Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Sign up for the Food Blogger Indaba 2011!

I wonder if you remember, way back in October 2009 (are any of you still around since then? Amazing!!) I kinda stopped blogging. I was feeling a lack of inspiration, a lack of guidance, and generally a bit of ennui.. yes, this seems to happen annually around October, now that I come to think of it..

Anyway, in order to help a little with my writers block and lack of direction, early in 2010 I attended the inaugural Food Bloggers Conference. It was amazing. I met all sorts of inspiring people, including the amazing Nina of My Easy Cooking, Marisa at The Creative Pot, Jane Anne of Scrumptious South Africa, the incredible Colleen from Browniegirl, who did an amazing job at organising it, and so many more. I left inspired, motivated and raring to go! I also left weighed down with a goodie bag worth far more than my entrance cost! In short, it was incredible. A total joy to attend, and SO worth the money I put in!

So this year, when the chance to attend the second Food and Wine Bloggers Indaba came up, I registered immediately! This year, Colleen has changed the format to a more interactive workshop style, with talks in the morning, and workshops in the afternoon, and if lunch last year was anything to go by, an incredible lunch! I'm signed up for the Photography and Food styling course with Nina and Jeanne (Cooksister!), and I can't wait! As you may have noticed (cough cough), there are very few of my own photos around here. (Yes, I know a bad photo of mine is worth dozens of nice photos of others, but I can't bring myself to post crappy camera phone photos, and I don't know how to take decent photos. You can tell where this is going can't you?)

What I want is for every one of you to sign up. If you enjoy food, photography, writing, wine, or just having fun with other like-minded souls, SIGN UP NOW! There are limited places available, and it's filling up fast. You wouldn't want to miss the food blogging event of the year, would you?

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Monday, January 24, 2011

Roasted Broccoli and Blue Cheese Risotto for Two

So, it's not the most photogenic thing I can think of, but, damn! it's definitely one of the most delicious! My love affair with risotto started only recently, when we were on honeymoon in Croatia. After having worked in a Thai restaurant for 4 years, I was always like "Rice? Meh." and I never ordered or ate risotto my whole life. I wish I'd known what I was missing! Creamy, cheesy deliciousness without the heaviness of cream! Comforting, warm and heavenly, risotto was nothing like I imagined it would be - it was a MILLION times better!

It started off in Rome, where I had a less than exciting mushroom risotto. I swear, those tourist restaurants skimp on quality and charge the earth, because they think we wouldn't know any better. It was alright, but I new there was some key element missing that would make everything right. That risotto was a little bit watery, and a little undercooked, not the best introduction, but I persevered.

The next was at a tiny restaurant on the island of Vis in the Adriatic Sea, off the Dalmatian coast of Croatia. We discovered this little place on a long walk along the waters edge at sunset, and popped in just before the dinner rush. I'd been reading up on things we should try while in Croatia, and decided on the Black Risotto, a specialty of the area. Flavoured with squid ink, it was delicate, cheesy, rich, and delicious. Whatever the hubs had has faded in contrast with that risotto. A deep black from the squid ink, with little pieces of tender octopus, garnished with a single, red cherry tomato, it was exactly what I was looking for. And there my love affair started; I was determined to recreate this at home, but where to start?!

[Enter, stage left: The Good Food and Wine Show] At the Show, I found an 'easy' package of risotto, which claimed to make cooking risotto easy. It included dried mushrooms, the arborio rice, all you needed was the wine, stock and cheese. Sounded easy enough, but I was still cowed by the reputation of risotto as finnicky and hard work. So I tried a baked risotto, and it turned out.. meh. It was alright, but it wasn't the creamy, rich deliciousness that I was after... Back to the drawing board.

A few months passed. We got married, life got in the way, and I was tired. I took a break from blogging, and it's been summer. We've had a heatwave, planned some renovations, and it's a new year. So in a bid to find something a bit more interesting (and vegetarian, in our bid to eat meat-free once a week), I decided to attempt risotto again. I bought the arborio rice, the Parmesan cheese, I planned a creamy, cheesy, mushroom risotto. You know, start with the basics. And you know what, people? It wasn't that hard. Sure, it took some time, and you can't go watch TV, but I was on the phone, and stir, stir, stirred away, and 45 minutes later, et voila! we had a plate of heaven on our hands! And I was hooked.

That was last week. This week, I got more adventurous. Yes, I'm finally getting to the point of this post. THIS HAS BLUE CHEESE! Did that get your attention? I hope so. This cheesy bowl of heaven pushes all the right buttons! With a touch of green goodness from broccoli and cauliflower, and a whole lot of creamy heavenliness from the blue cheese and Parmesan, this is a winner. A keeper. And a whole bowl of goodness.. All you need is a little bit of patience, and within an hour, you'll have a wonderful, impressive, delicious meal to serve your loved ones. Go forth, and make risotto! I know I will be!

