Wednesday 27 August 2014

Boeuf Bourgoignon a la Mode

It has been a while since my last venture into cooking for fun. The recent adventure of sailing a boat from the Seychelles to Gordon's Bay left me with hardly any energy to experiment. Besides, I had to do most of the cooking on board.

But now it is time for having some fun in the kitchen.

It is still winter here in Cape Town and surrounds, so the choice fell on a stew of some description. I searched at length on the internet for some ideas. Perhaps wading through a quagmire of recipes would be a better description. After some random reading, I decided that some experimentation would be in order.

Some recipes require the meat to marinate in wine and herbs for a long time. Especially the French versions. Italian versions cook the meat in copious amounts of tomatoes and tomato paste. All of the recipes, including the Thai and other eastern versions, have lots of garlic. I came across a recipe that requires twenty, yes numerals two zero, knobs of garlic. The mind boggles.

Having learnt a thing or two about getting flavour into a dish, it was clear that the process dominates the flavour. You certainly don't want to make a concoction of herbs and chemicals to obtain flavour.

I am also not partial about cooking with wine, preferring soy sauce. It is either wine or soy sauce, the two flavours clash. And then, in true Banting fashion, I started cooking extensively with real butter. Butter imparts a wonderful flavour and I like to think that the butter adds some fat to the dish, making it nice and rich. In addition, butter makes the meat and onions go brown.

So the choice fell on a French style beef stew, rich in gravy. And I called it Boeuf Bourgoignon a la Mode because it is made in a fashion of cooking that I like and, perhaps, to appease the French culinary purists.


750 g beef shin or chuck
250g fatty bacon
4 knobs garlic coarsely chopped
1 medium to large onion, coarsely chopped
4 fresh tomatoes, coarsely chopped
½ sweet bell pepper
1 small carrot diced
3 medium carrots in coarse wheels
3 shallots, coarsely chopped. Use the green leafy parts as garnish
1 cup mushrooms, button size or coarsely chopped
1 small can tomato paste
50 ml soy sauce (a largish dash, I suppose)
½ cup of flour
Pepper to taste
small sprig fresh rosemary
1 teaspoon dried parsley or a sprig of fresh parsley
1 teaspoon thyme or a sprig
1 dried Thai chilli, chopped
150g butter
some cooking oil


The process here provides the stock part of the dish, so no additional stock is required. Start by getting the butter nicely melted and up to a decent hot temperature. While this is happening, cut the meat into cubes, keeping bones if any. Dry the meat diligently, then dust lightly with the flour. This will make the meat go brown. If there is any water in there, the meat will stay a dull grey colour.

First fry the bacon until crisp, then remove it from the pan. Try to keep as much of the juices as possible in the pan. Do the frying in batches if necessary. After the bacon, the meat gets fried until a nice dark brown.

There will be an accumulation of caramelised meat and flour on the bottom of the pan. Leave it there, that will become the stock for the dish. Again, do it batches if necessary. Remove the meat from the pan when done.

Next comes the onions, sweet pepper and the diced carrot. There should be a decent amount of fat in the pan. If it looks a bit dry, add some more butter. Fry the onions, pepper and carrot until they are a light brown, then add the chilli and garlic. Fry these for fifteen seconds, then add all the meat and the fresh herbs. Add the tomatoes now.

Also add the soy sauce at this stage, then add enough water to cover the ingredients. Bring the dish to the boil, then set the gas to the lowest setting, put the lid on, sit back and relax. Drink some wine.

The dish now has to simmer for at least one hour. Stir often with an egg lifter to help the crust come off the bottom of the pan and into the dish. You will notice that the sauce thickens on its own. This is good. Top up the water as the dish goes dry, you don't want it to burn. After an hour the meat should start to go tender.

When the meat is almost done, add the mushrooms,the shallots and the tomato paste. Simmer for another fifteen minutes or so, then remove the pot from the heat. Then start with the mash and veggies to accompany the dish. This will allow the dish to repose. That is a fancy word for letting the dish rest and develop flavour.

I use copious amounts of butter in the mashed potatoes, along with milk, salt, freshly ground pepper and some chopped parsley. Don't go overboard, though. This is supposed to accompany the main dish, not overpower it.

