Wednesday, 23 September 2015

Authentic South African Bobotie Recipe

Hi friends! It's all about the recipe in this post, and twisting your tastebuds with some unusual but simply delicious flavour combinatons. Think banana with beef mince and grated Bramley apple, copious amounts of spices and eggy milk. Am I not really selling it to you? Let me tell you about this really incredible dish. It's a very traditional South African speciality and is filling, nourishing and so full of flavour. I will never forget the first time I tasted it, made by my lovely MIL. I was a little astonished at the inclusion of bananas but goodness me, in my opinion it is absolutely necessary! (Banana is not necesarily included in the traditional recipes, but is a popular addition among many people.) It contains a plethora of spices, plus the obligatory Mrs Balls Blatjang (or chutney, for the uninitiated) which is a staple of every South African larder. It is stuffed full of delicious, chutnified (Ha! How good a word is that?!) ingredients and is rather sweet but with a subtle kick. You can easily come by it in larger supermarkets. This recipe is an adaptation of a family recipe which is actually published in a cookbook by my husband's uncle, Dirk Nagtegaal, who is rather a well known chef in SA. Unfortunately, the recipe is in Afrikaans, and the only translation I have of it is on a scruffy piece of reporter's notebook paper kept inside the cookbook on the recipe page, written out by my dear Husb. So in fact, writing it out here in English is doing myself a favour as well. I have included a couple of adjustments and added banana like my MIL, which is not included in Dirk's recipe, but if you really can't get past the banana hurdle, feel free to omit it, although you will be missing out!

Ingredients (for two adults and two small children)

1/2 cup raisins
1 onion, finely chopped
500g beef mince
1/2 tbsp turmeric
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tbsp curry powder
1/2 tsp ground coriander
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1 1/2 tbsp apricot jam
1 tbsp lemon juice
1/4 cup Mrs Balls original chutney
1 tbsp brown sugar
1/2 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
1/2 cup grated Bramley apple (or eating apple if you can't get Bramley)
1 slice of bread, soaked in milk
3 bay leaves
1 banana
2 tsp sea salt
Olive oil
Freshly ground black pepper
Boiled water

Top layer
250ml milk
3 eggs
Salt and pepper

170g basmati rice, to serve


Soak the raisins in boiled water to cover plus a bit extra. Put the bread on a shallow dish and pour over enough milk to soak into the whole slice but not to leave lots of excess in the dish. Pre-heat the oven to fan 180C.

Prepare a deep frying pan or casserole on the hob: add olive oil and turn up to a medium high heat. You can cook the whole thing in a stove top casserole dish, just putting that into the oven, but I've found it sticks quite badly to the sides of the dish when serving, so I prefer to put the mixture into a buttered oven dish before baking, as Dirk's recipe suggests. Chop the onion and add to the pan.

Cook the onion on its own for a couple of minutes, then add the mince, breaking it up into the onion so it can brown nicely all over.

 You may like to grate the apple while you're waiting for the mince to brown.

Once the mince is browned, add all the other ingredients including the raisins with the water drained away, but excluding the bay leaves and banana. Add the milk soaked bread last.

(Apologies for the apalling quality of this photo - clearly my lens needed a clean)

Break the bread up nicely into the mixture, ensuring there aren't any large chunks left. Add a good grinding of black pepper and a teaspoon of salt. Put the lid on and allow to simmer gently while you prepare the dish and remaining ingredients.

Butter a medium sized oven dish, peel and chop a banana.

Pour the 250ml of milk into a large jug, add the eggs and a generous amount of seasoning and stir well until the eggs are combined into the milk.

Next, transfer the mince mixture into the oven dish.

Once transferred, poke the bay leaves into the mince, and do the same with the slices of banana. It doesn't matter if they're slightly poking out as they will be covered with the milk mixture.

Pour the milk and egg mixture over the mince, then use a fork to gently poke through to the mince in several  places over the surface, allowing the milk to soak down into it. 

Put in the pre-heated oven and bake for 30 minutes. When the bobotie has about 18 minutes left, put the rice on to boil, it should then coincide with the bobotie being ready.

Remove the bobotie from the oven. You may wish to allow it to stand for a few minutes, but to be honest, I just served mine up (after taking the obligatory photos, of course!)

I served the Tonjus' in some South African bowls we were given as a gift...

...but I'm afraid ours were on the usual John Lewis Polly's Pantry dinner plates, since we don't possess any South African dinner plates!

Ahhh, the most incongruous table setting possible: a traditional South African dish served on very British plates on a pink, spotty tablecloth!

