CharlieV the Gastronome

Grow your own! Need some reasons?

GM foodThis year I decided that I wanted to start growing my own vegetables. There was no specific reason, I just wanted to have fresh, homegrown veggies that hadn’t been sitting in cold storage for weeks or months on end.

Since I’ve started, in about July/August, my little veggie patch has started to finally look like something. Being a bit of a geek as well, I spend a lot of time researching how to do it better, be it by reading articles, watching videos or whatever else.

Naturally, while reading articles and finding resources, you come across some related topics, one of which is GM, or genetically modified, foods. The scary part is that a lot of people wont even know what I am talking about. I just had to share some of the stuff that I’ve come across.

What  is GM food?

To understand what all the fuss is about, you first need to understand what GM food is.

For centuries man has been “genetically modifying” food by natural methods, such as selective breeding, where you grow a plot of corn and only take seeds from the ones that were resistant to things like fungus. You would do this year after year until you were left with a crop that was almost completely resistant. Even with chickens, you could find which eggs contained less cholesterol and breed only those chickens until you were left with a low cholesterol egg producing chicken.

With the advent of genetic engineering, scientist have been able to eliminate the trial and error method of selective breeding by simply injecting specific genes into the plant. For example Monsanto produce a herbicide called Roundup (glyphosate based) which kills any plant it comes into contact with. Monsanto then sell seeds that are resistant to Roundup. Farmers can then spray their crops with Roundup and be sure that only the crops themselves are left. These seeds are patented and you cannot reuse the seeds from these crops.

Another example is where BT toxins (Bacillus thuringiensis) are inserted into GM food crops to kill pests.

Since 1994, when Calgene (now owned by Monsanto) first marketed its Flavr Savr delayed ripening tomato, GM crops now include, but are not limited to soybean, maize, cotton, canola, squash, papaya, alfalfa & sugar beet. In 2010 and estimated 10% of crops worldwide were GM crops. In the US, by 2010, 93% of the planted area of soybeans, 93% of cotton, 86% of corn and 95% of the sugar beet were genetically modified varieties.

What does this have to do with me?

There has never been a long-term study of the effects of a diet including GM food on humans. I am also no expert on these matters, but there are more than a few articles on the possible effects of GM foods.

Genetically modified foods are not necessarily a bad thing (if correctly and openly regulated), but the way things are right now, people have a right to be concerned. Everyone out there should be able to make up their own mind up about GM foods. New Scientist have a rather informative article on the pros and cons of GM foods.

Also see the selection of articles on GM food from New Scientist:

The article below describes possible dangers of GM foods to our digestive systems. It also has links to various other articles on other dangers:

The Wikipedia article on the controversy surrounding GM food is rather detailed and a must read. As with any Wikipedia article use your own discretion and read the sources.

The WHO has also released a FAQ of sorts regarding GM foods.

The Daily Mail in the UK has also reported that toxins which were meant to be destroyed by the gut have found their way into the bloodstream of pregnant women and even the umbilical cord.

Even though GM crops are meant to be pest resistant, among other things, recently breeds of “super-insects” are now surfacing resistant to the toxins in the crops.

Another problem with GM crops is what they go into from harvesting. How many products on our shelves use GM foods in their production?

There are so many articles, and resources out there, but these are some of the highlights

The following video is a nice summary of the dangers

Who is behind this?

One of the largest companies behind GM foods is Monsanto, but other companies include Sygenta, Dupont and Bayer CropScience, all of which are, or were, primarily chemical companies.

Monsanto are no strangers to controversy, before they became a biotech firm as they are known today, they produced and had a virtual monopoly in the US for Polychlorinated bipyls (PCBs) which were used as coolant fluids in transformers, capacitors, and electric motors, and in a wide variety of other industrial applications. It has been banned since 1979 is the US and worldwide due to it being a persistent organic pollutant. Until it was banned in the US, Monsanto continued to defend it’s safety. Who is to say it is not the same case with their Roundup herbicide or engineered seeds?

