My favorite quarantine recipes Part V

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Yogurt parfait with Granola

After 35 days of isolation, I’ve made 35 different dishes with not much abatement in sight. In fact, my “no recipe duplication challenge” has only just hit 2nd gear. Still so much to cook, eat (and clean up) until New York’s restaurant scene re-emerges.  Here are this past week’s sweet and savory delights.

 

SUNDAY

I cannot begin to describe the most amazing garlicky, gingery, chili aromas that emanate from the kitchen with this all-in-one roast chicken and potatoes, but the fact that it takes nearly 3 hours to do so makes for some very envious neighbors. A great meal for a Sunday night where you have the time to work up a furious appetite.

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Slow roasted chicken and potatoes

SLOW ROASTED CHICKEN AND POTATOES

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 3½–4-lb. whole chicken
  • 1¾ tsp kosher salt, plus more
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 5 Tbsp. gochujang (Korean hot pepper paste)
  • ¼ cup plus 2 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
  • 3 heads of garlic
  • 1 ½” piece fresh ginger
  • 1½ lb. baby Yukon Gold potatoes (about 1½” in diameter)
  • 5 scallions
  • 2 limes
  • 2 tsp. honey

DIRECTIONS

Do Ahead: Chicken can be seasoned 12 hours ahead. Chill chicken if you’re not going to cook within 2 hours of seasoning.

Place a rack in middle of oven; preheat to 300°. Pat chicken dry with paper towels. Place on a small rimmed baking sheet. Season whole chicken all over with 1 Tbsp kosher salt and lots of freshly ground black pepper, making sure to season the inside cavity.

Whisk gochujang and 1/4 cup olive oil in a medium bowl until combined. Finely grate 3 garlic cloves (from one of the heads of garlic) into gochujang oil. Peel ginger and then grate into gochujang oil; whisk to combine.

Cut what’s left of the head of garlic in half crosswise. Repeat with the second and third heads as well. Stuff 2 garlic head halves (or individual close if they come apart) inside cavity of chicken. Tie legs together with kitchen twine.

Using a pastry brush, brush half of gochujang oil over chicken.

Toss potatoes and remaining garlic halves and 2 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil in remaining gochujang oil until well coated. Season lightly with salt and pepper and toss again to combine.

Arrange potatoes in a 12″ cast-iron skillet, scooting them toward edges of pan to make space for chicken. Nestle as many garlic halves (cut sides down) as needed in center of skillet. Stand the chicken on top of the garlic halves—as it roasts, it will infuse the fat (and thus, the potatoes) with flavor. If any potatoes have shimmied their way under the chicken, use tongs to arrange them around it (they won’t cook at the same rate if they’re underneath the chicken).

Roast chicken and potatoes, turning potatoes once or twice to coat in juices and oil that accumulate in pan, until potatoes are very tender when pressed with the back of a spoon, and chicken skin is deep reddish-golden brown in color, 2½–3 hours. When you wiggle the legs of the chicken, they should feel loose in the joints, meaning the meat is fall-apart tender. Transfer chicken to a cutting board and let rest 10–15 minutes.

Meanwhile, use the back of a large spoon or a potato masher to gently smash potatoes in skillet, exposing some of their flesh to juices underneath so they can soak them up.

Finish the potatoes: Thinly slice 5 scallions on a long diagonal. Cut 2 limes in half. Cut 1 half into wedges and set aside. Stir 2 tsp. honey and juice of remaining lime half into potatoes. Taste potatoes and season with more salt if needed. Scatter sliced scallions over potatoes.

Carve chicken, then arrange pieces over potatoes and scallions. Serve right out of skillet with remaining lime wedges alongside for squeezing, and squeeze out the sweet, slow-roasted garlic cloves as you wish. Serves 4-6.

 

MONDAY

It’s pretty hard to intimidate mussels. You can pretty much throw anything at them and they will thrive and survive. This dish has a one-two-punch from a pair of red-pepper sauces that crank the bivalves up 3 notches to a restaurant-quality dish with an impressive “wow” factor. (You’ll want to drink up the sauce when the mussels are gone.)

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Mussels with Harissa and Basil

MUSSELS WITH HARISSA AND BASIL

INGREDIENTS

  • 2 medium-size red bell peppers, halved
  • 1 medium-size white onion, unpeeled, quartered lengthwise
  • 2 1/2 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon olive oil, divided
  • 2 medium garlic cloves, unpeeled
  • 1/4 cup chopped toasted walnuts
  • 1 small dried Thai chile, stem removed
  • 2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 3 – 4 pounds mussels, scrubbed and de-bearded
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • 1/4 – 1/2 cup harissa (depending on spiciness)
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
  • 1/2 cup roughly torn fresh Thai basil leaves
  • 1/2 cup Pickled Red Onion slices

DIRECTIONS

Preheat oven to broil with oven rack in middle of oven. Rub bell pepper halves and 2 onion quarters with 1 teaspoon olive oil. (Reserve remaining onion quarters for another use.) Arrange bell pepper halves and onion quarters, cut sides down, on a rimmed baking sheet. Broil in preheated oven until bell peppers are well charred, about 15 minutes, adding garlic to baking sheet halfway through broiling. Place bell peppers, onion, and garlic in a bowl, and cover with plastic wrap. Let stand at room temperature until vegetables are cool enough to handle and bell peppers are softened, about 10 minutes. Remove and discard garlic skins and charred skin from bell peppers and onion.

