Cooksister FAQs

I often have people e-mailing me to ask questions about my camera, about  South African food or travel, to find lost recipes and so on.  Some of them are truly lovely people, and after I send them an answer, we continue to correspond and go on to become friends.  But probably about half the questions answered here were asked by people who did not even have the common courtesy to say “thank you” after I’ve spent an hour researching and replying to their question.  Charming – your mothers must be so proud.  Don’t bother asking me anything again! For every one person who asks a question, there are probably quite a few others with the same question.  So to prevent having to peel my potatoes twice (as the Afrikaans saying goes), I have started a list of questions and that people have sent me, and the answers I have sent back.  See if I can answer your question! What camera equipment do you use? My early shots (until August 2007) were all taken with a Canon Powershot compact, which I would still highly recommend for picture quality, portability, full manual controls and surprisingly good video. From 2007 to 2011 all shots were taken on a Canon EOS 20D DSLR; and since April 2012 all shots are have been taken on a Canon EOS 50D DSLR. These days I mostly shoot with my Canon 50mm f1.8 lens but have recently acquired a Canon 24-70mm f2.8 lens as well.  For travelling, I tend to use my Sigma 18-200 lens – a fantastic workhorse. For night-time shoots at home, I use a Lowel Ego light which is portable and inexpensive – and changed my life! I have no problem buying second-hand kit and cannot recommend the knowledge and service levels at the London Camera Exchange on The Strand highly enough. Both my cameras came from there and both have given faultless performance. For shooting after dark, I use a Lowel Ego light, available in the UK through ProKit. It comes with a built-in diffuser and white reflector board, and I also use an Expro collapsible reflector to fill in shadows.  If your budget stretches to it, I would say ideally you need 2 Lowel Egos.  But if money is short, you can fit a BRIGHT (!) daylight spectrum bulb to any domestic light, but you will need to hang a diffuser (like a fine white muslin cloth or white crêpe paper) between the light and the food to soften the harsh shadows.

I am addicted to Cape Seed Bread…particularly the Woolies kind. Do you have a good recipe for it?I have never made it myself, but this recipe from Addie’s Random Ramblings seems to resemble the Woolies one most closely: CAPE SEED BREAD Ingredients: 185 g whole wheat flour 42 g sesame seeds 37 g flax seeds 28 g sunflower seeds 26 g poppy seeds 4 g cracked wheat 15 g multigrain mix 4 g salt 15 g high protein wheat gluten 2 g roasted malt powder 9 g fresh compressed yeast 195 ml chilled water Directions: 1. To prepare dough, combine all ingredients (reserve 5 g of poppy seeds and 5g of sesame seeds) in a mixer. Dough should be sticky and form a ball 2. Sprinkle flour on work bench and flatten dough to a rectangle that is approximately 15 cm x 20 cm. Scroll up the dough piece so that it is in a cylindrical shape about 18 cm long . 3. Roll the piece of dough in sesame seeds and put into a small baking pan (if you do not have Teflon coated you will need to grease your pan first) 4. Place pan in a hot steamy room or proof box for approx 45 minutes or until the dough has risen over the height of the tin. 5. Using a small serrated knife, cut along the length of the dough piece, splitting the dough open about 3 cm. In this cut sprinkle on approx 5 g of poppy seed 6. Bake in oven with steam for 30 minutes at 225 Celsius. Many South african recipes call for Nutty Wheat flour but don’t really know what the equivalent is in the UK…Granary? According to the Snowflake website, Nutty Wheat is flour that has 20% wheat bran added to it (wholemeal only has about 12%), so I guess in theory you could make your own. Mix 4/5 plain flour with 1/5 wheat bran (available form health shops). Granary flour, on the other hand contains malted wheat flakes to give it its distinctive taste, so not entirely the same and I’m not sure how good or bad a substitute it will make, but it may be worth a try. Maryke asked for a vetkoek recipe? Vetkoek is a South African favourite – basically a soft, doughnut-like fritter that can be filled with sweet or savoury fillings. This recipe is from Nigella Lawson: VETKOEK Ingredients: 2 cups Water lukewarm 2 teaspoon Sugar 2 teaspoon Yeast (one little sachet) 5 cups Flour 2 teaspoon Salt 2 tablespoon Oil Method: 1. Stir sugar in the lukewarm water and add the yeast. 2. Sieve the flour and salt into a mixing bowl. 3. Add oil to the yeast liquid. 