Spanish Eggs

I call it Spanish eggs, but it’s probably about as Spanish as Bizet’s Carmen. It’s just that the dish reminded my of Spain. I do miss the travelling! Treat the family (or just yourself) to a great tomato egg tomorrow morning, why don’t you? By the way, the paprika I am using is from our friend Aida’s shop and it’s quite the best there is; sweet, smoky and with a nice little spicy kick. (https://www.mysybaritas.com/)

Eggs with Fried Tomatoes and Paprika
  • 1 medium tomato
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 Tbsp breadcrumbs
  • 1 tsp Spanish smoked paprika
  • salt & black pepper
  • a pinch of sugar
  • 1½ Tbsp olive oil to fry
  • a little chopped cilantro or parsley for the top

You will need a small frying pan with a lid (or any lid that will cover it) to make this. Slice the tomato into 4-5 slices. You should have just enough to cover the base of your pan. Check the quality of your tomato by eating the end bit. If you live in Malaysia, chances are your tomatoes may look nice and red, but they will not be sweet at all. If so, sprinkle a little bit of sugar on your slices. Be careful though, no one should be able to tell that you sugared your tomatoes.

Lightly salt and pepper the tomatoes on one side only. Sift the paprika into the breadcrumbs. I know it’s one more thing to wash, but sifting the paprika will make your life much easier, as it tends to clump a bit. There is no need to salt the breadcrumb mix. In fact, I think salting breadcrumbs is a bit of a waste of time, unless you have extremely fine salt. The normal fine salt is heavy and will just fall to the bottom of the plate, so I prefer to salt the tomato rather than the crumbs.

Break the eggs into a bowl, add two pinches of salt and a good grind of black pepper and beat the eggs until they froth lightly. Heat the olive oil in your small pan. Lightly press both sides of the tomato slices into the breadcrumbs and fry one side of the tomatoes on high heat. Once golden, turn them over and immediately add the eggs. Once the side of the eggs starts to set, turn the heat to low, cover the pan and leave to cook for 4 minutes.

The cooking time depends a lot on your stove, but once you have figures out the time, you can pretty much rely on it. I set my phone alarm to 4 minutes exactly and it works out just perfect every time. What you’re looking for are eggs that are just set, with a little uncooked egg at the top. This will be partially set by the residual heat once you turn the egg over, as you must.

To turn the pan unto the plate, take the pan off the heat (obviously!), cover it with your plate and deftly turn both plate and pan. As I myself am not particularly deft, I like to use two kitchen cloths to hold the pan and plate in place. I have tried just turning the thing holding on to the handle of the pan, but it’s mostly a disaster, so…

A light sprinkling of chopped cilantro and you’re all set for a great breakfast. I eat this one without toast. I find it’s hearty enough to support me all the way to lunch, but if I was eating toast with it, I’d butter it fresh out of the toaster and then I’d rub a halved garlic clove over it.

It is every bit as delicious as it looks

A Better Butter

You may be wondering why you have not heard from me in such a long time (or you may not) and the answer is: Cheese! I’ve been making it and it takes time, especially if you are making butter and sausages as well. It’s all this churning, curdling, pressing and stuffing that gets into the way of writing your blogs. But as you can see, cheese makes you happy.

This is a Leicester that will be ready to eat in 4 months’ time. Below are the various Halloumi, Feta, Munster and Tomme I made in my short absence from the blog.

And it’s butter we should start with. Why make your own? Because you can! And then most butter here in Malaysia is either very commercial or very expensive, so I did a bit of research and found that I could culture the cream with cultures I ordered online and then would never need to order cultures again! “Why is that?” I hear you ask. It’s a bit of a long and convoluted story, but let me try and make it simple.

In the beginning there was a cow. Its rich, fresh milk would split into cream that would rise to the top and milk that settled under it. Both the milk and cream contained cultures that would turn the lactose in milk and cream into lactic acid and this acid would sour the milk and turn the cream naturally into crème fraîche or sour cream. That was nature. Then we came and made the milk safer for drinking by pasteurising it. Although that was better for mankind, it was not good for butter. The cream would no longer culture and the butter, though perfectly fine ended up without the richness of the lush green fields.