Transfer bell pepper mixture to a blender; add walnuts, Thai chile, lemon juice, salt, and remaining 2 1/2 tablespoons oil. Begin processing on low speed, and gradually increase speed to high, processing until smooth, about 45 seconds total. Set bell pepper puree aside.

Heat a large heavy-bottomed saucepan or Dutch oven over medium-high until very hot, about 3 minutes. Add mussels, and shake pan to arrange mussels in an even layer. Pour wine into pan, and cover with lid. Cook, shaking pan occasionally, until mussels begin to open, about 5 minutes. Stir in harissa and butter. Cover and cook, shaking pan occasionally, until mussels are completely open, about 2 minutes. Remove from heat, and discard any mussels that did not open. Stir in bell pepper puree. Using a slotted spoon, transfer mussels to deep bowls, and pour sauce from pan evenly over mussels. Sprinkle evenly with Thai basil leaves and pickled red onion petals. Serves 4.

 

TUESDAY

I opted to keep things super simple for vegetarian day with these spicy, caramelized roasted yams that enjoy a bright and refreshing lime-flavored yogurt dressing to bring home the sweet, sour, tang and tart in a single mouthful. (The leftovers are great – sliced up in salads).

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Roasted yams

ROASTED YAMS

INGREDIENTS

  • 3 large yams
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • 1 tablespoon crushed red-pepper flakes
  • 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • ½ cup Greek-style yogurt
  • 4 tablespoons fresh lime juice, approximately 2 limes
  • 2 scallions, both green and white parts, trimmed and thinly sliced, for garnish

DIRECTIONS

Heat oven to 425. Cut the yams lengthwise into 4 wedges per yam. Put them in a large bowl, and toss them with the honey, ½ tablespoon of the crushed red-pepper flakes and 2 tablespoons of the olive oil. Let it sit for 10 minutes or so, tossing once or twice to coat, as the oven heats.

Transfer the yams to a foil-lined, rimmed baking sheet, season with salt and pepper and then bake until they are deeply caramelized around the edges and soft when pierced with a fork at their thickest part, approximately 30 to 35 minutes.

As the yams roast, combine the yogurt, lime juice and remaining tablespoon of olive oil in a small bowl, and whisk to combine, then season with salt and pepper to taste. Set aside.

When the yams are done, transfer them to a serving platter, drizzle the yogurt over them and garnish with the remaining Espelette pepper or red-pepper flakes, the scallions and some flaky sea salt if you have any. Serves 4-6.

 

WEDNESDAY

Seeing as there was a little gochujang left from Sunday’s chicken, I wrested this quick-and-easy recipe from virtual obscurity which makes a lonely pork-chop, a legend in his own lunchtime.

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Korean grilled Pork Chops

KOREAN GRILLED PORK CHOPS

INGREDIENTS

  • 1/3 cup dry roasted peanuts
  • 3 tblspn canola oil (separated)
  • 1/2 tsp chili powder
  • 2 boneless pork chops, thin cut and trimmed
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 tblspn gochujang
  • 1 tblspn orange juice
  • 2 tsp mirin
  • 2 scallions thinly sliced

DIRECTIONS

Use 1 tblspn of the oil to fry up the peanuts until they are golden brown. Drain on paper towels and sprinkle with the chili powder and set aside.
Whisk the gochujang, juice and mirin together.
Salt and pepper both sides of the chops.
Broil or fry in a cast iron skillet until well browned (about 4 minutes). Flip over and cook the other side. Smother the chops into the sauce (or pour over them while still in the pan) until well coated on both sides. Sprinkle with the peanuts and scallions. Serves 2.

 

THURSDAY

Who would have predicted that the two scarcest commodities during the COVID-19 pandemic would turn out to be toilet-paper and yeast. I get the fact that we all have to poop, but since when did we all have to bake bread? I mean really! I’ve had the craving for a multi-layered-salami-and-cheese Muffuletta sandwich for some time now, but was determined to bake my own rosemary-lemon loaf. Who knew I would have to reach out to a shady character to score me a few grams of yeast from slightly north of the Mexico border?

