Thursday 23 May 2013

Fresh rolls on the griddle

GBYC sunset
I recently had a few bright moments. At least, I think I had. Those moments when you are overcome with a sudden surge of hate for the daily drudgery and just knowing that it is time for something else.

In this instance I had the idea of shaking off all the ingrained inhibitions of a blogger of carefully planning, inventing and preparing a dish. Reworking the recipe and so on.

Drudgery at its best.

We have a regular Wednesday night braai (barbecue for my overseas friends) at the local yacht club.  “We” being a circle of friends and fellow sailors. There we literally share the food. One piece of meat is cooked at a time, whether it be sausage or a well matured steak. This is then cut into bite size slices and dished out. Then the next piece of meat goes on the griddle. And so on. Rather like a very South African dry fondue, if you will.
Dough turned out to rest

The meat is accompanied by a piece of bread. I would like to use the word “slice,” but in this case a piece of the bread is literally broken off, rolled around the slice of meat and eaten just like that. Using your bare hands.

Of course, the other hand is holding a glass of some decent red wine. A wonderful occasion indeed.

Enter my bright moment. I decided to try an experiment. Baking dinner rolls on the griddle.

Now, there is nothing new about this concept, except that I have not done this before. I have made lots of cakes using self raising or normal flour, salt and water. No yeast.

“Twisters” I think the Aussies call them. Roll the dough into a snake, then roll the snake around a suitable stick and cook it over the fire. Remove from the stick, fill the hole with a sausage and you have a wonderful camp hot dog.

I used to made patties and put them directly on the griddle. Useful addition to your camp braai.

Dough roll cut into wheels

But on this occasion it was time for sticking my neck out a bit. Proper dinner rolls made with yeast, cooked on the fire, no oven in sight.

Although they came out perfect, there is a caveat. The heat needs to be controlled well, else you will end up with a roll that is well cooked to a nice tan colour outside, while being raw inside.

Part B of the problem lies in the shape of the roll. If it is too thick you may end up with same result as for too much heat. 
Wheels after second rise.

The message is very clear: Very low heat and rolls that resemble patties rather than rolls. Mine was just thick enough to be very difficult too cook. Bear in mind that you may end with nice fresh rolls that comes after the rest of the food has been consumed.

That is the third part of the caveat: You need to have these things cooked along with the rest of the food.

Of course, you can always just pop them in the oven before the time if you are at home. But the beauty of these lies in the fact that the final preparation is done in the presence of the guests.

The recipe is quite simple. I adapted a standard recipe from the multitude available on the internet. A baker friend taught me that any bread needs flour, salt, some oil or fat, some sugar, yeast and water. I added two eggs as well. Most of the dinner roll recipes have eggs in them.
Almost too thick for  cooking on the griddle


½ cup stone ground rye flour
½ cup white bread flour
2 cups stone ground brown bread flour
2 teaspoons salt
2 dessert spoons brown sugar
50 grams butter
2 large eggs
1½ cups lukewarm water
1 dessert spoon instant yeast. That is one sachet
Some cooking oil to seal the dough for rising.

This idea worked


Mix the dry ingredients, leaving out the yeast. Melt the butter and rub it into the flour mix. Now add the yeast. Add the beaten eggs and mix thoroughly. Add the water a little at a time and mix until you 
get a soft dough that does not stick to your hands.

The dough can now be turned out onto a kneading surface and kneaded for ten minutes. Not just until it is nice and elastic, like I used to. No sirree, the full ten minutes. Then you get proper gluten.

After this I patted the dough into a roll with hands wet with cooking oil to seal it, put it into my mixing bowl and popped it straight into the boot of my car to rise. The weather here is quite cool, so I parked the car in the sun and left the dough to rise for three hours. This is a bit long, but there was no harm done. The dough may have subsided a little due to the colder late afternoon air, but it was still more than double the original volume.

I patted down the dough ever so gently, then squashed it into a rectangle. The rectangle was loosely rolled up from the short side to make a dough roll. This was cut into wheels and left to rise for the second rise.

