemersfontein, I *love* their wine. It's the ratty restaurant sommeliers who peddle it that make me all hulkified.

The wine in question was the 2007 Diemersfontein Pinotage, a bottle of red that’s been causing a ridiculous fuss ever since it landed in the top three of just about every “Top Wine List” you can get your hands on. And due to the fact that, for such a celebrated wine, it was reasonably priced (as well as freakin delicious) it was about as madly popular as an IPL cheerleader at a naked foam party. I’d ordered it at this particular restaurant before and even then they charged a hefty R160 for the pleasure of drinking it within their four walls, but you know, I get it. Restaurants need to make money too, and they sure as hell don’t make it from shifting pizzas. So, we were in the mood to celebrate (and my dad had offered to pick up the tab – score) and so I decided to splash out and ordered it without looking at the wine list.

Dammit. Dammit dammit dammit.

Two hours later I almost swallowed my own face when the bill came up and discovered that (in the space of two months) they’d hiked the already fat price by over R100.

Bollocks. Bollocks bollocks bollocks.

So, needless to say I shelled up the cash (I couldn’t bring myself to foist the tab on my poor dad), all the while cursing my idiocy for not checking the crapping price. But, in my own defense – who the fuck raises the charge of a bottle of wine by R100 between March and June? Well, these guys apparently.

And this isn’t the first time it’s happened either. At another establishment the previous year, the sommelier tried to sell us a R350 bottle of wine as a replacement for the R80 bottle we’d been drinking earlier, which they’d run out of. It was only because I was with someone far smarter than me (not difficult) who asked how much it was before blithely giving the thumbs up.

A bullet dodged on that occasion. But the point is that I understand you need to make money from alcohol, but please rip me off to my face, not by slipping retardedly overpriced wine onto my bill. I’ll pay it, because I’m spineless, but I’m not going to be happy about it. And next time I’ll bloody bring my own bottle that I bought at Spar for a third of the price.