A lovely block of homemade butter

And that’s where the cultures come into play. By adding Mesophilic Aromatic culture to the cream, we reintroduce the lost bacteria and once the butter has been churned, the left over buttermilk (as well as the butter) will contain these cultures, so you can use them again to make more butter! You can even freeze the buttermilk and the bacteria will sleep until you wake it up again. It’s like magic!! The butter you have made out of cultured cream will not only age very well, it will develop a wonderful, deep flavour you simply cannot find in store-bought butter. And of course you can add whatever type of salt you like!

Cultured Butter, Crème Fraîche & Buttermilk

No, it’s not three different recipes. You get three for the price (and work) of one! You can decide whether to do a single recipe’s worth (I don’t recommend it, because the work does NOT double with the quantity and neither does the washing up) or do three in one go. Three is as much as my Kitchenaid will take, so that’s normally as big as I go.

  • 1 litre cream
  • 1/16 tsp Mesophilic Aroma Type B cultures or 50ml buttermilk
  • (1.8% of the weight of the butter in salt if you are salting your butter)

Crème Fraîche and Buttermilk are by-products of butter making, so we don’t need to worry about them, they just happen. There are 5 stages to making butter:

  1. Culturing the cream
  2. Churning the butter (whisking, in our case)
  3. Squeezing out the buttermilk
  4. Washing the butter
  5. Shaping the butter

Culturing the Butter

Culturing the butter will sour it and set it to the texture of soft tofu. This adds a great flavour to the butter. There are two ways to do this, either with a store (or online) bought culture, or by adding 5% of the volume of cream in buttermilk. So for each litre of cream, you add 50ml buttermilk. But you have to make sure your buttermilk contains live cultures. I’m not quite sure how you test that, short of just trying it out. If the buttermilk has been pasteurised, or heated to more than 38ºC, the cultures will be dead and your cream won’t sour.

If you are using culture, you will need one for buttermilk, which is basically a Mesophilic Aroma Type B. Start by heating the cream gently to 30ºC, sprinkling the culture on top and leaving it to hydrate for 5 minutes, then stirring it in thoroughly. And that’s it! Pour the cream into a jar or tub that will just hold it, close the lid and leave it at room temperature, between 20ºC and 30ºC for 24 hours. This is not going to ferment (unless you did something wrong) so there is no danger of the jars exploding.

If you are using buttermilk, just add the buttermilk to the cream and heat both up together. If your buttermilk is frozen, put the frozen buttermilk into the cream and wait for it to dissolve before heating the cream. The proceed as above.

After 24 hours at room temperature, your cream has turned into crème fraîche and can scoop off as much as you like. I actually prefer to pour some of the heated cream mix into a dedicated container and leave that out together with the cream for the butter. Then after 24 hours, I can just chuck the container into the chiller and my crème fraîche will be happy for a week or two.

There it sits between the toaster and the olive oil in the relative dark for 24 hours before going into the wine chiller

You could make butter straight away, but I like to mature my crème fraîche for a few days. If you have a wine chiller, transfer your cream for butter making into the wine chiller and leave it there for 48 hours. If you don’t, put the cream into the vegetable drawer of your chiller and leave it there for 3-4 days.

Churning the Butter

Once all of that has been done and the cream has turned into something greater, pour it into the bowl of your stand mixer. I say pour, but if it’s matured nicely, you should be able to turn it upside down without it falling out. Loosen the bottom with a spoon and the whole mass should plop out easily. Attach the whisk and whisk the cream at the second highest setting. My Kitchenaid stand mixer will take three litres of cream at most, so check the capacity of your mixer before you start on a ten litre batch. Watch the cream carefully and you’ll see that it’s becoming fluffier at first, then it starts to look a little lumpy and over-whisked, which is about the time you want to bring the speed down a notch.

Now, you can just let the thing be whisked at top speed and get butter but reducing the speed throughout the process will extract more buttermilk right from the start and make your life a lot easier when it’s time to wash the butter. So lower the speed gradually, so that when the first bits of liquid buttermilk appear, you can switch to the lowest setting.

You will soon see the first specks of butter appear. Make sure you’re at the lowest speed, but do NOT turn the mixer off at this point. Keep churning your butter until it has formed clumps around the whisk and the buttermilk is sloshing around in the bowl. Now turn the machine off and do NOT turn it on again unless you fancy mopping up the buttermilk that will have been ejected from the bowl all over your kitchen counter.

