“You are the universe in ecstatic motion.”

I’ve neglected this blog, life got busy and inspiration was nowhere to be found but I’m here now 🙂  Soooo, beginning of this week I had a very big opportunity; basically an audition to cater for an event. I hadn’t received an opportunity this big yet so obviously my nerves were through the roof. While trying to conjure up clever responses to questions like “Are you fully licensed and registered?” and ” do you cater for special diets” I completely neglected the most important part of the audition, the food.

So here’s something that becomes obvious once you get to know me, when I cook in any other state but when I am at peace, happy or feeling confident; you will eat crap! I can’t seem to find the exact reason for this but I think because I pour my heart and soul into my cooking, whatever energy I am radiating at that moment becomes what you eat. Cooking is a spiritual thing for me, that’s how and why its so instinctual.

I was told to show up with tasters, little samples for a brunch theme, and so I did. So here’s where things went south, I was riddled with anxiety, self doubt and fear. What was the result, well it was pretty obvious, I cooked crap. The food lacked flavour balance and It was too late to correct the mess I had made. So I left home and went to the meeting having already resigned to having lost this job before I could even showcase my talent. *Wipes lone tear* I arrived at the venue and it was a beautiful boutique hotel, I was led to the kitchen where I was allowed to prepare and set up. I was told I’d present my food in 30 minutes and I thought that’s great, it’s enough time. The meeting ran long and I waited for over an hour. I LOST MY MIND! I was pacing, over thinking and the food was getting cold. Someone send help…please. Eventually they called me in, I presented the food and myself. I gave a brief explanation as to what it is I do and left, very upset. I haven’t heard the verdict of the interview yet but I know for a fact that I wouldn’t hire myself off that food.

What’s the moral of the story? You’re only doing yourself a disservice by  playing into your fears. My fears are valid, trying to establish s catering business off nothing but passion is scary and that fear can be crippling  but I am learning to let them go slowly because as they only hold me back from realising my full potential. I tend to question how dare I have the gull to think I deserve to take up so much space? To be so proud and self assured? How dare I believe I am every bit as great as fantasize to be while in recluse? I’m still learning how to silence these questions, but here’s my favourite quote at the moment;

“Stop acting so small. You are the universe in ecstatic motion” – Rumi

Love,

V

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cooking With V

When I started this blog, I did it purely out of love. Love for food; love for cooking; love for how food brings people together. I am not a chef, nor do I have any formal training. This is a machine running purely on passion, love and dedication (When I can muster it).

With that said, I think that people complicate cooking great food unnecessarily. I think that great food isn’t often found at restaurants but at dinner tables. Those meals cooked with very little and filled with so much love, passion and shared with the masses. If I can teach one person at every encounter how easy cooking can be then I’d be steadfast on fulfilling my destiny.

Great cooking, in my opinion has a few corner points; Understanding flavours, trusting your instincts, preparation and making the best of what you have. I may not be an expert but I do know quite a bit about the above mentioned. Long story short, I have started a series of hands-on cooking classes for everyday cooks. People looking to build their confidence in their cooking abilities, people looking to learn how to be more economical when it comes to food and those purely looking to learn new recipes.

The launch of Cooking With V has been exciting but also nerve wrecking. You often have to ask yourself if you’re creating a service that’s needed by people and if so, why should they trust your expertise in delivering this service. Your thought process goes from  “Who the hell do you think you are Vanessa?” and  “Who would come to a cooking class hosted by you anyway?” to “No matter what happens, you’re going to be fine…..IF YOU DON’T MAKE A FINANCIAL LOSS”

Even within all this fear, you have to push through and hope for the best. I trust that this series of classes will prove to be very informative for people whilst showing them how easy, quick and economical cooking great food can be. This is after all my ethos in cooking.

If you are in Johannesburg, South Africa, find out more information on Cooking With V  by visiting  the Vanilla Scented Kisses Facebook page.

Come meet new people, cook great food, sip a little and of course; eat!