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Muffuletta

MUFFULETTA

INGREDIENTS

For Olive Relish:

  • 1 (8-ounce) jar giardiniera (pickled vegetables), drained and rinsed
  • 1 cup mixed pitted marinated olives (5 ounces)
  • 1/2 cup jarred roasted bell peppers, drained
  • 1/2 cup loosely packed parsley leaves
  • 1 tablespoon capers
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons red wine vinegar

For Muffuletta:

  • 1 (1-pound) muffuletta loaf or round ciabatta
  • 6 ounces provolone cheese slices
  • 6 ounces mozzarella cheese slices
  • 8 ounces thinly sliced ham
  • 8 ounces thinly sliced capicola
  • 8 ounces thinly sliced mortadella

DIRECTIONS

Combine giardiniera, olives, bell peppers, parsley, capers, and garlic in a food processor. Pulse until finely chopped. Place mixture in a bowl; stir in oil and vinegar. Let stand 1 hour; cover and chill up to 2 days.

Cut bread in half horizontally. Tear away some of the soft bread interior to make some room for the fillings. Spread half of olive relish over bottom half of bread; top with half of cheese, all of the meats, and then the remaining cheese. Spread remaining olive relish on top half of bread, and close the sandwich. Wrap entire sandwich tightly in plastic wrap, and weigh it down slightly. Refrigerate 1 to 2 hours. Cut into 8 wedges. Serves 4.

 

FRIDAY

Dumb question: Who doesn’t like fried chicken? But one of the many reasons I adore this 18 year-old recipe, is that even though the chicken cooks in the oven, the buttermilk and garlic brine is an iron-clad insurance policy that guarantees moist and tender breasts. You can pair this with any slaw, but I happen to love this red one.

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Oven fried Chicken

OVEN FRIED CHICKEN

INGREDIENTS

  • 4 boneless chicken breasts
  • 2 pints buttermilk
  • 8 cloves garlic, peeled and halved
  • 1 cup flour
  • 1/3 cup rustic Cajun rub (I prefer Emeril’s classic)
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil

DIRECTIONS

Add the garlic, buttermilk and chicken to a zip lock bag and marinate in the refrigerator for at least 24 hours and up to 3 days.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Mix the Cajun spices with the flour in a bowl. Discard the garlic and buttermilk and dip each chicken breast into the flour mixture to thoroughly coat on all sides.
Heat the oil in a medium sized skillet on medium heat. Gently fry each breast for only 2 minutes on one aide. This step is purely for color. Using a spatula and tongs, very, very gently flip them over for another 2 minutes, taking care not to lose any of the fragile crust which is still very soft. Carefully transfer the breasts to a wire rack set over a baking sheet and bake in the oven for 25 – 35 minutes until they reach 165 degrees. Serves 4.

RED CABBAGE SLAW

INGREDIENTS

  • 1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 teaspoons celery seed
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 head red cabbage, cut into roughly 1 1/2-inch chunks
  • 2 small carrots, grated
  • 1 small red onion, chopped
  • 1 cup golden raisins

DIRECTIONS

In a large bowl, whisk together vinegar and sugar until dissolved. Slowly whisk in oil, celery seed, salt and pepper to taste. Toss in cabbage, carrots, red onion and raisins to coat well. Cover and let sit at least 1 hour. Serves 6.

SATURDAY

I dare you to throw away that old sweet and sour shrimp recipe you’ve been hanging onto all these years. It’s not as if it ever tasted remotely like the real thing anyway. This gem comes from a cooking class I attended in Hong Kong by a former Cantonese restaurateur who bragged that she had served over 500,000 of these during her career. (For a healthy alternative, substitute cauliflower rice for regular Jasmin).

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Sweet and Sour Shrimp

SWEET AND SOUR SHRIMP

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 Tbslpn cooking oil
  • 1/2 cup onion cut into strips
  • 1/3 cup pickled carrots
  • 2 Tblspn pickled ginger
  • 1/4 cup fresh ginger, julienned
  • 2 Tblspn garlic, thinly sliced
  • 1lb shelled and deveined shrimp
  • 1/2 red chilli pepper cut into strips
  • 1/2 green chilli pepper cut into strips
  • 1/2 cup rice vinegar
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 2 tsp HP sauce
  • 2 tsp Worcestershire sauce
  • 1/4 cup ketchup
  • 1/2 tspn salt
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1 tsp potato starch
  • 4 spring onions cut into 1 1/2″ lengths on the bias
  • Sesame oil

DIRECTIONS

Stir the vinegar, sugar and the 3 sauces in a jug until well combined. Set aside.
Heat a wok over medium-high. Add the cooking oil and stir fry the onion, fresh ginger and garlic for 1 minute. Add the shrimp and toss for another 1 – 2 minutes.
Add the chilli peppers, pickled carrots and ginger. Keep tossing the ingredients. Add the sauce mixture and cook for about 3 – 5 minutes, stirring constantly.
In a small ramiken, dissolve the potato starch in the water and add to the wok to thicken. Remove from heat and add the spring onions and a dash of sesame oil. Toss once or twice more and serve immediately with rice. Serves 4.

 

BONUS RECIPE

Don’t you find that most Granola’s are nothing more than stale, brown crumbs and sawdust? After the endless additions I’ve made over the years, this one has become somewhat of a signature. But be warned, even though this insanely nutty Granola is intended for yogurt, fruit or ice-cream toppings, it is also a dangerously snackable snack. Keep out of reach of adults.