If you've ever eaten bobotie and then searched online for a recipe so you can recreate it yourself, and been disappointed by the recipe you made, then this is the one for you. It is so full of flavour, rich and beautifully textured. It is by far the best bobotie recipe I've ever used, and I've tried a few. And the boys cannot get enough of it; they both shovel it down, with a large dollop of Mrs Balls on their plates (and ours!) And if you're just looking for something completely and utterly different, yet easy to make, give it a try. It may look like there are a lot of spices required, but I actually have every one of them on my spice shelf; none of them is hard to come by.

I would love to hear how your making of this delicious bobotie goes, or even just your comments on the dish and what you think of the combination of ingredients. We certainly all love it in this house!

Lekker eet!


Wednesday, 16 September 2015

The Library Project

Good evening lovely readers, I hope you've had a pleasant week or so. I promised at the end of my last post that I would have far more material for you now that the summer holidays are over and big Tonju has gone back to school. However, there was one more thing to be attended to before I could really say I had time to give more again to the blog. You'll have noticed in the last few posts that I've made reference several times to a project with which I'm involved. Well, we had a big event on Monday evening and I now feel ready and raring to share this really exciting venture with you, which actually came about through a playgroup conversation and my talking about my blog and cooking to another mum there. It really is incredible that a chat in a place one has been visiting for a significant amount of time can lead to tremendously exciting things which one had not previously considered.

To give you a little background, the current Cardiff Council have been threatening to close seven of the local branch libraries, which is really a disaster for so many people and communities, and on so many levels. As a mum of small children, I visit our local library fairly frequently, to borrow books and also to attend the rhymetime and storytime sessions run there. The librarians are so lovely, and one of them has worked there for 40 years. She is the sweetest and kindest lady and her and her colleagues are simply devastated that this building which has been so much more than a place of employment for them has just been swept from under their feet by the decree of somebody unseen and clearly unaffected by such a decision. As in the many parts of Cardiff where library closure was threatened, some Rumney residents set up an action group to try to oppose the plans and keep the library open. I was not involved in this myself, although I was fully supportive of its intentions. To cut a long story short, the group were able to negotiate with the council to retain a library provision, although not on the same site, but in a far less convenient location away from the centre of Rumney.

In the mean time, I had extensive conversations at playgroup with a fellow mum who was heavily involved in the action group for the retention of the original library, and with the pastor of the Chapel in which playgroup is held. I expressed my great disappointment that the library was due to close, and it was a topic which kept coming up over the weeks, along with the usual getting to know you type chats (I've known Mike the pastor for nearly five years, but Becky was a mum who had only recently started coming to playgroup) in which I talked about the blog and cooking, as well as the other stuff I love to do but have less time for currently (knitting, spinning, sewing etc) university degrees which seem a world away; that kind of thing. As we continued to talk week after week, Mike and Becky divulged to me that they had new ideas of how to proceed with the library issue now the council had decided to move it. They wanted to set up a committee of trustees to put together a project to retain the library building for the use of the community, which would include a coffee shop and cafe, as well as community spaces which could be hired by people to run courses, peer to peer support groups could be run, and other really exciting ideas such as a "library of things" where people are able to borrow things they don't need to use every day, in the same way that they would borrow a library book. The opportunities and ideas are pretty much infinite, and I was very excited about the idea. We even joked about my getting involved. I was not prepared, however, when I was asked by Becky if I would seriously be involved with the project. I'd never done anything like it before and it was a formidible prospect, as well as tremendously exciting. I was asked to come aboard particularly from the perspective of the cafe and food provision, and I was asked to design a sample menu. After really careful consideration, I decided to go for it. The opportunity to be involved with something like this, which could be such a beneficial project, from the start, and the great privilege of what I was asked to do, just stuck in my head, and I prayed for guidance, and here I am!

After a number of meetings in which we formalised our group and dealt with various planning applications and all the background details (of which there are many to come) we decided, once we reached a point where it was clear we had the council's support and the project looked like it was really going to get off the ground, that it would be an excellent idea to hold an open evening in the library, to which local residents and businesses, as well as the relevant councillors would be invited, and members of greater Rumney Forum (resident members as opposed to trustees). There we would present our ideas, ask for feedback and ideas from residents, and also serve a taster menu of the types of food which we hope to serve in the cafe. Somehow I managed to volunteer myself, without actually any qualm or forethought of what a mammoth undertaking for an individual it was, to provide (as in, cook) the entire taster menu myself, going on an estimate of 100 visitors to the event. We had a couple of months prepartaion time, but as the day grew closer I did begin to think it was rather a large task for myself alone. I never once though, thought I couldn't do it, it was merely a matter of being completely and utterly organised, which I love to be, and getting help with the Tonjus for a couple of days, as I could not even have contemplated it if they were going to be in the house.