Monsanto is also known for its involvement in high profile lawsuits, as both plaintiff and defendant. It has been involved in a number of class action suits, where fines and damages have run into the hundreds of millions of dollars, usually over health issues related to its products.

Other controversial products include: rBGH (recombinant bovine growth hormone) which is used to increase cow’s milk production and terminator seeds which ensure only one generation of seeds survive.

Monsanto are not alone, as the controversies between the other companies include: CFCs (Dupont were credited as one of the inventors and largest producer), neonicotinoid pesticide (Bayer pesticide that can kill off honeybees and other non-targeted insects) and countless more. For more details on the controversies surrounding the above companies, have a look at the Wikipedia articles under the relevant sections (links are above).

Unfortunately, these corporate giants have deep pockets and Monsanto especially influence those in power.

What can I do?

Simply grow your own and enjoy fresh from the garden veggies. It is very satisfying to pick your own veggies and enjoy the wonderful flavour and freshness. You don’t need a lot of space, there are lots of ways to use what little space you have.

Follow these facebook pages for some great ideas and info:

Google is definitely your friend in this regard as well.


But if you’re not the gardening type, then just make yourself more aware. See below:

Be more aware of what goes into the food you buy. Learn more here (available via web and mobile):

Find out more about South Africa’s GMO labelling draft amendment to the Consumer Protection Act 68/2008


Goverment Gazette:

California’s Proposition 37 (November 6 2012), Vote YES

Very detailed article about the proposition:

Why to vote YES (must read):

The giants push millions into advertising campaign to vote against the proposition:

Al-Jazeera article for a bit of non-US viewpoint:

Food, Glorious Food #4: Simple, Yet Awesome

Thai Chicken Cous Cous

Thai Chicken Cous Cous

First off, I’d just like to state that I generally avoid packet sauces and box meals because they’re pretty boring, but with a bit of creativity, they can be made pretty awesome.

I receive lots of recipes via email and sometimes use them for inspiration. One of the mails I recieve regularly is from Knorr’s What’s For Dinner. For those of you who would like to try awesome meals, but lack the creativity or skills, I would highly recommend subscibing to their newsletter. They send you daily recipes to try, as well as a weekly meal planner so you can do your shopping in advance, which can save you a bit of money.

Last night I thought I would try one of the recipes that I had received the night before, Thai Chicken Cous Cous. I was quite keen to try this one because my fiance had recently mentioned wanting to try make a Thai Green Chicken Curry, as well as wanting some Cous Cous.

Besides being easy, this meal was actually quite affordable and healthy. I went through everything and estimated all the costs, especially for the oil and stock since I already had some in the kitchen:

  • Chicken – R22
  • Spinach R4 (R12 for 300g bag)
  • Onion – 80c
  • Milk – R2 (R16 for 2 litres)
  • Knorr Thai Green Chicken Curry Sauce – R7
  • Cous Cous – R5 (R22 for box)
  • Almonds – R5 (R16 for 100g)
  • Everything else – +/-R4 (estimated)

Total: R50 (about $7 or £4)

Food, Glorious Food #3: A Nice Romantic Meal

Chorizo & Prawn Stew:

In my opinion, this is a perfect meal for a romantic evening outside under the stars…

Ingredients (Serves 2-3):

3 medium Chorizo sausages (sliced diagonally)
200g prawns (remove shells)
1 Red Onion (Sliced)
1 Onion (Sliced)
1 Green Pepper (Sliced)
2 Tomatoes (Cut julliene)
2-3 Medium Chilli’s (sliced into rings)
1/4 Cup Olive oil
3 Cloves Garlic (minced)
1/2 Cup Dry Red Wine
Bit of fresh Rosemary
400ml stock (beef works best)