Squeezing out the Buttermilk

Now you have butter floating in a sea of buttermilk and all you need to do is get all the buttermilk out of the butter.  Take a bowl (preferably chilled) and put your newly crafted butter into it. Tilt the bowl and squeeze the butter against the side and you will see a lot of buttermilk coming out. Pour this back into the bowl of the mixer that holds the rest of the buttermilk and you’re ready to wash the butter.

Washing the Butter

Prepare a large bowl with lightly iced water. You need this to be cold, but not so cold that your hands suffer frostbite. I like this part, so I make my water agreeable chilly and washing the butter will be a joy. Drop the whole ball of butter into the iced water. Start kneading the ball of butter. I like to just squeeze the butter between my fingers. The water will become milk as you knead.

Keep doing this for at least five minutes and you will notice the texture change very subtly. This is extremely important. If you knead it well, you butter will be smooth and wonderful, if you don’t, it will be crumbly and not quite so wonderful, so err on the side of caution and squeeze that baby!

If you are a dab hand at butter making, you will not need to change the water, but if you are new at it, you may want to prepare a second bowl of iced water and move the butter into it after kneading. Squeeze it a few more times and if your water remains clear, you’re obviously in the clear. If you are not salting your butter, shape it any way you like, wrap it in parchment paper or cling film and drop it into the chiller.

Salting the Butter

If you are salting either all or part of the butter, weight the washed butter and add 1.8% of its weight in salt. So that’s 1.8g salt per 100g butter. This will feel like a tiny amount of salt but resist the urge to add more. Make sure to massage the salt well into the butter, so it is evenly distributed. If you are going to the trouble to salt your butter, you should really use some nice salt to do it with. Try coarse sea salt, or Maldon smoked salt flakes.

Shaping the Butter:

You can shape your butter by just rolling it into a cylinder, using either parchment paper or clingfilm. I find that using surgical gauze, which you can pick up by the roll from most pharmacies makes the shaping much easier. So first wrap the ball of butter in gauze, then squeeze it into the shape you want.

I actually use tofu moulds I got online to mould my butter. I first line them with surgical gauze, then drop the butter into it, push it into the corners as best as I can, cover it with more gauze and then use the follower provided with the mould to press it into shape. I then put the whole tofu basket into the chiller for an hour or two to firm the butter up.

Next, I pull it out of the mould, which requires a little brute force, so make sure there is enough gauze to hold on to and pull. I have parchment paper in two colours, so I can easily tell the salted butter from the unsalted without having to peer at a label that’s illegible to my unbespectacled old eyes. Remove the gauze and check for rogue threads on your butter and it will stick nicely to the baking parchment without the grease coming through.

Enjoying the Butter:

Your homemade butter will get better after a few days in the chiller, so take your time to enjoy it. It will easily last a month or more, if it’s stored in a properly cold chiller (that’s one set to 2ºC). Any extra blocks can be either vacuum packed in its wrapper, if you have a vacuum machine, or just put into a freezer bag to prevent other it acquiring a freezer smell. It will then last for a year or more.

Words of Advice:

You are dealing with live cultures here, so hygiene is very important. Wash your hands thoroughly before you start making butter, wash all your containers with a good amount of soap and use clean towels throughout. Surgical gauze does not need to be washed, as long as you keep it wrapped after opening the package. You do not want pink mold to appear on your butter. You don’t need to go crazy sterilising everything, just keep it all freshly washed and your butter will be fresh for a long while.

Not all creams are created equal! Look for a cream that does not have emulsifiers in it, otherwise your cream might not split at all. Stabiliser (that’s E407) is usually fine, but emulsifiers have the nasty habit of bringing your cream back together again just at the moment it was about to turn to butter. So if your butter won’t churn; it’s not you, it’s your cream!

Leberkäse

Liver Cheese in English. Which would explain it all if only it had liver or cheese in it, but confoundedly, it has neither. Does it make you smell of cheese and feel liverish? Not either. The etymology is fascinating to a language nerd like me. Laiba in old German means leftovers and käse is a corruption of kasten, box. Leftovers in a box? Great name! It is actually a grand meatloaf and quite possibly the best you will ever have eaten. Fantastic straight out of the oven, wonderful chilled and sliced thinly on your sandwich and even better (wait for it…) sliced thick, fried in butter and served with an egg on top. A heart attack never felt that good! Your no liver or cheese Livercheese will keep for two weeks in the chiller and give you and your cardiologist lots of pleasure.