I went through my sample menu and selected a couple of dishes for each type of meal:

Natural yoghurt with seasonal fruit compote
American style pancakes served with locally picked blackberries and maple syrup

The seasonal fruit compote contained raspberries, and Bramley apples from our apple tree - you can't get more local than that! And for the acquisition of blackberries, we arranged a blackberry picking session which resulted much red staining and thorn scratching!

The Bramley apples and raspberries bubbling happily away next to the soup ingredients

All the food was presented in servings so people could easily help themselves, and we had tables manned by volunteers while we (the Rumney Forum trustees) mingled with the guests to answer question and talk about the project and the food.


As a snack I decided to make a quick recipe I invented a while ago which is on my Facebook page; the Sweet and Sesame Banavo Thickie. I thought it would be an interesting option for people to try rather than a generic smoothie, but in retrospect, it wasn't the best choice since both bananas and avocados discolour when peeled. It is definitely a dish which needs to be made and served immediately. People were definitely put off by the unfortunate dull grey it went after a while, rather than the vibrant green it should be.

I also decided to make houmous with toasted pitta slices, sliced carrot and courgette, and my absolute favourite type of chips, smoked paprika sweet potato wedges. The houmous was made to a recipe I found on Jamie Oliver's website, and the sweet potato wedges were my own recipe, although par-boiling some sweet potato wedges, slathering them with olive oil and seasoning them with salt, pepper and smoked paprika before roasting them for 45 minutes can hardly be called a recipe! They went down well though.

The sweet potatoes went next to the houmous, but I was waiting 'til the last minute to bring them out so as to keep them warm and crisp for as long as possible, so unfortunately I don't have a photo of them. In fact, as you've very likely noticed, all the photos of the food and the evening have been taken on my phone as I had no time at all to photograph the cooking procedure, and no space for my camera, so apologies that they're all a bit rubbish.

This was definitely the most labour intensive part of the preparation, since I had to make nine Herby Ham and Sweetcorn Tarts, which involved making the pastry the day before, ready to roll out later on on the Monday (which was the day we held the open evening) for the filling to be added. I also made one of my favourite soups, Butternut Squash Soup with Chilli and Creme Fraiche from BBCGoodFood. I made bread rolls to go with it; 100 to be precise. As you'll see from the photos, I had no issues with getting the dough to rise! I also made little Goats' Cheese Salads which entailed for the purpose of the open evening, a caramelised walnut, placed on a little crumbled goats' cheese, placed upon a small bed of rocket leaves on a crispy miniature bread roll, finished off with a drizzle of fig balsamic dressing. I also made a roasted vegetable and couscous salad, the vegetables in which comprised aubergine, courgette, red peppers and red onion.

This is my own recipe, slightly adapted from another, and perhaps I could reduce the amount of yeast, maybe..?!

I'm a little gutted as I don't have a photo of either the tart or the goats' cheese salad, but I can share a tart photo from my last post when I published the recipe, so fear not!

There were nine of these, each cut into 12. 

Thankfully I had a little help with the cakes. One of the Rumney Forum trustees' mum made cupcakes, a beautiful carrot cake and chocolate cake, so I only had to make a Coffee and Walnut cake, for which I used, in my opinion, the best c&w cake recipe there is; Nigel Slater's in The Guardian. I've made this so many times and it is sublime. I also made a Bara Brith, so I was definitely not trying to make things easy for myself.

One of the Trustees trying to pounce on the cakes

I did remove the c&w from the lid of the cake box and display it on a cake stand, fear not.

 It was a really enjoyable evening after an incredibly intense couple of days. In fact, it took Tuesday for me to reacclimatise into real life again. It's been so long since I've done anything where it's just been me, without a little person somewhere, constantly requiring my attention, that it was quite a peculiar feeling of liberty coupled with a feeling of how strange life is without someone needing you. I know those are part of the feelings a stay at home mum is very likely to experience. My oldest is nearly five, and it's been that long since I've really done something so entirely myself, without babies and children in tow, that it felt, actually, it felt inexplicable. I loved it though, the experience, the pressure, and the absolutely necessary organisation. It was a really fantastic experience.

