Friday, 17 August 2012

The Heavenly Macaroni Cheese

another version of the ever-changing wall

the macaroni cheese

I adore Jacques Erasmus. I wrote a blogpost on him and his Hemelhuijs October 2010 and the only thing that has changed is the menu and that I like him even more than I did then. I also wrote a press release for him recently, which I'll post as is because I'm lazy and it's weekend and I'd like to get of here and onto the road. I'd also like to hurry up and eat the leftover Macaroni Cheese before we pack up the car and the dog. Because this Macaroni Cheese is sublime.  It's the Macaroni Cheese served at Hemelhuijs. Enough said. But in case you're still wondering, it's nothing like the one your mother made or the one that you ate at boarding school. Jacques gave me his recipe. He's wonderful that way. And I'll give it to you, so that you all think I'm wonderful as well.

Hemelhuijs - A Heavenly Space

‘It is at the crack of dawn each day that we add the happiness of bubbling yeast to flour.  Strong hands knead soft dough and heirloom bread tins are gently filled to the brim with the day's manna – in anticipation of a the warm oven.  The coffee grinder groans with the perfume of coffea rubusta and citrus fruits sacrifice their last moments of wholeness…’ This is Jacques Erasmus’s reply when asked if the breakfast bread at his restaurant is freshly baked. He has the soul of a poet, is an artist, a designer, a stylist, a chef, a baker, a curator and creator of all things beautiful and Hemelhuijs is his home from home. It is in this welcoming, beautiful restaurant that serves as a showcase of all that Jacques does so exceptionally well, that you will be able to experience, in some small measure, the passion of a man obsessed with beauty in all its myriads forms.

Since its opening in October 2010, the intimate space has undergone several transformations, the initial black walls gave way to a particular shade of green, before grey was introduced, the art changed, the displays were reinvented, the floral art styled according to mood, the menu is seasonal. The restaurant is a showcase of all Jacques’s talents, the talents his clients for whom he consults and visitors to his restaurant have come to know and appreciate. His is not a static style. Nor is it the whims of a man unable to make up his mind. His creative expression is a fluid fluctuation of mood and time. At Hemelhuijs there is an unspoken, constant invitation to return again and again and be inspired.

The menu is both sophisticated and authentic. While beautifully presented on an array of handmade and precious crockery, there is no pretention, only elegant simplicity and a sincere regard and respect for food. At Hemelhuijs Jacques invites us to ‘ Imagine a world with celebration, even for the smaller and simpler things in life.’ Which is exactly what he does so exceptionally well. Foreign, exotic flavours as well as the comforting, nostalgic tastes of childhood are both present on his menu.

This season offers nostalgic melkkos and breakfast favourites such as soft poached eggs and lightly smoked trout, ladled with warm buttery hollandaise.  Lunch celebrates the simpler things with milk stout braised beef brisket topped with snails and oyster mushroom butter or pan fried porcini mushrooms with persimmon and feta. The pan fried lamb kidneys with brandy cream and marmite toast soldiers are the perfect combination of grown-up pleasures and nursery comforts While a warm baby beetroot, roast duck and walnut praline salad with naartjiecelebrates the winter garden. Preserves are homemade by his mother and the fruits come from their country garden. Glasses are filled with dulce du leche swirled in warm frothy milk or freshly made citrus juices and cappuccinos wear mocha crown in ceramic bowls. 

As a tribute to his heritage Jacques offers visitors to Hemelhuijs a version of his ouma’s traditional mosbelletjies, the smell of which reminds him of being four years old and helping his grandmother bake mosbolletjies as a child. Baking and in particular the baking of this particular bread, has always fascinated him. It is the temperamental alchemy of dough that he loves. And which he so generously shares.

A visit to Hemelhuijs, will leave you feeling inspired. You’ll be seduced by the creative sophistication but also comforted by the nostalgic and unpretentious authenticity of a creator who believes that art should reach all the senses.

71 Waterkant Street, Cape Town
Telephone: 021 418 2042
Monday to Friday 9:00 – 16:00
Saturday 9:00 – 15:00

Jacques Erasmus’s Macaroni Cheese
(This recipe should give you 10 portions)

Cheese sauce
1litre cream
1tbsp Dijon mustard
1 tbsp garlic
1cup grated boerenkaas
½ cup grated parmesan
30ml lemon juice
Salt and pepper to taste

1kg al dente cooked macaroni
300gm crispy chopped bacon
300gm potato cubes, par-boiled

Apple sauce
8 granny smith apples, peeled and cored
Pinch of salt
250ml water
2 tbsp sugar

Crumb mix
Toasted breadcrumbs
1/2c parsley, chopped
½ c grated parmesan

Apple sauce Method
Cube apples, place in a pot with enough water to cover, add salt and cook. 
Check liquid continuously throughout cooking, add more liquid if necessary so apples do not stick to the bottom.
When the apples are soft, transfer only apples to a blender and blend until smooth.  Retain cooking liquid if any.
If the consistency is too thick, add little cooking liquid until it has a puree consistency.
Add sugar just before finish.