I scaled down the ingredient this time, as I was cooking for two, and the last batch (500g of rice) meant I was eating risotto for 3 days! These measurements were perfect for the two of us, with some leftovers for my lunch, win!

Roasted Broccoli and Blue Cheese Risotto for Two

1 onion, chopped
Small pat of butter
Glug of olive oil
250g (1 cup) arborio rice
± 100ml (1/3 cup) white wine
± 1 litre (4 cups) stock (I used about 1.5 litres)
Small head broccoli and cauliflower, cut into small florets
± 125g (1/2 cup)Parmesan cheese, grated
Half a wedge of blue cheese

  1. Saute the onion in the butter and oil for a few minutes until soft. I usually let them brown a bit, but if you want a whiter risotto, don't let them brown.
  2. In another pot, make up a litre of hot stock, and keep it on a low temperature for the duration of cooking. You want it to be warm, but not boiling. If you look like you'll run out of stock before the end of cooking time, top it up with some clod
  3. Add the rice to the pan, and turn up the heat a bit to toast the rice for a few minutes, until coated with the butter/oil, and slightly translucent on the edges - 2-3 minutes. Keep the rice and onion turning, so they don't burn.
  4. Add the wine to the hot pan, and turn down the heat to medium. The wine should bubble quite vigorously, and will boil away and evaporate quite quickly.
  5. When the wine has boiled away, start adding the stock, a ladleful at a time. If you don't have a ladle, use a large spoon and put about 2-3 spoons in at a time. You want just enough to loosen it up, without drowning it. When that liquid's absorbed, add the next, and so you go, stirring, adding, stirring, adding continuously for about 35-45 minutes, or until your rice is cooked, with a slight firmness to it (al dente).
  6. When it's cooked, you can add anything - sautéed mixed mushrooms or asparagus, bacon bits or peas and mint, it's really up to you and your imagination, but I roasted up some broccoli and cauliflower (and then steamed a bit more, because it reduced too much when roasted), and added creamy blue cheese (Blue Tower from Fairview is a lovely, creamy blue, and doesn't cost the earth)
Serve with a side salad, or even as an accompaniment to a meat-centred dish. Or do what I do, and enjoy it with a glass or two of that wine you had to open to make the risotto. And remember, if you wouldn't drink it, you shouldn't cook with it! I discovered a lovely Californian Pinot Grigio at Pnp last night, and at just R29 it beat the locals, and was delish! Ah, I know, my carbon footprint.. but can you blame a girl for wanting to explore the world? through wine, at least...

And after that long story, I leave you.
Take care, my friends..

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Thursday, January 20, 2011

Restaurant Review: Salt at the Ambassador Hotel

So what would you do if, hypothetically, you were given three extra days leave right at the end of your holiday in the middle of a heatwave? Head for the beach? It was 40°C! Spend time with friends? Everyone was still away! Tantrum, stamp feet and scream that you wish you'd known earlier? Well, there may've been some of that, I'm no saint. But, no, you'd do what I did, and head for a place with shady tables, overlooking the waves breaking on the rocks, and cold, delicious wine.. Yes, I'm talking about lunch at Salt.

There's been a lot of talk in recent months about the Salt Deli and Bar across the road where Carlucci's used to be, and I had breakfast there a few weeks ago (delicious Eggs Benedict, by the way), and I'd heard good things about the new chef at Salt. You see, the husb and I (when we started dating) went through a rather fancy restaurant phase. We went to Savoy Cabbage, Ginja, Shoga, The Showroom, Rueben's, and Salt all within a few months of one another. Yes, I was richer back then, what can I say, I had fewer bills and it was a boom! Anyway, fast forward a few years, many restaurants and a wedding, and over those years, I'd heard mixed things about Salt. Some said it had gone downhill, and others were raving. I remained unconvinced it could live up to its former glory, and didn't go back.

Enter Twangoo. Yes, I know it has a funny name, but go to that site and register! They arrange group deals, whereby if a set number of people join the deal, they get it at a special or reduced price. Two for one deals, extra things added, freebies, that sort of thing. So when I saw that Salt was offering a 3 course meal for 2 with a glass of wine for R250, I was hooked.

