Mayonnaise

The very first thing you need to do is to throw that jar of mayonnaise away. Yeah, it’s not bad, but it doesn’t taste anything like a real mayonnaise. I have never understood why anyone would buy mayo in a jar, when it can be made in 5 minutes with a few ingredients most people have in their kitchen at anyway. And it won’t split either, if you follow a few simple tricks. So let’s get started.

To make mayonnaise, you will need:

  • 1 egg yolk, preferably fresh
  • 1 level tablespoon Dijon mustard
  • 200ml canola oil
  • 1 Tbsp white wine vinegar
  • salt
  • white pepper
  • a pinch of sugar

And that’s it. Start by mixing the egg yolk with the mustard in a bowl. Leave this to stand for a minute. This is trick #1 to get a good stable emulsion going. And just in case you didn’t realise it, mayonnaise is the ultimate emulsion sauce, in which oil droplets are suspended in a cloud of egg yolk. How much oil can you pour into one yolk before it gives up and can’t take it anymore? According to Harold McGee, the God of kitchen science, it should easily hold 24 litres, but even he only tested the theory to 2.5 litres. No matter how much it is, there is very little likelihood of your mayo splitting because you added too much oil. Now that’s comforting to know. (You don’t have to take my word for it either: http://www.vendian.org/envelope/dir1/mayo.html#:~:text=Still%2C%20there%20is%20one%20reason,emulsify%202%20cups%20of%20oil.)

Now the advice to pour the oil in a slow, steady stream has fortunately been debunked, because it is a recipe for disaster. Instead (and this is trick#2), pour a little bit of oil into the egg mustard mix and then whisk it in until you get a smooth emulsion. Continue in the same way. Every time you add oil, you can add a little more than the time before and by the end of it, you could pour a decent oil slick on the emulsion and then whisk it in without any danger of the thing splitting. But of course it’s better not to try how far you can push this idea.

Pour, whisk, pour whisk until about 150ml of your 200ml oil has been used up. You should have quite a stiff mayo by now. This is the point at which I add the vinegar and that’s trick #3. Many recipes tell you to add the vinegar at the beginning, but that makes it harder to get that first all important emulsion going. The vinegar will make your mayonnaise much thinner, but fret not. Just keep adding the rest of the oil and your mayo will stiffen up again.

The last thing for you to do is to season. One word of advice here: Salt slowly and in little steps, then wait for 2 minutes, whisk again and taste. Reason? Salt takes much longer to dissolve in oil than in water, so if you season, taste and season again, you’ll think all is well, but five minutes later your mayo will have become inedibly salty. I use white pepper because I don’t like the black spots of milled pepper, but the choice is yours! The sugar really helps bring out the flavour without actually making the mayo sweet, but again, the choice is yours. The choice of vinegar is a personal one. I use white or red wine, but you could use champagne vinegar. I like cider vinegar in my mayo as well, because it gives a nice earthy flavour. Balsamic on the other hand is a very bad idea, as it most often is.

As for the quantity of vinegar, you will need to adjust this, depending on the acidity of the vinegar you are using, but a tablespoonful is normally just fine.

One last word about oil; if you think olive oil will make a better mayo, you are very much mistaken. You can replace 10%-20% of the total oil with a more flavourful thing, but tread with caution. I like to stay with a clean, mostly flavourless oil, because what was an attractive depth in an olive oil soon becomes cloying or unpleasantly sharp in a mayonnaise. As for Truffle oil, it’s a disgusting awful thing at the best of times and the thought of it in a mayonnaise positively makes me retch, but hey; there’s no accounting for taste.

A Simple Tomato Sauce

There is no such thing as a “real” Italian tomato sauce. Unless you define it as any tomato sauce made in Italy or by Italians, which of course means that I don’t stand a chance in hell. I find all this emphasis on something being “real” mostly a waste of time and space. It is good to understand the origins of a dish, to see how it has evolved over time and distance and how one dish (or sauce) is being translated into many version. (FYI, I ripped the picture of the pasta from the net, as I forgot to take one. Sorry.)

Although I’m not Italian, I have some Italian family and many childhood friends who were first generation Italian immigrants to Luxembourg and I very clearly remember the cooking. My friend’s grandmother, used to making Amatriciana with guanciale, a cured and dried pork cheek for most of her life, discovered the smoked Speck from Luxembourg and from then on much preferred to use that for the smoky flavour it imparted. Who am I to call her change of heart at such a late time in life a departure from reality?

Hotel Restaurant Italia opened 2 years before I was born, has been and still is one of the best Italian restaurants I have ever eaten in.
And I say this after many years of travelling in Italy. Don’t expect fine dining, it still tastes just like when nonna was in the kitchen.