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Insanely nutty Granola

INSANELY NUTTY GRANOLA

INGREDIENTS

  • 3 cups rolled oats
  • 1 cup unsalted shelled pistachios
  • 1 cup unsweetened coconut flakes
  • ⅓ cup raw pumpkin seeds
  • 1/3 cup raw pecans
  • 1/3 cup raw sunflower seeds
  • 1/2 cup raw almonds
  • 1/2 cup roasted hazelnuts (chopped in half)
  • 2 tspn salt
  • ⅓ cup dark molasses
  • ⅓ cup coconut oil
  • ¾ cup dried sour cherries

DIRECTIONS

Preheat oven to 300. In a large bowl, mix together the oats, pistachios, coconut, pumpkin seeds, almonds, sunflower seeds, pecans, hazelnuts and salt.

In a small saucepan set over low heat, warm the oil and molasses until just combined, then remove from heat. Fold liquids into the oat and nut mixture, making sure to coat all the dry ingredients well.

Line a large rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat, and spread the granola over it. Flatten and smoothe to an even layer. Bake until dry and lightly golden for about 30 minutes, stirring around halfway through.

Remove granola from oven, and allow to thoroughly cool. Mix in the dried sour cherries and transfer to a storage container. Makes 6 cups.

 

Stay safe. Stay sane, but most importantly – stay inside!

Dining in Cape Town

Having not dined in South Africa’s “mother city” for more than a dozen years, it came as no surprise that the local culinary scene has moved on – and then some. On one hand, I couldn’t help feeling a teeny bit nostalgic to notice bedrock establishments like La Perla, Ari’s Souvlaki, Panama Jack’s and Blues have all endured the 20 year arduous transition from apartheid to democracy, from economic isolation to destination envy, from world pariah to world cup – with unchanged menus and décor in tact (barring frequent electricity blackouts and currency devaluations), while on the other hand, exciting new bistros with eclectic chefs in gentrified neighborhoods with huge fan bases are all vying for a seat around table mountain.

Blues - Camps Bay

Blues Restaurant – Camps Bay

So regardless of whether you happen to find yourself at the most gorgeous tip of the continent for a short, medium or undetermined length of stay, there are (thankfully) a handful of adorable bistros well concealed from the camera-flashing, “is-the-meal included?” inquiring tourists oozing out of mega-coaches all over town.

Pot Luck Club - Woodstock

Pot Luck Club – Woodstock

For instance, when you exit the glass elevator at the top of the disused biscuit mill in an unlikely industrial part of Woodstock, Luke Dale-Roberts’ Pot Luck Club administers 10,000 volts of unbridled energy into the concrete, wood and window “room in the sky,”  like a cricket bat to the back of the head. The multi-award winning gastropub is obnoxiously popular for its Afro-Euro-LatAm-Asian-influenced tapas – divided into the 5 main taste groups of Sweet, Sour, Salty, Bitter and Umami. Given the defiant lack of menu focus from the get-go, it’s hardly surprising that there are some misses among the hits – but the hits are certainly worth mentioning.

Calamari with Lentil curry - Pot Luck Club

Calamari with Lentil curry – Pot Luck Club

Who would think to reinvent Crispy Calamari with a velvety smooth and flavor forward bed of zesty Cape Malay lentil curry? And I would, without hesitation, add Roberts’ Smoked Beef Fillet to my final-meal-on-the-planet list. After the first morsel of the ultra-tender, marbled steak surrounded by the most unforgettably delicious, creamy pool of black pepper and truffle spiked “café au lait”, I secretly hoped for a “load shedding” event (the South African P.C. way of saying “rolling blackouts”) so that I could snatch the “sharing” plate away from my party, and gorge myself in total darkness.

Smoked Beef Fillet - Pot Luck Club

Smoked Beef Fillet – Pot Luck Club

The stiffly fried Beer battered Fish also took on a Malay flavor – thanks to the cardamom and saffron aioli and the green mango Atchar – which is a salty, mustardy, citrusy pickle used to spice up food and marriages, as well as grow hair on the chest.

Beer battered Fish with Atchar - Pot Luck Club

Beer battered Fish with Atchar – Pot Luck Club

The desserts were an equally disparate mix of cultures and influences starting with a Bunny Chow, which can best be described as an “interesting experiment” – where spicy white chocolate found its way inside a slice of banana bread, topped with fruit preserves and accompanied by the most formidably overbearing cucumber sorbet ever attempted. But all was instantly forgiven when the donut-hole shaped Tonka Bean Churros emerged with a finger licking, lip smacking, malted chocolate dipping sauce – which instantly time-warped me back 35 years!

