Sunday, 31 October 2010

Roasted Garlic with Balsamic Vinegar & Olive Oil

Roasted garlic is one of my favourite things in the world.  Roasting garlic in the oven mellows that harsh raw garlic taste into something sweet and heavenly.  Its creamy texture makes it ideal to spread on crackers or melba toast.  It is dead simple to make as a starter and your guest just breaks off some cloves and spread it themselves.  Make sure to dip your bread in the sticky Balsamic sauce that forms in the bottom of the roasting tin!

Roasted Garlic with Balsamic Vinegar & Olive Oil


  • 4 or 5 medium sized heads of garlic, one per person
  • 4 tbsp. Balsamic vinegar
  • 4 tbsp. olive oil
  • a pinch each of mixed herbs, salt and pepper
  1. Preheat the oven to 180C.
  2. Carefully cut across the top of each head of garlic, taking off the pointy bits.
  3. Arrange the heads of garlic in a roasting tin.
  4. Mix the vinegar, olive oil, herbs, salt and pepper and pour it over the exposed tops of the garlic.
  5. Roast in the oven for 40 minutes to 1 hour.  When the garlic is soft and squeezable, it is ready.
Serve with melba toast, crusty bread or crackers.

Beef & Guinness stew

Taiwan is not a place of half measures.  It is either sweltering hot, with a very high humidity or it is cold and damp, with the iciness creeping into your bones via the tiled concrete floors.  In between these polar opposites, there is about one or two weeks that one could call spring or autumn with really nice weather.  This past week we saw the half yearly "change of season" and the temperature fell with about 10 ̊C in one week.

Not that I am complaining, though.  I am most certainly more of a winter person than a summer person (probably because of my build) and I spend a lot more time in my kitchen in the winter.  This week was no exception and I felt the need for something I haven't tried before.  I've always made my beef stews in the style of a bœuf bourguignon, using the red wine to whip the beef into submission.  This time round, as I was walking past the refrigerator at the supermarket, I thought why not try doing the same with Guinness in stead of wine?  Using Guinness is certainly not a new idea, but one that I haven't tried before.

It takes quite long to do in the oven, but there is very little preparation to do.  You can basically just pop it in the oven and forget about it.  The result however, is so worth the wait.  You get a robust stew with a tasty, rich sauce and it fills your kitchen with the most wonderful aromas.

Beef & Guinness stew


  • 2 large onions, diced
  • 1 tsp. mixed herbs
  • 1 or 2 cloves of garlic, crushed
  • 1kg of braising steak or stewing beef, cut into cubes (about 4cm by 4cm)
  • 6 tbsp of flour well seasoned with salt and pepper
  • 500ml of Guinness
  • 250ml beef stock (or whatever stock you have available)
  • 2 ripe tomotoes, peeled and chopped
  • 1tsp. sugar
  • 1 punnet of button mushrooms (optional)
  • 1 punnet of baby corn (optional)
  • 1 large or 2 small carrots, diced
  • olive oil for frying 
  1. Cook the onions,mixed herbs and garlic with a little olive oil in a large casserole until the onion is softened and translucent. Dust the braising steak in the seasoned flour and brown in a hot pan with a little oil.
  2. When the beef has a good, even colour, add it to the pan with the onions and pour in the Guinness. Top up with the stock to just cover the beef.  Add the chopped tomato, sugar and carrots.
  3. Cover and simmer over a very low heat or transfer to a 150C oven for 2-3 hours until the beef is meltingly tender (check after 2 hours).  If you are using mushrooms and corn, add it during the last hour of cooking.  Season to taste.

Serve with roasted garlic mash and seasonal vegetables.  Enjoy!

 (Alternatively this stew can also be prepared in a slow cooker.  This stew also freezes well.)

Roasted Garlic Mashed Potatoes

You will never want to eat ordinary mash potatoes again!  I served this fragrant, creamy mash with the robust Beef and Guinness stew.