4. Mix dry ingredients with yeast liquid using a wooden spoon. 5. Work to a firm dough, adding extra flour if needed, until sides of bowl are clean. 6. Turn dough on to a lightly floured table and knead thouroughly until it is firm, elastic and no longer sticky (about 10 minutes). 7. Shape dough into a ball and place into mixing bowl and cover with cloth. 8. Allow dough to double in size and dough springs back when pressed with a floured finger (60 minutes in a warm place, 2 hours at room temperature). 9. Turn risen dough onto a lightly floured surface, flatten to knock out air bubbles and knead to make firm. Flatten to about 1 cm thick (little less than inch) and cut pieces into 8 cm x 8 cm (3″ x 3″). 10. Cook in hot, deep oil until brown.  Drain and serve. Ann asked what the nutritional value of Peck’s Anchovette is. Ingredients:  pilchards, Cape herring, mackerel, anchovies, salt, cornflour, sugar, spices, soya protein, Colouring: E172, ascorbic acid Nutritional value per 100g: Energy – 527Kj Protein – 15.6g Carbohydrate – 1.4g Total fat – 6.5g (consists of saturated fat 2.6g, trans fatty acids <0.1g, polyunsaturated fats 2.4g, Omega-3 fatty acids 1900mg, monounsaturated fats 1.9g) Cholesterol – 54.3mg Total dietary fibre – 2g Sodium – 1166mg Iron – 9mg A few people have asked “how do I roast a turkey on a Weber charcoal grill?” I’ve never personally roasted a turkey in a kettle braai but the braai book that I trust above all others and that is written for kettle braais has a recipe which I’ll type below. Regarding your choice of bird, there is no set weight, but obviously it has to be small enough that you can completely close the lid of your Weber kettle, leaving about an inch between flesh and lid!  So consider the structure of your bird – better to go for wider and flatter rather than a bird with a high breastbone.  Also, make sure that the turkey is completely defrosted before roasting.  As for the stuffing, it is true that it extends the cooking time which is why I always make stuffing separately in the oven when I make a chicken.  As the cooking time for a turkey is already going to be long, I suggest you do the same – but it’s up to you! First make your stuffing of choice (the suggestion that the Kettle Braai Cookbook offers is for an apricot, walnut and sausage meat stuffing.  There are probably loads of recipes on the net though, so I leave that part up to you.)  If you are going to cook the bird without stuffing, place a few whole onions, carrots and fresh herbs in the cavity before roasting. Rub the breast with oil or butter (I would go for butter), season with salt and pepper, and place in a roast holder that can go into the kettle braai. Prepare a LARGE indirect fire (i.e. make coals that are ashy and ready to braai, then move them to the sides of the kettle barbecue and keep them there with coal holders or by placing a drip pan in the middle between the 2 lots of coals.  Place the roast holder on the grid over the drip pan.  Cover and roast for 2-2.5 hours or until done.  Start it off without foiling anywhere but check after an hour or so and foil any part that seems to be browning too fast. Your biggest problem is going to be maintaining heat for long enough to cook this.  If you are in the UK as your address suggests, DO NOT attempt to cook with the lumpwood charcoal they love so much over here!!  Make sure you get proper compressed briquettes.  The lumpwood will just burn out and yuor turkey will be raw.  Even with briquettes, you may need a second BBQ going making coals that you can use to replenish your turkey-roasting kettle braai. The turkey will need to be cooked for about 25 minutes per kilogram, but this is only a rough guide – it is done when a meat thermometer registers 180F in the thigh or 170F in the breast.  Remember to let your turkey rest for 20 minutes before carving. What ingredients can I use for peppermint crisp tart outside South Africa? You can substitute whipping cream for Orley Whip (a dairy-free cream substitute), but the outcome may be even richer than this pudding already is.  If you are in the UK, use Elmlea,  a half-dairy creamer available in most supermarkets; and in the US, apparently Cool Whip is a near-identical product. For Caramel Treat caramelised condensed milk, you can substitute a jar of  dulce du leche (the Merchant Gourmet brand is available in supermarkets in the UK, in the baking section) or you can make your own by boiling a sealed tin of normal sweetened condensed milk**warning:  hazardous!!**, or oven baking some sweetened condensed milk. The Tennis biscuits may prove problematic.  These cookies are thinner than Graham crackers and lighter, with a distinctive (and essential) coconut flavour.  