It may seem daunting to make, but it’s actually very easy! And if you don’t have a meat grinder, you can cut it all into small cubes and put it into your food processor! If you don’t have one of those either, forget about it. Unless you have Popeye forearms, you shouldn’t attempt to chop this by hand.

Leberkäse – Meatloaf (if you must)

enough to fill one 1.45l terrine mould

  • 500g pork shoulder
  • 300g lean pork belly
  • 200g pork backfat (green fat)
  • 21g nitrate salt mix* (see note #2)
  • 5g white pepper
  • 2g garlic powder
  • 1g ginger powder
  • 1.5g cardamom powder
  • 2g coriander powder
  • 2g nutmeg
  • 40g onion
  • 220g cold water

Make sure that the meat, as well as the mince is really cold at every stage, so crank up your air-conditioning, if you are in the tropics and if necessary, spread the mince on a flat tray, cover it and put it into the freezer for half an hour for a little extra chilling, if that becomes necessary. The reason for this is not bacteria, which our nitrate salt will keep at bay, but protein. If the meat becomes too warm, the protein that we later need to bind our Leberkäse together will break down and we will end up with a crumbly loaf.

Before you start, butter your terrine or cake mould and line the bottom with a piece of parchment paper. You can line the long sides, but I find filling the thing is then more cumbersome that just running a knife around it after baking. Make sure that the mould you are using can hold water. The baking process generates a lot of juices that you don’t want to have making a mess of your oven.

Cut all the meats into strips that will fit into the mincer, dice the onion and then spread it all on a tray and chill overnight. The next day, put it all through the finest bald of the mincer. The fat will be the most difficult to process, so alternate a bit of fat with a bit of meat to give your grinder a little rest. Once this is done, roughly mix the mince and pass it through the finest blade one more time.

Putting minced meat through the mincer is a little troublesome, but if you form little balls or sausages that can be dropped down the feeder tube your life will be easier. Oh, and push the pusher all the way down before trying to pull it all out again. The minced meat tends to form a little vacuum in the feeder if you don’t. Feed all this mince into the bowl of your mixer.

This is the point at which you want to preheat your oven to 80ºC on a top and bottom heat setting, if possible.

Attach the bowl to your mixer and using the blade at a low speed, add the spices, salt and pepper. Once this is mixed reasonably well, slowly pour in the ice cold water. As soon as the water has been absorbed, you can increase the speed to the second setting and leave this to run for two minutes. Now check the internal temperature. You need this to be 12ºC, so if it is still too cold, leave it to mix a while longer. If it is a little warmer, don’t panic quite yet, as long as you are under 18ºC you should be fine. If you don’t have a meat thermometer, you should still be able to gauge the temperature by touch. Warmer than a nice bottle of beer, but colder than running water from the tap. Unless you live in the Alps.

Fill the forcemeat (which is what your mince is called now) into the prepared mould, making sure there are no air pockets. Use a scraper or spatula to smooth the surface. This is easier if you wet the scraper. Last, add a nice diamond pattern to the top and you’re ready!

Bake it at 80ºC for 20 minutes. Increase the heat to 120ºC and bake for 1.5 – 2 hours until the internal temperature is 70ºC. I found that in my thin long terrine this was done within 1 hour and 20 minutes. If you don’t have a meat thermometer, this should be reached once the sides are bubbling furiously and the loaf is perfectly springy to the touch. Increase the heat to 200ºC and bake for another 5 minutes, just to get a nice, brown crust.

Here’s a repeat for those of you who have skipped straight to the recipe:
You can eat the Leberkäse straight from the oven, sliced into nice thick slices. Leave it to rest for ten minutes before cutting, though. You can also cool it completely and then eat it thinly sliced on well buttered bread, which is incredibly delicious. I pile a few slices on hot, buttered toast and believe me, life doesn’t get much better. Another heart-attack-provoking way of serving cold Leberkäse is slicing it thick, then frying it in lard and serving it on toast with a fried egg on top. That’s what my German grandmother used to do and we loved her for it.