When you travel through Italy, or look at recipes in books, you notice that as you travel south and the country becomes poorer, the tomato sauce becomes ever more basic. Out goes the guanciale, the carrot and celery and what you are left with is the simplest of sauces made with the best possible base ingredients.

My version here is the most basic and my absolute favourite. Eddie and I make up a quick batch and just eat it with pasta or polenta, simply dressed with a touch of virgin olive oil, a few fresh basil leaves and some grated pecorino. I keep small batches in the freezer and also use them as a base for many other sauces and soups. I will do a series of dishes based on this sauce and I will post a few over the next few weeks. It’s perfect if you make filled pasta, as it doesn’t overpower the taste of the filling.

On word of warning: We are starting with 1.2kg canned tomatoes and end up with 600ml of sauce. At 50% the wastage is rather shocking, but there are things you can do to reduce or even completely eliminate the wastage and I will tell you all the tricks as we make the sauce, but honestly, once you taste the result, you won’t mind the wastage at all.

A Simple Tomato Sauce

makes about 600ml when strained

  • 3 x 400g tins of whole tomatoes in tomato juice
  • 100g chopped onion, about 1 small brown onion
  • 50g chopped garlic, about ¾ of a head of garlic
  • 3 Tbsp good olive oil
  • 1 long sprig fresh rosemary (1 tsp dried, f you can’t find fresh, but do try)
  • 1 small handful fresh thyme (or 2 tsp dried)
  • 2 fresh (or dried) bay leaves
  • sea salt
  • freshly ground black pepper

Open your tomato tins (don’t throw the tins away), stick a pair of scissors into the tin and cut the tomatoes into pieces. If you want a higher yield of sauce, blend the tomatoes with their juice before you start cooking. Your onions and garlic can be chopped medium and irregular, if you are going to strain, because you will be throwing them away anyway.

If (and this is the easiest way to get a lot more sauce for your buck) you should choose to keep the onions and garlic in the finished sauce, you will need to chop them at least medium, but best fine. Now that this is clear, heat two generous tablespoons of olive oil in a cast iron pot and fry the onions at medium heat for a good five minutes. Add the garlic and fry for another five minutes on medium. If you see that onions or garlic are starting to brown, lower the heat.

Now add your canned tomatoes and stir. Fill one of the cans about ¾ full of water and swirl it around to dissolve whatever tomato was left in there, then pour this into the second tin and repeat, then into the third. You get the idea. Don’t waste any of that precious tomato. One more word about the tomatoes. If you buy crap canned tomatoes, you will end up with crap sauce. This is not to say that the most expensive are the best. I for one give the expensive organic tomatoes in the environmentally conscious dull can a wide berth. All the ones I have tried are better suited for composting.

Stick your herbs into the sauce, add about a teaspoon or two of rough sea salt and a good grind of black pepper and sit back for an hour and a half. Note that you WILL need to stir the sauce every now and again, or it will burn its bottom. Make sure your sauce is simmering. You don’t want it rolling, but you don’t want it “just under a simmer” either! If is doesn’t lightly splash the wall behind your cooker, you’re not doing it right. If it gets too thick, add water, but make sure to simmer it for at least an hour. And a half.

Here’s something that might annoy you slightly. Once the sauce has simmered, you want to add another can of water to it. You don’t have to, but believe me, it will make straining the sauce ever so much easier! Now a word about the strainer; ideally, you want one of those wholey numbers, not one of the meshy ones. They may be a little hard to come by and if you can’t find one, just use a wide mesh one. Here’s the reason: If the mesh is too fine, you will end up with tomato water and all your pulpy goodness will be in the sieve. You want the pulp, but not the onion, or the seeds, or the skins. Easy, right!

Oh and do resist the temptation to “just blend it”. It would be a disastrous mistake, believe me. If you want to make a blended sauce, you need to make it differently. Pour your strained sauce into a new, smaller pot and bring it back to a simmer. You will see the oil rising to the top. That’s a good thing, in fact it is your indicator of whether the sauce is done or not. As the sauce thickens, the oil will emulsify into the sauce and no longer separate, even after you have stirred it. That’s when your sauce is ready!

The biggest mistake you could make would be to skim the oil off the top, because you would be throwing away a lot of flavour. Don’t adjust the seasoning until the very end, after you have finished the sauce. You will most probably find that you don’t need a lot of extra salt or pepper. So there we are! Our sauce is done. It will keep quite happily in the chiller for a week or more, or frozen for a year or more, as long as it is in an airtight container that is filled pretty much to the top.