If you are in Australia, try substituting Arnott’s coconut biscuits or Nice biscuits.  Any other suggestions welcome… And as for the peppermint crisp… sadly, for that you will have to bite the bullet and buy it from a South African shop as I’m not sure if anything else like it exists and I hear that Peppermint Crisps may not be imported into the USA because the FDA does not like one of the green colourings in the kryptonite-green filling.  If you can’t find one at a South African shop, you could in a pinch grate a Cadbury’s Mint Crisp slab with crispy peppermint bits in it, or a Nestlé Peppermint Aero (which are definitely available in the UK), or in the US you could grate some peppermint bark instead. Michael Olivier asked what beans can be substituted in boontjiesop (South African bean soup) for a friend who can’t find sugar beans or Van Zyl beans in the UK. As far as sugar beans go, your friend has several options.  She can get proper SA sugar beans from one of the many South African shops that operate in the UK – many sell online as well.  If this is too pricey, another near-identical substitute would be pinto beans – popular in Mexico but probably almost as tricky to get in the UK as SA sugar beans!  A site called the Mexican Grocer does sell them though if she wants to investigate. She could also substitute pretty much any large, mealy beans – dry butter beans would be ideal, or speckled red kidney beans.  If she’s lucky, she will find these in the “world foods” section of large grocery stores (ASDA, Tesco, Sainsbury’s) – our local stores almost always stock them, but then we live in a more culturally diverse area than Suffolk 😉 I would say the least expensive or painful way might be to go for the butter beans, but I know what it’s like to try and recreate that perfect taste – which is why I gave the other options too! Karen asked for good recipes for vegetable potjies (a slow-cooked South African stew cooked over an open fire in a 3-leged cast iron pot). I have 2 recipes for veggie potjies that you can try from my tried & trusted potjiekos recipe book.  I have made both, as you will see in the links below, and both are winners: VEGETABLE POTJIE WITH CHEESY TOPPING (serves 6 as a main course) 2 medium onions, chopped 50 g butter 6 medium potatoes parboiled & thinly sliced 2 medium brinjals, peeled & cubed a cup of baby marrows sliced diagonally into rings 300g mushrooms, sliced 50ml fresh chopped parsley 30 ml fresh chopped oregano (or 10ml dried) 4 medium tomatoes skinned & chopped (or 1 x 410g tin of chopped tomatoes 250ml fresh breadcrumbs 250ml grated cheddar cheese Saute onion until transparent in heated butter.  Remove onion and set aside.  Arrange vegetables in potjie in layers as follows:  first potatoes, then brinjals, baby marrows and finalyl mushrooms.  Add a little sauteed onio, parsley and oregano between each layer and salt & pepper to taste.  Pour tomato pulp over the top of vegetables.  Cover with lid and simmer over a slow fire for 1 hour or until the vegetables are cooked – do not stir or peep too often!  Sprinkle with the breadcrumbs and cheese, replace lid and put potjie back on fire until cheese has melted.  For a golden brown crust, place a few small coals on the lid. CURRIED VEGETABLE POTJIE (serves 8-10) 30ml cooking oil 2 large onions, sliced 4 cloves of garlic, crushed 15 ml ginger root, chopped 15-30 ml medium curry powder 5 ml turmetic 2 bay leaves 5 ml salt 50ml sultanas 2 large tomatoes, skinned & chopped 3 potatoes peeled & sliced 250g green beens, cut into pieces 1/2 a shredded cabbage a few outside cabbage leaves to cover Heat oil in a small pot (not the potjie you intend to use), add onion & garlic and saute till transparent. Add ginger, curry powder, turmeric and bay leaves & fry lightly.  Add salt, sultanas and tomatoes.  Simmer while stirring continuously until the mixture is thick.  Remove from heat and set aside.  Grease your potjie with butter.  First, place potatoes on the bottom.  Spoon a little of the curry sauce over them and then place green beans on top of the potatoes.  Spoon some more sauce over them.  Then arrange the shredded cabbage on top of the beans and spoon the remainign sauce over.  Arrange the outside cabbage leaves on top of the vegetables to keep them moist during cooking.  Cover with a lid and place over a slow fire for 30-45 minutes or uintil vegetables are cooked. Nicci in Laguna Beach, California asked for Northern hemisphere substitutes for South African fish – she had a recipe that called for Cape Salmon, Yellowtail or Red Steenbras. My easy peasy suggestion would be to substitute swordfish – it is another very firm (but white, as opposed to tuna) game fish and should work in similar recipes.  