NOTE:          If you are using one of those thermometers that you can just stick into the thing and put in the oven, do not remove it until the Leberkäse has cooled down at least a little, or quite a bit of the juice will come streaming out.

NOTE #2:     You can order nitrate salt online. Make sure this is a ready to use mix and not pure nitrate, because that would kill you. You can make this Leberkäse with plain salt, but it won’t be pink (which doesn’t really matter) and it will not keep as long. With nitrate and kept well chilled you can eat it for a week or more. As long as it smells good and isn’t slimy to the touch, it’s good to eat. I’m saying slimy, not oily, because it’s definitely oily. Without, I would try and eat it within 5 days if you make sure it stays chilled, so no taking it out to put on the table for an hour!

Lamb Tagine with Green Olives and Preserved Lemon

Tagine is a dish that you either love or hate, though I honestly don’t understand how you can hate something so deeply satisfying. I have to admit that a lot of middle eastern food leaves me entirely cold, quite probably because it is so desperately badly cooked here in Malaysian restaurants. So if, like me, you can’t possibly bear the thought of another dry as shoe leather skewer of sinewy lamb, here’s a recipe that will change your mind forever!

Tagine is traditionally served with bread, not rice or couscous, though I have served it with both (not at the same time, obviously) and no one complained. If you think you have enough energy to make your own bread, check out this recipe Moroccan Flat Bread – Khobz

Possibly the Best Lamb Tagine Ever

For the lamb marinade:
  • 1.4kg – 1.6kg lamb shoulder roast
  • 1½ preserved lemons (pulp only)
  • 1 big handful cilantro
  • ½ handful of English parsley (that’s the curly variety)
  • 4 garlic cloves
  • 2 Tbsp smoked paprika
  • 2 Tbsp ginger powder
  • 2 tbsp cumin powder
  • 1 tsp finely ground black pepper
  • 2 tsp fine sea salt
  • 2 tsp ras el hanout (if you have it)
  • 75ml saffron water (from 0.1g saffron)
  • 3 Tbsp good olive oil

I usually buy a shoulder roast and then just take the netting off, flatten it out and cut it into nice big dice, about 4cm. When I say dice, it’s only in the loosest sense. Lamb shoulder will give you all sorts of shapes and sizes, so just try to even it out. I trim off some of the solid fat, but just some. You really do want some nice lamb fat for flavour.

Grab a nice big bowl that will comfortably fit all you lamb pieces and still fit into the chiller. Cut the flesh out of the preserved lemons and chop it fine. Keep the peel for later, we will be adding some of it to the tagine. Put the saffron threads into a small jug and pour 75ml warm (not boiling!) water on the threads. Leave this to infuse and release its colour and flavour for some 15 minutes.

Wash and dry the cilantro and parsley and chop it all together reasonably fine. You can use some of the cilantro stalks, but try to keep to just the leaves of the parsley. Peel, chop and finely mash the garlic. You could do this in a mortar and add the salt to it to make a paste. It’s faster, but you will have to wash up one additional item.

Mix all the dry spices together in the bowl, add the chopped pulp, the herbs and salt, oil and saffron water, so basically everything. Add the lamb dice and mix well to coat all the pieces evenly. Cover and refrigerate for at least 3 hours. You can do this the day before and leave the lamb overnight. If you are in a hurry, you could leave the lamb at room temperature for an hour and get a decent enough marination, but honestly it is best to do this in the morning and then make the tagine that same evening.

For the tagine:
  • 2 big onions, finely chopped, about 300g-400g
  • 2 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1 tsp fine salt
  • 1 tsp turmeric powder
  • our marinated lamb
  • juice of 1 lemon
  • 150ml second saffron water (from the same saffron threads)
  • about 2 dozen green olives (which is a normal sized can or jar)
  • thinly sliced peel from 1 preserved lemon
  • roughly chopped cilantro to garnish

I have to confess that I do not have a tagine dish, so I use a very big paella pan and cover it with aluminium foil. It’s 30cm in diameter, so I have to link two pieces of foil together to make on that is wide enough. You do that by placing one piece on top of the other and then folding the edge over two or three times before opening the two sheets up. This makes sure no steam can escape from the pan. You can make this with pretty much any fire and oven-proof dish, as long as it can be well sealed with a lid, or with aluminium.