Here is where the second caveat kicks in. You need to cut the wheels on the thin side, so that they are just the right thickness after the second rise. Mine was on the edge of being too thick, so they rose magnificently and ended almost too thick too cook on the griddle.
This idea didn't

Allow half an hour for the second rise, then pop the rolls on the griddle. The heat must be minimal, especially in the beginning. This allows time for the heat to penetrate the roll so they can cook on the inside. Remember, this is on an open fire or coals.
After all this, with the other guests standing chafing at the bit, this batch came out superb.

A fluffy, elastic crumb and a crisp crust. And, of course, nothing beats the flavour of a roll fresh from the griddle!

Bon appetit!

Authored by Johan Zietsman

Last updated on 2013-05-24

This blog post also linked to Yeastspotting!

Tuesday 21 May 2013

The GBYC Paella Cook-Off

My, what tangled webs we weave!

I am not really one for serious competitions. Rather too laid back, I think. Or probably too lazy.

The real reason for a wannabe sea gypsy? Most decidedly. My doctor says my cholesterol levels are where they are because of good eating. I used to think it was due to too much starch and sugar.

However it may be, last Saturday found me competing against the local sailing club Commodore for the best paella. The non-competitor versus the club Commodore. A tangled web indeed!

He decided on a sea food version, complete with all and sundry exotic ingredients. It looked and tasted delicious. The dish was cooked slowly and the fish and calamari parts were done to a T.

My version was definitely more traditional having no sea food whatsoever. Just chicken and a small amount of spicy sausage meat for flavour. Only a little bit of stock, just enough to help the flavours. The cooking process and sequence generates a natural stock.

This one is real cheap to make. And the flavours of this winning dish (wink wink) come from paying attention to the sequence of cooking and what is done or not done.

The paella is very traditional Spanish fare, originating from the Valencia region if I understand correctly. And there is no sea food or fish in the dish. Which is why I chose this route. Tried and tested by time.

Cooking paella over open coals is quite easy. You need a hot pan in the beginning, when you grill the meaty parts.. Later, one needs a cool pan to allow the dish to simmer. Remember, it is a dry-ish dish and will burn easily. After which, of course, you start over.

The rice and tomato added. Lower the heat, now wait.

The rice will absorb fluid ever so slowly in the beginning, then at a rate of knots towards the end, so be wakeful!

And add the ingredients in a sensible sequence, that you do not kill your favourite ingredient by adding it too early.

We used Montsia brand rice from Spain, but any short grain starchy rice will do. Even parboiled long grain rice will work, but may take longer too cook. If you have to use long grain rice or are pressed for time, soak the rice in hot water at the start. then add it later. The rice will swell out and absorb some water, reducing cooking time. A good idea aboard a small boat!

Chourizo is the favourite, but any spicy sausage or meat will do. I have forever steered away from salami, thank you very much. But the German style spicy sausages seem to work. However, this meat is optional in the tradition of Valencia.

Chopped garlic and chillie is OK, but fresh garlic and chillie mashed in salt on your spice chopping board will get the essential oils into the salt and add to the flavour of the dish. And you will not get pieces of garlic stuck in your teeth, like me...

I have written before on the issue of stirring or not and the difference between paella and risotto.

While the ingredients overlap seriously, and the process too, a paella is drier than a risotto and should be stirred less. This one was only stirred a little at the end to prevent burning. The sauce and rice fuse into a sticky mess and then fries a little, which is good. It tastes like heaven and your guests will fight over this. But you need to scrape it off the bottom every now and then, else the dish is ruined.

We used wood from alien trees growing in our region for the fire. They make hot coals for a short period, then the coals die and you have a cool fire. I adjusted the height by putting a brick under the paella pan handles to allow a little air to flow between the pan and the coals. Else the fire dies completely.

As boat food or just something for a camp lunch or, like us, an impromptu al fresco lunch, you will have to go far to beat value for money and the associated companionship of cooking this dish. A small pan of 30 cm (12 inches) will fit on a normal stove in the house, boat galley, or on a camp stove top, or, of course, on any fire. And this 30 cm pan will make food for four to five people, depending on how hungry they are, or the side dishes. You can stretch this to seven people if you add a side dish or two.

And a 30 cm pan is really a give-away at the price. Perfect Paella in Cape Town sells some, but you should easily find them elsewhere in the world. I used a 42 cm pan because I was cooking for a hungry horde of sailors and hangers-on...