And what a lunch it was. They were polite, knowledgable of the special, had a special menu printed with the Twangoo offer in it, and we were treated with impeccable politeness. I mention that because at another restaurant that we've visited hosting a Twangoo special, we were treated a bit like lepers, as we had gone for the 'cheap' voucher, instead of paying full price. Salt, on the other hand, treated us like honoured guests, which was great.

And the food.. oh the food. A herb crusted salmon trio was the star of the starters, with a delicious cool herby greenness that was SO attractive in the heat, while both the mains (a linefish with carrot sauce and a beef sirloin and shortrib) were incredibly flavourful and delicious. The desserts, a cappuccino crème brûlée and a pineapple and granadilla compote stuffed Yorkshire pudding, with caramel ice cream, were just the cherry on the top. 

The photos above are not of the food we had (I was having waaaay too much fun enjoyed the atmosphere and, well, the food, to be taking pictures), but they are representative of how beautifully presented the dishes are. What also struck me at the time, was the portion sizing. While the menu we had was designed for the offer, and was as such never going to be had as a single or even two course meal, the main was sturdy enough to have satisfied as a stand alone meal, which is rare for a three course meal and this type of restaurant. Often, you'll opt for just a main, and leave feeling hungry, but this will not happen at Salt. However, that being the case, the three course meal was not a case of over stuffing. The starter and dessert were light enough to complement the main, and the timing (we were given space after our mains to settle before dessert), meant that we left comfortably fed, rather than uncomfortably full.

Now, this lunch was a few weeks ago (in the week before most of us went back to work), and this still stands out as one of the best lunches in memory. In fact, the husband rates it as THE best lunch ever. The combination of venue - the restaurant seems to hang over the sea, with the waves breaking on the rocks beneath; the timing - a few extra days leave was exactly what we needed; the food - delicious, well presented, well timed, and just wonderful; and the company - we do love a good lunch together, and much as we love our friends, nothing quite beats the time we spend together. The combination of effects was just superb, and we left so happy, contented and cool. A quick dip in the ocean at Bantry Bay was really all we needed to finish off the most wonderful day of our holidays.

The final analysis?
Twangoo offers rock, provided the one you get is something you would go to anyway, and the saving is just a bonus. Sunny days are the most wonderful ones for quiet lunches for two. Salt and their new chef, Jacques de Jager are pushing all my buttons right, I'll be going back there for lunch special or no special. Oh, and I love my husband.

And with that, I leave you.
Take care, my friends :)

**Disclaimer: Neither Twangoo or Salt have paid me for this review. Yes, I got a voucher from Twangoo, but that option was open for many people**

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Tuesday, January 11, 2011

I'm back!

Aaand I'm back! I wonder if there's still anyone out there, helloo? I know I abandoned you rather abruptly at the end of October last year. It wasn't a conscious break, but I guess I needed a break, hey?

In the interim, I've baked muffins, cupcakes (yes, I know!), made many delicious dishes for my husband, and even baked bread! (albeit in my new bread machine, but still) I even made another huge batch of cake truffles as Christmas presents for my friends, so I've been anything but lazy.. But finding something to say about those things? Well, the end of 2010 left me pretty drained, and finding something to say about each of those things, was, well, mostly impossible. And so, although I told myself I'd get back into it over the holidays, I took a few months off. Rather than torment both myself and you, my dear readers, with ever more tortured and stilted posting, I just stopped. I stopped writing, I stopped worrying about what I was going to blog about, and I just rested. And you know what? Resting was a good thing.

I still cooked, and thought about food, and read all your lovely posts about food, and admired all your lovely photos of food. But writing? Anything? Hell, I could barely write my name..

But now I'm back, and this year, things are going to happen! In 2011, there'll be some changes around here... For one, we're having our kitchen redone (yes, gutted, walls bashed down, new cupboards, stove, everything... eep.), so I'll be wanting to show off.. Also, I'll hopefully have somewhere delightful to start photographing my food!

Secondly, I'm attending the 2nd annual Food Bloggers Indaba, organised by the lovely Colleen of Browniegirl, and taking part in a food styling and photography workshop, held by Jeanne over at Cooksister! and Nina from My Easy Cooking, both of whom I sincerely admire for their lovely photography, so I hope to learn a lot! This will (hopefully!!!) mean I actually take some photos of my food, and show you the actual stuff, which would be nice, right?

So, that's a little of what you can hope to see around here. I also plan to post at least once a week, in order to make sure there's always something new when you pop by.. Unless, I leave town for more than a week, then I can't guarantee anything... ;)

And so, I bid you adieu. And hopefully, in the next few days, I'll find the time to post my First! Risotto! Ever!

All my love,

PS. Looks like I got the words back, hey? I'd only planned to write a paragraph!

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