Cheese sauce Method
Fry the garlic very lightly in a pot with a little oil for about 1 min on a low heat.  This should not change colour.
Add the cream and reduce about a 1/3 of the quantity.
Add all the other ingredients except for salt and pepper and stir through until all cheese has melted.
Season with salt and pepper if needed.

In pan, brown the potato cubes in a little oil.  Add bacon and cook 1min.
Add sauce and macaroni and stir through until macaroni is hot, on a low heat.  Check for seasoning and add salt and pepper if needed.
Transfer macaroni to a dish, sprinkle with the crumb mix.
Grill the dish until crumb mix is golden brown.
Serve with applesauce on the side.

Sam’s Notes
I couldn’t find Boerenkaas at ‘Club Engen’ so I used mature cheddar.
I also used Grana Padana instead of Parmesan (and used 1 cup instead of  ½ cup because I believe that more is better)
I also used 500g of bacon (same more is better rule applies)
How decadent is a mac and cheese recipe that requires you to add fried potato cubes? How decadent and totally divine.
Apple sauce with mac and cheese? Don’t knock it till you’ve tried it. 

Tuesday, 7 August 2012

Oded Schwartz RIP

The cover of Oded's book 

I learned today that Oded Schwartz passed away on the night of 1 August after a long battle with cancer. I did not know him well, but what what I did know I liked enormously. I was fortunate enough to interview him for Woolworth's Taste magazine and a version of the following profile appeared in the December issue of 2010. Afterwards he sent me his granny caramelized rice pudding recipe to make for my mom because I had mentioned that she too loved rice pudding. He was that sort of man. A real mensch. My heart goes out to those who loved him. Rest in peace, Oded. You will be missed.

Oded’s Kitchen is a wonderland of glass jars and bottles and bowls filled with magical concoctions, some achingly exotic, other soothingly familiar. I spoke to Oded Schwartz about heritage and loss, adventure and the most comforting alchemy of all.

I have always believed that when we leave the country of our birth, and become citizens of the world, we adapt, we pick up the mannerisms and the ways of our adopted countries. We pass as one of them. These chameleon-like attributes stand us in good stead. But our taste buds always betray us. Our taste buds remind us of our past. And if we honour these flavours we remain authentic. Oded Schwartz confirms my belief. Seeing him in the kitchen of the shop Oded’s Kitchen in Salt River, Cape Town, where he cooks and conjures, he could be mistaken for having been born and raised in South Africa. Right down to his pair of Crocs. Albeit, deliberately mismatched Crocs - a nod to his bolder, more creative side -but yes, he sports the favourite footwear of the South African male species. But then he speaks and his accent has the warm Isreali inflection of the country of his birth and the baritone elegance of the English, alongside whom he lived for most of his adult life. And now he is here, offering innovative twists to old familiar chutneys, jams, relishes and syrups, pates and puddings. But it is preserves that he is passionate about.
‘My early childhood memories of life in Israel are of preserving. My mother was a fantastic pickler and everything she pickled was delicious. Come the end of Summer, or the beginning of Autumn she would always be in the kitchen, peeling, chopping, pickling. The taste I most associate with my mother is that of pickled aubergines. They  would be steamed or boiled and stuffed with fresh celery, carrot and garlic before being pickled in a weak salt water solution, where they would begin to ferment. I loved these pickles, and I loved the juice they were pickled in even more. I would drink this naturally fermented juice in  small amounts poured ice-cold from the jar in fridge on a hot day. It has a very special sourness that you can’t get from anything else. When I left Israel as a young man and went to study and live in London I missed those things. I missed the taste of home. So I started reproducing them in my own kitchen in London. And now I reproduce them here.’
Most of Oded’s recipes are old family recipes, the food and the preserves he makes are adaptations of his mother’s recipes. I question his use of bacon in a dish, and ask if his Jewish mother would approve of such a thing. ‘Yes, in fact she would have approved,’ he tells me, ‘We’ve been secular Jews for three or four generations. And I’m very proud of it. My grandparents rejected religion. And I followed them. So I ate pork as a child. I was lucky to be born in Haifa. Haifa was always a very mixed city, you had Muslims, Jews and Christians all living together. I remember a little alley, the alley of St Jonathan. And there was an Arab butcher who made and sold the most wonderful German-style sausages like bratwurst, and my mother would buy pork from him. As secular Jews we celebrated all Jewish festivals, but instead of going to Shul or Temple, we would honour our heritage and our culture by preparing and eating traditional dishes.
While my food associations of my mother are savoury in nature, like the pickled aubergines or the small artichokes she would peel and serve with lemon juice and a bit of olive oil, my granny’s are sweet. My granny used to make a sweet caramelized rice pudding. Which she served with grated lemon rind. She would also, when she really wanted to spoil me, make semolina dumplings served with melted butter and sugar. As a family we are gluttons.’ He laughingly, approvingly tells me.
I wondered  if his interest in food was encouraged  when he was a child? If his mother and his grandmother saw his potential? If they noticed his ease  in the kitchen? Did they recognize a kindred spirit? Sadly not. While they may have influenced him, and instilled a passion for flavours in him, his encouragement came from an aunt. ‘A good Jewish boy doesn’t become a chef, he becomes a lawyer or a doctor. But I’ve been cooking since I was eight, even though I wasn’t encouraged to do so. I was always a listening child. A lonely, listening child. My aunty Yeva studied in Paris. And her food was extremely elegant. And I think that if I have any elegance in my food, it is thanks to her. She used to take care of me for short periods of time when my mom was ill. And it was she who told me the stories the stories about places and food and different cultures. She instilled in me a love of fine things. ‘
In a fragrant kitchen in Cape Town, Oded honours these women; his grandmother, his mother and his aunt. As he does the country of his birth, the country of his adult life, and the country he now calls home. He makes snoek pate and Rooibos panna cotta. And he pickles. Respectfully. With love.