So here goes.


2 kg chicken breasts with skin
1½ cup frozen garden peas
200 grams spicy sausage
4 tomatoes, peeled and chopped. Or one can of peeled and chopped tomatoes.
1 red sweet pepper for garnish, sliced into rings, the ends chopped
2 onions, diced
1 kg paella rice
2 dried hot chillies. I used Thai chillies from the garden
4 cloves fresh garlic, chopped and mashed in salt.
2 teaspoons hot smoked paprika
1 small pinch of saffron in a tea (½ cup) of boiling water
2 teaspoons chicken stock in 1 litre boiling water
500ml dry white wine
2 litre hot water  as required
½ cup chopped fresh cilantro (coriander). Keep a sprig or two  for garnish as well.
Salt as required
Some olive oil for cooking

Halfway there. Note low, cool coals


Chop the chicken into two bite size pieces. Keep the skin if you can, you need the fat in the dish.
Start with an almost dry pan, quite hot. Add the chourizo and fry it until it sears a little. Add a little olive oil as required. Remove, then add the chicken to the same pan and sauces. Grill and sear the chicken until it goes brown outside. Remove an keep covered with the spicy sausage to cook in its own juices.

Now add the onions and sweet chilli and fry them till the onions are brown. Remove the chilli rings when they are still al dente. When the onions are almost done, add the mashed garlic and chilli and fry for 15 seconds before adding the white wine.

The seared brown stuff from the bottom of the pan will now become the stock. Simmer the white wine to reduce it somewhat, perhaps five minutes. Now add the tomatoes and simmer the dish until the tomatoes are just cooked through, then add all the rice. Mix this lot thoroughly, then add the chicken stock and paprika mix. Stir this until everything has been properly mixed, then add the saffron tea.
Add water as required to ensure the dish does not burn. Reduce heat until the fire is quite low and the dish is only just simmering. When the rice is about halfway done, add back all the meat and mix. Make sure you scrape the seared stuff off the bottom of the pan. Add water as required to keep this lot more or less fluid.

The runner up. Looking good too.
When almost done, add the chopped coriander leaves and the peas. Check for enough salt. Let the dish simmer for another five to ten minutes, then turn the heat off. Garnish with the sweet pepper rings and cover. Allow the dish to rest for a full ten minutes. Then take the lid off, add the sprig of coriander leaves and dish up. Add some sliced lemon for garnish if you really have time...

Bon appetit!

Authored by Johan Zietsman

Last updated on 2013-05-21

Compiled specifically for GBYC newsletter.

Monday 13 May 2013

Living the dream: Sail a tall ship

We all have dreams. So do I. Mine is about freedom.

This freedom comes in many guises, perhaps not always fully understood when the opportunity to break free knocks. My dream is about freedom and it is vested in sailing. Specifically longer voyages. On day sails you get this freedom in very small doses. I have a healthy dislike of bureaucracy, of which I get an overdose every day. This adds to my stress levels no end. So, dear reader, you will understand my addiction to sailing, where I have the freedom of choice and the time to enjoy it.

And I am an addict, so longer voyages are quite in order.

I have written before about the silence and the quietness surrounding one on a voyage. The lack of noise and air pollution that you find at sea. And the peace.

Yesterday I had the opportunity to talk to people who do exactly this for a living. Long voyages. See the world. And to top it all, these people do it aboard classic tall ships. Ships built before the first World War, which make them around a hundred years old.

Three of the Dutch Tall Ships visited Cape Town on a circumnavigation.

All of them have satellite communications equipment on board. But no 24/7 internet connection. The communications run via the HF radio or satellite telephone, so email once a day is what you get. The communications are mainly used for weather updates and communications back to the office.

The Tecla, the smallest of the three, is a lugger-rigged ketch of 197 gross tonnes. Their facebook page quotes as follows:

“The Tecla was build as a fishing vessel in the Netherlands back in 1915. in 1935 she retired and got her first engine, she was then christened Tecla and sold to Denmark. In 2006 the family Bouwman & Sluik bought the Tecla, a ship that makes dreams come true.”

I had a long conversation with Jet, the first mate and cook on board. They sailed from Brazil across the Atlantic to Cape Town with only four people on 

board. On a ship like this, four people means long working hours. For this voyage the crew was divided into two watches and worked shifts of six hours on, six hours off.

