18 June 2009

The marula tree

I’ve always had respect for a tree that produces useful fruit. The marula tree is part of the mango family and best of all it grows wild in the northern parts of Southern Africa. The sweet, yellow fruit is used for jam - which is good, but it’s also turned into homemade wine and beer - which the people who make it say is better. Then of course there’s the commercially produced, lekker sweet Amarula liqueur that rocks on ice, and gives the skop to this recipe.
Is it any wonder that the local people believe that this fruit is sacred? They eat it to improve fertility and used it in a cleansing ritual before marriage, but most importantly they warn that to drink unfermented marula juice offends the spirits and is regarded as sacrilege. So to be on the safe side I’m sticking to the liqueur, even with breakfast.
After all there is no wiser beast than an elephant and for centuries there have been tales of how they “gently warm their brains” by eating the rotten fruit. The fact that academics are now disputing this should surely be treated with a pinch of salt. I only hope that the elephants take absolutely no notice of these ridiculous observations and continue to revel in the effects of the fermented fruit – I know I will.

Amarula and chocolate crème brulee

You’ll need
8 egg yolks
1 cup white sugar
2 cups cream
1 vanilla pod
2 tots of Amarula
3-4 tablespoons of good quality dark chocolate - grated
Extra sugar for the caramelised tops

Preheat oven to 150º C. Put cream and vanilla pods in a pot and heat through but remove before it boils and put to one side. In a large bowl, whisk together egg yolks and sugar until the mixture is smooth. Then slowly blend in one cup of the warm cream vanilla mixture while whisking. Then take this mixture and add it to the rest of the hot cream and whisk well. Now here comes the tricky part – split the mixture into two separate bowls. Mix the chocolate into the one and the Amarula liqueur in to the other. Now find a handy mate to help you fill the ramekins. You each take the same size ladle and from either side, simultaneously drizzle equal quantities of the two mixtures into the ramekins – and voila! A two-tone cup of custard!
Place these in a water bath (large pan filled with 3 -6 centimetres of hot water) and bake until set around the edges, but still soft in the centre, between 30 and 60 minutes. Take out of oven and leave in the water bath until cooled. Remove ramekins from water and chill for at least 2 hours.
When you’re ready to serve, sprinkle about 2 teaspoons of sugar over each custard and using a small blowtorch heat sugar until it caramelises. If you don't have a torch, place the ramekins under the grill until the sugar melts and then re-chill custards for a few minutes before serving. Very simple, very impressive and its smooth and just plain yummy!
PS. Use the egg whites to make meringues.

Artichokes and Pasta

Never say no if the opportunity to help yourself to fresh organic veg straight from the earth arises. The smell of soil mixed with the pungent fresh garlic was mind blowing on the day that I visited a veggie patch in the Swellendam district to harvest this and artichokes for the evening meal.

How to prepare the artichokes
Cut off and discard the stalk and the bottom two rows of leaves. Soak artichokes upside down in heavily salted water for 30 minutes to dislodge any insects and dirt, then rinse and drain. Boil in freshly salted water for 30 minutes. Tear off bottom leaf of the biggest artichoke, grip between your front teeth and pull while slurping. If it’s tender and releases its juices, remove the artichokes from the water and let them cool in a colander.

Pull away the leaves from the stem and put them into a bowl to add to the pasta. When you reach the heart, be careful to remove the fibres of the white choke. Then stand the hearts upright in a baking dish and throw in some cherry tomatoes, chillie, garlic butter, oreganum and brown mushrooms. Sprinkle with breadcrumbs and parmesan and bake in the oven until everything’s cooked and the cheese is melted.

To serve
Cook up some fresh tagliatelli and add the loose artichoke leaves then dish up the hearts and the pasta and tuck in to a hearty, healthy meal.

Or add a basic

Homemade pasta with Tomato Sauce
Enough for two

If there’s ever a sauce that you have to know how to make… this is it. It forms the basis of a number of different dishes and for guys; this is the easiest way to stretch your culinary skills in the kitchen overnight.

What’s in it and how I make it.

2 garlic cloves – peeled and roughly chopped
1 onion – with the skin off, cut into thin slices
3-4 tablespoons of olive oil
A knob of butter
2 anchovy fillets (they’re expensive but critical and a jar can last for months in the fridge)
4 vine-ripened plum tomatoes, washed, roughly chopped up, skin and all
1 tin whole peeled tomatoes.

In a saucepan, fry the garlic and onion in the olive oil and butter until the onions are translucent. Add the fresh and canned tomatoes. Using your fingers, break up the anchovies into the pan. Let this cook for about half an hour on low heat (it must simmer not boil) until the fresh tomatoes have disintegrated into the sauce. NB - give the sauce the odd occasional stir and break up any whole pieces of tomatoes with your wooden spoon. While the sauce is cooking up, make the pasta.

