Friday 26 October 2012

The Cookout with Le Creuset at Silwood Kitchen

How is that for name dropping? Cooking at the oldest cookery school in the country as the guest of the famous Le Creuset brand cookware.
Well, it happened to me. I received an invitation from Gillian MacGregor, the marketing manager of Le Creuset, to attend one of their customer evenings at the Silwood Kitchen in the southern suburbs of Cape Town.
All of this because I use their cookware and flaunt it. I flaunt the cookware because it does really deliver the goods and makes for a pleasant cooking experience.
People following my blog will know that I like cooking. They will also understand that the cooking that we do on board a small yacht out at sea differs from your everyday cooking by being limited both in ingredients and equipment. So it was indeed a privilege and a welcome change to go and experience a smooth running kitchen. I was very exited when Gill called me with the invite. Almost danced a small gigue then.
We arrived at the school on a late Thursday afternoon, where we were greeted by Gary of the Silwood Cookery School and our instructor for the evening. This was actually quite an eye opener to arrive just before dusk and to see the garden at the school. The setting is quite idyllic, with large trees in the garden.
We were duly plied with wine to ease our nerves. The school staff made us chef's hats and we were issued with bright orange aprons to round off the looks.

The kitchen, of course, was immaculate and their were little packages of welcoming presents for all of us. A kind gesture from Le Creuset. Amongst other things, the package contained a mini fluted flan dish which we were going to use for the tarte tatin that we making later on.
The menu for the evening was pasta alla saffi with home-made pasta (asparagus, broad beans ham),
Thai chicken curry and banana and blueberry tarte tatin. All, except the curry being foreign terms to me. My pasta experience is limited to the spaghetti Bolognese version that we make on board. A far cry from what we were to experience.
We started off with making the tarte tatin, as these need baking and thus take a long time. The very famous upside-down French dessert. You make it upside down, then turn it over before serving it. The first part of it was making the caramel. I have never done this before, so it was nice doing it under supervision of a pro! A neat trick to get even consistency and colour in the caramel is to add a little fluid to the sugar. The caramel went into the flan dish first. Then, after letting the caramel cool somewhat, the banana and blueberries are added. Over this goes a piece of puff pastry slightly larger than the dish. The pastry gets tucked into the dish, as this will be the serving platform when the cooking is done and you turn it over. These went into the oven and the next item on the menu started.
Which was the curry. This was made by frying the onions, sweet pepper and garlic in oil, then adding the curry paste and, after frying all of this for a minute or two, the coconut milk. This sauce was then boiled over medium heat to reduce before the chicken was added. At the end some fresh basil and coriander leaves are added. A wonderful dish indeed.
I had a discussion about the recipe with Gary, our instructor. The discussion centred on the preparation time. Again, I learned something new. The difference between my procedure and the school's one is the order of proceedings in making the dish. This does make a difference. Of course, it is rather nice having all the spices ready as you need it. Very nice at the school. However, at home and on the boat I have to do it all by myself. A labour of love well worth the effort, given the results.