I hope to see you there 🙂

Love,

V

Hosting On A Budget

When I say “budget” I mean time, money and skill wise. I enjoy entertaining, I often wish I had a bigger house to entertain more. Until then, I work with what I’ve got which is a small budget; no dining room area/table; a small apartment and lot’s of creativity 🙂 If you find yourself in such a position then these hints and tips will be very helpful to you.

  • Cheap Meats – I am the master of entertaining on a budget and one of the ways to accomplish this is to look into cheap cuts/types of meat. For one, chicken. You cannot go wrong with chicken, it’s cheap and a crowd pleaser. You can spatchcock it, stuff it or braise it in a casserole. If you’ve been to my house, you’ve probably eaten chicken and it was probably damn good too. If you’d prefer a roast instead and a leg of lamb or beef is not in your budget, try pork roast. Pork might not be a popular meat but it’s definitely worth a try. Stuffed pork belly loin or belly or braised thighs, if cooked properly, it can be a crowd pleaser.
  • Buffet Style Meals – I live in a 1 bedroom apartment, though it’s more than enough space for me, it can definitely feel cramped when I have a few people over. Seeing as I don’t have a dining area I serve my meals buffet style. People dish their plates and sit wherever they can find a chair. It’s very informal, laid back and allows people the comfortability to serve themselves and go back for seconds if they wish.. This is a great way to also host cocktail type dinner parties with canapés.
  • Get Creative – The best way to make up for budget deficits when entertaining, is to get creative. Try a new recipe, or present your dishes in a different way. Substitute recipe items with cheaper alternatives (e.g. using Tuna for fish cakes instead of a more expensive fish like salmon), anything that lessens the financial load.
  • Outsource –  If you’re having people over, don’t be shy to answer the question “should we bring anything” honestly. This is when I usually ask people to bring wine, desert or a side to lighten my load and gracious guests don’t come empty handed anyway right? You might as well capitalize on this to get what you really need.
  • Quick and Easy Food – If you’re pressed for time, be careful what you choose to make. You don’t want to spend all your time in the kitchen and not with your guests. You also don’t want to be left with a pile of dishes to clean up after. Preparation is key. Try marinade meat the night before. start cooking well in advance to make sure you can get some cleaning up out of the way.
  • Try Brunch – Hosting a brunch instead of the usual dinner can be cost and time effective. Eggs are cheap and can be made to feed the masses easily and quickly. Try baked eggs , scrambled egg Florentine or a frittata. Add your favourite breakfast sausages and a pastry and some fruits and you already have full spread. Try these quick and easy apple and cinnamon scones or phyllo pastry cups to impress your guests.

I hope these tips help you. Please visit my recipe page for plenty of recipes great for entertaining. Where there’s a will, there’s a way 🙂

Love,

V

DIY Vs Shop Bought

There’s a lot of talk about the importance of making your own food items and how we often shame buying off the shelf instead of making from scratch. While I endorse making your own food items -fresher is better- I am aware that we do face challenges that include time and money. Here’s my take on some of the most of talked about items in this discussion.