Tonka Bean Churros - Pot Luck Club

Tonka Bean Churros – Pot Luck Club

As it happens, one of chef Roberts’ protégés, Frank Marks, recently opened his own fresh-ingredient-focused, concept bistro called Borage. I use the word “concept” because being located in the heart of Cape Town’s CBD, the gray bistro-in-a-box caters chiefly to high-octane power breakfasts and business lunches (before the downtown area pretty much empties out) with only two dinner services a week that conclude promptly at 9pm. Marks also hosts a monthly, invitation-only “Supper club”, featuring the multi-culti talents of young up-and-coming chefs. In fact all students currently attending the famous Silwood Culinary School get to spend a period of their academic education prepping, cooking and scrubbing at Borage, Pot Luck Club and (the impossible-to-get-into) Test Kitchen before they can graduate.

Borage Bistro

Borage Bistro

Marks’ modest menu features 4 starters for under $10, and 4 mains for under $18 plus a very limited, but hand-selected local wine list.

Beef Tartare - Borage

Beef Tartare – Borage

You realize when you bite into the quail egg topped, green parsley canopy shrouding a wonderful blend of Beef Tartare with gherkins and capers on wafer-thin ciabatta, that the emphasis is all about allowing the fresh combinations of the local produce do all the talking.

Chicken Liver and Foie Gras - Borage

Chicken Liver and Foie Gras – Borage

I have tasted swooshes and shmears of just about every liquid reduction on the planet, but just the very idea of a glühwein gelée to bolster an almost foamy domino stone of Chicken Liver and Foie Gras Parfait, opened a whole new lexicon of taste for me. I was also intrigued by how subtly Marks’ sauces complimented his mains; a rather simple but hearty red wine reduction for the Sirloin, a spicy au jus that was born from at least one Bordelaise parent for the Duck, and a magnificent pickled beetroot gel for the Kingklip. Given that our table was the only thing in the way of the crew’s quitting time, the service was remarkably and uncharacteristically swift.

Kingklip with beetroot gel - Borage

Kingklip with beetroot gel – Borage

In general terms, Cape Town’s cooking can range from hearty and decent to unique and inspired, but like a few obstinate lumps in an otherwise smooth gravy, South Africa’s omnipresent collision of 1st and 3rd worlds emerges when spotty service can unfairly tarnish a kitchen’s shine. It’s one thing to order a spectacularly described, farm-to-table-influenced, salivation-inducing item off the menu – but quite another to have it served!

Babylonstoren - Paarl Valley

Babylonstoren – Paarl Valley

Let’s take Babel as an example. The 45-minute drive inland, plants you firmly in the heart of the wine country – with roly-poly hillsides replete with vineyards, olive groves and Cape Dutch gabled, thatch-roofed structures dating back 300+ years. And one of the most impossibly beautiful estates between the historic towns of Paarl and Franschoek is “Babylonstoren” – the poster child for hand-raised, organic, fair trade, free range and bio-dynamic foods.

Gourd tunnel - Babylonstoren

Gourd tunnel – Babylonstoren

I am talking about 200 hectares of immaculately landscaped and symmetrical fruit orchards, prickly-pear mazes, herb and salad gardens, gourd tunnels, chicken runs, citrus groves, vegetable patches, fish ponds…all in the shade of an idyllic cookie-tin valley with mountains, streams, horses and of course the obligatory winery. On the premises of the estate – which also boasts a boutique hotel and spa, is a casual, airy restaurant called Babel, with a dozen tables in and outdoors. The menu looks like the centerfold of a well illustrated “Jack and the Giant Beanstalk” popup book – and it reads like a shaman guru’s shopping list.

Babel

Babel

Appetizers are offered in three colors: Green, Red and Yellow. (Apologies for transcribing the menu here, but there is no better way to do justice to this cornucopia of ingredients, all freshly picked that morning.)

"Green" - Babel

“Green” – Babel

Green: Chilled Soup of cucumber, avocado, yoghurt, dill with fennel, granny smith apple, pear, kohlrabi, green pepper, green bushbeans, green tomato, pickled white Shimeji oyster mushroom and Suring.

"Red" - Babel

“Red” – Babel

Red: Carpaccio of pickled beetroot varieties, turnip and champion radish with pepperdews, hull blackberries, pomegranate, mission fig, vineyard grapes, black plums, purple beans and smoked salmon with black sesame. Dressing; Carob and mint-infused white balsamic.

"Yellow" - Babel

“Yellow” – Babel

Yellow: Tempura of ricotta stuffed zucchini blossom with butternut, dragon tongue bushbeans, yellow beans, Turkish granadilla, golden delicious apple, yellow pear tomato, tree melon, baby carrots, tiger figs, golden pickled beetroot, sungold plums, pineapple and mango. Dressing – Spicy coconut, coriander and mango.

With this many different (yet surprisingly well matched) ingredients, it’s hard not to be amazed at the restrained barrage of flavors, colors and textures. Every morsel, every bite yielded a whole new crunchy explosion of fresh sweet and sourness – like a fireworks display with different bursts of wonder and pleasure with every passing second.