Pre-heat your oven to 160ºC. Spread all the chopped onion evenly in your dish, sprinkle with salt and turmeric. To get the turmeric to be even, mix it with the salt and then sprinkle this mix over (I obviously didn’t think of this early enough). Place the marinated lamb in one layer over the onions. Don’t worry if this is a bit of a squeeze. The meat will shrink when cooking and it will all come out just nice. Make sure to add whatever marinade is left in the bottom of the bowl and don’t wash the bowl just yet. Make a second batch of saffron water with the previous strands and 150ml water, wash the bowl out with that and reserve the liquid plus whatever solids there may be.  

Put your pan on a medium fire and once it starts to bubble, cover it loosely with your aluminium foil. Leave to simmer for 15 minutes, until the juices have come out of the lamb and onions. Add the saffron water you used to wash you your marinating bowl. Turn off the heat, cover the pan tightly with the aluminium foil, making sure there are no cracks or tears and put it into your oven. Leave to slow cook for 1½ hours. I want my lamb to be really soft and fall apart delicious, so I do not check it at all, I just trust my oven.

Remove from the oven and gently lift the foil. Check that the lamb is tender and check the seasoning. There is normally no need for any additional salt, as the preserved lemon is quite salty, but if you feel you need more salt, just sprinkle a little all over. Do not stir the pan! Now pour the lemon juice all over, distribute the olives evenly and cover with the preserved lemon rind julienne. Put the pan back on the fire and just bring it to a simmer for 5 minutes to make sure the olives are warm and you’re ready to serve.

Chow Siew Yoke – of Pork & Party

That’s obviously the pork, so how about the party?

In the days when Jalan Sultan looked less like an agglomeration of hipster bars and cafes and more like the picture above, we would come here at four in the morning to eat yong tau foo, assam fish, claypot loh see fun and the star of them all – chow siew yoke – caramelised, refried sweet, crispy roast pork with lashings of garlic. After a night of drinking and dancing it was just the thing to satisfy at least one of your cravings.

There was a famous club at Central Market Annexe, from which it was just a short walk to Jalan Sultan. Those who had not been lucky or just wanted to see their new date in something resembling daylight could be found here. Times were very different, licensing hours were only loosely imposed, we were young and parties more or less any day of the week and here on Jalan Sultan a number of restaurants opened after midnight and served food right until dawn broke.

This is obviously a very, very long time ago, all the clubs are gone, most of the restaurants are no more and we are definitely no longer young. The chow siew yoke of my dreams has long vanished, the stall operators retired, the children probably sent to a better life in Australia and yet the memory of this dish sticks to my mind like caramelised pork does to my teeth nowadays.

I have searched high and low for a recipe that would give the same result, but all, categorically all, have fallen far short. They just did not give me that crisp crunch of saltiness and sugar that hits the happy spot. Until, that is, I came across a 27 second long video in which a Chinese auntie showed me how to fry the siew yoke correctly! I have not been able to ever find the video again, so I may have dreamt it, but hey, I’m not complaining!

The trick (and here everyone else just got it wrong) is to fry the siew yoke in a completely dry wok at high heat until the oil comes out. Yup. That’s all there is to it. We add NO additional oil AT ALL! I was going to keep this recipe to myself, but it’s just too good not to share. The rest is truly basic and simple, but it is also very easy to mess up, because the timing is vital if you don’t want to burn anything. And so, without further ado, I give you:

Chow Siew Yoke The Marvelous !

  • 250g siew yoke (crispy roast pork)
  • 4 garlic cloves, roughly chopped
  • 5 dried chillies, soaked in hot water
  • 1 Tbsp soy sauce
  • 1 Tbsp thick soy sauce
  • 1 Tbsp caster sugar

Mix the two soy sauces and the sugar in a bowl. It’s not essential for the sugar to have dissolved completely. As for the red chillies, some people prefer not to soak them to preserve the full heat and get a darker colour out of them, but for this particular recipe, I prefer to soak them, so I can fry them a little longer and get their full fragrance into the sauce without burning them. The choice however is yours.

Cut the siew yoke into bite sized pieces. You have quite a bit of leeway here, but try not to make the pieces too small, or they will burn, or too big, or they will not render enough of their fat. Chop the garlic roughly and cut the chillies into 2 cm segments. I keep all the seeds for the heat that’s in them, but you can remove them if you like.