Lastly we made the pasta. Gary demonstrated the procedure for making the pasta from the basic raw ingredients. Not too difficult, but you need to pay attention. Certainly worth the effort as well. Fresh pasta is not to be sneezed at. And this one especially, made with fresh spinach. The tagliatelli came out a dark green colour. We had ready-mixed pasta to process, which was a lot of fun. I don't have a pasta mill at home, so I have to make do with an Indian rolling pin, and a cutting board. The Indian rolling pin is about as thick as a Tabasco bottle and tapers towards the ends. This gives a lot of leverage to get the dough thin. When the dough gets to large, simply cut it into long strips and roll these out to the desired thickness. The lesson here is to measure the quantities. 100 grams of flour makes a huge amount of pasta. I once made pasta a la Jamie Oliver by chucking the whole packet of flour onto the work surface, adding salt and three eggs and mixing the lot. We had pasta for the next week, after the missus threw away the rest. So, a proper lesson indeed.
The pasta alla Saffi tastes of heaven. The fresh spinach flavour goes very well with the asparagus and peas, the cream consolidates the flavours. Hmmmm!
I also had the opportuity of cooking with the triple layer stainless steel saucepans made by Le Creuset. A marvellous concept indeed. The pan heats up very quickly and keeps its heat. They are not too heavy and the handle lies comfortably in the hand. What a pleasure to use these. There is one on my shopping list, along with a round cast iron casserole to complement the buffet casserole and saucepan that we already own. Perhaps another smaller saucepan. These work a treat as well. Once these cast iron pots are up to heat you can turn the gas way down low, even on the smallest setting. We have been using our 32 cm buffet casserole extensively over the last year and this heat retention rings true. You use the lowest setting on the smallest burner of the gas stove to keep the pot boiling. Literally. Our gas usage runs to 9kg over six to eight months, cooking every day. The variation is attributable to having dinner guests over more than twice a month.
The food was delicious. The evening a pleasure. And all of us amateur, part time home chefs enjoyed ourselves to bits.
And we all learnt something.
Thanks again to Le Creuset and the Silwood Kitchen.

Authored by Johan Zietsman
Last updated on 2012-12-12

Monday 22 October 2012

Sourdough Brown Loaf on Bricks: Part Two of the Experiment

My previous blog post documented my first affray into the world of baking on a stone. The experiment was successful in two parts.

Firstly, I tested a new method of baking. I used paving bricks as an oven stone to get more thermal mass in the oven to help keeping the temperature stable. Secondly I tested a new idea with the dough that I was using.

On both counts I learnt something.

On the subject of the oven stone, I probably had too many in the oven, thereby restricting airflow in the oven. Not good. So this time around I had just enough bricks in the oven to make a small floor for each bread pan. Instead of eight bricks, I used four. This made a huge difference in the air flow in the oven and there was a substantial flow of steam all around. I have an oven with a fan inside stirring the air around. This means that there is much less of a temperature gradient from top to bottom in the oven than without the fan. Needless to say, the bread developed a very nice crust.

The new brick layout to facilitate air flow in the oven.
I also had to make an adjustment to my baking regime in terms of baking time and the timing of when to put the loaf in the oven. For the moment, I use a thumb-suck of 15 minutes heat-up time for the oven. If it is not up to the correct temperature, the loaf will have some time for “oven spring” before the dough sets.
I also had to adjust the temperature part of the baking regime. The fan causes an even temperature throughout the oven, so one needs a lower temperature setting as a result. I now bake at a temperature of around 175ºC/350ºF, instead of 200ºC/400ºF.
Good fermentation bubbles in the starter
I also used to leave the loaves in the oven for another ten to fifteen minutes after switching off the heat. When using an oven stone or, in my case, bricks, the loaves will definitely over-bake, so be aware and take them out after the allotted cooking time.

In terms of the dough there is also some progress. The previous loaf used some milk and sugar, which was repeated here. The resulting dough seems to have smaller fermentation bubbles, giving almost a lighter character to the loaf in the end. I decided to stick with this mixture for the next few loaves.

For these loaves I used half a cup of the sourdough, one cup of rye flour, two cups of stone ground, whole wheat, brown bread flour and a cup of white bread flour for the kneading board. To this lot was added 1½ teaspoons of salt and two dessert spoons of brown sugar along with a ¼ cup of milk.

I made the starter by adding the rye flour to the quarter cup of sourdough. This was left for six hours to multiply and develop. There was good fermentation, as you can see in the picture. Next came the rest of the dry ingredients, using only half of the white bread flour, into a large mixing bowl in one fell swoop. Using a sturdy medium-sized spatula from the Le Creuset range, I mixed the dry ingredients well before adding the milk and the sourdough starter. This was mixed until the dough was too dry, then I added a little more water, about two dessert spoons' worth, still keeping the half cup of white bread flour in reserve for the kneading board.
Very good rising
The dough eventually turned into one big ball, which was then turned out onto the well floured kneading board for further manual treatment. The dough duly absorbed the rest of the white bread flour during the kneading, for which I was grateful. The mix appears to contain the correct quantities.