Roasted Garlic Mashed Potatoes


  • 2 medium heads of garlic
  • 3 tbsp. olive oil
  • 900g potatoes, peeled and diced
  • 55g butter, softened
  • 120ml milk, heated
  • salt and pepper to taste

  1. Preheat the oven to 180C
  2. Drizzle the garlic with olive oil, wrap it in foil and roast in the oven for 40 minutes to 1 hour until soft.
  3. Bring a large pot of salted water to the boil, add the diced potatoes and boil until tender, about 15 minutes.
  4. Drain the potatoes and add the butter and milk.
  5. Cut the garlic in half and squeeze the softened cloves into the potatoes.
  6. Mash together until smooth and creamy.  Season with salt and pepper.

Sunday, 24 October 2010

Melktert - South African Comfort Food

When I think about South African desserts, I think of malvapoeding, asynpoeding, Jan Ellis-poeding and brandy pudding.  However, I think melktert is probably the most famous of all the South African desserts.  Melktert (translated as "milk tart" in English) has been made in South Africa since the time of the Dutch settlers in the Cape and consists basically of a sweet crust, filled with a milk and egg custard.  Although similar to a traditional European custard tart or Chinese egg tart, it contains a higher ratio of milk, so it is lighter in colour and texture and has a stronger milk flavour.

There are two types of melktert.  The one has has the custard filling baked in the oven and is quite a bit more labour intensive but probably more traditional.  For the second type, the custard is cooked on the stove, added to the pie crust and then allowed to set in the refrigerator.  This one is dead easy to make, even in a Taiwanese kitchen, so give it a try.  It rates very high up on my "comfort food" scale and can be eaten warm in the winter or cold in the summer. [By the way, my mother corrected me - there are indeed THREE types of melktert.  The one I forgot to mention is the crustless melktert.  -Ed.]

Maklike Melktert / Easy Milk tart


Pie Crust

  • 125g butter or margarine
  • ½ cup sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 2 cups flour, sifted
  • pinch of salt, sifted

  • 1 litre milk
  • 1 tablespoon butter or margarine
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 3 tablespoons cornflour (cornstarch)
  • 3 tablespoons flour
  • 10ml vanilla essence
  • some cinnamon for sprinkling 

  1. Cream the butter and sugar together and beat in the egg.
  2. Add the flour and salt and knead until a soft dough is formed.
  3. Press the dough into a greased circular pie dish (traditionally an enamel plate) and bake at 180 ̊C for about 15 minutes.
  4. Bring the milk and butter to the boil.  The stoves in Taiwan are very hot, so take care not to burn the milk.
  5. Cream the sugar, eggs, corn flour, flour and vanilla essence.
  6. Add some of the hot milk to the creamed mixture, then pour it back into the pot and heat gently until it thickens.
  8. Pour the filling into the pie crust and let it cool.
  9. Refrigerate until required and sprinkle with ground cinnamon to serve.
Enjoy with a steaming cup of freshly brewed coffee.

Sunday, 17 October 2010

Let's braai - Taiwan style!

The word braaivleis (Afrikaans pronunciation: [ˈbrɑe.flæɪs]English: /ˈbraɪfleɪs/) is Afrikaans for "roasted meat." -

As South Africans we  pride ourselves in our braai heritage.  It is a part of who we are, whether we are black, brown or white.  We all braai.  We even have a semi-official "Braai4Heritage Day" on 24 September every year.  There is also a certain sense of ritual and tradition attached to braaiing.  The men are all outside, gathered around the fire (usually discussing rugby or politics), while the women are inside making the salad.  Traditionally the men braai, not women. Also, the person braaing shouldn't be interfered with.  Under no circumstances should you fiddle around with his fire or turn his meat, unless you've been given permission to do so.  The only time a woman gets involved with the actual braaiing process, is when asked by the braaier, "Mamma, kom kyk net gou-gou of die vleis gaar is!"  (Honey, please check if the meat is done!)

The South African expat community in Taiwan loves a good braai now and then.  We try and keep it as close to the original as possible, although most call it "barbecue" now, so that the Taiwanese wife will know what they are on about.  In keeping with tradition, the men still braai, although not in the back yard.  As few of us live in an actual house, the balcony or rooftop of the apartment building has to suffice.  There is also no such thing as "braai wood" or handy Blitz Firelighters, so most Saffas use charcoal or gas braais.  We are lucky to have a local supplier of good meat and boerewors in my friend, Steve from Tainan.  He is a South African who makes really tasty boerewors and even biltong.  What's even better is that it is delivered right to your door!