This dish is not really spicy, therefore it will go with a nice full-bodied red wine. This time around you get to drink the wine, not eating it as part of the dish!

Bon appetit!

Authored by Johan Zietsman

Last updated on 2014-08-26

Wednesday 20 August 2014

The Magnificent Silence Of The Tankwa Karoo

One of life's interesting aspects is the effort that we all put in to relax. Chill in the modern vernacular.

I recently returned from a sea voyage lasting two full months. Two full months at sea, essentially. And people I meet tell me how lucky I am to have such a wonderful relaxing experience.

Well, I have news for them. Passengers and guests may have a wonderful relaxing time on board, but not the skipper. You work extremely hard. And you don't get to sleep as much as the guests either.

So I needed time to chill.

After getting most of the post voyage admin out of the way and my teeth fixed, we set off for a weekend of chilling out away from the sea. (Yes, I lost some fillings while at sea.) The choice fell on the Tankwa Karoo National Park. About as far away from salt air as one can get in South Africa. A great place to do nothing. No cell-phone reception, no internet facilities. Not even a land line telephone. Gas stoves, electricity for the refrigerators and the lights. Nothing else.

And a great silence. It is so quiet that one can hear the airliners passing overhead at 36 000 feet. That is basically the extent of real urban civilisation to be encountered.

The road to this place leads through some of the most scenic parts of our country, passing through the picturesque town of Ceres. Ceres is situated at the top of a mountain pass, so it is easy to imagine the stark contrast of the beautiful verdant mountain passes versus the arid, stony countryside of the Tankwa Karoo.

The road to the park takes you from Ceres on the road to Calvinia, two hundred and fifty kilometres away. The turn-off for the park is about half way along this road. A dirt road to boot, with no fuel along the way. You fill the tank in Ceres, and let down the tyres to a pressure suitable for the roads and your type of vehicle, then you drive very slowly so as to not get a puncture.  A puncture may literally see you waiting in the road for more than a day, waiting for the next vehicle to come by to render assistance. You also watch your fuel consumption with a beady eye for the same reason.

We have never been down this way before, so it was with great surprise that we saw lots of motorcycles and other vehicles along the way. Afterwards we realised that these may have been weekend riders and visitors leaving the park on Sunday as we were arriving.

Another great surprise was the Tankwa Padstal, a roadside shop selling sweets, beer and coffee in tin mugs. You can also have a hamburger, but that is where the real food ends. Of course, being an oasis in this veritable desert, there were lots of patrons. Incidentally, they also sell braai packs and wood, so you can have your own barbecue right there on the premises. A braai pack, for my overseas readers, consists of a few portions of lamb or mutton chops and a piece of boerewors. This area of the country is famous for the tasty lamb and mutton, so it is a very popular choice for visitors.

After having a beer, we carried on with our journey. Even inside the car one can feel the silence enveloping you. The countryside is bleak and austere at a passing glance, but it tends to grow on you as time passes. You look into a far distant horizon lined with ragged mountains, forever changing hue as the clouds come and go and the sun changes its angle.

The park itself is another study in simplicity and peace. There are quite a few old sheep stations and old farmsteads, some now turned into very basic camps. These are all situated at springs in the dry, almost stone desert hills.

The overwhelming silence allows you to hear the sounds of the veld. No city noise pollution or telephones ringing to confuse the issue, you hear jackals calling at sunset and again in the morning. You hear doves cooing down in the dry river bed, other smaller birds chirping away happily around the house. And in the night your see the bats flying, catching insects in mid air. The barn owls squeaking their song as they fly.

And then a peace descends on you like nowhere else. You sit and relax, then your brain also relaxes and you sleep a deep, peaceful sleep. It is almost like being on a three day meditation trip.

For food we had picnic snacks. And the requisite lamb chops, done to perfection on the coals. Served with a tomato and cheese sandwich toasted on the coals, rounded off with a glass of red wine. Perhaps even two. Simple food to add to the simplicity of the lifestyle and the surroundings.

We came home different people, the better for he quiet meditation offered by the tranquility of the place.

Perhaps we are more blessed than we realize.

Authored by Johan Zietsman.

