Wednesday, 30 November 2016

Recipe CXXVI - Eton Mess

You're going to love this one. If you have a large group to cater for, or you have kids who just need to find their smile after eating all their hated vegetables, this is the one for you...
Started at Eton College in the UK, this is served up at cricket matches against their bitter rivals Harrow, and it goes down a storm...

Ingredients (4 people): 
300ml of fluid cream
a cup of forest fruits (although strawberries are ideal)
some meringue (crushed into smaller pieces but not too small)
sugar depending on taste

Whip the cream until it makes peaks. Crush the forest fruits until the juices run. Drain and save the juices in a cup. Gently mix in the fruits, the crushed meringue and the juice. Taste it - if it needs some sugar, add carefully. If not, get the largest spoon in the house and fill your face full until you can't talk any more!

Friday, 19 February 2016

Recipe CXXV: Minced Lamb Ragout

PREAMBLE: Recently, I have been giving a lot of thought to the process of making meat. And especially to the principles and ethics behind it. There are a lot of videos out there, some let's face it on the wacky side and some very shocking, on the way meat is made. There are videos of shocking cruelty, as well as heartbreaking suffering. Some of the things animals put up with are atrocious. Good animal husbandry is, however, expensive. 

To make good food without breaking your budget is what many of us strive for, but this comes at another cost. Many farmers now are overwhelmed by the need to mass-produce and at the same time supermarkets force them to cut corners because they want to have the lowest price amongst their competitors. We should not be surprised to learn about these distressing facts. When I see a chicken for sale for 3 or 4 euro, I want to say a silent prayer for it. If only I believed, I would.

I would prefer to pay up to double the going rate for my meat, if I know where it was sourced and I can be assured the animal led a wholesome and happy life. And how can we stop farmers going out of pocket, supermarkets from undervaluing their stock and most importantly of all the unnecessary suffering of animals? By eating less meat and paying more for it. A more varied diet will also benefit our health.

At the moment, I am spending the month in the Belgian city of Leuven, which has several very good butchers, all with solid reputations. Rondou is the butcher par excellence in the city, and it was here that I came to buy some minced lamb.

Back in Germany, the idea of mincing lamb is as odd as the idea of buying clothes because they're smart, not because they're cheap; or not complaining if a train is one minute late. Which is why I want to do this recipe, because even though it's very simple, in fact one of the staples, it is the main ingredient that is the star of the show.

When people in the town where I live go to the butcher, they ask for meat with very little fat. Fat, they think, is bad. I cringe at how the butchers remove the skin and fat layer from a pork cutlet; I die a thousand deaths when I see them slicing meat the wrong way because it's just the next bit; but I often have to leave my place in the queue when I hear someone complaining that their steak has too much fat. They don't realise that the marbled effect in steak is what gives it its tender qualities. 

What does lean meat do in the pan or oven? It hardens to the consistency of an old boot. Why would I want to do that? I want food that appeals to my eyes and stomach; that is easy and pleasing to eat; that gives me a memorable experience; that appeals to my senses, as well as fills me up. I do not want to eat just to take on the necessary calories to get me through the rest of the day.

Method: Lamb meat is by nature fattier than other meats; I guess it's because sheep run about less than other animals... anyhow, it makes a very succulent ragout.

Take the minced lamb and chop 4 cloves of garlic for every 500g. Add fresh or dried herbs, mainly rosemary and thyme, plus the appropriate amount of salt and pepper. Give it a good mixing until it is consistent. You can put it in the fridge until required, if necessary.

Half a pepper, 5 brown mushrooms, 2 onions (one red, one white), half a courgette, some fresh tomatoes, some tinned tomatoes, some red wine, olive oil, salt and pepper to taste

Slicing technique:
Cut your courgette lengthways down the middle twice, but not to the very end. This will make it easier to cut into slices.