Heat your wok thoroughly, drop the siew yoke into it and stir fry until the oil has started to render. Remember; Do Not Add Oil! Once you have a good tablespoon of oil in the bottom of your wok, add the chillies and stir fry for a couple of minutes, until the chillies are starting to dry up. Now add the garlic and continue to fry until it has nicely browned. You should have a fair amount of oil in the wok by now. Pour the soy sauce mix all over the pork and stir to coat evenly.

From here on, it’s a judgement call when you stop and dish the thing out. Perfection is when the pork is nicely sticky, caramelly, but the oil has not split when it’s on your serving plate. It should then start to slowly split as the dish sits there being eaten. But honestly, as long as the sauce is not too thin, The pork will be delicious no matter what!

Pita Bread

Yes, yes, I know. You can buy these cheaply, pre-packed with a shelf life as long as an elephant’s memory, but really? Seriously? Are you going to go through all the trouble of making babaganoush, eggplant salad, hummus and stuffed vine leaves just to spoil the meal with a preservative laden bag of floppy starch pancakes? No, you are not. You are joining me in making your own pita bread.

P.S.: All the recipes for the above mentioned dishes will slowly be added to my blog. Give me a week or two. Babaganoush

makes 10 pitas

For the Poolish:
  • 50g organic wholemeal flour
  • 50g organic plain flour
  • 7g active dry yeast
  • 250ml lukewarm water

Inside your stand mixer bowl, mix the flour with the yeast, pour in the water, stir to a reasonably smooth dough with a fork and leave to bubble up. You want the surface to be pretty much covered with little bubbles and if your water is not lukewarm, this can take an hour or more, so you know what I’m saying.

To finish the Bread:
  • 350g organic plain flour plus extra
  • 6g salt
  • 3 Tbsp good olive oil

Pour the flour and salt on the poolish, add the olive oil and knead at the lowest speed in the mixer for just 2 minutes. Sprinkle about 5g flour over the top and leave to rest for 10 minutes.

Knead again for 2 minutes at low speed. Remove the hook, lightly cover the bowl and leave to rise until doubled, about an hour.

Once the dough has risen, knock it back and put it on a lightly floured work surface. Now divide it into 75g portions, roll each portion into a ball and cover the dough balls with a damp cloth.

Heat a dry stainless steel pan to medium heat. Roll one ball into a flat disk, about 6-7 inches across and cook in the dry pan. Make sure to wipe any excess flour from the pan before continuing on to the next pita.

NOTE:          The pitas are really best eaten fresh, but you can make them in advance and keep them covered with a dry tea towel in a very low oven for an hour or so. Make sure your oven is at a very low temperature. You don’t want your tea towel to catch fire.

Moroccan Flat Bread – Khobz

As this bread isn’t really all that flat, it’s a bit of a misnomer. I made it because I’m a bit lazy and could not be fagged to make pita bread, which is what you traditionally eat with hummus and babaganoush, the recipes for which will follow on the heels of this one. I have used semola flour for this one, which is reground semolina, so it has the semolina flavour without the coarse texture. You could use all semolina, or a mix of both, but obviously your water to flour ratio will change. Which isn’t too big a problem, if you add the water slowly, you’ll probably see when to stop. If the dough gets too wet, add a tablespoon of plain flour, if it is too dry, add a teaspoon of water (teaspoon, not tablespoon!).

If you do it right, you will end up with something like this.

For those of you who are now shaking their heads, wondering what’s too wet or too dry, here’s a tip (the rest of you, just skip to the next paragraph): Add the water slowly and watch what’s happening. Stop pouring as soon as the dough starts to come together, even if it looks like it is going to be too dry. Give it a minute or two and if there is still some flour that has not incorporated, add a little more water. What you are looking for is a dough that is relatively sticky. Once it has been kneaded and rested, it should stop being too sticky to handle. You will notice that it does not stick to your hands, but will attach itself to your chopping board. So dust the board with semolina and work swiftly.