There are so many variations to this sauce, even in its basic form, I don’t quite know where to start. If I am making it to use as a base for a meat ragù, I rinse out the tomato cans with a whole can of red wine instead of water. For a quick and simple seafood pasta, I boil my pasta and while it is boiling, I toss some prawns, squid and clams in olive oil and garlic, deglaze with white wine, add chopped fresh chervil or marjoram, then chuck in the pasta, plate it and top it with a tablespoonful of my sauce. The complete recipe for that is coming up as soon as I get time to cook.

Macaroni Cheese

You’ll be laughing and telling me that no one needs a recipe to make macaroni cheese. But this is a special one! Somewhere between a liquid Japanese style one and my good old sliceable Luxembourg one. Oh, and I’m actually lying, it’s not macaroni at all, but penne. Reason being that I had a lot of penne in the pantry (which is really the wet kitchen part of the kitchen). So instead of going to buy more dry pasta, i.e. macaroni, I decided to save the world and use the existing penne instead.

Don’t be daunted by the long list of ingredients. It’s mostly stuff to flavour your custard mix with. I say custard, because that’s really what it is; a savoury custard held together by pasta. I have used pancetta for this, but if you are non-porky, or non-meaty, you could use the ever useful smoked salmon, or even fine diced portobello mushrooms tossed in a bit of garlic. In fact even if you leave the meat/fish/mushroom part out altogether, it will still be perfectly delicious. If you’re vegan, I can’t help you as far as this recipe is concerned.

The question of whether macaroni & cheese is Italian or not really depends on your definition of macaroni cheese. I believe the current version was popularised by The Kraft Cheese Company (Kraft and Cheese being a contradiction in terms), but a pasta and cheese casserole type dish was first mentioned in 14th century in the Italian cookbook, Liber de Coquina and in the English cookbook The Forme of Cury (?!) all of which I have learnt from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Macaroni_and_cheese, which as so often provides a truly interesting read.

A Macaroni Cheese that is really a Penne al Forno

If you look closely you will see that there are actually 2 different types of penne. As I said, it’s from the bottom of the cupboard.
  • 400g penne
  • 600ml cream
  • 400ml milk
  • 2 eggs
  • 4 thick slices of pancetta (about 4mm each)
  • 1 brown onion, diced
  • 1 garlic clove, crushed and roughly chopped
  • 1 sprig sage
  • 3 sprigs thyme
  • 1 small sprig rosemary
  • 1 large bay leaf
  • white pepper (black if you prefer)
  • 25g butter, plus extra for buttering the dish
  • 80g Emmenthal cheese
  • 80g Gruyere cheese
  • 5 Tbsp breadcrumbs

A word about quantities; I used an oval ovenproof dish that holds about 2 litres, so the quantities are just right for that dish. There is an easy way to find out how much pasta and sauce you are going to need: Fill the dish you are planning to use halfway full of dry pasta. That’s what you will need. Now fill the dish with water and measure that. Divide by two and that’s the amount of cream/milk mix you will need. And if like me you hate the idea of throwing perfectly good water away, use the measuring water to boil your pasta.

The main difference between my mac&cheese and most others is that I flavour the custard mix before I start. I find it gives so much more depth of flavour that it is really worth the bother: Chop the onion and the garlic roughly, melt a knob of butter in a saucepan big enough to hold the milk and cream and fry on medium heat until the onions are translucent. This will take about ten minutes. If you are scared the garlic might brown or burn, add it a little later, but make sure all the sharp garlic smell is gone. What you are looking for is that creamy roast garlic flavour, not sharpness.

Now pour the cream and milk into the saucepan, add the sage, rosemary, thyme, bay leaf and white pepper and bring to just about boiling point. Salt lightly, turn off the heat and leave to infuse while you do the rest of the stuff.

Heat a large pot of water, salt is with about a tablespoon of sea salt and boil your penne in it until just slightly undercooked. Drain and spread on a large baking tray in a single layer. Put it under the aircon to cool quickly. Do NOT wash it in running water, we want all the starch that is on the pasta.

Slice the pancetta into lardons and quickly fry it in a little olive oil. Don’t let it crisp up, so once you hear the first crackling sound, turn off the heat. Grate both cheeses and mix them together. Butter your dish generously.

Beat the eggs lightly, check that your milk/cream mix isn’t hot anymore and stir the eggs into it. Now strain the whole thing into a jug, which will make for easy pouring later. I like to add the eggs before straining because it makes for a smoother mix.

Divide your penne roughly into three and put one third at the bottom of your dish. Try to get it spread out as evenly as you can. Scatter about a little less than a third of the cheese over the pasta, then scatter half the fried pancetta over. Now pour enough custard mix to wet the pasta thoroughly without drowning it. Repeat with the next third of the penne, using up the rest of the pancetta. You won’t need any for the top layer. Finish with another layer of pasta and cheese, the pour the rest of the cream mix over it. Press down gently to make sure all the penne are coated with the mix. Now sprinkle the breadcrumbs over and dot with the butter.

I am supposed to have some nice pictures of all the stages of filling the tray with the penne and the pouring of the cream, etc. but I ended up rushing and then forgot. You could assemble the dish an hour or two before baking it, but the texture of the penne will suffer, so it really is best to do it last minute. Unless you are very organised and chill the penne and custard thoroughly in the fridge, quickly assemble and then return the dish to the chiller, then top it with breadcrumbs just before you shove it into the oven. That will work, but you will need to add 10 extra minutes to your baking time.

Bake at 180ºC for about 30 minutes. You should see the mix bubbling at the side. Turn on the grill to get a nice crust on top, but try not to burn the thing. Take out of the oven and leave to rest for 10 minutes before serving. I find that the flavour is much better if it is not scorching hot. But then I think the same about soups and for some people heat is the all important factor.

I am going to try and do a version of this dish in which you do not need to boil the pasta! A kind of “TV Dinner” Macaroni Cheese, so give me a while to experiment and come up with a workable system. We’ll talk again…

Flaxseed Loaf

It’s a Sunday morning and I see that there isn’t much bread left in the freezer, so I decide to make some nice plain white bread. But of course while rummaging through the cupboard, I find that we have bought far too much flaxseed (something to do with yoga. Don’t ask…), but there it is a kilo of flaxseed languishing in the dark of the cupboard. Out goes the idea of a nice white loaf and in comes a flaxseed loaf. I actually have no idea what that is going to taste like, but hey, it’s bread, how wrong can it go?

I made this rather large loaf in my tin with a lid, but without putting the lid on. it’s a large tin, so if you are using a normal cake tin, I suggest you halve the recipe.

No, it’s not burnt!

One sandwich loaf (my tin: L 26cm, W 10cm, D 8cm, about 2 litres)

For the Poolish:

  • 150g organic plain flour
  • 15g dried yeast
  • 150ml water

Mix yeast and flour, stir in the water with a fork. Stir vigorously to make a smooth dough, then cover and leave to rise for 30 minutes. This is the fun part, because once you have assembled all your ingredients and got this poolish going, you can make a nice cup of coffee and read the newspaper until the thing has risen. Just make sure you cover the bowl, so the dough doesn’t dry out on the top.

For the Loaf:

  • 400g organic plain flour
  • 100g whole flaxseeds
  • 20g wheatgerm (optional, replace with an additional 20g flour)
  • 15g fine sea salt
  • 35g Moscovado or other dark sugar
  • 300ml water

Put the flaxseed and wheatgerm into a blender or food processor and blitz to a fine flour. Don’t worry if it isn’t evenly ground, it will add texture. Mix the flours, salt and sugar well. Knock back the starter, add the flour mix and start the mixer on first speed. Slowly pour in the water and once the dough has come together, increase the speed to level 2 and knead for 20 minutes.

While the dough is being kneaded, butter your tin and sift about a half tablespoon of four into it. Tilt, twist and tap the tin to cover all the surfaces with the flour, which should stick to your buttered tin quite nicely, showing up all the places that you forgot to butter properly.

Scrape the dough out of the bowl directly into the tin. Wet your hands repeatedly and push the dough into the tin as evenly as you can. Sift some flour on top and leave to rise leave for 30-35 minutes until the dough has risen well above the tin.

While the loaf is rising, heat your oven as high as it will go. When the loaf is ready, gingerly transport it to the oven, close the door and reduce the heat to 220ºC. Leave to bake for 35 minutes.

It turned out pretty tasty, so I’m going to add this one to my bread repertoire! One and a half hours to get a nice, fresh, healthy loaf; I think it’s time well invested. Especially since 80 minutes of this time involve doing nothing at all!

Ham & Eggs

Variation on a Theme

In my last post, I showed you how to make great eggs, so here is a simple variation to this. I had a few slices of extraordinarily good paleta jamón left over in the chiller. Not enough to make a decent sandwich, but definitely too previous to feed to the dog I don’t have. So I decided to make a Spanish (albeit entirely made up) version of Ham ‘n Eggs and it turned out well nice. If you’re the non-porky or pescetarian kind, you can make the dish with smoked salmon or really any kind of smoked sliced fish.

Paleta de  Jamón, in this case Iberico is much cheaper, but to my mind actually better than most  Jamón proper you can get here. The difference is that paleta is from the front leg and shoulder, while jamón is from the much bigger and meatier hind quarter. But as I like my cured ham to be quite dry, I find that paleta delivers. I get my jamón fix from https://www.mysybaritas.com/ which I can really recommend. It’s not my company and I don’t get kickbacks or discounts, it’s just a small privately owned supplier that I think is worth supporting.

So on to the recipe:

  • 2-3 slices paleta, or 1 big slice jamón, or other cured meat (or smoked fish)
  • 2 fresh eggs
  • 1 Tbsp butter
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • (salt)

I don’t actually use any salt, because the paleta is quite salt and frying it concentrates that wonderful saltiness, so for me that’s enough to give my eggs the salt they need. Eddie, however wants a little additional salt on this egg yolks, so try without and add at the table, if you feel like it. Go heavy on the pepper, though. the ham loves it!

Heat the butter in your pan and as soon as it is bubbling, place the paleta slices into the butter. Reduce the heat to low and leave the paleta to start curling slightly. There is no need to turn the ham at all. While the paleta is gently bubbling, crack two eggs into a bowl. As soon as the ham smell is strong enough to bring everyone to the breakfast table, slip the two eggs into the pan.

Now you have to work a bit fast. Pour a teaspoon of water around the rim of the pan and close the lid. Leave this on the lowest heat for exactly two minutes and your eggs are done! Just pepper them and slip them onto a plate. Eat!

A Good Egg

How to Fry an Egg

One of the great pleasures in life is a properly runny egg for breakfast, at least in my books. Whether poached, boiled, fried or scrambled, I like them all as long as they are runny. Apologies to those of you who like their eggs firm – I’ll never understand you and neither am I willing to try. Because of this unconditional love of the runny egg, I have decided to do a whole Egg series, appropriately named “The Runny Egg Series” in which I will show you how to achieve the perfect runniness of each type of egg. I might even learn how to poach an egg, which is something I’m terrible at. But then again; by poach it when you could deep fry it??

I have been making these French style oeuf mirroir lately, which is to say an egg where the yolk is covered with a translucent skin of egg white. The yolk should still be perfectly runny, warm and luscious, while the white is not at all browned or crisped, but soft and tender. It is all much easier than it sounds. At least once you have figured out how your burners behave…

I have tried all sorts of different eggs for this recipe and I have to say that none give the same results that you get in France. Maybe it’s the air? Most supermarket eggs will not produce the mirror effect at all, because they are too old and the white too runny. The Suan Mok brand I get from Hock Choon (far from my favourite place to shop), produce a nice mirror, but don’t really have enough egg white to give a nice thick, even bed of whites. So it’s a bit of a rock and hard place thing. I guess you could use three of these eggs to achieve the bed of whites, but three eggs in the morning seems just a little excessive to me.

Recipe:

What recipe?! It’s eggs, what recipe do you need? Two eggs, butter, salt, pepper of a colour you prefer. The one thing you will need however is a good pan with a lid that fits. If you don’t have a lid, you could just cover the pan with a plate, but make sure you don’t have condensation water drip into your eggs when you lift it off.

First of all, put a generous cut of butter (about a tablespoon full) into your pan and heat it at medium heat until it is foaming nicely. While the butter melts and heats, crack two eggs into a bowl. If you break one, keep the eggs to make cake and break two new eggs. If you break them again, stop and go out to eat. If you can’t crack and egg, you sure won’t be able to cook them.

Turn the heat all the way down, slip the eggs into the pan very gently, so as not to break them. Sometimes lifting the pan off the heat and tilting it can help. If you break one egg, you have to decide whether to just carry on or scramble the lot. If you break both, I’d say a scramble might be a good idea.

As soon as you see the eggs set around the edge of the pan, pour a teaspoon of water around the rim and close the lid immediately. Set the timer on your phone for 2 minutes exactly, keep the heat very low and make toast. After 2 minutes, turn off the heat and lift the lid. You should have 2 beautifully cooked eggs. Slip them on a plate, salt and pepper to taste, cut your toast into triangles (because that’s how they look best) and serve the eggs to yourself.

Arrrghhhh!!!

One more piece of advice; Do not try and take pictures while cooking your eggs. I did that and it royally screwed up my timing, resulting in a most embarrassing disaster.
If I wasn’t so averse to wastage I would have chucked them in the bin and started again. But I just gritted my teeth, hoped no one would judge me on this one failure and swallows my shame. Literally.

Tortilla with Smoked Salmon & Saffron

This is my second Tortilla recipe, simply because one can never have too many tortillas! I love them, they are tasty, filling and they are as good cold as hot and just so easy to make! AND you can use just about any leftover to make them with. In this case, I had some smoked salmon left from Eddie’s birthday breakfast and some stray strands of saffron from a paella that still needs some work before I’ll subject you to it. I have used lard and pork crackling, but you can just as easily make the tortilla with duck fat, or olive oil and simply leave the crackling out. It will be just as nice. (Almost)

  • 600g potatoes
  • 1 Tbsp salt
  • 120g onion
  • 30g garlic
  • 70g oak smoked salmon
  • 1 pinch saffron threads
  • about 1 Tbsp chopped herbs (tarragon, majoram & parsley)
  • ¼ tsp Spanish smoked paprika (optional)
  • 2 Tbsp lard
  • 1 Tbsp pork crackling
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 6 eggs
  • salt & black pepper

Peel, wash and slice the potatoes to about 2-3mm thickness, then cut each slice into rough quarters. Put the potato slices into a bowl of water, wash and drain. Fill with water again. Add one tablespoon of salt to the water and stir to dissolve. Leave the potatoes in there for at least half an hour. Peel the onions, cut them in half and slice fine. Crush the garlic, peel and chop it not too fine. Pluck and chop the herbs quite fine and slice the salmon into strips.

Heat the lard in the pan and fry the crackling to heat and crisp up. Remove the crackling from the pan and fry the onions in the lard until lightly brown. Now add the garlic and when it starts to turn just golden, add the potatoes and the saffron strands. Toss to coat and then leave the potatoes alone to brown gently. I add about half the salmon at this point to infuse my potatoes with the flavour, but if you want to find chunks of salmon in our tortilla, you can add it all later. You may find that some slices are browning while others don’t. Don’t worry about that too much, just make sure your potatoes are properly cooked, but not mushy. Salt your potatoes lightly about halfway through the cooking.

Once the potatoes are done, turn off the heat, remove the pan from the fire and leave to cool for three minutes. Crack your eggs into a bowl large enough to accommodate the eggs plus all the contents of your pan. Do not choose too small a bowl, or turning the potatoes to coat them will be a nightmare. Salt your eggs with about 2-3 pinches of salt (remember you have the saltiness of the salmon in there as well), crack a generous amount of black pepper into the eggs, add your chopped herbs and beat with a fork.

Now add your fried potatoes to the bowl and turn to coat evenly. You want egg on all the slices, so make sure none of them stick together. Add a tablespoon of olive oil to the pan and heat to medium heat. Once hot, pour the potatoes and eggs into the pan and as soon as the sides start to bubble, turn the heat to low. Leave this to set on low heat for about 5 minutes. The top will still be slightly liquid, but the whole tortilla should be firm enough for you to flip it onto a plate.

How to flip your tortilla without flipping out: If you have a completely flat plate (or cake tray) that is just a little bigger than your pan, you’re all set. If not, you will have to improvise. A cake board saved over from a birthday party does very well, or even a chopping board can be useful. What you want is something that can cover the whole pan, leaving you with enough space to get a good grip on the pan plus cover, so you can quickly turn the whole thing upside down. I suggest you do this over the sink. Just in case. Oh, and don’t worry if you loose a few potatoes along the way.

Heat another tablespoon of fat and slip the tortilla back into the pan to cook the other side. High heat for about one minute will get this done easily. Slide the tortilla onto a big plate and leave it to cool for about 5 minutes before you slice and eat it. Serve with a side of stewed smoky beans and a few slices of chorizo and happiness is yours.

Smokey Breakfast Beans

Making these wholly delicious beans is easy, but making them look as good as they taste is impossible, so just trust me and make them. All you need is:

  • 1 brown onion
  • 3 smoked garlic cloves
  • 1 Tbsp duck fat or lard (or olive oil as a last resort)
  • 1 can diced tomatoes (400g can)
  • 30ml red wine (optional)
  • 2 cans cannellini beans in water (210g per can)
  • Salt & black pepper
  • ½ tsp Spanish smoked paprika
  • ¼ tsp hot chilli powder (more if you like it hot)

This makes quite a lot of beans, so unless you are serving 12 people, you may want to make half a batch.

Cut the onion into medium dice, about half the size of the beans. (yes, in the picture, I sliced them, but that’s because I was making the beans as a base for my wonderful meatballs) Peel and chop the garlic quite fine. Heat the fat in a saucepan and when it sizzles, fry the onions until they start to soften, about 3 minutes. I usually try not to brown my onion, as I find it makes them too sweet for this recipe. Once the onions are starting to soften, add the garlic and continue to fry for another 2-3 minutes. Add the paprika and chilli and stir to mix well.

Now add the can of tomatoes, juice and all. Stir to mix and once it starts to boil, add the wine. Leave the sauce to reduce and thicken. Drain the beans, keeping a little of the water. The easiest way to do this is to open the can a little and pour off everything that will flow out. The beans do not need additional cooking, they just want to be heated through.

Once the beans are warm, after about 3 minutes, you’re ready to serve.

NOTE: These beans are delicious on their own, but they also make a great base for a tapas dish. Toss some prawns in garlic and herb butter and add them to the beans, or simmer some thickly sliced chorizo in the beans, or fry some meatballs and pour the beans over and garnish with parsley before serving.

P.S.: You may have noticed that the pictures are all wrong, but the general idea is the same…

Pickled Green Chillies

Is it just me, or has the quality of pickled green chillies gone down drastically? Maybe PJ stalls still make their own pickled green chillies with the care and attention they deserve, but here in KL, I can tell you it’s a rare day that you find anything but watery, underpickled, boring rubbish. Now for those of you not familiar with the delights of pickled green chillies, here is a little explanatory chapter. The rest of you, just skip the next paragraph.

In Malaysia, like in most of the region, we eat pickled green chillies with our breakfast noodles (yes, breakfast). The type of chilli or chilli sauce served varies with every dish. I’m not sure whether this is tradition or habit, but it seems to work out. So every plate of wonton noodles will be served with a side of sliced, pickled green chillies. These are not at all spicy, but very fragrant and nicely sour and most people will pour a little soy sauce over them. So you get that salty sour hit with your morning carbs. And IF the chillies are pickled correctly in house, the chillies can be so delicious, you want to eat them on their own, like a snack.

That’s what the chillies look like after a week in the brine.

If you are wondering what on earth you’re going to do with just pickled chillies, fret not. In the next few weeks I will show you how to make wonton noodles from scratch and I’ll show you how to turn them into a delicious wonton noodle soup, complete with prawn filled wonton. Not only that, I will also share my secret Magic Noodle Sauce with you, which will allow you to make dry noodles as good as any you will find in a coffeeshop.

Pickled Green Chillies

  • 600ml sealable, reasonably heat proof jar (or similar)
  • 450g fresh green chillies
  • 150ml white vinegar
  • 50ml cider vinegar
  • 100ml water
  • 100g caster sugar
  • 50g cassonnade or soft brown sugar
  • 1 tsp/2g fine sea salt

Wash and drain the green chillies and cut them on the bias into slices of about 7-8mm. remove the pitch and seeds from the inside of the chillies and shake the cleaned chillies in a colander to remove whatever seeds are still there. If you want your chillies to be less spicy, soak them in cold water for an hour or so, then drain again. But honestly, this is really not necessary. The brine will soften whatever heat there may be left in the chillies after we have removed the seeds.

Pour the vinegars and water into a saucepan, add the sugars and salt and heat. A note of warning here; do not boil the brine, or you may lose a considerable amount of acidity and frankly, a lot of freshness. Oh, and don’t make the mistake of putting your nose over the pan to smell the brine. Although it’s quite an interesting experience.

While the brine is heating, pack the chillies tightly into a sealable heat proof jar. You will need to really squeeze the chillies to get them all in. Don’t worry about squashing them, they’re quite resilient. Once the brine is starting to simmer, pour it slowly into the jar, shaking things up between pouring to get rid of the bubbles. Pour the brine right to the top of the jar, then seal it while still hot. Keep in your cupboard for 7 days before opening and make sure to keep the jar in the chiller once you’ve opened it.

Note:

Traditionally people in Asia use simple rice vinegar and rock sugar to make most pickles, but I’m using Heinz white and cider vinegar, as well as cassonnade and caster sugar, simply because I think it makes for a slightly more refined pickle. But if you want to stick with tradition, you can substitute rice vinegar for both vinegars and rock sugar for the sugars and the proportions will still work perfectly.
Some recipes ask you to soak the sliced chillies in hot water, but I honestly don’t recommend that, as it takes the crunch out of the chillies. We are already heating and sterilising them in the hot brine, so the boiling water step is superfluous.

Sorrento Lemon Ice Cream

We have this rather impressive attachment to our Kitchenaid stand mixer; an ice cream churning thing that goes in the freezer the night before and then supposedly whisks your ice cream like a pro. We shall see! At the restaurant we have a proper professional ice cream machine that allows you not only to make ice cream in 120 seconds. I’m not expecting anything similar from this implement. Strangely enough it was a free gift that came with the machine. Such generosity is rare.

I have just made the ice cream base and it’s on the kitchen table cooling down. Took about an hour, including letting the cream mix infuse for half an hour. Making ice cream is actually a total breeze, if you have an ice cream maker of any kind. If you are whisking it by hand in a tub in the freezer, it’s a total pain. I saw an interesting way of making ice cream on YouTube, where you pour the base into a freezer bag, seal it tight, put it into a larger freezer bag filled with ice and just shake the whole thing about. My no machine ice cream system is freezing it in ice cube trays and then whizzing it to a smoothie in a blender and returning it to the freezer to set. But we have a machine!

Sorrento Lemon Ice Cream

I’m lying and there’s not a Sorrento lemon in sight, so this is the first of my “Faking it with Chris & Eddie” recipes, where I will show you how to achieve something looking, feeling and tasting totally authentic. Without having to travel to the bay of Naples to pick your own lemons. The Sorrento lemon juice is sweet and quite different from the mostly South African lemons we get here, but the real difference is in the skin. Scratch the skin of a lemon from Surriento and there is a beautiful floral scent to it reminiscent of….

Yup. Daun Limau Purut; Kaffir lime leaves. So we are faking our Sorrento lemons with a little addition of kaffir lime leaves. The trick is not to overdo it, so your guests find the flavour. It has to be there in the background, silently doing its work. And off to work it is we go at last:

This should make about 1.5 litres

  • zest of 6 lemons
  • 3 kaffir lime leaves (daun limau purut)
  • 425ml lemon juice (about 6-8 lemons)
  • 400ml full fat milk
  • 400ml full cream
  • 400g caster sugar
  • 8 egg yolk
  • 1 tbsp clear honey

Start by pouring the milk and cream into a saucepan and adding 100g of the caster sugar to it. Wash and crush your lime leaves and add them to the mix. Now wash the lemons well and grate their skin into the milk mix. I use a microplane grater for this, as it gives much finer zests and doesn’t take so much pith off. Heat the milk at high heat to just boiling point.

I find that although it is counter-intuitive, boiling milk at high heat reduces the risk of burning. And burning or browning is really the one thing you want to avoid when making ice cream or really any type of custard base (which is what an ice cream base really is). Once you detect even the slightest whiff of burned proteins, that horrid smell when dairy burns, chuck the milk out and save yourself the bother of making an inedible ice cream.

While the milk mix is heating, whisk the egg yolks with the caster sugar to a fluffy, creamy texture. Squeeze the lemons to get your 425ml juice. I use this very handy tool that you just stick into the lemon and turn about. I find it the most effective way of getting juice out of lemons.

As soon as the milk & cream start to bubble, turn off the heat and add the honey. You can actually do this at any stage, but hot milk will make it easier to get the honey off the spoon. Leave the mix to cool a little and then pour it over the fluffed eggs, beating the mixture with a whisk all the time. Wash out your saucepan and return the batter to the pan. Heat gently to about 75ºC. It’s good to have a thermometer to hand to make sure the temperature is correct. You can heat the mix higher without giving yourself problems, but stay well under 100ºC, or you will end up with lemon scramble.

Keep stirring your ice cream base for a minute or two after taking if off the heat to prevent lumps from forming, then pour it into a container, cover the top of the batter itself directly with a piece of cling film to prevent any skin from forming. Leave to cool to room temperature, then chill. One the batter is completely chilled, put it into the freezer for about two hours. The high sugar content will prevent it from freezing to a solid and the added chill factor will make churning your ice cream much easier.

Following the instructions of the manufacturer of your ice cream maker, churn your ice cream. Alternatively, whisk the ice cream after the first two hours of freezing, then every hour for the next 4 hours. After that you can leave it alone to set fully.

It may sound like a lot of effort for a bit of ice cream (1.9 litres to be exact), but it is sooooo delicious you won’t regret the time spent making it. There’s another advantage; a 500ml tub of Haagen Dazs will set you back about RM65 while the near two litres we made cost only RM30, so 7.50 for a 500ml tub! Imagine how much you could save by eating more ice cream!!

Here’s my trusty lemon squeezer. I know it looks like something that might come in handy in the bedroom, but believe me, it’s much better for squeezing those lemons.
NOTE: You may need to vary the amount of sugar you add to the lemon juice, as some lemons are a lot sourer than others. So make this recipe as given, see whether you want your ice cream more or less sour and adjust for the next batch. Then try to remember the acidity of the lemon/sugar mix, so you can get the same acidity every time.