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 Oceans Simple Snacking Challenge, where Western Cape food bloggers were challenged to create a tasty snacking solution for four people with a budget of R100. The prize is a 2 night stay at Paternoster’s Strandloper Ocean Boutique or Birkenhead House in Hermanus, how could I say no? 

I received a bottle of Two Oceans Sauvignon Blanc and Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot to get me started. I enjoyed being back in “challenge mode” and soon had a long list of ideas buzzing around in my head. In the end I settled on three dishes that I felt would complement the wine best. I’m also pleased to say that I came in under budget, as the total cost of the ingredients was R79.00.

Now onto the dishes! Bruschetta is a classic appetizer, and I made my version with roasted red peppers and aubergine topped with fresh, minty gremolata – I love the variety of textures and full flavour in each bite! Roasted chickpeas are something that I have wanted to try for a very long time, and this challenge seemed like the perfect opportunity. The combination of garlic, curry powder and rosemary takes the humble chickpea to new flavour heights but be warned, they are addictive! My final dish of sweet potato parcels was inspired by a recent visit to Sinns Restaurant on Long. We were served mini sweet potato springrolls as part of our starter and I couldn’t wait to attempt my own version at home. The soft, fragrant potato filling encased in a crispy pastry shell is my idea of snack heaven. 

If you think that these dishes look like too much work then don’t be fooled – they really are very easy to prepare with no special skills required. And they are so easy serve – just pop them on the table and let your guests tuck in – no cutlery required! 

Party season is here, and I hope that these recipes will inspire you as you plan your next get together with friends. (And fingers crossed that the judges will like them too!)
Cook’s note – remember when working with phyllo pastry that you need to work quickly as the pastry dries out when exposed to air. Only defrost what you need and use a damp tea towel to cover any sheets that you are not working with.

~ CAPE TOWN FESTIVAL OF BEER GIVEAWAY ~ Thank you to everyone who emailed, liked, commented, shared and tweeted so enthusiastically! Unfortunately there could only be one winner, and congratulations go to Tandy Sinclair! Tandy says that she is most looking forward to getting to know the new breweries at the Festival. 



Serves 4

Roasted vegetable bruschetta with minty gremolata

1 red pepper, deseeded and cut into chunks
1 aubergine
2 tbsp olive oil
1/2 cup roughly chopped parsley leaves
2 tbsp roughly chopped mint
2 tbsp finely grated lemon zest 
1 tsp crushed garlic
1 French loaf
2 large cloves garlic

Step 1.) Preheat your oven to 190°C. Place the red pepper chunks and aubergine in a small roasting pan and drizzle with half of the olive oil. Season with salt and pepper and cover the tray with foil. Roast for 45 minutes or until tender. 

Step 2.) Prepare the gremolata by placing the parsleymintlemon zest and garlic on a chopping board. Chop together until fine, then transfer to a bowl and set aside in the fridge. 

Step 3.) Cut the french loaf into 8 slices (cut at an angle to get long slices). Drizzle the slices on both sides with the remaining olive oil. Place the slices on a hot griddle pan for a few minutes until they start to char, then turn them over and cook the other side. 

Step 4.) Peel the garlic cloves and cut in half lengthways. Rub the cloves cut side down on both sides of the slices of bread. Season the slices with some salt and pepper. 

Step 5.) Chop the roasted peppers and aubergine roughly and pile on top of the warm breads. Top each slice with about 1/2 a tablespoon of the gremolata and serve. 

Spiced roasted chickpeas

1 x 400g tin chickpeas

1 tsp medium curry powder
1/4 tsp fine salt
1/2 tsp finely chopped rosemary
1/2 tsp light brown sugar
black pepper
1/2 tsp crushed garlic
1 tsp olive oil

Step 1.) Preheat your oven to 200°C. Drain the chickpeas, then place in a colander and rinse in cold water. Pat dry with kitchen towel (be sure to remove as much water as you can). 

Step 2.) Combine the curry powder, salt, rosemary and brown sugar in a bowl. Grind some black pepper over the top. Add the crushed garlic and olive oil and mix to form a paste. 

Step 3.) Toss the chickpeas in the paste until evenly coated. Transfer to a small roasting pan and pop in the oven for 20 minutes. Toss the chickpeas then return them to the oven for a further 20- 25 minutes or until crunchy.   

Step 4.) Allow to cool slightly before transferring into a bowl. Serve on the same day.  

Sweet potato parcels

1 large sweet potato (about 500g), peeled and cut into chunks

1 tsp crushed garlic
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp finely chopped parsley
25g English spinach, steamed and roughly chopped
70g butter
4 sheets phyllo pastry

Step 1.) Boil the sweet potato chunks in salted water until tender. Drain well and mash until smooth. Preheat your oven to 190°C.

Step 2.) Stir the crushed garliccumin and parsley into the mashed potato. Add salt and pepper to taste. Stir in the spinach

Step 3.) Melt the butter. Brush one sheet of phyllo pastry with melted butter and place another sheet of phyllo on top. Cut into quarters. Place about an eighth of the potato filling in the middle of each piece of phyllo pastry. Fold the phyllo pieces in half diagonally, squashing the filling into a sausage shape as you fold. Tuck the edges in and roll into a parcel. Secure the end with a little butter if necessary. Repeat with remaining 2 sheets of phyllo and filling. 

Step 4.) Place the parcels on a greased baking tray and brush with a little more melted butter. Bake for 20-25 minutes until the pastry is golden and crispy. 

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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