Archive for October, 2012

Garden Route Shiraz 2011: Easy drinking, somewhat enigmatic…

October 9, 2012 2 comments

2011 Garden Route Shiraz, made from grapes grown in the Outeniqua wine ward

“Location: Calitzdorp • Map: Klein Karoo & Garden Route • WO: Durbanville/Outeniqua • Est/1stB 2008” reads the entry in Platter’s 2012 for Garden Route wines.

The bottle in my hand reads “Garden Route Shiraz 2011, Wine of origin Outeniqua” on the front label. The Platter entry lists the 2007 Shiraz, made from Durbanville grapes, noting that the 2011 Shiraz is made from grapes grown in the Outeniqua wine ward, one of the newer wine wards to emerge in the Southern Cape in the last few years. It’s all thoroughly confusing really. What happened to the ’08, ’09 and ’10 vintages I wonder. Where did the grapes come from ? Or did they just not get made?

The wines (I received the 2011 Shiraz and 2012 Sauvigon Blanc via courier a couple of weeks ago)  are made at De Krans in Calitzdorp, by the redoubtable Boets Nel, he of De Krans Port fame. Aside from a slew of competition honours, half the De Krans page entry in Platter’s is a solid block of red type, indicating 4 1/2 and 5 star wines, testimony to the winemaking prowess of Boets, and not just in the port and dessert wine stakes. The 2010 Touriga Nacional and the 2006 Redstone Reserve, a blend of Touriga and Cab Sauv, both crack 4 Platter stars.

So it’s entirely reasonable to expect that he should be able to put together a credible Shiraz, which if you taste the 2011, you may well agree he has done. Okay, I don’t believe it’s a 5 star wine, but it is entirely drinkable, inky garnet in colour, with a dense black fruit nose of plums and blackberries on vanilla and earthy spice notes.

The palate speaks of surprisingly dense black fruit, with cracked black pepper notes, underpinned by gentle oak and a vanilla edge. The fruit is mouthfilling, juicy and is balanced by pleasing acidity, the tannins very soft and gentle for a 2011 wine. Ten months in 2nd and 3rd fill French barrels make for well integrated oak. I don’t believe it’ll last for ever, but I doubt it’s meant to. It’s a typical cool climate wine, with bright juicy fruit, made to drink young.

I drank it with a very mild chicken curry, not the ideal pairing I admit, but it was passable good nonetheless. It’ll do well with a traditional roast, beef or lamb, and it’ll also do great with a slab of steak, or with a typical South African braai.

Drinking well now, it retails at R92 a bottle. The 2007 gets 3 1/2 Platter stars, and the 2011 cracked best Shiraz at the Klein Karoo Young Wine Show that year.


Stanford University Organic Study: Is organic REALLY no healthier?

It sure is lovely to be right, isn’t it? Three Michelin star British chef Marco Pierre-White, makes smug look humble in his recent gloating rant over the findings of Stanford University in a comprehensive study of the nutritional value of organic versus conventionally grown produce. The study, a meta-analysis of some 200 research papers,  found that there is no nutritional benefit in consuming organic produce instead of conventionally farmed produce.

Organically grown spinach. It may have the odd blemish, but it’s a damn side healthier in my view than the “conventionally” grown stuff.

Since the publication of the study however, it has been criticised in a number of areas. Susan Clark, executive director of the Columbia Foundation, a non-profit organisation dedicated to the furtherance of public welfare across a broad front, was quoted in an article on The New York Times web site: “The researchers started with a narrow set of assumptions and arrived at entirely predictable conclusions. Stanford should be ashamed of the lack of expertise about food and farming among the researchers, a low level of academic rigor in the study, its biased conclusions, and lack of transparency about the industry ties of the major researchers on the study.  Normally we busy people would simply ignore another useless academic study, but this study was so aggressively spun by the PR masters that it requires a response.”

It turns out as she notes, that more than one of the researchers had interesting links to Big Tobacco, having both worked for the powerful Tobacco Institute which sought to “prove” that tobacco consumption posed no health risks.

The aforesaid notwithstanding organic (and biodynamic for that matter) foodstuffs are more expensive. If the Stanford study was in fact accurate this would mean that everybody, not just the less well-heeled in our skewed society, could safely disregard organic produce in future.

But you would be wrong in that notion, because nutritional value aside, it is arguably healthier because of the lack of pesticides, herbicides, and organo-phosphate fertilisers in fruit and vegetables, and the growth hormones and antibiotics in animal products. And let’s not forget the inhumane treatment that is inherent in factory farmed animal products.

What I find most odd is the use of the term “conventional” to describe contemporary factory style farming, when in fact for the greater period of our agricultural history, organic was conventional. When man evolved from hunter-gatherer into a pastoralist and a cultivator of crops, pesticides, herbicides, and organo-phosphate fertilisers did not exist, nor for that matter did growth hormones and antibiotics.

