Spring vegetable and red pesto tart

A slice of vegetable and tomato pesto tart.

I do enjoy a cooking challenge, and when I was contacted by the team at Faithful to Nature and invited to participate in their recent blogger competition I was immediately interested. The challenge was this – to create one seasonal, organic, vegetarian family meal using pantry products from Faithful to Nature as well as fresh organic produce. Each blogger received a voucher to purchase their choice of products from the thousands and thousands of products on the Faithful to Nature website, ordered their goodies online and then used them to create a delicious dish.

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Nutella and peach braid

I may have overdone it this time… dieters, look away now! I was recently invited to participate in a Mystery Box Challenge, and last week when I received my hamper full of tempting ingredients from the lovely folks at Today I just had to squeeze them all into my dish.

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Weekend at Birkenhead House, Hermanus

Recently I was lucky enough to enjoy the weekend of a lifetime when my husband and I stayed at the luxurious Birkenhead House &Villa in Voelklip, Hermanus. This was the prize that I received after winning the Two Oceans Simple Snacking Challenge last year. And before I forget, let me also just quickly apologise for the lack of recipe this week – will some pretty pictures do instead? 

Situated in Voelklip overlooking the sea, Birkenhead House and Villa was officially opened in June of 2003. It is situated on the same site as the Birkenhead Hotel which was demolished in 1989. From this prime spot visitors can enjoy fantastic sea views and join the coastal walkway that links Voelklip with the centre of town and many nearby beautiful beaches.  
We arrived on a Friday evening, weary from the week to a very warm welcome and glasses of bubbly. Our bags were whisked to our room and friendly manager Cristi took us on a quick tour of the hotel before showing us to our room. The hotel boasts three swimming pools, a gym, a spa, indoor and outdoor seating areas and a luxurious but homely lounge area with a fireplace for those chilly evenings. 

Our room was gorgeous and we arrived to find that the bed had been decorated with flowers, champagne on ice next to the very generous bathtub in the exquisite bathroom, as well as gifts from Birkenhead House and Two Oceans.

Let’s talk about the food, probably the part I was looking forward to the most. Breakfast was a sumptuous buffet of cereals (the most delicious homemade muesli I have ever tasted), muffins and pastries, fruit, cheese, yoghurt and cold meats, as well as the option of a hot breakfast – eggs done “your way” or omelette with a choice of fillings. All served on the front terrace with a side order of fresh sea air, now that’s how to do a breakfast! 

Lunch was a 3 course affair starting with warm, fresh bread. We enjoyed miso soup with exotic mushrooms, smoked salmon nachos, roasted vegetable tortillas, salmon tempura, fishcakes and dhall, not to mention a selection of desserts, cakes and tarts that were on offer. Fortunately the team is flexible when it comes to mealtimes, and lunch carries on until late in the afternoon. I don’t think we would have managed another big meal too soon after breakfast! 

The dinners were outstanding, a choice of 4 courses preceded by an amuse-bouche. On the first night I enjoyed prawn tempura, tomato soup and a fantastic butternut and chickpea curry (my favourite dish of the weekend). This was followed by a coffee panna cotta with chocolate sauce and macadamia nut brittle. On the second night I enjoyed cauliflower and blue cheese soup, the most tender and delicious lamb shank with green beans and a creamy baked cheesecake. I just about managed to fit it in before retiring to the super-comfy bed with the sound of the waves crashing outside. Torture, pure torture I tell you. Did I mention that we returned to our room to find the bed turned down, candles lit, sweets on our pillow and a hand-written weather report for the following day? These guys think of everything!
If you can bear to tear yourself away from the hotel there are many different activities in the area to keep you busy. There are a range of walks and hikes and some whale watching to be done if you find yourself there at the right time of the year. (We saw a dolphin – does that count?) Surfing, wine tasting, horse-riding, shark cage diving or even a spot of shopping are just some of the activities you can enjoy in Hermanus. On the Saturday we decided to visit the food market at Hermanuspietersfontein a short drive from the Birkenhead. The market is small but offers a great range of products and seems to be a popular lunch time haunt for locals and visitors. Here you are encouraged to “take a plate” and fill it up with goodies like hamburgers, artisan breads, cheeses, homemade quiches, koeksisters, brownies and rusks. There is live music, a play area for the kids and you can even watch the winery staff as they sort grapes for their next batch of wine. 
We also did a bit of walking along the beautiful coastline – it was only right what with all of the feasting that was happening inbetween! 

I cannot say enough about Birkenhead House and what a fantastic weekend we had – this is a real gem! I think what I loved most was that despite the opulant surroundings and lavish finishes there is nothing pretentious about this place. The atmosphere is casual and relaxed, and this is reflected mostly in the service of the staff (the Birkenhead family as they like to be known) who strive to make their guests feel as though nothing is too much trouble and that they are right at home. My thanks go to them and to Two Oceans for this wonderful prize!

For more information on Birkenhead House, you can visit their website here.

Radio Tygerberg potjie competition

When I started blogging, one of my goals – apart from sharing my favourite recipes – was to challenge myself to try new ingredients and dishes. I certainly have done that a number of times, but last Saturday I truly stepped out of my comfort zone when this English cook from the Southern Suburbs agreed to take part in a potjiekos competition in the heart of the Boland as part of the Ommiberg “Round the Rock” Festival.

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The I Made It Challenge: Paneer curry

The weather man must have known what I had planned in the kitchen yesterday, and kindly arranged a cool and drizzly day in between the gloriously hot summer ones we have been experiencing lately. Perfect for being in the kitchen, and perfect for making a curry!

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Salted caramel sauce

Christmas has come early to Cupcakes and Couscous with the second challenge I am participating in this month. The lovely Sam over at Pomegranate Days has teamed up with Karon Grieve from Larder Love to challenge bloggers to come up with their favourite foodie Christmas gifts. This is right up my street as I love giving foodie presents during the Festive Season – cookies, flavoured oils, roasted nuts… and this rather delectable salted caramel sauce.

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Two Oceans Simple Snacking Challenge

Last month I received an invitation to participate in the Two Oceams Simple Snacking Challenge. Western Cape food bloggers were challenged to create a tasty snacking solution for four with a budget of just R100. The prize is a two night stay at Paternoster’s Strandloper Ocean Boutique or Birkenhead House in Hermanus. How could I say no?

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Pecan, almond and honey nougat

A few weeks ago I announced that the “I Made It” challenge for October would be nougat. This is something that I have always wanted to try, especially when I see images of perfect slabs of nougat in magazines and recipe books or fresh nougat bars in our local delis. So when Tandy over at Lavender and Lime asked me to host the challenge this month I knew this was my chance to challenge myself to master this classic sweet treat.

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