Durban - Delicious and beautifully presented meals are a prerequisite at just about any social event, which is why many of us at some time or the other find ourselves wanting to up the culinary ante.
The women we turned to were Meryl Erasmus of Meryl’s School of Cooking in Kloof and Megan Harker of Gecko Culinary Adventures in Durban.
Erasmus trained as a chef in South Africa then went on to study at Leith’s School of Food and Wine in London. After qualifying there, she worked in various places in Britain, including a shooting lodge in Scotland. She later worked at MalaMala Game Reserve and Hartford Country House, both five-star establishments in South Africa, before opening her own cooking school.
Harker, who has a background in corporate sales and marketing, has devoted her attention to her lifelong passion of cooking and natural flair for entertaining.
With years of experience in the food industry and sound culinary knowledge, her straightforward approach to cooking is delivered in a warm and inviting barn-style setting.
Both women are all about enthusiasm in the kitchen and passion on the plate. Here are their ideas for your Christmas table.
Warm Root Vegetable Salad with Feta and Rocket
1 small butternut, sliced into thick slices with the skin on
3 sweet potatoes, scrubbed and cut into fat slices
10 baby carrots or 2 carrots cut into sticks
2 large beetroots, cut into 8 quarters
1 garlic bulb
Olive oil to drizzle
1tbs cumin seeds
A sprinkle of cinnamon
2tbs pumpkin seeds
2tbs sunflower seeds
½ cup pecan nuts
100g plain feta cheese
1 handful rocket
Salt and pepper
3tbs olive oil
½tbs balsamic vinegar
½tbs white wine vinegar
Salt and pepper
1tsp whole-grain mustard
Toss the vegetables and garlic in the olive oil, seasoning and spices. Sprinkle with the seeds.
Roast at 200ºC until golden.
If the beetroot takes longer than the other vegetables, remove the vegetables that are cooked and allow the beetroot to continue until soft.
Remove from the oven and toss with the dressing.
Add the feta cheese and rocket just before serving.
Serve warm or at room temperature.
Mix all the dressing ingredients and stir well.
Cherry-and-Cheese-stuffed Chicken Breasts with a Light Sauce
1kg chicken breasts
1 tin cherries, chop half
160g Danish feta cheese
1tbs fresh sage, chopped
Salt and pepper
Oil and butter for frying
½ cup white wine
½ cup chicken stock
1 cup cream
Cut a pocket in each chicken breast.
Mash the cheese and mix in the chopped cherries, sage and seasoning.
Push the cheese mixture into the chicken and close with a toothpick.
Brown the chicken breasts on both sides on a griddle pan, seasoning as they cook, remove and place in an oven-proof dish.
Pour the chicken stock and wine around the chicken, cover and cook for a further 20 minutes, or until the chicken is cooked through.
Do not wash the griddle pan.
When the chicken is cooked, pour the stock and wine mixture into the griddle pan and deglaze.
Reduce the liquid to a ¼ cup.
Add a cup of cream and bring to the boil – simmer until slightly thick.
Season with salt and pepper.
Drain the balance of the cherries well and add to the chicken with some snipped sage.
Remove the toothpicks from the chicken.
Pour the sauce over the chicken and serve.
Gammon with Ginger and Lime
1.5kg deboned gammon
1 litre ginger ale
5cm root ginger, peeled and sliced
2 bay leaves
1tbs black pepper corns
1 bruised parsley stalk
½ cup lime marmalade
3 pears, cut into quarters (do not core or peel)
Place the gammon in a pot, add the ginger ale and top up with water, until the gammon is just covered.
Add the ginger, bay leaf, pepper corns and parsley stalk. Simmer for about 75 minutes.
Allow to cool slightly in the water.
Remove from the pot and remove the skin. Score the fat into diamond shapes. Place a clove in each diamond.
Cover with the marmalade.
Place the quartered pears around the base of the ham and brush them with the marmalade.
Place half a cup of water around the base of the gammon to prevent the marmalade from burning on to the pan.
Bake at 180ºC basting both the gammon and pears every 10 minutes.
Amarula Egg Nog
12 eggs, separated
5ml vanilla essence
1½ cups castor sugar
500ml Amarula cream liqueur
Beat the egg yolks and sugar until thick and pale. Scald the cream, milk and vanilla in a saucepan – do not boil. Allow to cool slightly, then add the milk to the egg yolk mixture and whisk for 5 minutes on medium to high speed.
Refrigerate until cold. Whisk in the Amarula. Last, whip the egg whites until stiff peaks form and fold into the Amarula mixture with a metal whisk to create a light, cloud-like texture.
Traditionally, this should be served in little tumblers topped with freshly grated nutmeg.
Gammon with a “Klippies & Cola” Glaze
1 cooked boneless gammon
2 bottles of Klipdrift & cola
100g apricot jam
200g castor sugar
60ml Worcestershire sauce
60ml balsamic vinegar
60ml peppadew brine
Reduce the Klippies and cola, Worcestershire sauce, balsamic vinegar and peppadew brine with the sugar in a saucepan for 30 minutes to an hour, until it’s a syrup-like consistency. Stir in the jam and reduce for a further 15 min. Add the peppadews. Allow the glaze to cool slightly. Heat the oven to 160ºC. Glaze and dress the gammon as desired (with cloves, pineapple or cherries). Bake for 20 minutes, brushing with the glaze every 5 minutes. Cool before serving.
Cranberry and Coconut Mince Pies
200g soft flour
pinch of salt
2 to 3tbs of water
540g mincemeat (the best quality you can get)
orange zest from a large orange
1 egg, beaten
50g castor sugar
100g soft cranberries
50g coconut flakes
Sieve the flour and salt into a large mixing bowl. Cut the butter into small cubes and add to the flour.
Using your fingertips, rub the butter into the flour, lifting the mixture up and dropping it back into the bowl as you go to ensure the mixture is light and airy.
Keep going until all the butter is incorporated with the flour and the texture resembles fine breadcrumbs.
Sprinkle a little cold water into the bowl and mix through with a knife.
Use your fingers to bring the pastry together – it’s ready when the sides of the bowl are clean and the pastry forms a solid ball.
Do not add much more than a tablespoon of water – be careful not to overdo it.
Cover the bowl with cling film and leave the pastry to rest in the fridge for at least 30 minutes.
Heat the oven to 200ºC.
Mix the mincemeat with the orange zest, brandy, cranberries, coconut shavings and cinnamon.
On a floured work surface, roll out the pastry as thinly as possible. Cut out about 12 rounds and place them in the base of lightly sprayed muffin tins.
Prick the pie bases with a fork to stop them rising – then fill each case with about 3tsp of the mincemeat mix – don’t overfill the cases or the mixture will leak out when cooking.
Brush the pie edges with a little milk.
Stamp out 12 star shapes for the lids and place over the mincemeat mix. Brush over with egg wash and sprinkle with castor sugar.
Bake in the oven for approximately 15 to 20 minutes until golden brown.
Remove from the oven and allow to rest for one minute before placing on a wire rack to cool. - The Mercury