Last updated on 2014-08-20

Thursday 14 August 2014

Sailing The Wild Coast

One of the most notorious coast lines in the world: the South African Wild Coast. The world of sailing is littered with stories of shipwrecks on this stretch of the South African coast.

Probably because of the peculiarities of the continental shelf being very close to land and the Agulhas current running along the shore. This makes for very big waves when the wind comes up. And the current is not to be sneezed at. Three knots of current in the open ocean.

It was with some trepidation and much soul-searching that I made the decision to carry on the voyage from Durban to Gordon's Bay. Negotiating purportedly the roughest stretch of coast in the world, then rounding one of the more notorious capes in the world, all at the wrong time of year sounds like folly.

This time around may have been beginner's luck or just good passage planning. We slipped moorings on a dead calm morning in Durban and motored most of the way to the quaint little port of Mossel Bay on the Western Cape coast.  The wild coast was passed in dead calm conditions, the sea an oily smooth liquid reflecting a red sun in the morning.

We did get some wind, though. We actually sailed for about four hours before the wind became too strong and changed direction. Then we battled against the wind towards Robberg, a mountainous cape at Plettenberg Bay which would offer some shelter.

However, the wind abated around three in the morning and we promptly did a sharp turn to port and continued on our way to Mossel Bay. Here we had to make a weather stop as there was a cold front approaching.

The cold front materialised in the Cape Peninsula area with heavy wind and rain. We had some cold and a few drops of rain. However, there was a forty knot gale at Cape Agulhas, so we sat tight and enjoyed the brief respite. The Mossel Bay Yacht and Boat Club has one of the more idyllic settings that I have seen across the world.

The harbour is quite small, providing a service to the local fishing industry, as well as the nearby offshore gas production platforms. We actually had time to made friends with the tame bull seal in the marina. He came to visit a few times and scratched his back against the boat's hull. Perhaps a bit like our cats at home making you feel welcome.

The stay gave us time to clean the boat after the rigours of the long voyage. This made a big difference in the effort of demobilising after handover. There is always one more problem to solve, one more cupboard to clean or one more form to complete. I am told that the job is not finished until the paper work is done.

Well, in this case I was determined to have as much of the paper work complete as possible before the end of the voyage. I had been on board for two full months and it was time to disembark and say goodbye to the boat.

The cold front passed and we set off from Mossel Bay on another balmy day with no wind. This time Mother Nature smiled on us and we found an easterly wind as we reached Cape Agulhas. This wind picked up to around twenty five knots, sweeping us along at a decent speed. We budgeted for a reasonable speed that would take us to Gordon's Bay in about forty odd hours. However, with the wind as it was, we did the two hundred odd miles from Mossel bay to Cape Hangklip in twenty-eight hours.

We lost the wind again just after entering False Bay at the Cape Hangklip light. The day turned into a beautiful early spring afternoon with bright, warm sunshine. A most hearty welcome home from Mother Nature.

All of this brought us home at Friday three o'clock instead of Saturday morning around lunch time. Of course this wreaked havoc with the arrangement of the welcoming party at our home yacht club!

Not too much of a problem, we just drifted in balmy conditions in the picturesque Kogel Bay. We had time to take a much needed hot water shower and to dress in clean clothes. In my case I put on my cleanest dirty clothes. After two months on board nothing is really clean any more.

Looking back I had a most interesting experience. We cruised beautiful sun drenched islands and sailed through storms and doldrums. The coral was exquisite, my first experience of unspoilt and pristine coral reefs. The fishing was excellent, giving us the chance of having various fish dishes on board.

We met the most interesting people in the islands. And we made good friends at the various yacht clubs. Interestingly enough, if you arrive anywhere by boat, you are automatically part of the family. If you arrive by car, you are a stranger and a visitor. This was brought home in no uncertain way in Durban and again in Mossel Bay. And not to forget the welcoming that we got from our home club.

Then it was time to greet old friends and say goodbye to the boat. My home for two months.
A last entry in the ship's log signed the boat over to the owner.

A job completed.

Perhaps the world will stand still now that I am back on dry ground.

Authored by Johan Zietsman

Last updated on 2014-08-14