  • Muesli “Health” Bars – I like the idea of the so called health/muesli/breakfast bars. They are great to snack on during the day but what we often buy is often loaded with so much sugar there’s nothing healthy about them. Choosing to make your own will ensure you know exactly what you’re consuming and you can alter the ingredients to better suit your taste or diet. This is also one of those things that is cheaper to make yourself than to buy and won’t take up much time. Find a basic recipe for Oat bars here.  Add nuts or fruit pieces to this if preferred.
  • Muesli – Whilst you’re at making muesli bars, you might as well make your own Muesli. I will admit that buying the individual components that go into muesli can be quite pricey especially if you have a liking to exotic nuts in your muesli. Make it in small batches if it’s more affordable but to be quite honest, I see nothing wrong with shop bought muesli. You can choose a higher quality brand if it makes you feel better but if you do have the extra coins and time, homemade muesli will always taste better.
  • Cream Cheese & Cottage Cheese – I’ve recently learnt how to make my own cream and cottage cheese and it’s been such a blessing in my life. It’s so easy and requires 3 ingredients you’ll always have in your house; milk, vinegar and salt. It’s cheap and takes no time at all. This is worth a try, trust me, you will not regret it. Do a quick google search for homemade cottage or cream cheese if you’d like to give it a try -all the recipes are the same.
  • Buttermilk – I was trying to brine pork chops in buttermilk one day and didn’t have any and had no intention of getting out of my very comfortable pyjamas (heh banna, I thought this is how it’s spelt) to go to the supermarket. So I tried a buttermilk recipe I found online. Very handy. You’ll be surprised what milk and vinegar can produce.
  • Pesto – I vote shop bought here, only because I really cannot afford pine nuts to be putting them in pesto guys. You could always leave them out or try almonds instead.
  • Marinades and Sauces – Shop bought sauces, marinades and salad dressings are full of all the wrong things. Sugar, Oils and preservatives. Salad dressing is simply vinegar, olive oil, salt and flavour. Mayonnaise is egg yolks and olive oil. I prefer wet rubs over marinades anyway which is a spice blend with oil or liquid, usually lemon juice. Ketchup/Tomato sauce is concentrated tomatoes cooked down. You get the idea of how easy it can be to make any of these items. I’d never recommend shop bought here but if you must, try buy vinaigrettes instead of creamy salad dressings, higher quality brand tomato sauce and marinades.
  • Stock – If you’re trying to ration sodium intake in your diet (we all should) then definitely make as opposed to buy but they do make low sodium stock these days. I don’t use stock enough to make it at home so I often buy it.
  • Smoothies & Juices – Health smoothies and juicing are all the rage now. The only reason I’d recommend making your own is, it saves a lot of money cause they don’t come cheap especially if they have become part of your lifestyle. I make mine in my blender and although the Juice probably wont be classified as “cold press” *rolls eyes*  they taste just fine to me and I can experiment with flavours I like. I can also make large quantities of the juices especially and refrigerate.
  • Pastry – If baking is not your forte *raises hand* you live for shop bought pastry. Whether its pre made pizza dough, short cut pastry or puff pastry, I see nothing wrong with this shortcut. Bakeries and supermarket offer fresh pastries made on the day instead of the frozenveeiety. But this if it makes you feel better than buying the frozen variety. If you love kneading then I’d definitely say make your own pastry, it is always worth the effort.

I am a believer in making cooking as simple as it can be. I endorse shortcuts when necessary, my recipes show that but I do advise that where you can, do choose freshness. Please do checkout my recipe page 🙂

Love,

V

Kitchen Raid

People always ask me questions like “How do i know what to buy when i’m doing grocery shopping?” or “what are your kitchen staples?” So I’ve decided to do a kitchen raid. I’ll list the things that i consider a stable in my pantry or fridge. These items, i believe form the basis of good cooking for me.

Herbs & Spices

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  • Oregano & Thyme : If you’ve ever read any of my recipes you’ll find that i stick to very few herbs and spices. I have my obvious favourite which is Oregano/Origanum and next in line would be thyme. They work well with any meat and vegetable. I am not loyal to any brands but i usually buy Robertsons.
  • Robertsons Masterblends : I really love the new Robertsons Masterblends and in particular the zesty lemon & herb and Rosemary & garlic. They work so well with roasted vegetables. Try the rosemary & garlic with baked potatoes – You’ll thank me.
  • Woolworths Goodies : Woolworths Food seems to have a much wider range when it comes to spices and spice blends than most supermarkets. My favourites are the Za’ataar blend – which is a zesty spice blend that’s great with fish and chicken. The Harissa blend is spicy North African blend that’s great with lamb. The Spanish smoked paprika is the best thing that’s ever happened to me. It adds smokiness to any food.

