Friends of mine produce a very cool craft rum in a small distillery in Noordhoek and I’ve been dying to make a cocktail with it. Copeland Rum is distilled in small batches from blackstrap molasses and it’s very delicious. When I think of rum I immediately think of the Bahamas and a tropical beach vibe. I love coconut water and strawberry in rum cocktails, and a classic frozen pineapple daiquiri will always get my vote in summer. I also love a chilli kick in my libation, so I decided to do a mango mojito with jalapeño and mint because if you have never had chilli infused into your drink you are missing out.

There are a few things I use as a metric to judge a cookbook, and one of these is how urgently I feel the need to hit my kitchen and make at least one of the recipes. Another metric is how inspiring the food images are to back these up. With ‘Set a Table’ by Karen Dudley I found myself folding back several page corners and mentally parking dozens of recipes into my ‘make-list’. I was salivating over the eclectic mix of flavours and beautiful images. I decided this miso salmon & cucumber salad would be the first to do because its light and healthy-ish and I was in need of something delicious that wasn’t going to overload. It’s a take on a Diana Henry recipe – a favourite food writer of mine – so it was a done deal.

This savoury tomato tart tartin with basil and Parmesan is very easy to make. The success of the dish lies in the quality of tomatoes, and for this recipe, I have used the ZZ2 Medley tomato mix which has a variety of colourful and delicious small tomatoes. These get gently pan-fried to release their juice which starts to caramelise with the addition of balsamic vinegar and honey. At the right stage, you pop on a sheet of all butter puff pastry and bake in a hot oven for 20 minutes until it is golden brown. This dish is perfect served at room temperature piled with Parmesan shavings and fresh basil. It could take centre stage for a vegetarian lunch, or served as a side with a plethora of things.

I’ve been working on this recipe for a while now and I’m very excited to finally share it with you. A year ago I committed to initiating a few changes in my life and I have purposefully gone out to make it a whole lot healthier. I don’t call it a diet, although I work with a clinical dietician who has given me a plan within which I can make better decisions. I get to make all my own choices within this framework, which is imperative for me given that I love food so much and it’s the cornerstone of my career. If I stick to the plan 100% I lose more weight, if I don’t I lose less. Often I maintain my weight, which for me is also winning. I have taken the long view and settled into doing it over years rather than months. It is proving to be successful and sustainable which is the most important thing for me. I’m interested in making habit changes that will stay with me for the rest of my life. There is no quick fix for this, trust me. I’m not going on diet and then I’ll be off my diet. I’m going to be eating this way for the rest of my life. It’s been an amazing journey so far and I’m feeling so much stronger and more vibrant than I did a year ago. I have also exercised rigorously and regularly for the whole year and I’m feeling happy in my skin again.

This butter chicken recipe is one I eat on a regular rotation in my house and it’s a favourite of mine. It fits perfectly into my plan AND it delivers a dish packed with so much flavour. I never want to compromise on that. It contains lean protein, is low in fat and I’ve packed as many vegetables into it as I possibly could. The cauliflower and carrots are roasted, adding so much crunch and texture and help make it economical as well as super delicious. This is my veggie loaded healthier butter chicken curry.

In November, and just before the chaos of December slammed into my life, I was invited to Boschendal to check out a few of the exciting new things happening on the estate. Its one of my favourite Winelands destinations and there is always so much going on. We stayed in one of the Orchard Cottages situated within this working farm that is also one of the oldest wine farms in South Africa. They are fully equipped, self-catering and totally charming. My only wish is that I could have stayed a little longer. With jaw-dropping mountain views and abundant birdlife, this is a perfect destination for a luxury farm stay and break from the city.

I chose to make this kale salad as the first recipe from Bertus Basson’s new cookbook ‘ Being Bertus Basson’ because I was lucky enough to taste it at his intimate launch in November. I happen to be someone that really loves kale (and spinach) and finding ways to prepare this quite tough and potentially bitter vegetable is always exciting. This recipe is so simple and plays around with raw and cooked textures and the spices pack a delicious punch. The residual heat from the sweet carmalised onions softens the shredded kale enough to take the raw edge off but still retain enough of a bite. It’s a keeper.

I love to look back on the past year of recipes I created for and pick out the top 10 to feature in my first post of the year. It’s not that easy to pick out only 10 recipes and it’s often why this list often extends past 10 *looks below*. This list is based on my own personal taste and since I ate all the food, the recipes I include here are the ones that left a stronger imprint and have me dreaming about making again. They will all become recurring features in my repertoire going forward and I hope that you enjoy them as much as I do.

I’ve just got back from two weeks of work travel to Kenya and its kind of thrown me off my Christmas planning course. I feel quite disconnected from it all and haven’t even been into any shops let alone heard one Christmas carol. I also need to get on top of my festive baking for the holidays, so this week is going to be pretty busy. I’ve been at this blogging business for nine years now so have a few really nice recipes in my archives and I wanted to round-up a few of my favourite in case you are like me and are still in the planning stage of it all.

This recipe for gammon cooked in the Instant Pot with ginger beer & rooibos is my new favourite way to prepare this Christmas dish. The cooking broth – which includes classic flavourings of carrot, celery, bay leaves and onion, is brought to spicy sweet life with ginger beer. The addition of earthy Rooibos tea gives it a delicious depth and dark colour. This cooking liquid is such an elixir I had to use it in the making of the glaze and saved the rest for future use. I think it would make an amazing base for ramen or as a stock to poach things in.

When you manage to get your hands on top quality sushi-grade yellow fin tuna, you eat it raw. This dish of tuna tartare with togarashi dressing is adapted from Liam Tomlins book ‘Lessons with Liam’ and it’s delicious. I adapted it mainly to fit in with the quantity of tuna I had, but also to my heat preference levels. Liam’s recipe is a little spicier than I made it, but since tartare is essentially a protein salad so you can just adjust the seasonings in the dressing to your liking. I also made it in a bowl with all the salad things because layering it into a mould in a tian was a little fussy for my lunch.

This recipe for confit duck legs with cherry sauce is perfect for a summery Christmas. The Instant Pot turns the making of this delicious French classic into an easy affair. There is very little hands-on time with this recipe that does, however, need a little bit of pre-planning. The legs and breasts go through a brine stage, which is where all the flavour gets absorbed into the flesh. If you can do this for two days, all the better.

I’ve been on a healthier eating journey the whole year and one of the foods I miss the most is pasta. It’s the one thing I want to eat all the time and it’s the one thing I have cut back on heavily. I certainly wouldn’t make a pasta salad, preferring to indulge in something warm, slurpy and comforting. However, when I stumbled on the idea to do this BLT version, I could not resist. A BLT sandwich is right up there amongst my favourites so this all made total sense to me. Maybe because I’m slightly deprived of pasta these days but I’m going to put it right out here and say that this BLT pasta salad is the best pasta salad I have ever tasted or made.