Put a good thick layer of olive oil in a pan and fry the onions on a medium-low temperature for a minute, followed shortly by the other vegetables (except tomatoes). Let them sweat for a while. Add the minced lamb and mix thoroughly until all ingredients are spread equally throughout the pan.

Add the non-tinned tomatoes and once the mince has browned, add the tinned tomatoes.

Put in as much wine as you like - I use half a bottle over the coming 30 minutes, keeping the whole thing nice and moist.

I served mine with linguine, but some boiled potatoes would have been just as good.

Monday, 10 August 2015

Recipe CXXIV: Home-Made Spicy Tomato Soup

Cooking on a Sunday is one of life's pleasures, and this weekend was one of those. As our guests were bringing the dessert, I decided to make a starter. This one is one of the finest things you can do in a kitchen, and it really is so, so simple.

2 kg fresh tomatoes
1 green chili pepper
1 red chili pepper - keep some of the seeds, depending on how spicy you want it
1 sweet red pepper
1 large onion
4-6 cloves of garlic 
All of the above chopped into pieces

Three-quarters of a bottle of red wine
A teaspoonful of a red spice (cayenne pepper or even tandoori masala)
5 teaspoonfuls of Worcestershire sauce
3 thick slices of white bread
A fresh basil plant from a reputable supermarket, leaves broken 
50 g butter
Salt to taste

Put a lot of butter in a large, heavy non-stick frying pan or saucepan. While it is melting, add the onions and a pinch of salt, and fry gently for a few minutes - you don't want the onions to burn and crisp up. Add the peppers and garlic. Let them slowly sweat until soft. Then add the red wine and Worcestershire sauce.
(To give it your own personal touch, you could always use a variation - just use your imagination - something like Tabasco sauce, or red wine vinegar, soy sauce or even balsamic vinegar, but make sure whatever you use, the flavours fit!)

Let the red wine and Worcestershire sauce reduce by about half until it turns into something less liquid and more gloopy.

You are now ready to add the tomatoes. Put a lid on top, turn the heat right down to a gentle simmer and let the tomatoes soften until they are easily crushed.

Once they are really soft, add the basil, bread and red spices. Let the contents of the pan mingle for 10 minutes or so, while the bread soaks up some of the liquid.

Pass the contents of the pan through a blender and pour into a serving bowl.

Serve with a nice bottle of red wine. We chose Louis Chèze Caroline Saint-Joseph 2011, a fantastic wine that really highlights the spiciness of the soup.


Sunday, 26 July 2015

Recipe CXXIII - Norwegian Suksessterte

Having recently returned from the northern paradise that is Norway, both brimming with new ideas and aching with nostalgia for the serenity, advanced civilisation and heart-breakingly beautiful scenery, I came across a little gem of a recipe. Norwegians are big on food: lots come out of cans, as only a country half inside the Arctic Circle should, but when it comes to their recipes, the flavours are so different. They could be an acquired taste to some, but once you are used to them, they are a breath of fresh air.

I would like to introduce you to the Suksessterte, or Success Tart, in English. I was invited to the house of a splendid family for coffee (a Norwegian religion) and cake, and this one was there on the table, inviting and succulent-looking, so I cut myself a slice. It was so good, I had to get the recipe. Here is my effort, slightly changed from the one I got there, to reflect the proportions I used, and the ingredients on offer in Germany.


5 egg yolks:
100 ml double cream (I had to use mascarpone and some ordinary cream, because heavy cream/double cream and the like don't exist in Germany)
100 g ordinary sugar
150 g cold butter, sliced into cubes

Almond meringue:
5 egg whites
250 g ground almonds
225 g icing sugar

Grated dark chocolate

Instructions for the cream:
Place the egg yolks, cream and sugar (NOT THE BUTTER) in a saucepan, put on a very low heat and stir until all the ingredients have melted into each other and it has become thicker. Use a spatula or a flat whisk to stir it - this should take about 15 to 20 minutes.

The mixture should not be allowed to boil or you will end up with bits of curdled egg in your mixture, and nobody wants to have that.