Canned Goods

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  • Italian Whole Peeled Tomatoes : I prefer to buy canned tomatoes because the fresh ones always go off so quickly. My personal favourite are the Italian whole peeled tomatoes in tomato juice.
  • Beans : I love beans but can never dedicate the time to making them from scratch so i always keep around a can of butter beans, black beans and kidney beans. They come in handy when i want to make chilli, stews or just want them on toast.

Sauces and Stuff

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  • Red & White Wine Vinegar : So cheap and so handy in marinades or salad dressings. I like the woolworths food brand.
  • Soy Sauce & Fish Sauce : I prefer the dark soy to the light one. I find it less salty and more sweet. I pick whatever brand is cheapest on the day. Fish sauce smells like foot but it’s so great for stir frys and curries. I’ve had that bottle for over 6 months. a little goes a long way.
  • Worcestershire Sauce : Maggi Lazene is my favourite brand. I use it in my stews and meat marinades.
  • Fresh Garlic & Garlic Paste : I absolutely love garlic and put it in every meal i have. I love the pungency of fresh garlic but always keep a tub of garlic paste in the fridge, usually either garlic and ginger/garlic and herb or garlic and chilli

Others

I also always have things like a bottle of lemon juice, mushrooms, bacon, chicken breasts and chicken livers in the fridge.

That’s pretty much what you’ll find in my kitchen. I hope this helped you 🙂

Love,

V

Budget Cuts #Januworry

Firstly, happy new year everyone. I hope 2016 brings you nothing less than joy, peace and prosperity.  The holidays are over and if you’re like me you’re probably back at work. The realisation that you may have spent a little too much is starting to kick in right about now. All those parties, dinners and holidays chipped into your budget and now you’re wondering how you’re going to get through January. Well, that makes two of us. In the spirit of solidarity i’ll share some of my cost cutting tricks when it comes to my groceries.

At this point in time i should add that ideally, if we were financially responsible people we wouldn’t blah blah blah, nywe nywe nywe….WHATEVER! The damage has been done now let’s find a solution.

  1. Packed Lunches : Pack lunch for work/school, this one should be obvious. Those “budget meals” you buy at the downstairs cafe add up to way more than you’d expect. I usually cook a two portion meal for dinner, what’s leftover serves as my lunch the next day at work. If i fail to do this, a quick sandwich or salad will do.
  2. Reduced To Clear Section : Most stores have a reduced to clear section. These are items that are close to their sell by date and they’d like to get rid of . I wouldn’t recommend getting dairy products but it’s a great place to stock up on things like bread, herbs and vegetables at a discount. I even buy flowers that are in the reduced to clear section when I can find them. Shops can’t sell items after their sell by date so they try and get rid of them before then at a discounted price. Most of the produce is still in a great state and can keep in the fridge for another week. Here are some of my latest finds;
  3. MIY (Make It Yourself): My friends call me the MIY queen and this is true but I learnt to do this because I had to stretch my finances as a student and young professional. Making things like bread, Pesto, Sauces and will save you money. If you love to snack then do yourself a favour and make your own treats in advance and store them when you feel the urge to munch.  I love to snack on oat crunchies and scones during tea time.
  4. No Waste: We waste so much food on a daily basis. I like to minimise waste firstly by not throwing away leftovers. Pack last nights supper for tomorrow’s lunch at work. If vegetables like spinach are about to go off I like to make spinach pesto that works well as a sauce for pasta. Fry vegetable peels until they are crispy for a great snack. Use meat bones to make your own stock. These little things go a long way when you’re trying to stretch your resources.
  5. Sacrifice Convenience : We often pay a little extra for convenience but get less. I buy my chicken breasts with the skin and bone on and untrimmed. I trim it myself and use the skin and bones for stock. I pay less and get more because you’ll find those perfectly trimmed chicken breasts sold are one half of an actual breast. The same goes for fish, learn to scale and fillet your own fish and pay less. Another trick is getting your meat from the butcher as opposed to the pre-packed packs in the supermarket.
  6. Cheap Cuts: Cheap cuts are often overlooked because they take longer to cook but you’re missing out on a great deal. They make take longer to cook but have the most flavour, can feed the masses and will save you money. Gravitate towards the tougher cuts of pork and beef and slow cook them for a delicious feast.
  7. Meatless Mondays: You might want to consider having a day off from meat. Meat is probably the most expensive item on your grocery list and so taking a day or two off it will make sure it goes a long way. Click here for a great range of vegetarian recipes. Additionally eggs are also a great source of protein and can be transformed into something like a shakshuka .