Babel

Babel

I can tell you what main dishes we ordered, but unfortunately they have yet to be cooked, served or eaten. Instead of being fed on Lamb Cutlets with Greek basil and lemon sauce, or a Cauliflower Sandwich with gorgonzola and macadamia nuts, or Fresh Linefish with crab apple butter and salsa verde, we were fed to bursting with a 2-hour litany of explanations and apologies that ranged from “ your order is being plated now” to “the head chef didn’t show up for work today” to “it’s a new menu and no-one knows how to make it yet.” Oops!

Kloof Street House

Kloof Street House

And closer to town at the casual-chique, mostly Mediterranean Kloof Street House – an eclectic Victorian villa of interlinked dining rooms lined with fabric wall panels and bookcases filled to the pressed-steel ceilings with colonial tchotchkes and a noisy clientele of trust-fund babies with plenty of time on their hands, one of our orders didn’t quite make it to the kitchen, and so one of us watched – while two of us chewed. Oops!

Harbour House - Kalk Bay

Harbour House – Kalk Bay

But before you resign yourself to lowering your expectations, it is probably advisable to focus on the rest of the experience instead. Like sitting in front of one of the big windows at The Harbor House in Kalk Bay, perched on the very edge of a treacherous rocky cliff, while a ferocious Indian Ocean thrashes mercilessly below, as you calmly pick through a bowl of hearty West Coast Black Mussels in wine, garlic, thyme and cream, or tender Calamari sautéed in fragrant smoked paprika with olives, or even a plate of magnificently succulent Mozambique-style grilled Prawns in lemon and chili. Fresh, solid and reliably enjoyable.

Calamari with Smoked Paprika - Harbour House

Calamari with Smoked Paprika – Harbour House

And finally, no trip to Cape Town would be complete without a stop at Bizerca Bistrôt near Heritage Square. The French-influenced local fare is offered as evergreens on the printed menu, and an even longer list of daily specials on mobile chalk-boards. Highlights included the house-cured Raw Norwegian Salmon Salad with salty notes and a lively goat cheese, soy ginger and shallot dressing. Another crowd pleaser is the Butternut Gnocchi – which has a soft center protected by a crispy sautéed skin with melted Parmesan and roasted vegetables. The Seared Ostrich Fillet could have remained on the fire for another sixty seconds for my money, but the coin-sized medallions of fat-free steak always takes the top spot on the poultry family tree. Figs and beetroot with plum sauce were the perfect sweet and tangy contrast to the tender, umami delight.

Butternut Gnocchi - Bizerca

Butternut Gnocchi – Bizerca

Most of the ubiquitous sweet, sour and chocolate desserts are no match for the most earth-shatteringly delicious deconstructed Apple Pie ever to leave a kitchen. The 45-minute pre-order time faded into distant memory when our waiter lowered a flat, flaky, 4-inch square pastry tile, covered by a doyly of hot, caramelized apple relish with a single ball of the most decadently scrumptious crème fraiche ice-cream. Just one hot/cold/creamy/crunchy/toffee bite instantly blurred the lines between well-mannered human and greedy beast!

Apple Pie - Bizerca

Apple Pie – Bizerca

http://thepotluckclub.co.za/

http://www.borage.co.za/

http://www.babylonstoren.com/food/

http://www.kloofstreethouse.co.za/

http://www.harbourhouse.co.za/

http://bizerca.com/

http://www.capetown.travel/

Hinoki and the Bird, Los Angeles review

Hinoki scented Black Cod - Hinoki and the Bird

Hinoki scented Black Cod

Tucked away beneath a condo tower just beyond the eastern edge of the 20th Century Fox backlot, you might discover one of the greatest stars this town has ever unveiled. Hinoki and the Bird – brainchild of Sona and Comme Ca chef David Myers and Kuniko Yagi, (a waitress-becomes-a-chef success story of her own) is a surprise-filled candy-box of an east-meets-west bistro defying any other SoCal dining experiences heretofore.

Hinoki and the Bird, Los Angeles

Hinoki and the Bird, Los Angeles

As my eyes adjusted to the darkness, I was struck by the expanse of unfinished Japanese cedar wood planks (Hinoki) lining the walls, doors and floors, that under less subtle direction might have resembled the inside of a cuckoo clock or the Unabomber’s cabin, but Myers’ attention to detail and the pools of amber light and shadows creates a formative oasis – just rustic enough for an after-work foo-foo cocktail – yet utterly sophisticated enough for an original and transformative dining event.

Chef Yagi’s varied menu bounces between the familiar and the exotic like a restless ping-pong ball, from all across south-east Asia, with dominant overtones of her Japanese heritage to her adoptive California. Things start calmly enough with a raw bar including a silky Beef Tartare spiked with pickled jalapeño, and a couple of sashimi’s. Not being a huge fan of raw fish with fruit, the popular Hamachi seemed a touch out-powered by the intense sweetness of persimmon and pomegranate, but who cares when you practically gorge yourself on a milky, cheesy, yoghurty Japanese ranch dip on the backs of Dutch Potato Chips?

