We have just recently returned from a short break on the Garden Route – Sedgefield to be exact – and our first real breakaway in over two years.
We’ve been visiting the area since our honeymoon in September 2002. We stay in a self-catering resort which allows us to do as we please, when we please; as the units are serviced, it is a real holiday: no bed-making, cleaning or cooking – unless I want to.
All of that said, I do sometimes want to play with my food, and that can be a challenge in a really limited kitchen – and with an electric stove. I am seriously out of practice after cooking almost exclusively on gas for the last eight or so years. Anyway, that aside, I did manage to produce a few meals while we were there: mostly breakfasts and one dinner. The former were sort of “picnic” breakfasts, and on our first two mornings, consisted of a miscellany of bits we’d brought with us, and collected on our road trip from East London (more of the reason for that at a later stage), and which were embellished by a visit to a great establishment in Knysna that produces artisan breads (among other things).
Who said holiday breakfasts couldn’t be good? Why go on holiday and have a boring “weekday” breakfast which, in our house, consists of cereal (in summer) or porridge (oats or maize, in winter) and fruit?
Here’s what we had, and mostly because I’d had fun gathering all sorts of bits together – some of which had come with us:
This little smorgasbord included, among other things, pickled quails eggs and mint chutney from Nanaga Farm Stall at which we had stopped and lunched on pies for which they are famous; tangy Montagu Cheeses that we had bought at the Robertson Slow Farmer’s Market, black forest ham, from a German deli in Sedgefield, as well as ciabatta and almond croissant from Café Throbb in Knysna. All of this was washed down with fabulous coffee (Ethiopian Sidamo) from Strictly Coffee in Robertson. Oh, and yes, that is Fiona’s own “favourite” marmalade that you see….and without which the Husband did not leave (unlike the wine that had been specially selected and put aside…)
The other breakfast was a little more “conventional” and was our final meal in Sedgefield. It was a cook-up of what was left in the fridge and couldn’t be packed into the cool box already weighed down with craft beer (the Husband’s – and more of that some other time) and local cheeses.
This is The Husband’s plate (mine was a little less loaded!) which included something my mother used to regularly do: fried bread! With a good breakfast under our belts, we were well set for our road trip home.
But it is our last supper that I most want to tell you about. Sedgefield has the most fantastic market on a Saturday – the Wild Oats Market. Initially, we thought we would miss it but then, on the spur of the moment, we decided to stay an extra two days. The resort, happily, could accommodate us – in the same unit. In addition to the market, we hoped for some sun which had been in serious short supply most of the time we were there.
So, Saturday dawned, and as is our wont, we got ready to go to the market – as shoppers for a change.
I had been craving some fresh fish or seafood which is notoriously difficult to find in Sedgefield – unless you catch it yourself. The Husband’s last attempt at fishing in Sedgefield does not bear talking about, so I resolved to make do with mussels that were on a special at a corner shop. All I’d need from the market for that was some parsley, garlic and cream – we had the other makings.
Off we set.
In addition to a great breakfast á la local (omelette for me, and curried vetkoek for The Husband), we came away with loot that was soul food – a camembert (for another time), pine nuts (treasure) and for dinner – spring onions, lettuce, fresh fennel, parsley, garlic, cream and the pièce de résistance – fresh Kabeljou (cob), our one of our favourite line fish, and which is becoming increasingly scarce.
So, dinner was not going to be Moules marinière, but rather, Fiona’s take on Kabeljou marinière and a salad.
Roasted Fennel and Blue Cheese Salad
Tender, whole fennel is a treat and with limited resources for consultation, and given that we were leaving the next day, I needed to find a way of using the whole fennel, not just the leaves. I thought it might be too much with the fish, so we started our meal with a salad.
The fennel bulb was trimmed of the major leaves and the bulb sliced vertically, towards the base, but not through it, to keep it whole. After brushing this with olive oil, it was roasted in the oven for about 20 minutes to half an hour and allowed to cool.
Assembling the salad was easy: a bed of lettuce and cucumber, on top of which the roasted fennel slices, halved, were placed. Between these, I scattered quarters of romanita tomatoes and bits of blue cheese.
The dressing was simple: olive oil, balsamic vinegar, salt and pepper to taste.
Kabeljou poached in wine with fennel, spring onions and a cream sauce
I cannot remember when last I cooked Kabeljou. As I mentioned, it has become increasingly scarce and a firm favourite of ours. One occasion that remains with me, is my 40th birthday: for some reason, the Kabejou were running and when we went to our local fishmonger to source the fish we needed, hoping for a whole fish, those available were so huge, we had to settle for a piece – and that to feed some fifteen-odd people, if not more.
Anyway, this time, we had a piece of fillet which, with hindsight, probably cost the same as the fish for that birthday party, more than ten years ago.
The weather meant that a braai was not on the cards. I had to brave the electric oven.
Having spent the afternoon whiling away the time sipping lovely wine (Sauvignon Blanc for me and Chardonnay for him – both from Benguela Cove) at a lakeside, chewing the breeze, silently pondering how I would attack the supper, the time had come.
Into the same 180ºCelsius oven out of which the fennel had come, the Kabeljou went, in an oiled roasting pan, and sitting on a bed of chopped spring onions, garlic and fennel leaves, with a goodly amount of the vegetation reserved and sprinkled on top of the fish which had been smeared with softened butter. Before putting it in the oven, a glug of dry white wine was added and the pan was covered. This was baked for about 20 minutes before the cover removed and the fish baked for another 10 minutes.
Out of the oven, the fish was placed on very hot plates to rest (the liquid that drained out of the fish was soaked up with paper towel before serving).
To the liquid in the tin, a little more wine was added to deglaze, and all this was put into a saucepan on the stove and heated through and then about 125 ml of cream added. This was cooked gently for a while without boiling. Just before serving, I added a generous amount of chopped parsley (curly, not the Italian variety which would have been my choice).
Our last holiday supper (and the only one we ate “in”) was ready.
With this, we drank a regional wine, Karusa’s 2013 unwooded Aloe Ridge Chardonnay which, I confess, I chose because I liked the label and the name*. It was so nice (and remember that I’m not a chardonnay girl), I’m sorry we didn’t buy more than one.
A closing note about that last supper: I had been concerned that it would have been too “fennelly” with fennel in both the salad (starter) and main. Somehow, though it worked and the aniseed flavour of the fennel was pleasingly more subtle than I had expected.
*I’m afraid I forgot to take a picture of the bottle, just as we forgot the bottle of Karusa Sauvignon Blanc behind, rather like that special selection for the holiday.. That wine is, I hope, being (or has been enjoyed) by “old” school connection with whom we caught up while we were in Sedgefield.
© Fiona’s Favourites 2015