When it's all blended, take it off the heat, and add the butter piece-by-piece. Then get an electric mixer and whisk it for a good 5 to 10 minutes before placing it in the fridge until you have made the almond meringue.

Instructions for the almond meringue:
Put the oven on 160°C and take a square or round baking tray lined with baking paper.

Firstly, give the almonds a good pounding in the processor, to make the pieces extra small. Add the icing sugar and keep the food processor going until both ingredients have successfully mixed with each other.

With the egg whites, whisk them until they form the usual stiff peaks and then fold the almond-sugar mix into the egg white. 

Once homogeneous, transfer the mixture to the baking tray and put it in the oven for 30 to 35 minutes. In hindsight, I would not have used the baking paper, and just taken a chance with the baking tray's non-stick bottom. I will try this next time.

Once out of the oven, turn it upside-down onto a cake grid without the paper and let it cool.

Put your cake base on a clean cake tray, get the topping out of the fridge and start icing the cake with a spatula. Once you have covered it with the topping, grate chocolate on top.

Serve with copious amounts of coffee and invite your favourite visitors - vel bekomme!

Sunday, 1 February 2015

Recipe CXXII - Honey Roast Lamb Shank

I went to France a couple of days ago, to go food shopping. There is a wider selection of vegetables and meat cuts I recognise. My problem with German butchers is when you ask for a particular cut of meat, they just slice the next available piece off, no style or grace, no thinking about the direction of the muscles or anything. But the one thing that I came for, more than all the other pieces I bought, was lamb shank (souris d'agneau). It is the best piece of meat in the universe, and I really love preparing it. Although it needs 24 hours, it is very simple.

4 lamb shanks
1 bottle of red wine
4 large-ish shallots, cut in half
5 cloves of garlic, halved
Some cuts of fresh thyme
100 black peppercorns, crushed with a pestle and mortar

Cover the lamb in salt, and then in a deep oven-proof dish with a lid, place them so there are gaps between each. Cover them in pepper, put 2 of the halved shallots in there, add the garlic, and cover the meat in the crushed pepper.

Put on the lid and marinate overnight in a cool place. An hour or two in a hurry should do, but overnight gives the best results. Turn them over at some point, so the lamb has a full bath in the red wine.

The next day, or whenever you wish to cook, turn the oven on to about 180°C. While it's warming up, put the oven-proof dish on the cooker to heat the contents. Then when the oven is fully hot, put it in there for an hour, covered.

Uncover it for a further 45 minutes so the wine reduces and then remove them from the dish. Put them in another baking tray, cover them with honey and then pour the rest of the juice in.

Put them back in for 20-30 minutes - this is how they should look when you remove them.

We ate them with roast potatoes and braised carrots, cabbage and fennel.

Tuesday, 18 November 2014

Recipe CXXI - Chicory au Gratin

Last weekend, I went to Belgium and while there, I did a little light shopping, where I bought a whole load of excellent beers, but I also decided to purchase Belgium's national vegetable, the endive, or chicory. The Flemish call it Witloof; such an extreme departure from its etymological root, which highlights its importance to the Belgian psyche.

I was never a fan of chicory to begin with, so I was already not expecting great things. But I have a policy that every 5 years or so I try food I used to dislike to see if I have changed taste. The answer here is an emphatic "no". I still hate chicory with all my blood. 

If, in the fullness of time, they should ever ask me what my least favourite recipe is, I shall, without a moment's hesitation, point to this one. I can see the conversation thus:

"So, what is your least favourite thing you've ever eaten?"

"Well, out of the deep-fried scorpion on a stick I was given at a Chinese party, the cat poo I accidentally ingested after falling on it, the half-cockroach I found in a sandwich I bought on a market stall in Moscow or the chicory gratin, I'd have to go for the chicory gratin."