With these tips; hopefully you should be in a better position to tackle the financially challenging nightmare that is January. We can do this.

Love,

V

 

 

 

Pasta Maker Magic

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If you know me then you’ll know I’ll take a shopping spree at Le Creuset before one at any clothing store. I often have to stop myself from buying cooking gadgets because what good would a slow cooker serve me? I live alone and entertain occasionally. It would collect dust but i would love to have one.

My friend surprised me with an early birthday and Christmas present; a pasta maker. I was over the moon and couldn’t wait to start making my own pasta and so i did. I’ve always wanted to learn how to make my own pasta. There’s no greater joy than that of knowing exactly what goes into your food because you made it all from scratch.

My first pasta making attempt went extremely well. I expected for it to flop atleast once but i got near perfection on my first try (notice the humble brag 😉 )  I used an easy pasta recipe courtesy of Jamie Oliver and here it is;

600g All Purpose Flour
6 Eggs
2 Tablespoons Olive Oil

1. Sift the flour using a sieve into a bowl.
2. Break the eggs into the flour.
3. Mix the eggs and flour. Once fully combined remove from bowl onto a clean workspace (kitchen counter)
4. Pour the olive oil onto the dough and knead the dough for 15 mins – Until silky smooth.
5. Cover the dough with cling wrap and allow to rest in the fridge for atleast 30 minutes.
6. Roll and Cut and cook for 10 Mins.

What’s the difference between shop bought dry pasta and fresh home made pasta? The texture is different, its silkier, cooks quicker and feels less dense (not as heavy). I’ll definetely be making my own pasta more often.

The result 🙂

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I’ll continue to share recipes as i embark on this new journey.

Love,
V

Lessons Learnt

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Last weekend i had my first every catering gig. Since i launched my website (which i am continuously trying to evolve) i have had a few small orders. A platter order here, a meal order for delivery there but nothing of this magnitude. A friend of mine was hosting a birthday party and asked me to cater for 20 kids and 25 adults.

I was very eager and excited for this amazing opportunity so i got right into it; creating menus, invoicing and so on. I quickly realized how i had a lot to learn. Finding suppliers, costing and pricing where some of the issues i had to deal with. Learning to be unapologetic about asking people to pay for your time and labour is not an easy thing for me. I am a very  generous person which has often found me giving to my own detriment and this trickles down to how i do business.

I managed to push through and get the orders ready to assemble at the venue. I served up my platters to a great reception and many praises and here’s when it would have been a great time to have business cards to hand out, i didn’t have any (silly me).  Before i could even finish assembling the platters, people dived into them and i could hardly take pictures. The two at the top where the best i could do.

So what i have learnt thus far? Mistakes and less than smart decisions will be made. It is a part of trying to establish a start up. Lessons are learnt along the way and the fear of messing up shouldn’t keep you from trying. From this experience alone i have learnt a lot and will definitely do better next time. Most importantly i am learning to value my time, skills and labour and finding the courage to be unapologetic about asking people to pay me for them.

” When you find your path, you must not be afraid. You need to have sufficient courage to make mistakes. Disappointment, defeat, and despair are the tools God uses to show us the way.”
Paulo Coelho

Please do check out my website http://www.vanillascentedkisses.com for recipes and glimpse at the catering services i offer. The idea is to involve the client in designing their own menu to suit their personalities, preferences and budget. The platters on the website are to give you a guideline but what i look forward to is one on one consultations with clients to involve them in the experience of building their menus.