The dough was kneaded until it became satiny, at which stage I patted it into a flattened ball and covered it with some cooking oil. The cooking oil works well to prevent drying out during the rising phase. The dough was left overnight for twelve hours to rise. It almost tripled in volume, for which I was grateful again. It tells me that my wild yeast is healthy and lively. I then kneaded the dough back to the original volume, cut it in half, not tearing it, and then shaped it into two medium sized loaves for the baking tins. These were left for another four hours before I popped them into the pre-heated oven. The loaves were baked for forty minutes, after which I switched the heat off. This is where I think the next change in my baking regime should be to prevent over-baking. Remove the loaves from the oven immediately on completion of baking time. Turn them out of the tins onto a tray to cool. Allow cooling for at least twenty minutes. There is still some steam inside the loaves that needs to diffuse out of the loaves.

The new arrangement in the oven
My loaves had steam in them even after leaving them in the oven for another fifteen minutes after switching off the heat. That is courtesy of the little bowl of water in the bottom of the oven.

All's well that ends well and this experiment was no exception. The loaves came out better looking than the previous experiment and they had risen properly before the dough set into the crust.

Chalk up another successful baking experiment. Quite worth the effort, therapeutic to make and a joy to eat.

This post also linked to Yeastspotting! 

Authored by Johan Zietsman
Last updated on 2012-12-12

Wednesday 17 October 2012

White Bread On Bricks: The Next Experiment

 In a previous blog post I related the story of the new yeast hat I captured after my return from the fort Lauderdale trip. Now it was time for another experiment.
After some deliberation and enquiries, I decided to try my hand at having an oven stone and steam in the oven. It took a while and some wide enquiries before I realised that the purpose of the stone is to add thermal mass to the oven to stabilise the temperature. This is very easy to accomplish once you explain it like that. You can use any stone or piece of of ceramic material, provided it is not glazed. And any brick will work superbly. Bricks, however, are quite thick, so they are impractical to use. But paving bricks or tiles may be thin enough. I packed myself off to the tile shop and found what I wanted, except these tiles were too thin. You need something about 15 mm thick or perhaps slightly thicker. But not 100mm like a normal brick. It will work, but you will spend half the household budget on electricity or gas to heat those.
I got myself paving bricks of around 15-20 mm thick from the local brickyard. Total price R26.00. In US dollars that is about US$ 3.00. A steal. So I was in business. A small stainless pan satisfied the requirement for a small water container for the steam part.
The next part of the experiment could proceed.
I decided on a simple white loaf with some sugar and milk added to the basic sourdough flour and salt mix. This I got from a chef acquaintance. He told me that the addition of sugar makes the end result a bit lighter. This was good, as all my loaves tend to be on the heavy side, one slice equals about three of a normal shop-bought loaf in weight.
The bread was baked at 200ºC 392ºF. Given the effect of the hot bricks, the oven was too hot and the top crust came out a bit darker than anticipated. Still, the loaves were not over-baked and the crumb is nice and soft. This is something that one can keep in mind. Having more thermal mass in the form of a baking stone in the oven means that a lower temperature is required for the same effect. A lesson learnt. This was also the first time I put the loaves into a hot oven. Until now I used to put the loaves into a cold oven, then switch on and allow 15 minutes additional baking time. Live a little, learn a little.
This time around I varied the composition of the dough as well. I added some milk to the mixture after some research on the internet and through my library of two books. The end result was quite rewarding. The steam in the oven did its trick with the forming of the crust, giving me a very nice chewy crust. The milk and sugar did their work as well, providing a nice soft crumb. The fermentation bubbles are a bit smaller than usual, but there is nothing wrong with the taste. The sourness comes through magnificently.