Sadly, the numbers we catered for were rather an overestimate, and we did end up with a fair amount of food which we had to distribute after the event. Obviously it wasn't possible to save some foods at all, such as the thickie, but I took home a tart, a box of couscous and a tub of bread rolls, which actually sustained us for lunch and dinner for the last two days. For dinner I roasted and shredded a chicken breast which I placed on top of the roasted veg couscous, topped with half a sliced leftover avocado, some Tahini Goddess Drizzle from Half-Baked Harvest, for which I had ingredients in the fridge, and topped it all with a handful of caramelised walnuts. I gave the boys some couscous salad, tart and avocado. And for lunch we've been eating the bread rolls with soup.

I cannot finish this post however, without mentioning the fantastic Handlebar Barista we hired for the event. Since we'll be a coffee shop too, we really wanted to serve some fantastic coffee which would be a representation of the type of coffee we plan to serve in the cafe. One of the trustees had come into contact with the owners of a really exciting and innovative new business locally, Handlebar Barista, who are hireable for events, as well as setting up their beautiful adapted trike at various locations around Cardiff, serving excellent quality coffee for people on the go. We were really excited to be able to hire them for our event. Their delightful trike was in the foyer of the library, in a fantastic location, and they were really lovely, friendly and genuine guys. They also had a good look around at the end and were really encouraging about the food and the project in general. Here's a photo of their beautiful trike; it really helped bring a little atmosphere to our evening, since the library is not the most atmospheric of buildings!

So that is what I've been doing, and why the posts have been a little sparse lately. I really hope to step them up again now, but please follow me on Instagram for general photos of the food I'm making and other things I'm getting up to. There was even a bit of spinning in my Instagram feed the other week, though again, I need to make time to get back into that too. Like everything else really. Search @cookingforsanity on Instagram as I need to get my link on the right fixed.

There is a lot more to say about the Library Project. As you can see, I've focussed particularly on the food aspect and my personal involvement, but as you can imagine, that is a very small side of what's going on. I will endeavour to write further once we have some more information to share, but in the mean time, I hope to go back to giving you more recipes and making you aware of the incredible talent there is available online and the delicious recipes you, yes, you, can cook!

Thanks so much for reading, especially if you made it to here :-)

xxx Sam

Sunday, 6 September 2015

Herby Ham and Sweetcorn Tart

Hello there friends! Thanks for sticking with me; the blog has been blighted by me going on two holidays in three weeks over the month of August, then big Tonju starting his first year of school last week and the project I'm involved in (about which I promise I'll enlighten you very soon) taking up more of my time in the evenings. I hope to return to my weekly post for you though, and more pretty pictures and links on the Facebook page. It's not good for anything like this to become stagnant, and I certainly don't want to lose any of you kind readers, so I'm hoping to be able to give a bit more time to the blog once the school run and day to day life reach a new normality for me.

I have a new recipe to share with you this evening, inspired from a long time ago in another life when I was much younger. The mum of an old friend used to make the most delicious sweetcorn quiche. It was part of her repertoire of delicious and comforting fanily meals, and I'll never forget the first time I tasted it. Even though it's probably 15 years since I last ate it, the desire to do so again has stuck with me. There is a cafe in on Gloucester Road in Bristol called Tart, which I often visit with my lovely sister. It always has several mouthwatering home-made tarts available, as well as couscous salads, plenteous salad and vegetables and the most incredible cakes, and when I was asked to put together a sample menu for the project, my mind went straight to Tart and I knew I wanted to include in the menu a tart of my own recipe. The sweetcorn quiche then sprang into my mind and I thought it would be the ideal opportunity to try to recreate that nostalgic taste whilst adding a few twists of my own.

As you'll know if you've been reading for a while, I love to make my own pastry, so I headed to Ruby Tandoh's "Crumb," a baking book which is beautifully written, although slightly contrived at times. I know my language can be convoluted, but Ruby can speak with excessive eloquence (if such a thing is possible) about the merest detail of an ingredient or the way the masses have come to view certain types of food. Anyway, I turned straight to her recipe for butternut squash tarts for her pastry recipe, and was immediately inspired to add herbs to my pastry; thyme, to be exact, from my little shrub outside the kitchen which, by a miracle, hasn't died yet! Please forgive, however, my neglecting to add it to the pastry process photo. I often forget to add little (and large) ingredients to my photos, and because these aren't recipe tests but real meals which I feed to my family, I don't have the time (or the spare cash!) to re-make the meal when I realise I've omitted something from a photo. As I've said before, I'm just keeping it real!