Oded’s Kitchen (Do visit. I'm sure that his spirit lives on.)
The Old Biscuit Mill
Salt River

Friday, 3 August 2012

Boerewors Belt now the Wyngordyn. Indeed.

Sundried tomato, goat's cheese and basil phyllo  tartlet

Not that growing up in suburban Milnerton was all that hip and edgy but at least we lived 5 minutes walk away from the beach. My cousins, on the other hand, lived in Durbanville - what we regarded as the height of suburbia. According to us, they lived in the Boerewors Belt. Called thus because it was perceived that only Afrikaans-speakers lived there and so, of course, ate boerewors. Not that we didn't speak Afrikaans at home and if my oupa had his way, we'd eat boerewors every night of the week. We'd visit them by driving the back roads from Table View over Contermanskloof, past the farmlands and wheat fields before entering suburbia again -  their suburbia being an exact replica of ours. I thought about those days as I drove to a press lunch at Nitida Wine Farm last week. The wheat fields have been replaced by vineyards as the Durbanville Wine Valley is now on the hot list of any wine lover. And it really is pretty out there and the wines don't have to stand back for the Stellenbosch or Franschhoek crowd. No more Boerewors Belt, Durbanville is firmly behind the Wyngordyn alongside the traditional winelands stalwarts. So, a lovely women-only lunch introducing Cassia's ( the restaurant on Nitida wine farm) August special lunch menu for women got me thinking of my Tannie Nettie, who still lives in Durbanville and how she doesn't have a bad bone in her body and how she is always happy to see us and how she lives for her husband and children and grandchildren and I realised that it is the Tannie Nettie's of this world who need to be acknowledged as much as the great movers and shakers, the feminists and the femme fatale's, during this month in which we are supposed to celebrate women.  Because it is their extraordinary ordinariness, their generosity in wanting only the best for those they love, in spite of the cost to themselves that forms the backbone of our society. And so I will be taking Tannie Nettie out to lunch, because she has only been good to me. And because this menu really is delicious and because we don't honour those we love nearly enough. This is a good month to start doing so.

Cassia restaurant is on the Nitida Farm, Tygervalley Road (M13) Durbanville.
Open Monday - Saturday for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Sunday for breakfast and lunch.
Telephone: 021 976 0640

The 3 course meal special for Woman's Day at R185 per person includes a glass of The Matriarch or the Matriarch in red MCC as well as a glass of Modjadji Noble Late Harvest with the fabulous chocolate fondant dessert.

Sundried tomato, goats cheese and basil tartlet with a seasonal salad
Hearty Minestrone soup a la Cassia
Traditional coq au vin, mustard mash and green beans
Pan seared Norwegian salmon served with saffron risotto
Chocolate fondant, Modjadji and a rose petal cream