There is no auto-helm and the crew on watch has to steer the ship manually. There is also no deck house, so you are standing there on the aft deck exposed to the wind and weather, steering the ship. And Jet, as the cook on board, has to double up on feeding the hungry sailors.

We discussed the vagaries of cooking on board the vessel. This ship is quite small as a ship, but very big in normal yachting terms. This means they have a decent size freezer and other refrigeration to allow for catering on a long voyage for up to twelve people. They have three meals a day, which means that the cook is quite busy. The small size of the vessel means also that the cook is exposed to pots flying off the hob in bad weather. Quite similar to a small yacht, in fact.

We discussed the diet on such long passages. Here is where local knowledge of your destination comes in handy.

Dry food is ordered via the ships agents, so not a big problem there. The fresh stuff is bought at local markets, where Jet specifically looks for food that has not been in cold storage. Food that had been in cold storage goes off faster than fresh food.

Chalk up some points for being a yachtie or sea salt: You are automatically forced to eat decent, unprocessed food!

The galley on board is perhaps, in terms of scale, smaller that the galley on a 12m size yacht. Yes it is bigger, but the galley on a small yacht proportionally takes up more space than on a larger vessel.
Oosterschelde galley. A very busy place.

We looked at the galley on the Oosterschelde, which needs to cater for up to 120 people on day sails. The galley on the Ooterschelde has the size of your average suburban house kitchen, measuring perhaps two and a half by four meters or thereabouts. Not big. The hob has six burners/plates, that's it. Industrial size, yes. But not overly so. There is an oven, of course. A small work area and a sink completes the layout.

And the space is cramped.

There is standing headroom in the galley, but I shall have to bend almost double getting provisions from the storage in the bilges below. There is always a compromise on board. Win some, lose some.

The cook told us that she operates mostly alone in the galley, sometimes with an assistant cook, depending on the number of people on board. When there is a lot of people aboard, she will arrange help from the deck side to add hands to the two people in the galley.

Peeling potatoes? Yes, that is where the passengers get to help a little. It helps with the boredom of being idle.

Of course, the Oosterschelde is quite big, 42m long (50m including the bowsprit) and 7.5m wide. So there is a little space.

And the saloon has an old world charm second to none. My friend Tasso and I sat in a little poop deck like a mezzanine deck aft of the saloon. Green carpets, dark brown solid wood, varnished. Green leather upholstery. An upright piano bolted down in one corner of the saloon. The sun shining mildly through the windows.

As we sat down, our immediate thoughts were of coffee and a cigar. You sit there and begin to get an idea of the peace to be had on a voyage, sitting there, reading a book. I could live like that. Quite easily, in fact.

The wheelhouse on the Oosterschelde.
Navigation only, the wheel is outside.
Oosterschelde wheel. Outside.

The Bark Europa is more or less the same size as the Oosterschelde, 50 m overall length, including the bowsprit. This ship has a bigger galley yet, as the full crew complement for a long voyage numbers 25. But the galley is still quite small, as can be seen from the photo on their web site. Here one has three meals a day prepared in the galley, baking bread and biscuits at night. Very busy indeed.

Freshly baked bread. Fresh, unprocessed vegetables, fruit and eggs. Fresh fish from the ocean. Frozen meat, no cattle or chicken farm on board.

And hard work. Hard work for all. Somebody has to make the experience happen. It may just as well be everyone on board.

This is the dream, then.

Freedom. Freedom, especially from bureaucracy.

Experience the taste of fresh food, prepared properly.

Running repairs.
And the reward: no telephone calls, no internet. No Facebook, Twitter or other social media. Yes they have some entertainment in the form of DVD players and so on. For the die-hards.

Read a classic book. Or even two. Write your memoirs. Write a blog with sensible and proper content, you have lots of time.

Chill out, you are going to the ends of the earth slowly.
And feel what freedom is all about.

I'd sacrifice a lot to skipper a ship like one of these...

Somebody has to make it happen.

Authored by Johan Zietsman

Last updated on 2013-05-14

The bar in the saloon, schooner Oosterschelde.

Saloon, schooner Oosterschelde