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Toffie Food Festival’s Secret Dinners (Part 1) - Smoke-Encased Mussels With Chorizo Crumbs, Confit Rosa Tomatoes And Pickled Onions With Pink Peppercorns

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Toffie Food Festival’s Secret Dinners (Part 1)

The Cow Shed at Spier was the dramatic setting for the first of the Toffie Food Festival’s secret dinners, where Taste’s Abigail Donnelly dazzled diners with a surprise feast

When it launched three years ago, The Toffie Pop Culture Festival was a niche event with a sprinkling of in-the-know followers. It's now a popular highlight on Cape Town's cultural calendar, attracting a slew of forward-thinking local and international speakers in the design, art, culinary and publishing fields. This year, the two-day food fair is happening at Spier Wine Farm in Stellenbosch and the theme is The Secret Festival.

Description: Covert Operation

The Cow Shed at Spier was the dramatic setting for the first of the Toffie Food Festival’s secret dinners, where Taste’s Abigail Donnelly dazzled diners with a surprise feast

As with previous Toffie festivals, an esteemed bunch of chefs and foodies will be revealing fresh perspectives and innovative ideas in a series of presentations, talks, tastings and workshops. But, says The President's Hannerie Visser, the Toffie Festival's organizer, "this year is slightly different from previous events because Toffie has come to the farm! Not only will there be some very high-profile international food designers and artists, like the Jellymongers from London and the OFF MENU team from Barcelona, but exciting hands-on outdoor activities are also on the agenda. Plus, the focus will be on the culture of food and dining: where it is right now and where it's headed."

In addition to the Saturday wine-and-food market and the Sunday Eat Out braai-off, rumor has it that age-old family recipes will be divulged by some of the country's top chefs. But what we're most excited about are the 20 secret dinners, which will be hosted - in association with TASTE - at private homes around Stellenbosch. It's quite something to find yourself in a stranger's home, breaking bread with 10 people you've never clapped eyes on!

The first secret dinner at The Cow Shed, specially filmed for a forthcoming episode of Pasella, offered a revealing glimpse into what guests can expect. Considering the theme, I knew we were in for an evening of surprises. My curiosity was piqued when, upon entering the venue, we were handed a pin and greeted by a roomful of white balloons that completely concealed the dining area. “Pop the balloons with your pins," instructed the evening's hostess and chef extraordinaire Abigail Donnelly. And just like that, our dinner table was exposed. (I'm definitely stealing the balloon idea for my next do!)

When the first course arrived, my fellow diners and I leaned forward simultaneously to try and make out what was hidden beneath the smoke-filled glass domes we had been presented. As we lifted the cloches, the smoke wafted upwards, exposing a delicate portion of perfectly smoked mussels. For mains, we had to crack a dome of rock salt to reveal ostrich tartare served with a deep-fried quail egg. Ingeniously, the salt shield doubled as seasoning.

Spier's 21 Gables Chenin Blanc 2010 was the perfect accompaniment to our meal, not only because its well-balanced fruity nose complemented the ostrich superbly, but also because this lesser-known varietal is one of the Cape's best-kept wine secrets. Conveniently, Spier's marketing manager Marina Vermeulen, a qualified winemaker herself, was seated next to me, so I quizzed her about South Africa's most widely planted grape. Previously only used for cheap "box" wines and brandy, Chenin Blanc received a status upgrade in the late 90s, when winemakers started using it to make rich, heavily oaked wines. SA is currently recognized as one of the best producers of Chenin Blanc, on par with France. Diverse styles of this wine will be revealed at the festival by the Chenin Blanc Association.

Hidden inside a caramelized-sugar pillar, the peanut-butter crème brulee was a revelation in more ways than one. Soft and creamy on the inside, with a crunchy shortbread crust on the outside and a dab of salted strawberries on the side - you had to see and taste it to believe it. By that stage, I'd guzzled more than a polite quantity of Chenin Blanc, so when a fellow diner couldn't eat hers due to a nut allergy, I helped her clear her plate, which she passed to me, secretly, of course.

Watch Pasella or SABC 2 at 7.30 pm on 1 August to see the pop-up dinner in action.

Smoke-Encased Mussels With Chorizo Crumbs, Confit Rosa Tomatoes And Pickled Onions With Pink Peppercorns

Serves 8

Preparation: 30 minutes

Cooking: 2½ hours, plus resting time

Description: Smoke-Encased Mussels With Chorizo Crumbs, Confit Rosa Tomatoes And Pickled Onions With Pink Peppercorns

Smoke-Encased Mussels With Chorizo Crumbs, Confit Rosa Tomatoes And Pickled Onions With Pink Peppercorns

·         Mussels in the shell 8-10

·         Pink peppercorn sprigs, to garnish

·         Microherbs, to garnish

For the comfit tomatoes:

·         Olive oil 3T

·         Salt 1t

·         Garlic 3 cloves, peeled and finely sliced

·         Thyme 4 sprigs (leaves only)

·         Bay leaf 1

·         Rosa tomatoes 10, blanched, peeled and halved and seeded

·         Sugar 1t

For the pickled onions:

·         Red onion 1, sliced

·         Pink peppercorns 31

·         Apple cider vinegar ¾ cup

·         Brown sugar 3 T

·         Water ¼ cup

·         Salt ½ t

For the chorizo crumbs:

Chorizo 125 g, finely diced

Cream 1 cup

Parmesan 25 g, grated

  1. Place the mussels in a large saucepan of boiling water, cover and cook until the shells open. Drain, remove the beards and discard any mussels that have not opened. Remove the mussels from the shells, clean the shells and set both aside.
  2. To make the comfit tomatoes, preheat the oven to 100*C. Line a baking tray with foil and pour 2T olive oil evenly over the tray. Sprinkle over the salt, garlic, thyme and bay leaf. Place the tomatoes on the tray, cut-side down. Lightly brush with the remaining olive oil and season with more salt and sugar. Bake for 2½ hours, turning halfway, and open the oven for a second every 30 minutes. They should be very tender but still hold their shape. Remove from the oven and allow the tomatoes to cool to room temperature on the tray until ready to use.
  3. To make the pickled onions, alternately layer the onion slices and pink peppercorns in a jar. Bring the remaining ingredients to the boil in a saucepan, then pour over the onions and peppercorns. Cover and leave to pickle for at least 1 hour.
  4. To make the chorizo crumbs, fry the chorizo for 2 minutes until golden. Remove from the pan and drain on kitchen paper. Add the cream to the pan and bring to the boil. Add the Parmesan and simmer for 2 to 3 minutes, then return the chorizo to the pan.
  5. To assemble, fill each mussel shell with pickled onion and chorizo crumbs. Top with a muscle and a comfit tomato petal. Garnish with pink peppercorn sprigs and micro herbs. Serve under a glass dome and use an electric smoking gun to fill the dome with smoke just before serving.

Carb-conscious, health-conscious, wheat- and gluten-free

Wine: Spier 21 Gables Chenin Blanc 2011

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