Lemongrass Lamb Sausage - Hinoki and the Bird

Lemongrass Lamb Sausage

We were issued deliberate instructions along with the nugget-sized Lemongrass Lamb Sausages, to tear off a piece of the hoja santa leaf they rode in on, bundle them up, and then dip them into the chili-lime sauce. As the complex flavors and textures began to unfold, from the furry aromatic leaf to the citrusy sauce surrounding the succulent meat, even the avid non-lamb-eater at the table couldn’t resist but to reach for more.

I couldn’t contain my curiosity as to why a sub-section of the menu is called Inspiration! I was politely informed that “those are dishes inspired by flavors from around the world.” Hmmm, which would suggest that all the other dishes must have been inspired from…someplace else? Regardless, this menu-within-a-menu includes notable signatures such as Coconut-curried Mussels with shaved cauliflower and crumbled sausage, and the conversation-stopping Hinoki scented Black Cod with maitake mushrooms and shishito peppers – which arrives with a thin canopy of burning wood, delivering wafts of smoldering cedar smoke over the delectably sake-laden and wonderfully juicy, miso-flavored fillet. Sake is also to blame for the fate of the impossibly tender and ridiculously delicious Drunken Duck Breast that could quite easily be sliced with the back of a spoon.

Of all the times I have ever enjoyed Short-rib (and there have been numerous), I don’t believe I’ve ever heard of it braised in cumin and coriander before. Chef Yagi if you’re reading this, please grant your Curry Short-rib special a permanent spot on the “Inspiration” section, as this has to be the most inspired and original execution of one of my favorite cuts of beef.

Roasted Yam - Hinoki and the Bird

Roasted Yam

There is nothing particularly remarkable about the names of the ample side dishes, but their preparations are so astonishingly original, it felt as though our table clocked a million frequent flier miles into the future: the rice is neither steamed nor fried – it’s grilled, the roast potato with crème fraiche and crunchy lardons is a toffee-sweet yam, the bok choy is smothered in lemongrass and shallot, the swiss chard on steroids is all about the sesame. (Somebody, stop me!)

Miso Donuts - Hinoki and the Bird

Miso Donuts

In addition to the Ice-creams, Sorbets and Mochi’s, desserts include a multi-textural death-by-chocolate Ice-cream Sandwich and the curiously salty and feather light-and-fluffy Miso Donuts with a sublime honey flavored caramel dipping sauce – the kind you can spread on an old shoe-brush and still enjoy.

Hinoki and the Bird, you are without doubt my restaurant of the month!

http://hinokiandthebird.com/reserve/

Flex Mussels review

Flex Mussels

Flex Mussels

Can we please hear it for mussels – those inexpensive, scrumptious, highly adaptable and relatively unsung heroes of the shellfish world?

"Bombay" Indian curry, star anise, garlic, cinnamon, white wine - Flex Mussels

“Bombay” Indian curry, star anise, garlic, cinnamon, white wine

While they might make an appearance on many a menu in many a city, they often seem to do well at being overlooked or under-ordered. Is it the size of their shells that belies the amount of flesh within? Or could it be because they require actual physical contact and dexterous assistance? Or maybe that their classic preparation (white wine, leeks and cream) fails to put the lust back into lackluster?

Thanks to Bobby & Laura Shapiro, the Canadian duo who are somehow able to haul in an endless catch of the most perfectly sized, beardless, Prince Edward Island farm raised bi-valves that snap open as they soak up flavors from all around the world at Flex Mussels.

The menu offers 23 different options that are as delicious as they are audacious. From simple, low-key ingredients you might expect to see in a pot of mussels: Dijon mustard, orange zest, fennel and tomatoes, to some you’d be surprised to see: curry coconut broth, pesto, spinach or Kalamata olives, to some you’d be outright flabbergasted to see: bacon, ham, chipotle adobo, prosciutto or blue cheese. The kitchen goes even further to include lobster, calamari, shrimp, crab and an entire sausage gumbo into some of their most memorable concoctions. My favorite is the Bisque, with hearty chunks of succulent lobster tail, sweet San Marzano tomatoes and a generous hint of brandy in the bread-dippingly delectable garlic cream.

"Gumbo" Andoille sausage, peppers, ochra, shrimp, roux - Flex Mussels

“Gumbo” Andoille sausage, peppers, ochra, shrimp, roux

The scene at both of their strictly informal Manhattan-based bistros (West Village and Upper East Side) is equal parts young, noisy, popular and energetic, with not much room for décor beyond a few enlargements of the Prince Edward Island setting sun, allowing the punch-line-printed (“Mussel-tov”), black T-shirt-wearing staff to deliver pot after steaming pot to the dozen or so crowded tables.

Curiously enough and contrary to the laws of nature and physics, the longer these pots sit on the table, and the deeper you dig to extract your harvest of delight, the hotter they get! Hmm.