Alternatively, you could try asking fishmongers for teraglin, as it answers to the same Latin name as Cape Salmon: For yellowtail, ask for yellowtail kingfish or seriola lalandi or north pacific yellowtail or yellowtail amberjack Cynthia asked for a good banana bread recipe. I discovered after her death that my mom never wrote down her banana bread recipe that I loved so much :( But I figured that as she was such a fan of the classic “Kook en Geniet” cookbook, her recipe was probably based on theirs – this is it, plus the adition of chopped nuts. BANANA BREAD 1/2 cup butter, softened 1 cup sugar 2 eggs 2 cups plain flour 2 tsp baking powder 4 – 6 very ripe bananas 1 tsp vanilla essence 1/2 tsp salt 3/4 cup chopped walnuts or pecan nuts Directions: Beat together the butter and sugar until creamy.  Add the vanilla. Add the eggs one by one and mix well after each addition. Sift together the dry ingredients and mis into the butter/sugar/egg mix.  Mash the bananas and add to the mixture. Pour into a small greased loaf tin and bake at 180C for one hour or until the bread starts to pull away slightly from the sides of the tin.  Allow to cool before removing from the tin and slicing. Hanli asked for a recipe to pickle all the Peppadew peppers that she’s growing. The problem with Peppadews is that the company that owns the trademark had also patented the pickling process, so you are unlikely to find the recipe freely available on the Net!  That said, a trawl through the Epicurious forums revealed this recipe which seems to fit the bill.  The secret lies in removing all the seeds before pickling :) “Step 1: It’s best to use surgical gloves, as any pepper makes your fingers burn. Cut off the stem end and scrape out the seeds with a small teaspoon. Try removing all seeds. Leave overnight in a brine consisting of 2 ounces kosher/coarse salt and about 2 1/3 cups water. Let the salt dissolve as best you can, by stirring, before adding the fruits. Put a plate on top if necessary, to stop them bobbing on top. Step 2: Mix in a suitable pot: 1 1/2 cups grape, wine or malt vinegar* 1 1/4 cups granulated sugar 1 cup water A few pieces peeled fresh ginger Some peeled garlic cloves About 2 teaspoons peppercorns, preferably the mixed peppercorns with diff. colours 2 whole green chilli peppers, stem removed (I sterilise bottles by washing, and then putting in a cold oven in a container, and heating up to 225 deg F). Rinse cherry peppers well under running cold water, and discard the brine. Shake in a sieve to get rid of the liquid. Stir the mixture given in Step 2 over low heat until sugar has dissolved. Then bring to a rolling boil. It will foam up somewhat. Add the peppadews/cherry peppers, the 2 chili peppers, and boil for just 1 minute or so. Take your hot bottles from the oven, and with a slotted spoon first fill the bottles with the little peppers. Add a green chilli to each bottle — just for prettiness! Then fill up with the boiling liquid. (The liquid runs into the hollows of the peppers after a while, so it’s better to fill almost to the top). Wipe rims of bottles carefully, then screw on the lids. This recipe fills 2 ordinary (supermarket size!) 375 ml bottles, i.e. each about 1 1/2 cups. Don’t work with huge quantities — rather make in smaller batches, it’s easier and safer. Leave for about 2 – 3 weeks before use. * I use white grape vinegar because it’s pure white. I dislike the cheaper spirit vinegar. Use whatever is available to you. Cider vinegar is also fine, except that it’s slightly coloured.” Karen asked where in the UK she could get hold of Marula bark, which is a natural remedy for vulvodynia. Marula bark is used as a natural remedy by many Southern African tribes.  If you can’t find it listed under the name “marula bark”, you might find it under its scientific name ofsclerocarya birrea (or its traditional name of umganu).  Here is a site where you can order the bark – they seem to ship worldwide: William wants to know where in the UK he can buy proper Durban masala powder, like “mother-in-law’s tongue”. Sadly, there does not seem to be a UK equivalent of the Durban masalas and they are not imported – although there are loads of other masalas and spice mixes available.  My friend from Durban says she always brings masala back with her when she visits home, but also says that the East End range of spices for sale in supermarkets here in the UK are pretty good.  