White Sourdough Loaf

Starter sponge

1 cup sourdough
1 cup white bread flour for the starter sponge (AP flour for my American friends)
Mix the above, add some water to get a stiff batter and leave to multiply until double or more in volume, then use in the main dough mix.

Main dough mix

2 cups white bread or AP flour
1 ½ teaspoon salt
3 dessert spoons milk
2 dessert spoons sugar. I used the slightly unrefined brown sugar.
1 cup of flour for the kneading board
½ -1 cup of tepid water. This is to get the dough knead-able.
Dollop of cooking oil


Mix the flour, sugar and salt thoroughly, then add the starter. Mix the dough properly. It will be too dry. Add some water a little at a time until the dough has the right consistency to knead. Now turn the dough out on a well floured kneading board and knead the dough until it gets satiny. Keep on kneading for another ten minutes. Add flour and water a little at a time until the cup of flour for the kneading board has been swallowed by the dough.
Pat the dough ball into a flat round shape and use the dollop of cooking oil to cover the outside of the dough. This prevents the drying out. I tried it for the first time at sea, where we do not have nice cling wrap and the such. So I covered the surface of the dough with cooking oil by wetting my hands and then patting the dough ball. You can then place the dough in the mixing basin and just cover it against other food and water splashing from other cooking and coffee-making activities.
Allow the dough to rise overnight. You will know it has risen enough when it has more than doubled in volume.
Turn the dough out on the kneading board and knead it back to the original volume. I decided to use baking tins for a change, so I had to divide the dough into three smaller balls. This you do by making a snake, then cutting the snake into the required number of pieces.
Knead each piece a bit, then pat it into the required shape. Mine then went into the baking tins. Put the dough aside and allow to rise for another two hours. You may get the oven up to temperature during this time. When everything is ready, pop the loaves into the oven on top of your oven stone. Add the pan of boiling water to the bottom of the oven. I baked this lot at 200ºC 392ºF, which is too hot. One needs a lower temperature. I was lucky not to have instant toast. Perhaps the bricks were not that hot, so the temperature was lower at the bottom than the top, which saved the day.
Whatever the case may be, this lot came out as expected from a dough mixture point of view. I shall certainly use my oven bricks from now on.
I baked these loaves for 30 minutes, after which I promptly took them out of the oven and turned them out to cool. They were still sizzling, so now I also understand the cooling process is part of the baking, so to speak. The loaves need to cool to develop texture. Luckily I had other things to do as well, so these loaves got proper cooling time. Not like those on board which were consumed as soon as they cooled sufficiently not to burn your fingers or your tongue.
This was well worth the effort.

This blog post also linked to Yeastspotting!

Authored by Johan Zietsman
Last updated on 2012-12-12

Sunday 14 October 2012

The Thai Chicken Curry on a Balmy Saturday Afternoon

We had a yacht club social event on Saturday in the form of a “Cooking around the World” event. The day turned out to be one of those exquisite days for which Cape Town is so famous.

I decided on a Thai style chicken curry.

Most of my South African friends keep spicy food recipes in reserve for cold winter evenings and they live and cook accordingly. They hold that such food will warm you up. The opposite is actually true. The most of the spiciest food is found in the tropics. Just take a look at South Indian style cooking compared to the North Indian, Pakistani and Nepalese style cooking. In the South Indian style saffron would disappear completely in the heavy spices used in these dishes, while it appears regularly in the recipes from the colder regions.

The spices actually make you perspire a little more. Ladies, however, only develop a slight glow, I am told. Whatever you call it, all of it will cool the body down a tad. Hence the spiciness.
My dish tended more to the Northern Indian style to allow for the tender palates of my sailing friends. Actually, I rather like to cook a spicy dish that is not too hot, but flavourful. And here in the Western Cape you get the most amazing spices on your doorstep thanks to our Malaysian and Indian connections of old.