Flex Donut Collection - Flex Mussels

Flex Donut Collection

The menu also offers a sizable Not Mussels section, including a wonderfully light and crispy, mixed seafood plate called Burnt Fingers, a very affordable selection of California and European White and Red wines (including a rarely-seen-in-these-parts Turley Old Vines Zinfandel) culminating in the Flex Donut Collection, where 4 or 6 (or more) tennis-ball sized donuts are served with a vanilla dipping sauce on a wooden rack, practically exploding with your choice of sinful fillings, from Salted Caramel and Wild Blueberry to Meyer Lemon…but it’s still all about the mussels!

http://www.flexmussels.com/

Dining in Brussels

La Villette

La Villette

Belgium has always enjoyed a respectable (if somewhat unadventurous) culinary reputation, thanks to its border with the Netherlands and France. On one hand, some say that the local cuisine is classic French cooking served up in Dutch-sized potions, whereas for the vast majority of the chewing world, the only dishes that come to mind are Waffles, Beer, Moules Frîtes (mussels and fries) and of course my relentless weakness – chocolate. (More about that in a subsequent blog)

Delicatessen

Delicatessen

Not to be outdone by any other European city, Brussels has its fair share of serious eats, modern surprises and tourist traps. There isn’t a single visitor to the city who doesn’t arrive armed with the name Chez Leon as a recommendation from a cousin’s neighbor’s aunt’s sister’s hairdresser’s boyfriend’s therapist. Located on the awning-covered, light-bulb-string-illuminated, beggar-inhabited Rue de Bouchers, the only way to describe the Moules Frîtes at this Belgian institution – is institutional! If the boredom of the wait staff is any indication of how the cooks must feel every time a red-eyed, jet-lagged backpacker orders the exact same dish, it’s no surprise you’re left with a relentlessly lingering aftertaste of salty leaks. For a more pleasantly memorable Moules Frîtes experience, the delightful bistro on Sainte Catherine’s square called La Villette hits the spot. The menu is riddled with Belgian favorites from Grey shrimp to Sole to Entrecote steak.

Moules Frîtes with Belgian endives - La Villette

Moules Frîtes with Belgian endives – La Villette

Their Mussels with Belgian endives is flavored with white beer foam and cream, creating a rich, deep and buttery broth for the generous pot of fresh Zeeland bivalves, and for putting the hand-cut fries to good use.

Vol au Vent - La Villette

Vol au Vent – La Villette

The equally scrumptious Vol au Vent is best described as a deconstructed chicken pot-pie, with a very simple cream, beer and mushroom gravy. Desserts include the ubiquitous Pancakes and Profiteroles in some form or other, but the Crème Brulee made with Chamay beer is a true original.

Burratta - La Manufacture

Burratta – La Manufacture

Other classic restaurants in the city range from the 90 year old and multi Michelin star honoree Comme Chez Soi, to the hip, trendy locovore kitchens like Alexandre, Delicatessen, and the former suitcase factory La Manufacture – featuring a mind-blowing Burrata with external olive-oil infuser and a hot, crispy and sinfully delicious Goat Cheese Crème Brulee, but what the menu boasts in green olive and pistachio crusts or tarragon sauces is quickly diminished by the complete and abject lack of service.

Le Wine Bar de Sablon

Le Wine Bar de Sablon

My personal favorite has to be the neighborhood bistro Le Wine Bar de Sablon. The staggering menu features every part of every creature (snails, brains and sausages included) proudly produced by the tiniest of kitchens.

Sea bream Carpaccio - Le Wine Bar de Sablon

Sea bream Carpaccio

The Dorade Royale (sea bream) Carpaccio was spiked with red peppers and pickles, giving the fish a smooth, sour and spicy edge. The Rillettes were sinfully festooned in thick duck fat with pickled onions and stoneground mustard for a sharp contrast, but the runaway hit of the day was the Poêlée de Champignons.

Poêlée de Champignons - Le Wine Bar de Sablon

Poêlée de Champignons – Le Wine Bar de Sablon

A caramelized and sautéed trio of dark forest flavored and freshly plucked moist porcini, chanterelle and hedgehog mushrooms served with steaming hot polenta.

Lizzie's Wafels, Bruges

Lizzie’s Wafels, Bruges

And without doubt, the hands-down best Waffles in town – are actually located out of town. Just steps from the Grote Markt in nearby Bruges, Lizzie’s Wafels have conquered the hot, dimpled vanilla biscuit market. After years of being pestered by insistent tourists demanding waffles, Lizzie finally relented and took the popular all-day breakfast snack to a higher level. Serving nearly 150 super-sized crispy waffles per day with all the obvious (and some less obvious) toppings, Lizzie also created Chocolate “Roses”, which are peach-sized chocolate blooms in three flavors that are lowered into scalding milk for the most decadently wonderful melted hot-chocolate delight the world has ever tasted.

http://www.la-villette.be/reservation/

https://www.commechezsoi.be/Reservations/tabid/401/language/en-US/Default.aspx

http://www.lamanufacture.be/en/

http://www.winebarsablon.be/en

Hot Chocolate "Rose" - Lizzie's Wafels, Bruges

Hot Chocolate “Rose” – Lizzie’s Wafels, Bruges