Prepare all your ingredients before you start. For the tomato, fill a saucepan halfway with water and bring it to boil over high heat. Score an x at the base of each tomato with a small paring knife. Lower the tomatoes into the boiling water until the skin splits, about 30-45 seconds. Plunge them into ice water after blanching to stop the cooking. Peel skins from the tomatoes, and cut them in half lengthwise. Remove the seeds, cut the tomatoes into a 1/3-inch slivers (julienne) and set them aside.
Once you have prepared everything, fry the chorizo is a little bit of the olive oil, until some of the paprika in the sausage seeps through into the oil (about 1-2 minutes)
Add the onions, tomato, pepper and chilli and fry for 30 seconds, then add the remainder of the olive oil.
After about 3-4 minutes, add the garlic, rosemary, stock, wine and some paprika.
Let it simmer on medium for about 5 minutes stirring continuously.
Serve with loads of french bread or crispy rolls to dip in the broth. Have a bowl of green salad on the side and a bottle of wine of your choice

Food, Glorious Food #2: Some Recipes

I love cooking. In fact, I think the fun part of food is in the preparation and getting your hands dirty. My dad inspired me to cook. He used to cook all the time for us, and was really good at it. He would always be trying new things and most of the time would come up with really awesome stuff. I am kind of the same in that regard, but I think I get a bit too experimental at times. Never while cooking for other people, but when it’s for me only I tend to be a bit more adventurous. That’s not to say I don’t experiment while cooking for other people, but not as much; in fact for my first date with my girlfriend I tried Oysters Rockefeller for the first time. Turns out they’re way better the regular raw way with a vinaigrette, but it was something I had to try…

For a while before I met my girlfriend, I had almost lost interest in cooking. You tend to be less creative when it’s just you. Now I try all sorts of things and want to do even more. Luckily we have similar tastes, and she puts me to shame with her cooking skills as well sometimes, so it definitely keeps me on my toes. A few times we have made a good team while cooking.

Anyway, once in a while I come up something worthwhile. Here are a few of my better creations, although I should warn you, when cooking I hate measuring stuff if I don’t have to, so I tend use handfuls, etc as measurements. I also cook according to the way it tastes. If a recipe says 200g and I think it needs more, I add it. If I make a stuff up, I try rectify it by adding things to get the taste right. Cooking is all about taste. If it looks good, but tastes crap, what’s the point? I taste constantly while cooking so the end result is normally just as I want it to be.

The first one is a recent experiment. I made this just a little while ago and was delicious. I am used to Mussels in a creamy sauce of sorts, so this was a pleasant change.

Mussels Mariniere

Mussels Mariniere

Mussels Mariniere


  • About 500g cleaned and debearded mussels in whole shell
  • 1 large loaf of crusty bread (french loaf, etc)
  • 1 medium onion (chopped)
  • 1 cup dry white wine
  • 1 or 2 cloves of garlic
  • 1 large handful coarsely chopped herbs
  • 3 generous tablespoons of butter

Note: With regards to the herbs, I used basil & thyme, although parsley and thyme may be a safer bet. While looking at existing recipes for inspiration, there are plenty of different herbs recommended, so it is really up to you.


  • In a pot large enough to hold your mussels, over medium to high heat, add the wine, 2 tablespoons of the butter, herbs, garlic & onion.
  • Heat until the butter has melted and the mixture begins to boil, then lower heat to medium-low.
  • Drain any excess liquid from the mussels and place them in the pot. Cover and steam them until ready (about 3-5 minutes) being careful not to overcook them.
  • Remove them from the pot and place in bowls ready to serve. Now strain the remaining liquid from the pot, add the remaining butter and heat until the butter has melted.
  • Pour this over the mussels and serve with the bread and a nice fresh salad and a crisp glass of the white wine.
Fresh Ciabatta with Grilled Chicken...

