Cooking for Christmas in Cape Town

Ok, so I love cooking, and I usually help make something for Thanksgiving or Xmas dinner, but I have NEVER, cooked the entire meal by myself, let alone for 8 people. So this xmas was definitely a first. Complicating the situation was wanting to cook a traditional (my family’s traditions that is) dinner in another country. Why? Because half of the ingredients I want are either called something different, some different variety that I’m not used to, or not available at all. Needless to say I was pretty worried when I was cooking that things wouldn’t taste right, let alone cooking a turkey for the first time too.

Let’s run down the issues:

1: White potato pie: I started the xmas eve baking sweet potato pies. I baked the potatoes, and cut them open to find that they’re white here and not orange. Tasted mostly the same, a little bit starchier, but hey, I just figured I’d make a white pie.


2: How many grams of butter? In the grocery store I couldn’t find butter in sticks–sucks for all those recipes that tell you 1/3 stick etc. So I just cut the massive block into 4, close enough.


3: Brown sugar: You’re not going to walk into the store and find a box of domino brown sugar, a product that I probably should be skeptical of anyway, because it’s created in a pretty artificial way (taking refined white sugar and then adding molasses afterwards). Whenever you see brown sugar in other places or even organic food stores, you only find the brown crystals of sugar that are unrefined and not as soft as the domino variety, so clearly that’s what brown sugar is supposed to be. I opted for this muscovado sugar. It was blended with caramel syrup which made it softer like I’m used to, but it was also much richer.


4: Pie crusts debacle: I rolled out the frozen pie crusts I bought…they were rectangular and not round. *sigh* So I found a square pan and just went with it. I added a little SoCo to one pie just to switch it up. And in the end the pie came out close to the color that I’m used to. However, once I tried it, I knew I’d made a mistake with this particular frozen crust brand because it tasted awful; too thick, hard and chewy. Should’ve made it from scratch.

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An aside: all xmas eve day it was rainy and a bit dreary, but by sunset it cleared up beautifully.


5: No! That’s for pap!: Next I had to make the stuffing. I stared at different corn and flour products in the store for about 20 minutes, I picked up one bag I thought would have to suffice that said “special white maize meal” Efrem told me that was to make pap (a local traditional dish). I finally found something yellow: “polenta maize meal” which apparently equals “yellow corn meal.” Grabbed that, and the cornbread came out perfectly. I will probably make another batch just to eat before I leave.


6: Celery. This was the best one. It was a necessity for the stuffing, but the first store was sold out. We went again on xmas eve to find it, and what they had was called “soup celery.” It looked like the leaves of celery but the stalks left something to be desired. I reluctantly grabbed a few bags. When I got home and tasted it, the texture was right, just more salty. So we spent a good 40 minutes pulling the leaves off so I could just use the tiny little stalks.


Another aside: Efrem was my sous chef for the meal. So much washing and chopping of vegetables, and so many dishes to wash. He was essential for the success of the meal. Xmas morning was foggy, but it ended up being a hot beautiful day. And I had a beautiful xmas gift to wear all day while the cooking continued.

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7: Self-basting turkey? I’ve never attempted to cook a turkey before and wasn’t even sure what I should be looking for in a turkey. I was perplexed by the “self-basting turkey” but it was the only option for turkeys, so it made my decision substantially easier. Even better, it was a halal turkey with a pop-up timer–a blessed turkey for dummies. I got to learn which organs were which. After being pretty grossed out from cleaning it, and then rubbing it down, and stuffing it, it finally went in the oven as I worried about whether I would cook this wrong and give everyone food poisoning. Like every public health student who learns a little bit about food safety and epidemiology and get super paranoid–I was worried about campylobacter the whole time I was handling the raw bird. LOL.

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Anyway, all my worrying was needless. The bird came out beautifully and tasted amazing (probably thanks to the excessive amount of butter I put on/in it). The stuffing with the funny celery was delicious, and my last minute rolls were a hit as well. I also made mashed potatoes, sauteed green beans, cinnamon roasted peaches with yogurt as an appetizer, and home brewed sweet tea. I’d never carved a turkey either, but I made my best attempt after watching my dad do it for years, cutting at an angle. It maybe ended up as a hack job, but the turkey made it from the bone into my stomach, so nothing else really matters.

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