As the world’s population grew, the need to produce more food increased apace, which is the justification for contemporary factory farming. But at what cost?

Free range chickens in their pasture pen on Spier Biodynamic Farm. Plenty of room in the cage, access to the open air, but with shelter from the elements. They get fed a small quantity of grain each day, and graze pasture if they get hungry. The cages are moved to a new patch of pasture each day. The birds are slaughtered on the farm, in a certified humane slaughtering facility.

If you take a look around you at so much of the farm land in the Boland, you’ll see how it is farmed. Fumigated soil, plastic sheeting covering the land, cultivation tunnels, frequent spraying of pesticides and herbicides are rampant. This is now considered “conventional” farming.

So much meat is raised in feedlots these days, in order to cope with demand. The idea behind feedlot farming is to fatten the animals as quickly as possible to prepare them for slaughter and the market. The best way to achieve this is to feed them on grain. This achieves rapid weight gain, plus it results in the much sought after marbling of the meat with fat, which makes it tastier and more tender. It also makes it more unhealthy because of the greater fat content. It is also true that feedlot farming has a much lower carbon footprint than pasture fed animals, but the probable solution to that, is to simply eat less meat. Feedlot farming is also anything but humane, subjecting animals to miserable lives that end in stressful slaughter, after an equally stressful road trip by truck to a commercial abattoir.

I don’t know of any animal feedlots in the area, but I do know of many battery chicken farms, the stench of which assails the nostrils as you drive past them, even from a distance. Animals reared in such circumstances suffer untold miseries, from birth to slaughter. Read Eric Schlosser’s Fast Food Nation, Hattie Ellis’ Planet Chicken  or Jonathan Safran Foer’s Eating Animals if you doubt this assertion. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

Marco Pierre-White’s point that “conventionally” produced food is cheaper, and therefore more accessible is well taken. Depending where you shop, organic food can be significantly more expensive. But with the continued growth of the organic sector, and the emergence of initiatives like the Green Road, a Biodynamic Agricultural Association of South Africa (BDAASA) sponsored program to reduce the cost of organic produce by bringing producers closer to consumers, the price premium is set to decline.

And the movement back to organic agriculture is not limited to South Africa. At a BAASA meeting I attended last year, I listened to a South African couple who farm in the Boland recounting their experiences during a trip to India, where there is a concerted move toward biodynamic and organic agriculture, and away from what is now considered conventional.

So, for my money, even if I get less in return for it, it’s organic, free range and humanely produced. Mr Marco Pierre-White can spend his money any which way he chooses.

Poached Eggs with Spinach, Feta and Pecorino

October 7, 2012 4 comments

Sunday mornings are usually a lazy start in our household, and today was no different. A pot of coffee (Koutaba from Cameroon, bought at The Coffee Roasting Co in Somerset West) and my Blackberry Playbook Tablet allowed me to read the news and dig into my Twitter stream.

Hunger pangs eventually did get the better of me, and my dearly beloved, who was playing Solitaire on her Playbook tablet, began to mutter about breakfast and/or lunch (read brunch), which finally drove both of us out of bed and downstairs to contemplate our options.

We’d been speculating about chicken mayo something (enough let over chicken from last night’s roast, plus a cup of homemade mayo) or maybe poached eggs, or I dared to speculate, both together…

Thankfully, Mrs M rousted me out of bed with the notion of poached eggs and something, which rapidly morphed into something based on what was in the refrigerator and the garden, to whit eggs, home-baked bread, Danish feta, Pecorino and baby spinach leaves, oh and a sprinkling of chives. And here it is!

The spinach leaves are those green and purplish coloured ones, and the eggs are free range. The Pecorino Romano is an inexpensive alternative to Parmigiano Reggiano which I’d like to eat exclusively, but unfortunately cannot afford.

The rye bread is my own recipe. I bake sourdough bread every week, a 60/40 rye/wheat loaf, which if refrigerated in a zip lock plastic bag, lasts the entire week. It makes a pretty good sandwich – it’s quite a dense loaf – but it makes magnificent toast if you cut it about 5mm thick. We seldom eat shop-bought bread for a couple of reasons, chief amongst which are the flavour, texture, quality and the cost. As a matter of course, I avoid 100% wheat bread as it gives me the most awful heartburn. Pure rye tends to be rather heavy, so my sourdough rye/wheat loaf is for me, the perfect compromise.

I baked it a couple of weeks ago with Sam Linsell (@DrizzleAndDip ), and she assures me she’ll be doing a post on her blog about that particular adventure in due course. My pure rye loaf recipe is here and I’ll be posting my sourdough rye/wheat loaf recipe real soon.

to make this lovely, simple dish to feed two people, you’ll need the following:

4 free range large or extra large eggs: the fresher the better, since this ensures that the egg white will retain its shape and keep the egg “together”.

4 slices toast:  any bread of your choice, but the rye or rye\wheat is a tasty, healthy alternative

baby lettuce leaves: a handful well rinsed and shredded

Chives from our tiny kitchen garden, kept in great shape by the redoutable Mrs M

4 sticks Danish feta: by Danish feta, I mean the soft and creamy one, that is usually cut into long sticks. I used an Arista product I bought from Pick ‘n Pay. Cut it into blocks.

4tbsp grated Pecorino cheese

2tsp chopped chives

Chives from the same garden that the spinach leaves came from!

My poached eggs are made the old fashioned way, in a pan of boiling water. I tossed the poaching pan years ago. This is not the stirred method, by the way, which leaves you with not much more than a yoke coated with cooked egg white, which is aesthetically great, but if you want to eat more of the high protein white, my method works better, even if it looks less tidy on the plate!

Toast and butter your bread.

Heat a pan of water until it comes to the boil. Turn down to a simmer, carefully crack each egg, and place gently into the water. I find using the back of a knife to make a clean crack in the eggshell helps avoid shell shards in the egg, and also avoids breaking the yoke.

Another method to use, is to crack the egg into a large spoon, and then to carefully slip the egg into the water. the idea is to keep the egg as “together” as possible.

Gently wiggle an egg lifter under each egg to make sure it has not stuck to the bottom of the pan. If you’re a Spray ‘n Cook user, you can spray the pan beforehand instead.

Meanwhile, butter the toast slices, and dress with the shredded spinach topped with the feta cheese.

The eggs should be done in about 3 to 5 minutes or so. you can aid the process, by spooning boiling water over the yolks. You want the egg white cooked through, and the yolk soft and runny.

Remove the eggs with a slotted egg lifter, and allow to drain of as much moisture as possible.

Place one egg on each slice of toast, anoint with grated Pecorino and garnish with the chopped chives.

Tuck in and enjoy!

Categories: Food, Provenance

Reluctant spicy meatballs

Preparation Time: 15 minutes Cooking Time: 20 minutes Yield: 4

My response to Mrs M the other day that “I have DONE a meatball recipe already!” did not in the slightest deter her from her chosen course, despite my obvious reluctance to do another meatball recipe.

Scrumptious grilled spicy meatballs with a dipping bowl of chutney. Lovely as a snack, or as a light meal served with a crisp green salad.

She had a bee in her bonnet you see, and I’ve learned over the years not to get in the way of that bee. And a good thing I didn’t, because the meatballs that emerged are truly lovely.

I find that Mrs M is inclined to contemplate for some time before finally getting down to the business of actually making the dish and it is that contemplation that results in the final recipe coming together rather rapidly.

I’ve also noticed that if I don’t ask her to document what she’s doing, or indeed do so myself while she works, quantities and method may become a trifle hazy over time!

We have a minor rosemary forest in our diminutive front garden (there is a price to be paid for living in a lock-up-and-go security complex), and the actual genesis of this recipe was Mrs M’s desire to use rosemary stick skewers in some dish or other. If you don’t have a rosemary forest to hand, then conventional skewers will do just as well, but the rosemary skewers definitely add a lovely flavour dimension.

Cut them just a short while before you plan to use them, strip off all the leaves, and cut the top end off at an angle to make a sharpish point. Give them a good rinse to get rid of any ghoulies, then soak them in water until you use them. If you’re using ordinary skewers, you should also soak them in water for a time before using them to prevent them from burning under the grill.

The spicy meatballs ready for the oven or braai.

And of course, there is no good reason why you couldn’t do these on the braai, and with the summer almost upon us, why the hell not? Just remember to turn them fairly regularly so they don’t burn.

Ingredients, Selection and Preparation

650g beef mince: lamb or chicken would do just as well.

3 garlic cloves: crushed

3 shallots: peeled and finely chopped

2tbsp parsley: chopped stalks and all

Bread crumbs: four slices of white bread, crusts removed, and blitzed into crumbs in a blender jug, or with a stick blender.

2tsp curry powder

1tsp chilli powder

salt and pepper to taste

2 eggs: beaten

Canola oil: to brush onto the meatballs


Pre-heat the oven to 200 deg C.

Combine all the ingredients in a medium mixing bowl, and squish together until well mixed, but don’t overwork it.

Wet your hands with cold water, and form into small meatballs. Mrs M used a 30ml measure for each one.

Carefully thread four meatballs onto each of four skewers, and anoint them with canola oil.

Grill in the oven for about 15 to 20 minutes, turning halfway through the grilling time.

They make pretty decent snacks, but a skewer of four makes a nice light meal served with a crisp green salad. Either way, a small bowl of chutney for dipping rounds them of ever so nicely.


Categories: Food