We are by no means alone in our love for cooking meat over an open fire.  We all know that the North Americans love their barbecue (cooking burgers, hot dogs and ribs) and the Aussies have their "barbie".  Even the Brits (maybe thanks to Jamie Oliver) have now discovered the joys of braaiing.

In Taiwan there is also a tradition of barbecuing.  It happens every year on the day of the Mid Autumn Festival, also called Moon Festival.  It is held on the 15th day of the eighth month of the lunar calendar.  It is interesting to note that the tradition of barbecuing during this festival, isn't followed in China.  Apparently it is uniquely Taiwanese and has its origin in the 1980's when a clever TV commercial by a BBQ sauce company, urged the nation to barbecue, while admiring the full moon on this festival...using their sauce, of course.  The rest is history!

Also noteworthy is the fact that it is usually the women that do the barbecuing in Taiwan, while the men relax, Taiwan Beer in hand.

This brings me to the Taiwanese BBQ Restaurants.  On Friday, the lads at the office decided that it was time for some R & R and we decided to go to one of these restaurants.  Now, if you like the social aspect of a fondue with friends, you'll love these restaurants.  You sit around a table with a braai in the middle and each person braais what they like.  Our restaurant (The Lion King...yes, kid you not) consists of a huge outdoor space, under a veranda.  There are display freezers and fridges  against the back wall, filled with anything you can think of.  The beef, pork, chicken and even ostrich were my favourites.  If you are a lover of the fruits of the sea, you won't be disappointed.  Any kind of (previously) living thing from the ocean is there for you to baste with some butter, squirt with lemon and drop it on the grill.  If you like veggies imbued with a smoky favour, you have the choice between miellies (corn on the cob), green, red and orange sweet peppers, Asian egg plant and a wide variety of mushrooms. 
The meat is cut really thin, so that it will cook in no time and just like with a fondue, you braai and eat, braai and eat and have a good couple of beers, too.  Everything you might need is provided for you, from paper plates and bowls, to sauces, salad stuff, brushes, foil, fruit...everything!

Everything was of a good quality and the barbecue sauce was really more-ish.  It was also my first time to try rice sausage.  Yes, the Taiwanese love rice and even stuff sausage casings with glutinous rice and the grills it on the barbecue!  It had a nice, crispy skin and the inside was soft and sticky and reminded me of a sticky toffee pudding, without any sweetness.  The smokiness of the rice sausage made me forget that I was eating plain old rice.  Something else that was quite special, were the chicken testicles and Pope's Noses.  I know my dad would've loved braaied Pope's nose, but he probably would've given the testicles a miss, as did I.

The best thing about an evening at The Lion King is the price.  It is only NT$299 (R66.00) per person for eat as much as you like, soft drinks included.  For an extra NT$99, you can drink beer until you fall over!  All in all, not a bad night out with friends and family for R88.00 a head.

If you want to order boerewors, droëwors or biltong, you can call Steve at 0987690902.

Saturday, 9 October 2010

Welcome to my kitchen

After running out of suitable excuses (I don't have a proper oven!  It is too hot to use my galley kitchen in summer), the time as finally arrived to give in to the demands of my friends and satisfy my own urge for writing and documenting my life in Taiwan.

"Kitchenboy," said my friend Pukwai, "Why don't you write a cookbook?"  "Hey, you should open a restaurant!" said another, after tasting my bobotie. Mmm...not so sure about that.  On that occasion the bobotie took about 2 hours to make, because the only kitchen gadget he had, was a small Winnie the Pooh toaster oven, just large enough to accommodate 2 slices of bread.

To be honest, I was quite proud of myself, considering that the toaster oven used the same heating elements as a cheap 2 bar heater!  But I am by no means a trained cook, more like a kitchen boy who likes to try things out for himself. Trying to make do with the ingredients found here, as well as the limited kitchen gear.

Back to the excuses.  I went out and bought what is commonly referred to (by the expat community)  as a "Costco" oven.  It is not the standard size oven that you would expect in a western kitchen, but it comes equipped with separate controls for the top and bottom heating elements, a rotisserie and it is also "fan assisted."

The temperature, and more importantly, the humidity has also come down a notch or two...

Who knows, I might even bake something this weekend...