Love,

V

 

 

Restaurant Week Part 2 – Pigalle

Saturday afternoon we where at Pigalle in Melrose Arch. I’ve heard nothing but amazing things about this establishment and especially it’s a seafood. I had never eaten here before because if my friends and I are deciding to either do a fancy dinner or end up at some lounge taking shots and consuming badly prepared finger food; the latter always wins. In our defense, it’s just simply more fun 😀

Anyway I was definitely excited to try out Pigalle and here’s what I had to eat;

Prawn & Salmon Ravioli

Prawn & Salmon Ravioli

Prawn and Salmon ravioli tossed in a dry vermouth veloute.  My expectations where met with this starter. I almost licked my plate clean. The ravioli stuffing was beautifully seasoned enveloped in thin sheets of al dente pasta. The star of the dish was the lemony veloute. It was the perfect acidic compliment. My only complaint with this dish was that I wanted more.

Sirloin Steak

Sirloin Steak

Call me naïve for ordering a steak at a restaurant that is predominantly known for seafood but after the seafood starter I didn’t feel like their alternative main which was Prawns. This dish brought my high expectations back down to earth. Yes the steak was perfectly cooked but I’ll never understand a restaurant serving chips as a side. It feels like a cop out. in addition to that, their mushroom sauce was nothing to write home about.  The entire dish was a disappointment.

Amarula Tiramisu

Amarula Tiramisu

 

Mascarpone cheese layered with Amarula dipped finger biscuits. This definitely made up for the lackluster main. The creaminess of the amarula infused mascarpone cheese on top of the espresso and amarula cream dipped biscuits made for the perfect combination. The tartness of the strawberries balanced out the sweetness of the dish. Perfect end to any meal.

 

 

In summary, I preferred Pigalle’s menu to Central One but for some reason I don’t see myself returning to Pigalle anytime soon. I think maybe it’s because of it’s very formal atmosphere. Did it live up to my expectations, not really but a day well spent none the less.  Guess where we ended up after the meal? To one of those lounges to take those shots 😀

If you’re interested in restaurant week, keep an eye on their website http://www.restaurantweek.co.za/lang/en it will be back next year.

Love,

V

Restaurant Week Part 1 – Central One

Restaurant Week is an event held in Johannesburg, Cape Town, Pretoria and The Winelands. It is a great opportunity to discover and try out South Africa’s finest restaurant at a fraction of the price you’d normally pay. The event was introduced to me by a friend last year and we’ve made it a ritual to attend since. This year we decided to try two restaurants on the final weekend.

Our weekend of indulgence started Friday at Central One located at the Radisson Blu Gautrain. I had heard great things about this restaurant. As you walk in you notice it’s beautiful set up with breath taking views overlooking Johannesburg. Their menu consisted of 3 options for a starter, main and desert. This is what I tried out;

Beef Carpaccio

Beef Carpaccio

Karan fillet served with a potato croquet and truffle aioli. The perfectly sliced fillet melted in your mouth.The potato croquet served as nothing more than a center piece on the plate. It was tasteless and under seasoned.

 

Dullstroom Trout

Dullstroom Trout

Pan fried Dullstroom Trout served on a bed quinoa with a broccoli puree, cucumber mint gel and Crème Fraiche. The trout was perfectly cooked but even the smallest pinch of salt would have gone a long way. The quinoa followed the same trend and I actually could have done without it.

Rooibos & Berries Crème Brulee

Rooibos & Berries Crème Brulee

Crème Brulee served with homemade strawberry ice cream, burnt Italian meringue and vanilla short bread. Whilst the mains lacked even the smallest amount of seasoning I found everything on the desert plate too sweet with nothing acidic to balance it out.

 

 

In summary, I felt each dish on the entire menu lacked something. Nothing blew me away but I would definitely go back to Central One to give it another chance. The service was great, it is a reasonably priced restaurant and has a beautiful ambiance. Maybe the chef just had a bad day, it happens 🙂

Love,

V