If you don’t find their masala powder spicy enough, gradually add chilli powder until it’s hot enough for your taste. Mabel needed the UK measurements for my orange, cranberry and pecan muffin recipe. The good news is that this muffin recipe is very forgiving, and even approximate conversions are perfectly good enough! But if you want my rough guess at conversion: for the liquids – 1/2 a cup is 4 fluid ounces for the flour – 2 cups = 250g = 8.3 ounces for the sugar – 1/2 cup = 100g = 3.5 ounces for the cranberries – 1 cup = about 100g = 3.5 ounces for the cranberries – 1/2 cup = about 50g = 1.75 ounces I am looking for a recipe for mulled wine spice sachets Mulled wine spice sachets are really easy to make and are great home-made Christmas gifts! You will need for each sachet: 7-10cm whole cinnamon stick 30 whole cloves 20 allspice berries 3 green cardamom pods 1tsp mixed dried citrus peel 15cm square of cheesecloth cotton for tying Break the cinnamon stick into smaller pieces and lightly crush the cardamom pods with a pestle and mortar. Place all the spices in the centre of the cheesecloth square and gather the corners together to make a pouch.  Tie securely with the cotton. To make the mulled wine, add the sachet to 1 x 750ml bottle of red wine, 3 Tbsp of sugar, a sliced orange and 20ml brandy in a large saucepan.  Simmer over low heat for 15 minutes and then ladle into mugs. Zdenka asks where she can get Nasi Goreng spice locally in Cape Town I would ring Atlas Trading in the Bokaap at 94 Wale Street – if anybody sells the authentic nasi goreng mix, they will.  And if they don’t sell it, I am sure they will be able to tell you where to buy it or sell you the rght spices to make your own.  Their telephone number is Contact: Tel: +27 (0) 21 423 4361, Fax: +27 (0) 21 426 1929 Samuel is desperately looking for a tagine cooking pot in South Africa There are various options available – cast iron tagines, electric tagines or ceramic tagines.  Boardmans occasionally sell them, but here are three online options for you: – not a South African supplier but they will ship to SA. – scroll down to “Ceramics – Safi” section, which is where you will find the tagines

  • Cheryl asked whether I could recommend a tutorial for the Canon PowerShot A720is which she and I both own.

I can’t really recommend a tutorial on the A720is, but what I can do is give you the three tips that transformed my food photography with this camera.  (By the way, although my pics up to 2007 were all taken with the powershot, most after that date were taken with my Canon EOS20D).Firstly, never ever use the flash when photographing food – turn it off!  This is fine in bright light, however once you turn the flash off in low light, you will find that the shutter speed is so slow that the photographs will  be blurry from camera shake so… (gasp!) you have to take the camera off the auto setting.  Dial to the Av setting – this means aperture priority.  What aperture priority means is that you are going to manually control how wide you want the lens to open during an exposure, and the camera will decide what the appropriate shutter speed must be (i.e. how long the lens will be open for).  So put the camera on AV, then get the aperture as big as possible.  Illogically, a big aperture is represented by small numbers, so what you want to do is click the left hand side of the circular navigation button (as if scrolling backwards through photos) until the number on the screen is 2.8 (or as low as it will go). When taking the picture, be sure to hold the camera as still as possible – rest it on something stable (or rest both your elbows on the table). Photos in low light are often very yellow.  To combat this, set your white balance correctly.  When in photo mode, press the centre button in the middle of the circular navigation button.  Move to the second icon in the left margin (should say AWB).  If you are, say in a dim restaurant lit by electric light, scroll down using the circular navigation button to the little symbol of a lightbulb – you will instantly see that the image on the screen is less yellow.  You can also set the white balance for cloudy weather, shadows or sunlight – there are icons representing each of them.  But you need to take your camera off its auto setting in order to manually set the white balance. Taking photos of food usually involves getting up close and personal, so to keep them in focus, be sure to use the macro function – the flower symbol at the bottom of the circular navigation button.  Press it and the screen should read “Macro”.  Now you can get really close to your food and the shot is still in focus. Have a play around & try the above out with your camera – you will definitely see a difference!  If you have any other questions, please feel free to get in touch.

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