Following, then, is my recipe for Herby Ham and Sweetcorn Tart. I added the ham because I love the combination, and called it a tart because tart sounds more impressive than quiche. I'm all for honesty, and I'm pretty sure there isn't actually any difference between the two.

Ingredients (for a pie made in a 20cm tart tin)

For the pastry:

187.5g plain flour
94g butter
70ml water
Pinch of salt
Fresh thyme leaves (optional)

For the filling:

2 x 200g tins sweetcorn
4 slices ham
1 onion
200ml double cream
2 eggs
A generous (or meagre!) grating of cheddar cheese
Fresh thyme leaves (optional)
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper


First make the pastry. Put the flour, salt and butter in a large bowl and rub together with the fingertips until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs.

Add the thyme, if using, and mix in.

Begin to pour in the water, little by little, using a long and reasonably blunt knife to cut it into the pastry. When it starts to come together, use your fingers and hands to bring it all in. Add as much water as you need to bring it together but do not allow the pastry to become soggy; it needs to be as dry as possible without falling apart. For me, 70ml was perfect.

Once all the flour and water has combined, make it into a nice ball, wrap in clingfilm, and refrigerate whilst you prepare the filling.

Next, chop the onion and place in a pan on a medium to low heat for about 15 minutes, to soften. You can allow it to go a bit golden towards the end if you like by turning the heat up for a few minutes. Pre-heat the oven to fan 180C at the same time as putting the onions on.

While the onion is frying, prepare the ham by placing it on a chopping board and slicing through the layers to create lots of little slices.

Place in a large bowl, separating the little slices, drain the sweetcorn and add the contents of the tins to the ham, plus the optional thyme.

Once the onions are nicely softened and coloured, add them too, taking care not to add the cooking oil. You may wish to lift the onions out with a slotted spoon. Season and mix together well.

Set this mixture to one side and prepare the cream and egg mixture. Add the cream to a measuring jug up to 200ml, then crack in the eggs and add some seasoning, before whisking well with a fork until the eggs are well combined with the cream.

Remove the pastry from the fridge. It should have had about 20 minutes to firm up, but if it still feels a bit soft, leave it for another ten minutes until it's had half an hour. If the pastry is too soft, it will be difficult to roll and will just stick to the rolling pin. Flour your worksurface and place the pastry on the flour, ready to roll, not forgetting to flour up your rolling pin too.

Roll out so as to fit your tin or dish (I actually used a pie dish rather than a tart case, but you can get them the same size. As you can see, I had plenty of pastry left over, so if you only have a slightly larger tin, you may be able to stretch the pastry to cover it, otherwise just add a percentage to the pastry ingredients when you make it. )

Lay the pastry over the tin or dish and press gently into the bottom, making sure it is sitting nicely in the crease.

Put the ham and sweetcorn mixture you had previously set aside into the tin, making sure it is evenly spread.

Pour over the egg and cream mixture so it comes to the top but doesn't drown the ingredients!

Add a grating of cheddar cheese evenly over the top, amount according to taste. I like extra strong with a generous grating, as you see.

Then carefully slice off the excess pastry around the edge to tidy up the tart.

Place the tart in the pre-heated oven for 30 minutes until the cheese is lovely and golden and the crust is gently brown. Leave to stand for a few minutes after baking to allow the contents to settle a little.

Serve with salad of your choice. I used my old favourite, babyleaf rocket salad with chopped beetroot, drizzled with apple balsamic and extra virgin olive oil.

Ohhhh, that's a good crust!

It also translates excellently to a mini-meal. The Tonjus loved this tart, and I simply served theirs with some chunks of beetroot since they find leaves a bit challenging at this stage in life.

I would say this is actually the perfect recipe for this time of year; a tart (quiche/flan) is a summer kind of dish, but the subtle heartiness of this recipe makes it an ideal transition-into-Autumn meal. It can be served with salad, but is also warming enough for the colder nights we're beginning to get. It would also be delicious served cold, on a picnic for example, with veg sticks on the side for ease, rather than the leaves. Carrot and celery sticks would be simple but ideal.

I hope that gives you some inspiration, and I'd also love to know if you make it and what you think, especially since I'm going to be using it as an example dish to serve to visitors for an open evening we are holding for the project. I promise this project will be revealed very soon, and you'll know what I'm talking about!.

Have a great week, and if you want more foodie photos, check out my Instagram feed (search for cookingforsanity) for inspiring dishes from the land of the internet!

xxx Sam
Cooking for Sanity