This dish was cooked in my enamelled cast iron casserole. This cookware will stay hot for a long time after you take it off the flame, thereby adding to the cooking time. The dish also rests better in the hotter environment, I like to think. Then you tend to get better flavour development. The pot may take a little while to warm up, but you get the heat back at the end. This is something everybody that has ever used a cast iron pot knows. The cast iron sides are also thick, adding heat from the sides, as opposed to some popular stainless steel cookware having thin sides.

This recipe, as always, gives an idea of what I did. The quantities will get you more or less to the same taste, but these recipes are never the same each time I cook them. Use chef's licence. The process is more important than the actual quantities.

Thai Chicken Curry


1 kg de-boned chicken. Any cut will do. I used breasts. Chopped into 2 cm cubes.
1 can coconut milk or cream. Or an envelope of coconut powder, which is what I used.
2 medium onions, chopped
½ sweet pepper, chopped. This is for some colour. Use a red or yellow one.
1½ dessert spoon green masala (Recipe here)
1½ dessert spoon masala powder
1 teaspoon turmeric
½ teaspoon mustard seeds. I used black mustard seeds.
½ teaspoon fenugreek seeds
½ teaspoon coriander seed
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
small stick cinnamon bark
1 pod cardamom (elachi) pipped. You only use the pips
1 dessert spoon chicken stock dissolved in half a cup of water.
1 cup fresh coriander leaves, chopped
1 dessert spoon garum masala
small bunch chives as thick as your thumb, copped into 1cm lengths. This is garnish.
350 ml jasmine or basmati rice. I used jasmine rice
1 teaspoon aniseed seeds
Some cooking oil. Not olive oil, it clashes with the other spices
Some salt to taste


Marinate the chicken in the green masala paste for 20-30 minutes.Then start with a dry pan, pot or casserole. Heat the whole dry spices (not the aniseed, that’s for the rice) until the flavours start to come out. I normally crush the whole spices in a mortar and pestle to have some smaller bits. The flavour comes out better with smaller bits. Then add a dollop of oil. Add the onions and sweet pepper and fry these until they are translucent. Add the dry powder spices and fry until the flavours come out. Be wide awake that you don't burn anything at this stage, because then everything will be bitter and you will start from scratch.

When the dry spices have married with the onion mix, add the marinated chicken cubes and fry them in the onion mix until they are nice and brown on the outside. They may turn only white because of the amount of fluid, but that is not something to worry about, Just keep on frying them till you think they are done. Not more than five minutes, though, otherwise the chicken dries out.

Add some oil during the frying if the pan gets too dry. The dry spices will soak up all the fluid. When the chicken looks done, add the stock and some water, set the heat to low and simmer the dish for 30 minutes or so. Test the chicken for tenderness and add some salt to taste at this stage.

When the chicken is tender enough to your taste, add the coconut milk. I used powdered coconut, which I dissolved in one cup of water. Check the amount of water in your dish, that you do not end up with a flavourful chunky soup. You may need to use less water or take the lid off and allow the water to cook off naturally.

The coconut milk will thicken the juices anyway, so watch out again for burning the dish. Add the chopped coriander leaves and the chopped chives, along with the garum masala. Bring to the boil, stir through and switch off the heat. Allow this dish to rest for twenty minutes. I rested the dish for the time it took to cook the rice. You can rest it for longer, the flavours keep on developing.

For the rice I used a lot of water and some salt. Cook the rice until it is almost done. The water will look milky from the starch. Wash the rice in cold water until the water is clear. Pour off most of the cold water and bring the pot to the boil again. Add the aniseed seeds and some salt to taste. Allow the rice to steam a little, then take it off the heat. You can reheat the main dish once you washed the rice.
Allow everything to cool down a bit, then dish up.

Bon appetit!

Authored by Johan Zietsman

Last updated on 2012-12-12