Fresh Ciabatta with Grilled Chicken…

Fresh Ciabatta with Grilled Chicken Breast


  • Any ciabatta bread or rolls
  • Chicken breasts marinated in choice of marinade (sweet and sour is good)
  • Onion marmalade (see below)
  • Bacon
  • Fresh cherry tomatoes
  • Fresh rocket
  • Feta Cheese


  • Put the chicken breasts in a marinade while making the onion marmalade. I made a marinade which included some mustard, honey & some Cajun spice, but the choices are limitless.
  • For the onion marmalade, it is best to make it in larger quantities and keep in the fridge. It makes a great addition to any stew or pasta or just served as a side. Put about 8 medium sliced onions in a large skillet over medium heat. Stir infrequently, until the onions are dry and almost sticking to the pan.
  • Add 2 tablespoons of oil and a large pinch of salt and turn the heat down to medium-low. Cook, stirring occasionally,until the onions are done as you like them, adding some oil to keep them from sticking without getting greasy. Cook it to suit your preferences. 10-15 minutes for a more bitter taste, up to 40 minutes for a browner sweeter onion marmalade.
  • In the meantime, prepare the bacon and grill the chicken breasts. Prepare the tomatoes (sliced raw or grilled) & the rocket and feta cheese. Cut the breasts into large slices once cooked.
  • To prepare the final meal, spread some dijon mustard on the ciabatta (slices or rolls halved) and put a large dollop of the onion marmalade. Exactly how much is a personal choice…
  • Place a generous portion of bacon & chicken on top of that and finish with the tomato, feta & rocket.

Four Cheese Taglietelle with Chilli Fried Shrimp

Four Cheese & Shrimp Taglietelle

Four Cheese & Shrimp Taglietelle


  • 250-500g Shrimp (personal choice)
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 2 finely chopped Chillis
  • Olive oil
  • Taglietelle
  • 1 cup Cream
  • 1 cup of 4 various Cheeses, finely grated
  • (I used Mozarella, Cheddar, Parmesan & Danish Regato)


  • Bring a large pot of salted water to the boil. Add the taglietelle and cook until al dente
  • In the meantime, prepare the cheese
  • On a very hot pan, fry the shrimps with the garlic and chilli and once done set aside
  • Once the pasta is cooked, drain and return to the pot on the stove.
  • Add the cream and 4 cups of cheese and mix until the sauce has thickened (+/-3 mins)
  • Serve the pasta and top with the shrimp

Food, Glorious Food #1: Flava Restaurant, Simply Awesome


Inside Flava

Last night I had the pleasure of going to a hidden gem of a restaurant in Richmond Hill here in Port Elizabeth. I had chosen to take my girlfriend out here since it was recommended to me by a colleague at work. And I am really impressed to say the least.

The vibe of the place is pretty awesome and the open kitchen is a pretty nifty touch!

I have to say, that getting the contact details anywhere was quite a mission, but since I was heading that way yesterday during the day, I popped in to make the booking. If I’d only looked on Facebook for their fan page, it would have made that a lot easier though. Hindsight is a bitch 🙂

We started off sharing a Warthog Carpaccio with some yummy pesto on the side. It was presented nicely on a bed of rocket. This was followed by a stunning main course. I had a Sole Bonne Femme served with herb & parmesan potato wedges as well as veggies roasted in a tomato pesto. My amazing girlfriend (sorry baby) had yummy Lamb Steaklets with Mint Tzatziki. That was also served with the same sides, but as an alternative to the wedges, you could have Kous Kous as well. Both were mouth-wateringly awesome! After that, neither of us felt like a dessert, even though there were options such as Smooth Chocolate Mousse with Chantilly Cream, Chocolate Chip Cookie Tower and Tiramisu Cheesecake. Next time 🙂

All in all, the vibe is great, the food is first class and I would say without hesitation that anyone in Port Elizabeth looking for a good meal, head on down to Flava. To make it easier, here are some details.

Address: 17a Bain St, Richmond Hill, Port Elizabeth

Phone number: 041 811 3528 / 082 666 7098

Facebook Page: