Yes, there is a cat. I have been reluctant to introduce her, as the internet is overrun with cute cats. But then, she is not cute. Tikus the cat is a vicious animal, treacherous and willful and all who come near her may pay the price. I’m not sure what makes her so disagreeable. Maybe it is the fact that we called her mouse (or rat), though that was simply because she looked like one when I picked her, wet and screaming, out of a drain some twelve years ago. You’d think she’d be grateful, but that’s not in the nature of cats.
It was a stormy night, outside the old Frangipani, the wind was howling, sheets of rain passing like the scratches on an old black and white movie, the colour had drained out of the cityscape and out of the cat, though that might just be because she’s white. On my way home, I heard a loud, insistent mewling, followed it and there was the thing. Hardly bigger than the palm of my hand, wet and determined. I picked the rather filthy animal up and carried it home. Dried, fed and warmly wrap she found a home for the night in a shoebox. She never left and neither did her abhorrence of getting wet. Bathing her apart from that first, stunned time has been an impossibility. Fortunately she’s a very fastidious cat and therefore clean and excellently groomed.
She looks harmless and to Eddie and me, she is, but all guests must be warned that she has an uncontrollable urge to scratch or even bite people. Even if she looks like she really likes you and you think you’re the one person who can safely pet her, believe me, you are not. We keep multiple tubes of Dettol cream on hand to minister to the poor souls who hear but do not listen. She gets a whack and a good scolding and looks suitably crestfallen for the rest of the day, but come another opportunity to show off those razor sharp claws and she simply cannot resist.
So if you come to visit, stay away from the cat, no matter how cuddly she behaves.
If you are English and went to boarding school, chances are you will not be reading this. The soggy, stodgy mess that passes for rhubarb crumble at boarding school has put generations of schoolboys off their rhubarb for life. And it’s a damn shame, because properly prepared, rhubarb is a wonderful thing. There should be a little bite in it, there should be tartness and sweetness in harmony and a great, custard and a crumbly crust to hold it all together make this my absolute favourite pie!
I used to throw these together in between school hours, but when I recently made one, it was definitely not good enough to write about. I won’t say soggy bottom, but… So I made a new one this morning and I’m glad to say that I’m back in good rhubarb pie form. It’s an easy pie to make and the only thing that takes a little time is making the crust. You could buy a ready made one, but that would be cheating. If anyone found out. Rhubarb isn’t easy to come by in Malaysia, so the rare few times I see fresh rhubarb, it’s definitely pie day. Buy the biggest, fattest branches you can find. If the rhubarb is very bendy, soft or skinny, don’t bother.
makes one pie, ø: 25cm H: 3.5cm
For the crust:
250g plain flour
120g icing sugar
1 tsp vanilla essence
1 pinch salt
Make sure your butter is softened, so it is pliable. If the butter is too soft, the dough won’t hold together. Sift the flour and icing sugar into the bowl of your stand mixer, dice the softened butter into it, attach the paddle and process at low speed until the butter has been worked in and the whole thing looks like a bowl of crumbs. Whisk the egg with the vanilla essence and the pinch of salt and pour it into the bowl. Process quickly until the dough just comes together. Don’t work it too much, or you will lose the crumbly texture of the crust.
Divide your dough into two halves. Shape one into a ball, flatten the ball into a thick disc, wrap it in clingfilm and chill it. Shape the other half into a thick sausage, wrap it and chill as well. If you own a wine chiller, this will be the best place to chill the dough. Our chiller is set to 2º-3ºC, which is the way to go if you want your things to stay fresh, but it turns dough into a cannonball, so I put my doughs into the wine chiller. That is set to 12ºC, so leaving it in there for an hour allows the gluten to develop and still keeps the dough pliable enough to work easily.
Butter your pie dish very generously. Try to acquire one of those pie tins that have a removable bottom. It’s easier to remove the pie and it will help you when you need to roll the dough out.
Now to the only difficult part in the whole process; rolling out the dough. The way I do it makes it considerably easier, but it requires a bit of finesse to get a crust that looks even and is not too thick where it meets the base:
Step 1 – the bottom of the pie. Cut a piece of parchment paper the size of your pie dish and tape it to your work surface. Unwrap your disc of dough (keep the sausage in the chiller), flour it lightly and evenly and start rolling it out into as perfect a round as you can manage. Once it’s about the size of your hand (meaning you can flip it over with your hand), flour the top again evenly and flip the dough over. Flour the other side and continue to roll it out. Use the detachable bottom of your pie to check for size and as soon as your dough round (or not so round) is big enough, place the pie bottom buttered side down on the dough. Detach the parchment and flip the whole thing over. Trim the edges and drop the pie bottom into the pie tin.
Step 2 – the rim of the pie. This time you won’t need parchment paper. Flour your work surface as evenly as you can, unwrap the dough sausage, flour it and start rolling the sausage thinner. You need to do this gently and without too much pressure, or the thing will break. I find it almost impossible to roll in one piece, so once it get fragile, I cut it into two and roll each separately. Once you have a 2cm rope, you can start lining your pie. Quickly brush the edge of the bottom with a little water and squeeze the dough rope into the rim. Use more water where you are attaching the second part of the dough rope. Now all you need to do is squeeze the dough to make a neat, even rim. Try not to have too much dough where the bottom meets the edge. Prick the bottom of the dough all over with a fork and put your pie crust into the freezer for at least an hour.
For the rhubarb filling:
400g rhubarb, trimmed and diced weight (buy about 450g-500g)
2 small eggs
1 tsp vanilla essence
Preheat your over to 200ºC on a standard top & bottom heat. Do NOT use the fan forced setting if you can avoid it. As we are not blind baking the pie crust, we will need as much bottom heat as we can. Set the oven rack to the lowest position, as close to the bottom of the oven as it will go. My old Bosch oven didn’t produce enough bottom heat, so I actually put the pie tin straight on the bottom of the oven. There is so much moisture in the rhubarb filling, burning the bottom of the pie is not a risk.
Start by cutting the ends off your rhubarb and peeling it. I just peel it from either end and leave whatever fibers don’t pull off, unless there are brown bits. You can be precious and peel the whole thing with the tip of a sharp knife, but I usually don’t bother.
Cut each branch of rhubarb into 4 lengthwise, so you get 4 long, more or less even sticks out of each branch. Once all it cut, bundle the branches together and cut into about 1.5cm pieces. Put it all into a bowl and add the sugar. It’s a good idea to weight the cut rhubarb and then add ½ of its weight in sugar. This will seem like an awful lot, but trust me, you’ll need it. Leave to stand at room temperature for 15 minutes.
Now you have a choice; You can pour off some of the liquid that has settled at the bottom of the bowl of rhubarb, or not. If you do, your pie will be a little drier and cut more perfectly, but you will lose out on some of the flavour. If you don’t, the middle of your pie will be wonderfully creamy, but a little soft. The choice is yours.
Break two eggs into a bowl, add the vanilla essence and whisk it all together. Pour over the rhubarb and mix well. Leave this to stand for ten minutes before filling the pie. Do not pour this directly into the pie tin, but scoop out the rhubarb first, then pour over as much of the liquid as you need. It’s not an exact science, so you will have some egg mixture left over.
Carefully carry the pie to the oven and bake for about 1 hour, until the filling has risen all over, the crust is golden and the smell is enticing. Leave the pie to rest for an hour before trying to take it out of the tin, or it will be too soft and brittle. Due to the high acidity and high sugar content, this pie keeps well at ambient temperature. Nevertheless, try and eat it within three days, or chill it as soon as it has cooled down completely.
When you are making any kind of pie, always freeze the dough after lining the pie tin. Make sure it is completely frozen and remains frozen and then put it straight into a very hot oven. This way, the dough will bake on the outside before it has time to melt and slip down the side, or lose its shape. You can make the crust a few days in advance, wrap the entire tin and keep the whole thing in the freezer until you are ready to fill and bake.
The cookie jars are empty, except for a few delicious biscotti and a half a jar of ginger snaps, so it’s time to make something new. I’m casting caution to the wind today and am making not one new, untested recipe, but two. Starting with Haselnuss Spritzgebäck that I basically clobbered together from recipes I could find online and what I remembered my German granny making. Spritzgebäck is German for piped baked pastry. You basically make a quite soft and pliable, pipeable dough and squeeze it onto a baking sheet, so you get all these raggedy bits sticking out and browning, adding great deliciousness to your cookie.
My German ganny was a dreadful cook, but a truly great baker, so you had to get through mostly terrible dinners before some vastly time intensive and stunningly delicious gateau would appear. Her cheesecake was the stuff of legend. And do not think just a simple baked cheesecake (though she was genius at that too). This is a Käsesahnetorte, a light, beautiful sponge set on a shortcrust so short and thin it bordered on the impossible, the sponge glued to it with a layer of the finest homemade strawberry jam and then a set lemon cheese mousse, light as a bavarois on steroids, closed with another ethereal layer of sponge, a spread of vanilla flavoured cream on it and a topping of chantilly and fresh strawberries from her garden. I have not since had anything so glorious!
But that takes us far from our cookies. When Grossmutter Agnes made Haselnuss Spritzgebäck, the whole house would smell of toasted hazelnuts and happiness was ours as we walked in, because we knew there would be tins of it for us to take home. No one was allowed to eat much of the cookies that day, though, because they needed to mature overnight for their full goodness to reveal itself.
makes about 50 cookies
200g plain flour
150g ground hazelnuts
1 pinch salt
250g butter, cubed and softened
130g caster sugar
Sift the flour into a bowl, add the ground hazelnuts and the pinch of salt and mix well. Put the butter into the bowl of your mixer, add the sugar, attach the blade and start the mixer on a lowish setting. Add the egg and leave the thing to do its job until the dough has come together. Do not overmix, or your cookies won’t be very brittle. You may need to scrape the sides of the bowl down from time to time.
I actually used the hook attachment, but that was a mistake. My mixing bowl is too big for the hook to get any traction in this little bit of dough, so there was a lot of handwork and scraping down, to the point where I was wondering why I was using the mixer at all!
Your dough it going to be very soft, so if you are going to pipe it, this is the time! Once you’ve put it into the chiller it will turn hard as stone and piping it will not be an option until it softens up again. Use a big star nozzle and pipe a long, flat strip of dough onto a baking sheet or parchment paper. Once the sheet is filled, put it into the chiller, or better still, the freezer to set the cookies.
As I couldn’t find my piping bag, I shaped the dough into a rectangular sausage and chilled it for three hours until it was hard. I then cut ½ cm slices off of that and cut each slice lengthwise into two (see slideshow if this sounds confusing). Then just score each cookie deeply with a fork and you’re ready to go.
Heat the oven to 175ºC and once hot, bake your cookies for about 15 minutes, until nice and golden around the edges. You can eat the cookies as soon as they have cooled down, but they are really only at their best the next day, after they have spent a night maturing in the jar. Dip one half of them in dark chocolate, if you like, but personally, I think it just masks the gorgeous flavour of the hazelnuts.
When baking any Spritzgebäck, but Haselnuss Spritzgebäck in particular you are always treading a fine line. Brown it too little and you will miss out on the wonderful, deep flavour of toasted hazelnuts, brown it too much and your cookies will start to take on a slightly bitter taste. I stay with my oven for the last two to three minutes and as nothing ever bakes evenly, I allow some to darken just a little too much and just eat those straight away. That way I don’t have those few anemic cookies I don’t like so much.
Well, there he actually eats, but in today’s long delayed blog, he is going to be cooking. For those who don’t know, Eddie is actually a very good cook. He does excellent Peranakan, Sichuan, assorted Chinese and especially good Thai food. It just takes him a very long time to start making anything, because before he can start, he needs to do research. Not just the recipes, but the history, the regional variations, the difference between the local and the original ingredients, the methods of pounding, grating, shredding… So you see dinner is often a very long way away. In fact it’s slowly walking here from Chiang Mai.
But when he’s done, it is normally excellent.
When we were in Bangkok last, we brought back some curry pastes from Or Tor Kor market, out near Chatuchak. These are not factory produced, but artisanal, so we brought back some Khao Soi and Gaeng Som paste. The idea was to try the Gaeng Som and make a simple lunch, but then we chucked the idea and just made the paste ourselves. When I say we, I actually mean Eddie, I was just the kitchen helper, though I was allowed to make the omelette all by myself. And so here it is:
Eddie’s Gaeng Som Sour Fish Soup with Thai Omelette
I’m not sure I should be calling this a soup, though to my Western eyes, it does look like one. In Thailand however, it is considered more of a curry and one eats it with rice. This is food for home, so you will never have eaten it in a restaurant, I can pretty much guarantee that. There are three steps to this dish, so we will work through them one by one:
12 dried chillies (the normal red ones)
6 dried bird’s eye chillies (chilli padi, see note)
½ tsp white peppercorns
4 garlic cloves
6 small shallots
2 tsp shrimp paste (ideally Thai gapi, but belachan is okay)
1½ tsp salt
2-3 krachai; fingerroot (see Note)
Heat the oven to 150ºC and roast the chillies for about 5 minutes, or until they have visibly darkened. Pop them into a grinder or blender, add and whizz to a powder.
Chop the krachai. Peel the garlic and onions and chop roughly. From here on, you have two options; the traditional pounding in a mortar or blending the lot with a little water. Eddie recommends the mortar and pestle, but then he would.
Let’s start the pounding: Begin by crushing the peppercorns, then add the garlic, shallots and krachai and give it a first bruising. Add the salt, chilli powder and the gapi or belachan and continue to pound to a fine paste. This will not take very long at all and it’s quite fun once you get going.
The blender method: If you plan on using a blender, you might want to replace the peppercorns with white pepper powder, or you can blitz them together with your chillies. The choice is yours. After this, you can simply blend all your ingredients with a very little water. Don’t make a soup, just add enough water to stop the stuff from gluing itself to the walls of the blender to escape the blades.
2 tsp fish sauce
30 Thai basil leaves
50g blanched spinach, squeezed dry
First of all I have to admit that I used frozen spinach. The thin local spinach just isn’t the same as that thick leaved Dutch one and in an omelette mushiness of spinach doesn’t signify. If you are using frozen spinach, you don’t need to blanch it, just chop it up fine together with the basil leaves. Beat the eggs with the fish sauce, add the chopped spinach and basil. Heat a little oil in a small saucepan and fry the omelette at medium heat until it is brown on the other side. You are asking how the hell you’re supposed to know whether it is brown or not? Once the edges are browned, it’s a fair assumption that the underside is browned. But you could always lift it up a little and have a peek.
Once the first side is brown and the omelette is firmed up enough to flip, flip it. This is the interesting part! A little determined wrist action is required. Hold your pan firmly, because you do not want to send it flying across the room. Now perform a little forward, upward short hook movement. Forward, upward, back. The thing not to do is throw the thing in the air. Bad idea all around. The good news is that you’re going to cut the thing up anyway, so even if you break it or drop it, you can still use it.
Once the other side is nice and brown, slide the omelette onto a chopping board and leave it to cool down. Then cut it into 3 cm squares. Eat the edges.
And now to the Curry:
750ml light stock, unsalted
200g cauliflower florets
200g Chinese cabbage
150g long beans
200g shelled prawns
130g white fish meat (I’m using filleted tenggiri steaks)
all our gaeng som paste
2 Tbsp fish sauce
1½ Tbsp dark palm sugar
60ml tamarind juice made from asam jawa
Blanch the cauliflower florets for 2 minutes in heavily salted water, then add the beans and blanch for another minute. Remove the veg from the boiling water and refresh in a bowl of iced water. Once completely cold, drain and dry on paper towels. Bring the stock to a simmer and poach your fish fillets in it. Once cooked, remove and pound to a paste in your mortar.
Add the fish paste back to the stock, dissolve the gaeng som paste in it, pour in the tamarind juice and adjust the seasoning. Your soupy curry should be pleasantly sour and a little spicy. Now add the vegetables and boil until the Chinese cabbage is just tender. Pour in as much lime juice as you like, adjust the seasoning one last time, add the omelette pieces, turn off the heat and leave to infuse for 5 minutes and you are ready to eat.
The Latin name for Krachai is Boesenbergia rotunda and it is also known as fingerroot, lesser galangal, Chinese ginger or Chinese keys, the latter sounding just a bit racist to me. None of that is going to help you when you live in Alaska and can’t find any. I would say replace it with ginger, but I’m afraid that won’t get you anywhere near the right flavour. Try this:
½ Tbsp ginger root
1 tsp ginger powder
1 bag ginseng tea powder (just open the bag and add the contents)
½ Tbsp galanggal
Dried bird’s eye chillies may be a little hard to come by. you can replace them with a few fresh bird’s eye chillies or a little hot chilli powder. Then next time you go to Bangkok, bring back a huge bag, just like Eddie did and it will last you to the end of your days. At least that’s what the man in the shop said as we paid.
Gapi, Thai shrimp paste is very similar to Malaysian belachan, but it is a little lighter in flavour, so use belachan (fermented shrimp paste), of you can find the Thai variety.
You may be wondering what an infinity pool has to do with a stack of chapati. Sometimes one needs a bit of an incentive to start on a cooking project and to be invited to the coutryside for a long weekend is one such incentive. Eddie and I are pretending that we have gone on our first holiday since the lock-down. We are visiting our good friends Thilo and Oi Wah in Janda Baik, about an hour’s drive outside of KL. We are staying for three days, so there is plenty of time to cook, chat, swim and laze about. It really is like a holiday coming up the hill. The infinity pool and the detached guest pavilion makes you feel like you’ve arrived in Bali. The weather was playing along too, with a cool breeze throughout most of the day, bright sunshine and the odd dramatic thunderstorm.
Oi Wah has tandooried an entire boneless leg of lamb for our first dinner and is going to grill it on charcoal, which will be delicious. I can confirm that it will be, because the future has already happened and so I know it was.
My task in all of this is to produce edible chapati but I have to confess that apart from rolling and roasting them in Kerala, I’ve never made a chapati in my life. Fortunately there is YouTube with all its tutorials and information, so I’m cautiously confident. The first challenge is choosing the four to use. I forgot to buy Atta flour, which is of course the correct flour to use, so I’m left with a choice of High Protein, Italian “00”, Japanese Cake Flour and Organic Wholemeal. As Atta flour is basically Indian Wholemeal (I’m not sure why I’m capitalising this, must be the German in me), my vote goes to Organic Wholemeal. Oi Wah thinks we should be using wholemeal and plain half and half, but I choose to ignore her. Let’s see how that pans out.
There’s not much to chapati making, which makes me think that it’s not easy at all. Whenever the list of ingredients and the instructions are small and basic, it usually means that there are a lot of techniques you need to know to get to a reasonable result and I, of course, have no chapati making techniques. To make chapati, you don’t need a recipe, just an ingredient list:
For the 250g flour that we used, I added 1 teaspoon salt and 1 tablespoon ghee. If you can’t find ghee, just melt a bit of butter and once you see a bit of white foam at the top, scoop it aside and spoon one tablespoon of the clear fat underneath it into your flour. Then add a small pinch of sugar to the flour mix.
Okay, let me explain this one. Butter consists of fat, water and milk solids and Ghee is clarified butter. It is usually slightly sweeter than our Western clarified butter, hence my recommendation of a pinch of sugar. Butter is clarified by melting the butter without boiling, skimming the white solids off the top, leaving the melted butter to rest 5 minutes, then pouring the clarified butter off, leaving the watery white stuff at the bottom of the pot. Alternatively, you can just add a tablespoon of vegetable oil. Much easier!
My chapati worked out alright, but I think it could have been lighter. The reason is the organic wholemeal flour I used. It is much heavier than Atta flour, so it makes a denser, less fluffy bread, chapati being bread. So I’d recommend a mix of half wholemeal and half plain flour. Someone told me she told me so.
250g of flour should give you about 10-12 chapati, depending on the size you make them. Add the salt and ghee or oil and start pouring in the warm water, little by little. Use you fingers to massage the water into the flour. Technique is important (told you it would be). Use your fingertips to “crumb” the dough, adding water handful by handful until your dough comes together. You will know when that happens, because your fingers will have dough sticking to them all through the process and when they suddenly become cleaner and the dough comes off your fingers and mostly (mostly, never entirely, okay!) sticks to the ball of dough, you’re done. Knead the dough just very quickly, cover it with cling film and leave it to rest for an hour.
Or maybe I should say the frying or griddling. The best thing to use is one of those flat roti griddles, which if I’m not mistaken is called a Tawa. But you can use a normal frying pan, as long as it’s not a non-stick pan, because you would kill that one. We don’t use oil to fry the chapati, so the non-stick will overheat and the coating will start to come off. If you have a cast iron griddle, even if it’s not flat, you can use that, otherwise a simple stainless steel pan will do just fine.
Pinch off a small ball of dough, about an inch in diameter, dust it with plain flour and flatten it into a disk, then roll it out as round as you can, which means not all that round in my case. If it starts to stick to your rolling pin, give it another dusting with plain flour.
Here’s my first chapati – not very good. Of course it isn’t really round, but that’s not the major problem. Chapatis (or is it one chapati, two chapati?) are supposed to puff up into a neat pillow and this is more like little puffs. The reason is that the dough is too thick, so without changing anything, I just rolled it thinner and that solved the problem. You will notice that the chapati only really puffs up at the second or third flipping. Here’s what I found; your pan or griddle needs to be really hot. When you first put the chapati on the pan, leave it there until you can see lighter parts appearing on the surface, then give it its first flip.
You may have to waste one or two chapati, as you adjust the heat to get it nicely brown without burning any parts. I for one don’t mind a few burnt bubbles, as long as they are not carbonised. Once your chapati is cooked, put it wrapped in a tea towel on a plate. Add the rest of the chapati to the pile and keep it covered with the cloth. The steam from the hot bread will soften and that’s what you want. Chapati are not crispy, they should be soft and fluffy.
Now I’m just going to have to make the dahl and the fish curry and have chapati for my breakfast at home. The chapati worked just as tandoori lamb and the labneh we had for our dinner. Time to ring the dinner gong and crack open that splendid bottle Thilo has brought up from the cellar.
Please remember that I’m a white guy trying to make chapati and not your Indian auntie whipping them up as she has done all her life, so be kind. My research, as limited as it was, showed the addition of baking powder (not for me, thank you), a brushing of oil over the chapati when it’s finished, and many many more variations. I did stick to YouTube contributors whose language I couldn’t understand, so I’m assuming they all knew what they were talking about. If you have tips that will make my chapati better, please let me know, my learning has only just started.
If you want to know what a really good chapati tastes like before you start on your own trials, go to Santa Chapati on Jln Tun H.S. Lee. It’s one of our regular and all time favourite breakfast joints. It may not be much to look at, but the food is great and the chapati some of the best a little money can buy.
This is my all time absolute favourite dessert. We have served it many times to many guests and there hasn’t been one who hasn’t asked for a second slice. It’s creamy, yet feels light as air (with a bit of cream in it) The recipe may look like it’s going to be heavy, it may read like a long and complicated process, but it is neither, I promise. And it’s pretty foolproof. But remember that you MUST make it the day before you serve it. The two elements you need is the cake base (I guess you could buy that) and the ricotta topping. The rest is not absolutely necessary. Look at the Note at the bottom to see how you can cheat your way around the soaking liquid and the cherry topping.
For the cake base:
4 eggs, separated
1 pinch salt
160g caster sugar
1 tsp vanilla essence
80g plain flour
Separate the eggs into the two mixing bowls that the manufacturer has hopefully provided for your stand mixer. If they haven’t, you will have some cleaning to do in between. Have all your ingredients ready and weighed and your flour sifted and your oven pre-heated to 180ºC. Using the whisk attachment, first whisk the egg whites together with the salt to stiff peaks. Now switch bowls and use the same whisk attachment to whisk the egg yolk with the sugar and the vanilla essence until the mix is light and fluffy. If you do egg whites first, then yolks, you won’t need to clean your whisk, which is a good thing.
Add half of the whisked egg whites to the egg yolk mix and gently lift it under. Once it’s more or less mixed, add the other half and again lift under. This is the point at which you need to make sure your mix is completely even. Now add the flour one third by one third. I actually sift it on top the batter, so the flour is double sifted. It guarantees less likeliness of lumps and gives a lighter cake. This is the slightly dangerous part, because you can end up with floury lumps if you add too much in one go. The trick is not to panic. Just keep turning the batter steadily.
Fill off into a very well buttered 19cm/7½” spring form and bake at 180ºC for about 30 minutes. Test the doneness by inserting a small knife into the middle. If it comes out clean, your cake is done. Leave it to cool in the tin for about 15 minutes before removing the ring of your spring form. Place a cooling rack on top of the cake and quickly turn it around. Run the tip of a small knife around the edge of the metal base, then gently lift it off. If you are worried it might all stick, line your tin with parchment paper. I myself can never be bothered and just butter my old tin with abandon.
For the soaking liquid (optional):
You don’t have to do this, because your torte is going to be delicious anyway, but I like to add this additional layer of flavour and moistness to my torte.
100g apricot jam or marmalade if you prefer
Simmer the jam or marmalade with the water until it has dissolved and slightly thickened, about 5 minutes. Strain the mix through a fine strainer and allow to cool to room temperature.
For the ricotta filling:
170g Philadelphia cream cheese
110g double cream (Bulla makes a decent one) see Note
75g caster sugar
Bring the cream cheese to room temperature to soften it, then beat it in a stand mixer with whisk attachment until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes on medium high. Open your tub of ricotta and pour off any water that may be in it. I find that in general, it is not necessary to drain the ricotta in a sieve. Add the vanilla essence and the ricotta to the cream cheese mix and whisk on medium for a minute or two. Turn off the mixer and add the double cream, then carefully whisk for 20-30 seconds until the mix has stiffened up a little. I normally do this by hand, because I don’t want to over whip the double cream.
For the cherry topping:
200g fresh cherries, stoned (frozen, if it’s not the season)
Mix the cherries with the sugar in a saucepan and leave for ten minutes. Add the water and bring to a simmer. Once the cherries are lightly softened, turn off the heat and leave to cool. Store this topping in the chiller until the next day.
Finishing the Torte:
Cut the uneven top off your cake so the inside is exposed. You need about 3”-3½” of cake base. Eat the small slice you cut off, then put the cake base back into the spring form (you don’t need to wash the form before doing this). The exposed inside of the cake should be visible. Now spoon your soaking liquid over the cake. You may have more soaking liquid than you need, so once the entire cake base is lightly soaked, you’re good. Keep the rest of the soaking liquid in a jar in the chiller for your next cake. It will keep as long as jam, so almost forever.
Spoon the ricotta filling on top of the cake, pushing down around the rim with the back of your spoon to squeeze the filling into the gap between cake and tin. Smooth the surface as best as you can, wrap your spring form holding the cake with cling film and leave it in the chiller overnight, so it sets completely.
Just before serving run a small knife around the edge of the cake to loosen it from the tin, remove the ring and slide the torte onto a cake tray. Spoon the cherry topping over and serve.
The double cream – I know it can be very difficult to find double cream in Asia, so your options are: Use 80ml whipping cream instead or use 50g mascarpone mixed with 60ml whipping cream.
Can’t be bothered to make soaking liquid and/or topping – The best and fastest replacement is a jar of cherry jam. Take 150g of the jam, add 50ml hot water and stir to dissolve. Take the liquid and use it to soak the cake, take the more solid part and use it as your topping.
Even that’s too much trouble – Throw some fresh fruit on top and dust with icing sugar about an half an hour before yo serve the cake. Alternatively spread a little honey on the cake before you add the ricotta topping and top your torte with freshly sliced ripe mango. I’ve done that before and it is simple and really delicious!
“He who does not love potatoes does not love life!”
Or maybe not. As dear Cicero died in 43BC (assassinated, I’m sorry to say), he could not have ever tried a potato. Though they were cultivated some 10,000 years ago in modern day Peru and Bolivia, they did not make their way to Europe until the second half of the 16th century, at which time Cicero was dust. He does however look like a man who might have liked a potato or two and who can blame him. Of course the potato only really came into its own once someone thought of frying it in boiling oil. Which is where this bridge becomes into its own.
In the 18th century, the Pont Neuf (new bridge in English), which is obviously the oldest bridge along the Seine, used to have street vendors all along it and what they were famous for, apparently from exactly 1789 (the year that got events and quite a few heads rolling) were the “Pommes Pont Neuf” and they were, you may have guessed it, French Fried Potatoes. This is hotly contested by the Belgians who claim the fried potato as their national dish (I think).
The best fries I myself have ever eaten were fried by an Italian lady in Luxembourg, who used horse fat to fry them in. They were so legendary that even on rainy days there would be a queue in front of her little window where she passed her “fritten” to the customers. Eddie got to try them once before dear Erzi hung up her apron. It was a cold night and we had just had a pizza, so Eddie refused to fries right after that. But only until he tried mine. We both dream of Erzi’s fries to this very day. My own version does not require you to render a horse, but they are still quite addictive. So let’s get started!
If you are afraid of fat, or carbs or an unhealthy combination of both, I suggest you stop reading right now. I’m giving you the quantities for 4 portions, which is really only enough if you serve them as a side dish. Think 1 big potato per person for a side, 2 for a snack and 3 for vicious indigestion preceded by wonderful indulgence.
Chris & Eddie’s Incredible Rosemary & Garlic Roast Potatoes
4 big russet potatoes
2 Tbsp duck fat (or lard), but a little more is permitted
4 sprigs of fresh rosemary, about 10cm each
5 garlic cloves, peeled and just crushed
coarse grey sea salt (Sel the Guérande, if you can find it)
Peel your potatoes and cut them into large and probably irregular dice. Wash them in 2 changes of water, then leave them to soak in the water for an hour. Bring a large pot of water to the boil.Once it boils, salt the water heavily. Drop all the potatoes into the boiling water and blanch for exactly 5 minutes from the moment you dropped them in.
Pour the potatoes into a colander and rinse in plenty of running water to stop the potatoes from cooking any further. Toss them about in the colander to evaporate any water left on them. Now heat the duck fat or lard in an oven proof dish. Once the fat has melted and started to heat, add the rosemary and garlic and just stir in until you can smell the fragrance of both. Chuck your potatoes in and toss to coat evenly with the fat.
This is the point at which you can stop and leave the potatoes alone until it’s time to roast them. They will happily sit there for an hour or two. What they will not do very happily is sit in the colander for more than 15 minutes. As they are not cooked through, they will slowly start to change colour. Tossing them in fat will stop that from happening.
Pre-heat your oven to 180ºC. Once the oven is nicely hot, you can put the potatoes in. It’s going to take about an hour for the potatoes to get nicely golden and crisp on the outside and creamy tender on the inside. Carefully stir the potatoes to coat evenly about 3 times throughout the roasting time. At first it will be difficult to do without breaking the potatoes up, so give it at least 20-30 minutes before the first stir. Once they are browned, stirring them will be a breeze.
Make sure your dish fits the potatoes in more or less one layer, taking into account that they will shrink a little. If you crowd them too much, they won’t brown nicely. The shape you cut them into doesn’t matter too much, but I have to warn you off trying to make them look like fries! They will break so easily that it’s all but impossible. Fries need to be deep fried and this system of roasting isn’t going to work. So stick with dice or rounds. I do promise that you will love the potatoes. One more little secret; if you get the amount of fat just right, they will be as good cold as warm. If you notice at the end that there is a little too much fat, scoop the potatoes into another dish, quickly wipe down the roasting dish with paper towels and return your potatoes to the warm dish.
And before I leave you for today, I’m going to tempt you with many different versions of these roast potatoes. Bacon or thick cut ham, the addition of a spoonful of butter at the last stir, lard and salt, it’s all good, so let your creativity run riot.
Capsicum are a pretty vegetable. Which of course they are not. They are actually a fruit, if we are to be pedantic. Just like the tomato, they belong to the nightshade family. When I make this dish, I like to choose as many different colours of capsicum as I can find, because unlike zucchini, which taste more or less the same, no matter what the colour, capsicum actually taste entirely different in every colour. Sometimes, however my enthusiasm for an unusual colour does not pay off. I added this gorgeous purple pepper to the selection and once roasted, it turned a dull washed-out taupe. Taupe is the French name for a mole (the animal) and that’s exactly what it looked like; dead mole. But don’t let that put you off. It’s a great dish!
It’s a really easy dish to make and there are lots of different variations you can try. Check out the Hausfrauen Ratschlag at the end!
Roast Bell Peppers
1 can peeled tomatoes
5 medium peppers (capsicum)
1 big brown onion
7 cloves of garlic
1 Tbsp chopped oregano (about 10 sprigs)
salt & black pepper
Put the canned tomatoes into a blender and blend to a fine puree. Strain through a Chinois, or a rough strainer. If your strainer is too fine, you will only get tomato water and no solids. If you only have a fine strainer, it’s better to just not strain the puree at all. Lightly salt the tomato puree.
Cut the top off your peppers, take out the seeds, cut each pepper into quarters and cut out the white ribs. Salt and pepper the inside of the peppers lightly. Peel the onion, cut it in half lengthwise (from the beard to the tip) and slice each half into very fine slices. Crush and peel the garlic and chop it roughly. Pluck the oregano leaves off the sprigs and roughly chop them.
Generously oil a ceramic or a cast iron roasting tray and drop a few blobs of your tomato puree into it. You don’t want to evenly spread the puree, just blob it. Scatter the onions all over the bottom of the tray, then sprinkle the chopped garlic and oregano all over the onions. Salt and pepper lightly and drizzle olive oil all over it. Spoon the rest of the tomato puree all over the onions and start layering the peppers over it all. Salt and pepper lightly and drizzle with a little olive oil before you put it into a 180ºC oven. Roast for about an hour and a half, until the peppers start to brown.
I like the simple, rustic look of this dish. The burnt edges, the uneven layering and the absence of any decoration gives it a homely feel (in both senses of the word). If you want to jazz it up, just chop some parsley and very thinly slice some shallots and sprinkle them over. Two freshly toasted (or fried!) slices of bread chopped with parsley and garlic will also work well as a decorative topping.
Here are a few different interpretations of the same dish:
Bell Pepper Salad: Make the dish as shown above. Make a vinaigrette with olive oil, sherry vinegar and chopped parsley and pour half of it over the vegetables while they are still hot. Pour the rest over just before serving and scatter freshly chopped parsley on top.
Vegetarian One Dish Lunch: Add more substantial types of vegetables to the mix and serve the dish with Basmati Rice. Blanch quartered small fennel bulbs for 10 minutes, then drain. Use the same water to blanch thick sliced potatoes for 5 minutes. Chop some tarragon to sprinkle over the potatoes and some mint to go over the fennel and alternate 3 rows of fennel, potato and peppers.
Peppers, Zucchini & Aubergine: Cut the aubergine lengthwise into thick slices, generously salt them and toss them in enough olive oil to have them evenly coated. Slice the zucchini crosswise on the bias, salt them and leave them to disgorge for 10 minutes, then pat them dry. Layer the vegetables and proceed as above. Alternatively, you can cay all the vegetables into thick dice, mix it all up with the onion and tomato puree and roast it like that. Fry some diced bread in olive oil, toss a handful of chopped parsley into the hot pan with the croutons and spoon it all over the dish just before you serve it.
I was going to share this recipe with you yesterday, but then I ended up doing instead of writing. Eddie and I had some friends over for lunch and I broke my cardinal rule and made something I’d never cooked before, which is generally a bad idea. Of course you will know that it worked out just fine, otherwise I’d have kept very quiet about it. I’m not quite sure why, but I really wanted to do a fully cooked (yup, that’s well-done) leg of lamb stuffed with livers, pistachios, lots of garlic and my favourite ras el hanout spice mix. More about that one later and if you’re thinking to abandon this recipe because you don’t have ras el hanout, don’t! Be a little creative and make a spice mix you like. I’m giving you some tips in the note below just in case you’re suffering from cooker’s block.
I used a leg of lamb, but you could just as well use a boneless shoulder. Just make sure your lamb has some fat on it, or it might turn out dry and horrible. Don’t balk at the long roasting time, you’ll thank me when you try the dish. Now I’m not sure how to say this with any humility at all, so I’m not even going to try; it was fantastic! Wonderful, deep flavours, lots of self generated sauce and a roast that literally melts in your mouth. Four of us ate the entire 1.6kg leg. And that’s the weight before the stuffing has gone in.
I produced quite a menu. In hindsight one of the vegetable dishes would have been enough, especially since I really didn’t have enough oven to bake all the things at the same time! Fortunately all the sides are quite forgiving, so they don’t object to being made in advance and then reheated.
Roast peppers, zucchini gratin with mint, rosemary garlic super potatoes.
I”m going to give you the recipes for these side dishes one by one over the next few days. I posted the zucchini gratin before, (Roast Rack of Lamb) but in this version the mint replaces the basil and because we have so much garlic in everything, I’ve omitted it here. Anyway, here’s this version Zucchini Gratin. And if you want to make A Beautiful Tray of Roast Peppers fit for a Sunday Feast, just click on it. Last, but definitely not least, there is my recipe for the best potatoes I can muster. I’ve posted a version of it before, but this is a bit more complete More Tales of the Super Potato.
Let’s get started:
Slow Roast Leg of Lamb with Chicken Livers, Pistachios and Basil
For the Stuffing:
200g chicken livers, cleaned weight
150g brown onions, finely sliced
25g garlic, roughly chopped
25g pistachios, chopped
25g raisins, chopped
1 handful basil leaves, julienned
50ml good olive oil
150ml water or light chicken stock
Start by making your stuffing. This will need to cool down completely before you can stuff the lamb. I like to make this a day in advance, so the lamb has time to take on the flavour and also, it’s just easier to have the lamb all done and tied up, so you can just sear it and get the thing into the oven.
Make sure the livers are perfectly cleaned, then chop them by hand into a rough mince. Heat the olive oil in a cast iron pot and fry the onions at medium heat for 3 minutes. They should be soft, but not browned. Now add the garlic and fry for another minute, or until the garlic is just starting to brown. Now add the pistachios and just stir in for 30 seconds, then add the ras el hanout and fry for another minute. add the couscous and pour in the stock or water. Stir until the mixture has absorbed most of the liquid and turn off the heat. Add in the chopped raisins and the basil julienne, mix in and leave to cool. Don’t worry if the couscous doesn’t feel all cooked through, it will soften while the mix cools.
For the Lamb:
1 boneless leg of lamb, about 1.6kg
1 Tbsp ras al hanouth spice mix (see Note)
salt & black pepper
250ml chicken stock
one quantity of stuffing
olive oil for frying
Now this is a little more complicated than the stuff I normally write about and that’s mostly because of the stuffing. A leg of lamb has an unwieldy shape and to get it to form a nice, relatively even roll, you will need to trim some of the muscle to flatten it. Start by taking it out of the net it comes in and laying it flat on you chopping board. Trim down the most obviously thick parts to get one more or less even, flatter piece of meat. Keep trying to roll it to see how the shape will be. Don’t worry too much of there are some holes in it and some of the stuffing falls out. Once it is tied and fried, you will still be left with enough stuffing to give you a nice flavour.
Salt and pepper the lamb generously on both sides. Now cut about 8 lengths of string and lay them out on your chopping board. Place the lamb fat side down on the strings. Spread all the stuffing over the lamb as evenly as you can, then roll it up. You may want to enlist the help of your partner or of a friend, which will make your life a lot easier. Tie the strings relatively tight. Not so tight that the stuffing is squeezed out, but tight enough to hold it all in shape. Chill the finished lamb roll covered in cling film overnight in your chiller.
You will need a cast iron “Dutch Oven”, preferably an oval one, as it holds the lamb roll much better than a round one. But you got to use what you have, so a larger round pot will work, if that’s what you have. If you don’t have a cast iron pot, an oven-proof glass one should do the trick.
The roast will be in the oven for 4½ hours, so time your lunch or dinner well. It’s quite forgiving, but I would recommend you don’t extend the time the roast is waiting in the oven by more than 20 minutes maximum.
Fry your lamb to a nice brown colour on all sides. The lamb will not take any additional colour from the roasting, so what you see here once you’ve fry it is what you’ll get! Some of the stuffing will fall out and some of it may burn in the frying process, but as long as you don’t get any burnt bits stuck on your lamb, there’s no need to worry. Once your lamb is beautifully browned, take it out and put it into your lightly oiled Dutch oven. You can leave the lamb in there at room temperature until you want to start the roasting. It will happily sit there for a few hours.
Heat your oven to 120º-125ºC. This is not going to be easy, as most ovens don’t really like low heat, so I recommend you try this well in advance and if at all possible, use an oven thermometer. Pour the chicken stock over the lamb and heat the pot with the lid on until the stock is starting to boil and the lid feels warm. Now put your Dutch oven into the, well, the oven, close the door and monitor the temperature for the next half hour. You’re better off with a slightly lower than a slightly higher temperature, so avoid sudden bursts of heat. Once the oven is steadily at the right heat, you can relax.
The lamb doesn’t need turning or basting or being interfered with in any way. Just leave it in there to stew in its own juices. And while it’s doing that, make your “beurre manié”. Let the 25g butter come to room temperature, mix 25g flour into it and put the whole thing back in the chiller. You will be using this to lightly thicken your sauce.
After four and a half hours, your pot will be filled with delicious sauce and a beautiful melt in the mouth lamb roll. Remove the lamb from the pot and put it on a carving board. Remove all the strings, but don’t carve the lamb! Heat the sauce without straining and add some of the beurre manié. Do this little by little. You will probably not need all the beurre manié, because you’re aiming for a lightly thickened sauce, not a pot of stodge. Carve the lamb into thickish slices at the table and serve straight away.
For the Yoghurt Sauce:
200ml Greek style yoghurt
1½ Tbsp chopped garlic
1½ Tbsp chopped pistachios
½ Tbsp smoked paprika
30ml good olive oil
Rolling and tying the lamb might be a little more difficult, but making the sauce that goes with it could not be easier if it tried. Spread the yoghurt in a shallow dish. Gently heat the olive oil in a saucepan. I like to add the garlic before the oil is hot, so that the oil doesn’t overheat and lose its lovely flavour. Once the garlic is lightly brown add the pistachios. You want the pistachios to be just slightly chopped, not reduced to powder. Heat for another minute, then spoon the garlic and pistachios out of the oil and pour them over the yoghurt. Whatever oil sticks to the garlic and pistachio will only enhance the sauce, so don’t strain the solids out.
Reheat the oil just a little and add the smoked paprika. Turn off the heat. The paprika should sizzle lightly when you add it, but make sure not to burn it. The oil should turn a deep red. Leave to cool a little, then spoon over the yoghurt and you’re done.
NOTE: If you have problems finding ras el hanout, you can make it yourself. I always make mine, and even though it’s a bit time consuming because of all the different spices you need to have, it gives by far the best result. Alternatively, you could replace it with something completely different. Nutmeg, cinnamon and allspice will work. So will coriander, fennel and ginger, with or without a pinch of chili powder. But for the brave, here is the recipe for my version of Ras el Hanout:
For the Ras el Hanout Spice Mix:
2 tsp ground ginger
2 Tbsp whole green cardamom
1 hand of dried mace (meaning one whole mace nest)
2 sticks Sri Lankan cinnamon
½ Tbsp allspice seeds
1 Tbsp coriander seeds
1 tsp ground nutmeg
1 heaped tsp turmeric
½ Tbsp black peppercorns
½ Tbsp white peppercorns
½ tsp ground cayenne pepper
½ Tbsp fennel seeds
It’s a lot of things, I know, but the story goes that the spice merchant who came up with it simply assembled all the best spices he had in the shop and mixed them all together. Here’s the best way to do it, in my not entirely humble opinion:
Heat a dry stainless steel pan. Do not use a non-stick pan. The coating doesn’t like heating up without any oil and you will damage the pan. So go steel or cast iron. Put all the whole spices, including the mace and cinnamon into the pan and toast them until the mace has changed colour and the whole thing is nice and fragrant. This will take about 5 minutes and has two advantages; you will concentrate the flavours and your spices will become more brittle, so they will be easier to grind.
Once the spices have cooled down a bit, put them into a blender and process dry. Not all grinders can do this. If you are lucky enough to have an amazingly efficient, but dreadfully ungainly Panasonic grinder, use the small bowl and it will make short shrift of the grinding. Now all you need is to add the powdered spices, mix it all together and store it in an airtight jar until you need it.
Don’t run screaming from the virtual room, just because I said the word “Gratin” again! this is a very different animal altogether. Serve it with lamb. Or beef. Or chicken tagine, a recipe I promise to post sometime soon. Actually, you can eat it just like that with rice. This just gave me another idea for a vegetarian, but meaty tasting One Dish Wonder gratin that you will not be able to escape either. Now to the grating gratin:
2 medium zucchini
1 big handful of mint leaves
2 handful breadcrumbs
plenty of good olive oil
plenty of black pepper
garlic, if you want
feta, if you like
You may have noticed that this is not one of these exact grams of everything recipes. It’s more of an instinctive cooking thing. Just chuck it together and it will turn out great, I promise. Unless you’re completely talentless and then maybe knitting?
Slice your zucchini into nice biggish slices. Obviously the amount you will need depends on your gratin dish, so use your brain. (am I becoming grumpy?) Now salt your zucchini. How much salt do you need? My trick is to salt, wait 3 minutes, then take a bite. If that’s how salty you want it, you’re good. If not add more salt, toss about again and try one more bite in another 3 minutes. IF you’ve screwed up the first time around and the zucchini are much too salty, fret not. Quickly wash the veg and dry them and start over.
Chop the mint (or in fact any other herb you fancy) and mix it with the breadcrumbs (I’m using Italian Pan Grattato), some salt and black pepper. Taste the thing and you’ll know whether its what you like. Now I made this dish as an accompaniment to a highly flavoured lamb, so there’s no garlic. If you’re serving it with something lighter, I’d recommend the addition of a tablespoon of chopped garlic to the breadcrumbs.
Layer the zucchini in an attractive way in your lightly oiled gratin dish. Easier said than done. If all fails, just toss them into the dish. It’s always better to pretend you intended a creative mess than to fail in attractive layering! Anyway, the taste will be good no matter what the thing looks like. Just so you know, you don’t need to wash your zucchini slices or pat them dry. Life’s just too short for it. Generously pepper your beautifully layered zucchini and very generously salt them. If you have feta cheese in the chiller and you feel so inclined, crumb some over your gratin before you cover it all with bread crumbs.
Pour good olive oil in a thin, but magnanimous long stream over the entire dish, so the crumbs are pretty much soaked. Put it into a 180ºC ovenand roast for about 20 minutes. Then turn on the grill, if you have one and just brown the gratin. If your grill doesn’t do a half power setting, I recommend that you crouch nest to it the whole time the grill is on. And I’m not joking. You don’t want to burn the thing at the last minute!