It is the devil's vegetable. It is nothing more than the reincarnation of water in vegetable form, and I'd prefer to eat the bark off the trees before even smelling another one of these satanic plants. 

Nevertheless, other people like them, and I thought I should at least share with you the results of my findings.

4 to 6 pieces of chicory
The equivalent amount of slices of ham to wrap around the chicory
2 different sorts of cheese (I used Cheddar and Etorki, but Emmental, Gruyère, or such would also do.
Milk, butter, flour, ground pepper and nutmeg for the roux

Satan's own vegetable

Instructions:Firstly, and most importantly, cut out the base of the chicory to remove the hull. If you leave this bit in, your chicory will taste very, very bitter.

Put the chicory in lightly salted boiling water for between 10 and 15 minutes, until they are soft. 
Put on the grill. 
While this is going on, you can make the sauce. Make a roux by melting some butter in a pan, adding flour and milk as if making Béchamel. 
Add nutmeg and pepper, then fold in most of the cheese until fully melted into the sauce. 

Once the chicory is soft, remove it and roll it in the ham slice.

Repeat until all of the pieces are wrapped in ham. Put the ham-wrapped chicory in a decently-sized deep baking tray.

Pour the sauce over the top until totally covering the chicory. 

Use some more of the cheese to grate over the top and sprinkle with black pepper.

Put it under the grill for a good 10 to 15 minutes, or until the top is a nice speckled dark pattern.

Serve with mashed potatoes or equivalent.

Invite a Belgian or two round to eat, and you won't have to throw a lot of it away!

Sunday, 28 September 2014

Recipe CXX - Casseroled Pork Fillet with Honey and Ginger

Italians are notoriously protective of their national dishes. So much so, there are whole city municipalities that have banned non-Italian vegetables and spices from being sold, even in foreign restaurants. This is of course madness, and shows that Italians are not always so comfortable or confident about the superiority of their cuisine. This is despite people like Marco Polo,who brought a huge amount of ingredients from Asia that still influence Italian cooking, despite their national drink, coffee, being produced in countries further south, and despite the enormous number of immigrants settling there,bringing with them their own styles of food preparation. So to then outlaw the sale of food not meant for Italian cuisine is to cower in a corner and point an accusing finger at anyone guilty of "Un-Italian behaviour". Well this recipe is a glimpse of the future of Italian cooking, and how beautifully some of those foreign imports sit in the right place.


Ground black pepper, but NO SALT NEEDED!
Rosemary-flavoured olive oil or olive oil and a sprig of fresh rosemary
650-750g pork fillet (cut how you like to fit your pot - I cut into 4 pieces as my butcher is clueless and I can't explain to him that I don't want such a thin cut of meat)
100-120g medium thinly-sliced pancetta (3mm)
3 cloves of garlic
3 tablespoons of honey
3-4cm fresh ginger, diced
1 parsnip, peeled and chopped into small pieces
250ml stock (vegetable or chicken, but any stock will do)
3 small onions or 4 shallots, halved or quartered
A handful of green beans
3 large potatoes to boil
3 carrots, chopped (I slice them one way then the next so they look like triangles - see photo below)

1 casserole dish, with lid

Put the olive oil in the hot casserole dish and fry the pancetta to give the oil some flavour.

This is why this recipe needs no salt - if you add any, the pancetta will become ultra salty and really unpalatable.

When it is crispy, remove the pancetta and put the pork fillet in the oil, to take on the flavour. once the pork is sealed on the outside, add the honey, ginger and garlic, and allow it to caramelise.

Add all the other solid ingredients (except the potatoes, which are for boiling separately) and allow them to sweat a while before you put in the stock. Slow cook for 90 minutes (but for at least an hour)

Serve with the pork on top.

Italian cooking is about subtle flavours, Asian cooking is about strong flavours. In this recipe, they truly complement each other, even though the stronger ingredients are used sparingly.

This recipe was inspired by a similar one by Gennaro Contaldo on the BBC TV series "Two Greedy Italians".