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Monday, 12 September 2011

Cooking with Jan at Vygeboom Dam

On 10 September we kicked off 'Cooking with Jan'. A while back, we decided with four other couples to organize monthly cooking days where I would be the guest chef and teach the group some culinary secrets. This fantastic initiative was brought to life with the passionate drive of Bertus and Danny Vos, two first class gourmet lovers. Danielle, a Belgian globetrotter, inherited a family tradition in gastronomy, having dined in some of Europe's best restaurants. This passion only got fired when she met Lambertus Petrus Vos, a South African with the same love for the good things in life (such as cooking a stuffed 'Beeshart' (Beef heart) in a 'Potjie' (a cast-iron pot used to cook on open fire) and water-ski with open mouth).

Anyway, too cut a long story short, it is now 7h30 and I am watching the sun rise over Vygeboom Dam in the Highlands Meander in Mpumalanga, enjoying the coffee after the first cooking session yesterday evening. Hans and Tine's daughters successfully revived a half-dead Bat on the beat of Kurt Darren and just as it managed to fly out, it got caught by a Fiscal Shrike in front of the Dam. This is Africa! Yes, it was Kosie Vos' (Bertus' cousin) cooking night, giving it a few unforgettable extras:
  • it didn't remain a cooking night as first agreed, but a weekend breakaway;
  • Kosie having the finest collection of Single Malt Whisky, along with a collection of concert DVD's that can wake up South Africans on the other side of the Dam;
  • water-ski end jet-ski sessions to warm up for the dinner.
So next time you hear Neil Diamond, Rod Stewart, Mark Knopfler or Amy Belle, and you are remembered of the Whisky cream sauce, here are the tips and hints to take away from this dinner:

Smoked Trout and Mango chutney tart with Lagavulin cream


Trout Tart
  • Wafer-thin sliced Smoked Trout
  • Smoked Trout fillets
  • Fresh Mango
  • Cucumber
  • Tomato
  • 1/2 teaspoon French Mustard
  • 2 tablespoons Balsamic reduction with Blueberries
  • 1 squeeze Lemon juice (to taste)
  • 1/2 Red onion
  • Freshly chopped  Parsley
  • 6 tablespoons Canola Oil
  • 2 tablespoons Virgin olive oil
  • 15 pink peppercorns
  • Salt
  • Black Pepper
  • 2 dl Full Cream
  • 4 tablespoons Lagavulin
  • 1 tablespoon Balsamic Vinegar
  • 1 squeeze/tablespoon of Lemon juice (to taste)
  • White pepper
  • Salt


Mix all the ingredients for the sauce and let it rest in the refrigerator (if the sauce becomes too thick, dilute it with some water). Mix the cucumber, mango and tomato cubes with the vinaigrette and fill the trout tarts in alternating layers of chutney and smoked trout fillet. Decorate with some finely sliced cucumber skin that has been in ice-water for 30 minutes (it will get crunchy). Drizzle the sauce around the tart and finish with a few drops of Balsamic reduction.

For the frying of steaks and red meat, please see my previously published article: 'The art of frying red meat'.

Gratin of sweet potato

  • Sweet potato
  • Firm cooking potato
  • Full cream
  • Milk
  • Garlic
  • Salt
  • White pepper
  • Nutmeg

Slice the peeled potatoes and place them in alternating layers (sweet potato - potato - sweet potato) in a buttered oven dish (you can rub the dish with a garlic clove first).
Mix the cream with nutmeg, pepper, salt and 1/4 teaspoon of freshly crushed garlic. The mixture should taste hearty and slightly salty. Add a little bit of milk if needed to make it lighter (maximum 1/5 of the mixture). Poor the cream mixture over the potato slices (the level of liquid should be barely covering the slices) and place in a pre-heated oven at 230 degrees Celcius. Bake for 1h30 until the potatoes are done, yet not mushy. Most of the liquid should have been absorbed by the potatoes. Just make sure the top layer of potatoes is covered with cream and does not burn. Note that you can make this dish beforehand, e.g. the day before.

Custard Cream

  • 12 egg yolks
  • 300 grams of sugar
  • 1 litre of milk
  • a vanilla pod

Bring the milk to the boil with the opened Vanilla pod. In the meantime, beat the egg yolks with the sugar so it becomes a white mass. Pour the boiling milk onto the mixture and then return it into the casserole. Stir with a wooden spoon until it reaches about 65 degrees Celcius and it thickens without resulting in an omelet on the bottom. Cool down.



Monday, 07 March 2011

Willow Warbler

If a butterfly has landed on my flowers grown
If my bushes have provided sheltered rest
to a Willow Warbler during Summer months alone
If I have planted trees on which a bird could nest

This very thought would let me go in peace
if I were to close my eyes a final time tonight
Though even if I might have made a lot of enemies
I will have changed the world for friends in flight


Sunday, 30 January 2011

Don't bee afraid

Last week I was having my morning kick-start coffee with a colleague at work. I noticed he was distracted from our joyful conversation, since his coffee cup seemed to form the major interest of a bee that had just woken up.

I changed the topic and bravely stated: "there's no reason to be afraid of these bees, they won't bite you..."

Last summer, I had been burning straw around a large bee nest under the pool filter in the garden, in an attempt to reduce the size of the massive colony of bees, by now taking the proportions of a Hitchcock movie scene when flying out. (being a nature lover and totally against chemical pesticides, at least I decided to use fire, a very common natural phenomenon in Africa)

Nonetheless, I myself  had made the very same mistake: under-educated about these small flying creatures that provide us with sweet nectar, I did not want somebody to end up in an anaphylactic shock when having a fruit juice (or beer, a very likely event) in my garden.

Only two weeks ago, I was browsing trough an interesting encyclopedia that covers Wildlife in Southern Africa. To my great surprise, I discovered that the bees in my garden - the same coffee-loving species from work - are so-called stingless bees. They can't sting!

That morning, my colleague screamed "Noooo!" as I enclosed the bee in my hand. He looked at me as if I was kissing a hungry lion or a disorientated hippo.

I explained to my colleague what I had learned: that not all bees form a danger for those who are allergic to their sting, as some of the bees are even physically not capable of hurting a fly - they are called 'Stingless Bees'.

I suddeny realised that this was a perfect example of how humans tend to over-react, how human life is very often lead by fear. The fear of the unknown. The fear of something that is different. Having lived in 'The rainbow nation' for almost four years, I figured it must be this same fear that causes hatred amongst people. The hatred between black and white. Because we simply don't know each other. If only we would speak each other's languages, we would understand that we are - all of us, with the odd exception - stingless bees, struggling for survival and looking for love on this lonely planet.

It is with great exitement that I study the spiders in my garden, who are abundantly present since my ecological efforts in turning the garden into a botanical paradise. I do no longer experience the screaming childhood spider-fear and have absolutely no problem moving a large spider with my bare hands if it is staring at my wife before bedtime. Because I have read about these wonderful creatures. (Did you know that some spiders construct underground trap-doors to cach their prey? Did you ever watch an Orb spider's web in the morning dew?)

Knowledge is power. And maybe, unfortunately, that is why many countries in Africa and other third-world countries around the world remain unstable - because of a lack of education and knowledge.

We all have our story. We all have a friend that died, a love that ended, a neighbour that annoys us. The strange thing is, we usually only realise how important someone or something is in our lives if we have to miss it. In the same way, we often only discover how ridiculous our fears were when we are finally confronted with the very thing we feared all this time.

So don't be afraid and never stop learning. Let me finish with one of the poems that forever changed the way I look at life:

Instantes (Instants)

If I were able to live my life anew,
In the next I would try to commit more errors.
I would not try to be so perfect, I would relax more.
I would be more foolish than I've been,
In fact, I would take few things seriously.
I would be less hygienic.
I would run more risks,
take more vacations,
contemplate more sunsets,
climb more mountains, swim more rivers.
I would go to more places where I've never been,
I would eat more ice cream and fewer beans,
I would have more real problems and less imaginary ones.

I was one of those people that lived sensibly
and prolifically each minute of his life;
Of course I had moments of happiness.
If I could go back I would try
to have only good moments.

Because if you didn't know, of that is life made:
only of moments; Don't lose the now.

I was one of those that never
went anywhere without a thermometer,
a hot-water bottle,
an umbrella, and a parachute;
If I could live again, I would travel lighter.

If I could live again,
I would begin to walk barefoot from the beginning of spring
and I would continue barefoot until autumn ends.
I would take more cart rides,
contemplate more dawns,
and play with more children,
If I had another life ahead of me.

But already you see, I am 85,
and I know that I am dying.
Jorge Luis Borges

Wednesday, 12 January 2011

Twenty 2 Eleven

If you are under 18 stop reading now. No don't even try it, I know you are continuing!

Well, OK, this article is about the famous mathematician Bourbaki. I thought it might not be the proper topic for those below 18 years old.

It's now 20 minutes to Eleven O'clock here in Johannesburg. Madredeus is playing on the background. This means, even in the bestest of moods I'm in, it asks for melancholy. Memories. Re-living distant experiences that converted the ego in myself into what it is today. Ah, music. Apart from fragrance, the sense of smell - there is nothing that can make you travel further back in time.

Gosh, I didn't write for at least 8 months. Shame on me. But nobady even noticed or asked me: Jan, what's going on? (just like nobody saw the major spelling mistake in Nobody)

Yes, that"s life in this man-made metal-concrete-polluted world. Even the environmental-friendly dishwashing liquid is sold in non-recycable plastic. And the world keeps turning...

So here come the excuses (please start feeling sorry for me now if you never did before):
  • March: my wife Katrien had a Double and quite complex (it both suits her character) Tibia Fracture (let's not talk about relationships further). 
  • May: I get a new Job and need to learn a lot.
  • June: My 25 year old gardener, with whom I've spent probably more time in the past three years than any of my family members or fiends,  is hit by a drunk driver. His wife is left alone in Malawi, pregnant of a second child. Good news: the plants are still flourishing. The grass is long though I'm sure Bob Marley and Jim Morrison would have loved it. Talking about gardeners, for those who haven't seen the movie 'The Constant Gardener' yet, please rent it this year. You have to watch this one twice to really grasp the emotion (at least that's my experience, but it might be because of the Titanium radiation ;-), and because I keep on seeing Ralph Fiennes as the Psychopath from his appearance in Red Dragon). That reminds me of the fact that, inspired by Auguste Escoffier's high class cooking, I might create a new dish: Foie de Veau 'Lecter': Liver with Port and Taragon ('Dragon' in my mother tongue Flemish).
  • September: just after turning 34, I hear that a close former colleague got murdered.
  • Novenber: My wife gets a new Job (no it does not involve her legs). I need to act as Serotonin Inhibitor. Not much Dopamine there for me.
  • December: My beloved uncle dies after a long battle with cancer. He leaves many loved grandchildren behind. There goes the final Dopamine and all the rest.
Anyway, I wish you all a fabulous 2011!