Chocolate-chilli Vodka

One massive warning: the combination of alcohol and sugar will rush straight to your brain, so please steer clear of operating any heavy machinery afterwards and of course never get behind the steering wheel… and don’t let on to anyone how to make it – this is our little secret.

You'll need:

1/3 of a bottle of vodka
2 slabs of your favourite plain chocolate
2-3 hot chillis – my best are bird’s eyes

First up cut however many chillis you can handle in half, straight down the center, exposing their fiery little seeds, pop them into the bottle and allow the two to mingle for at least two weeks – store in a dark place.

Next break the chocolate into pieces small enough to fit down the neck of the bottle and watch them sink into the clear liquid. Put the lid on and immerse the bottle in a pot of warm water for about 10 minutes. As the water heats the vodka it gently melts and the two become infused. What you end up with is a sweet-chocolaty-goodness that’s positively lethal. Serve as a shooter or pour over ice cream. If you’re really feeling playful, substitute the chocolate with other sweeties – anything from smarties to jelly-babies. But if you are using chocolate keep it straight i.e. no wafers, nuts or nougat – otherwise it just becomes a soggy mess.


We’ve all been on the road, stopped at one of those places that promises good food, good pies, good times, bought our padkos and hit the road only to discover once again that what we’ve bought tastes terrible. My solution is to make my own padkos before I leave home.

Stuffed Vetkoek

Vetkoek have been on the African kitchen table and cooked in the outdoors since Ma and Pa fell off the wagon. I use them for padkos, but also love them piping-hot, cut in half and smeared with butter and a sprinkle of sugar. If you’re away from home and forget this recipe just make simple bread dough, it works just as well. Stuffed vetkoek are lekker padkos, make them on the road, or the night before. You decide!

250 g of cake flour
10ml baking powder
15ml sugar
2ml salt
2 eggs, beaten
125ml water
Oil for frying – I use canola it’s healthier

For the Filling:
6 boiled eggs, shelled.
Coil of thin cooked borewors.

Sieve the flour and baking powder together, then add the sugar. Mix the beaten eggs with the water and add the salt. Add this mixture to the dry ingredients and knead until you have smooth dough.

Heat enough oil for deep-frying in a pan. The oil must be hot, but not smoking. If you want to make normal vetkoek, drop in a ball of dough and fry until golden brown on all sides. Drain and eat.
If you want to make stuffed vetkoek, it’s the same procedure except wrap the egg and piece of or sausage in dough then deep-fry. It’s as simple as that.

Tracey's OXTAIL Recipe

Serves 8
Prep time: 45 minutes
Oven temp: 160C
Cooking time: 3.5 Hours

2Kg Oxtail, cut into pieces
Oil for fying
Salt and black pepper
125g bacon chopped
About 10 baby onions peeled
4 celery sticks, chopped
4 large leeks, chopped
8 Cloves of garlic, crushed
60ml Balsamic vinegar
350ml Beef Stock
750ml Red wine
1 Tin (410g) chopped tomatoes
250ml Port
Bay Leaves
3 medium-sized potatoes, peeled and cut into quarters
12 Baby carrots
250g Mushrooms, halved

1. Preheat oven to 160C
2. Brown meat in oil and remove from pot
3. Fry bacon until light brown and put aside
4. Brown onions, add celery and leeks and brown them too
5. Add garlic and fry for another minute
6. Stir in the balsamic vinegar
7. Heat the beef stock and red wine in the microwave to boiling point
8. Pour liquid over onions etc and add the meat and bacon
9. Add tomatoes, port, parsley, time and bay leaves
10. Bring to the boil
11. Put lid on pot and put in oven for 3 hours (until meat is soft)
12. Add potatoes, carrots and mushrooms and place back in the oven until vegetables are soft and meat is falling off the bone

and one more - this is served with roast lamb:

French Beans

1 Can Butter Beans
2 Large peeled chopped tomatoes
3 Cloves crushed garlic
2 Medium chopped onions
1 Packet streaky bacon cut into approx 3cm pieces
Fresh or dried thyme (To taste, I use a a fair ammount about 3 tablespoons of dried thyme
Lots of fresh parsley, stalks and all

Gently fry onions and garlic together until opaque in colour
Add chopped tomatoes, bacon, juice from butter beans, thyme, parsley and bay leaves
Bring to the boil and then simmer for as long as an hour. The longer it simmers for the more the flavours are enhanced.
When it has reduced and is the consistency of stew add your beans and heat through.

It can be reheated and as is the case with all slow cooked food, the flavour is enhanced if it is allowed to sit in the fridge for a day.

Do not overcook your butter beans.

Enjoy - Tracy

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