Khobz

  • 200g fine semola flour
  • 400g plain bread flour
  • 12g dried yeast
  • 12g sea salt
  • 15g cassonnade or brown sugar
  • 300ml water
  • 30g olive oil plus extra for topping
  • 2 tsp cumin seeds
  • 2 tsp anis seeds
  • rough sea salt

Mix all the dry ingredients in the bowl of your mixer. Pour the oil into the water, turn the mixer with hook attachment to lowest speed and slowly pour in the water. Once the dough has come together, increase the speed to the second setting and leave to knead for 5 minutes. Turn off the mixer, remove the hook and cover the bowl with a cloth. Leave to rise for 30 minutes.

Knock back the dough, attach the hook and leave to knead for another 5 minutes. Remove the hook again, shape the dough into a ball and leave it to rise until doubled, about one hour.

Knock the dough back again and divide it into four. Using coarse semolina, knead each quarter quickly and shape into a flat disk. Oil the outside and score it across in one direction only. Sprinkle some coarse salt, some cumin and anis seeds over it and leave it to rise for about 30 minutes. Pre-heat the oven to 220ºC

Bake for 30-35 minutes or until golden brown on top and hollow sounding when tapped. Leave to cool.

NOTE:          This bread is best when reheated at 180ºC for 15 minutes before serving. It can be frozen and reheated in the exactly same way. there will be no need to increase the time of re-heating.

Babaganoush

Babaganoush is a much maligned dish. What you buy in the supermarkets is inedible and what you get in most restaurants is merely dreadful, which is why you should make your own. It’s one of these things that’s not difficult to make, but needs a bit of finesse to make really great. The topping can be as simple as a drizzle of oil and few toasted nuts or fresh herbs. The secret is in the babaganoush itself. On top of that, it’s one thing that you can easily make all your own. You are not making “the original” babaganoush (I sure know I’m not), but the one that hits all the right buttons for you. So experiment and stun your guests (in a good way, if possible).

Serve your babaganoush with traditional Pita bread or with Khobz. My own recipe for both will follow in the next few days. Pita Bread Moroccan Flat Bread – Khobz

For the Babaganoush:
  • 3 long aubergines
  • 1-2 Tbsp tahini
  • 2-4 Tbsp crème fraîche
  • juice of ½ lemon
  • 1 small garlic clove
  • salt
  • black pepper

Keep your aubergine at room temperature. It will really make charring them a hell of a lot easier. Make sure they are dry, then empale them on a carving fork, or similar instrument, turn on the fire on your gas hob and slowly char the aubergine on all sides. This sounds easier than it is and you may need to use tongs to get to the last bits of aubergine once the thing has gone limp, which is what you want it to do.

If you don’t have a gas burner, you can roast the aubergines in the oven, setting the thing to the highest heat it will do or char them under a grill, or throw them on the barbie, or even into the coals. Once the aubergines are mostly black and blistered, put them on your chopping board and leave them to cool down and deflate.

Do not try to peel your charred aubergines. It’s so fiddly, you will probably give up halfway through the first one and throw the whole batch away. What you do is just cut them in half lengthwise and scoop the flesh out with a spoon. You will probably still have bits of charred skin left on the flesh, but as long as these are just small occasional flakes, don’t worry too much about it.

Now chop the flesh as fine as you can and put it into a bowl. Chop your one small garlic clove very fine, then mash it with the flat side of your blade and chop it again. You should have a relatively fine paste. Add it to the chopped aubergine. Salt lightly, stir and add the first tablespoon of tahini. Stir and taste, then add the fist tablespoon of crème fraîche. Taste again. Now you need to decide what texture you want your babaganoush to have. There’s no right or wrong, so make is to your own taste. I add about 1 ½ tablespoon tahini and 2 or 3 tablespoons crème fraîche to mine, depending on how stiff the tahini is. I want my babaganoush to be chunky, but creamy with just a hint of tahini.

Finish your babaganoush off by adding the lemon juice and adjusting the seasoning. Do this carefully! The salt takes a while to dissolve due to the relatively high fat content of the thing, so add a little, stir, wait, taste, then add more. Add pepper, or even chilli flakes and resist the urge to eat it all.

Toppings

Restraint or Madness, the choice is yours and as long as you stay within the boundaries of good taste – literally – you’ll be fine. I would avoid anything that is not a vegetable, a root, a grain, nut or mineral. It is supposed to be a non meat, so bacon is pushing the envelope just a bit. As I said just a drizzle of good olive oil, a few freshly chopped herbs and you’re good to go, but if you are in the mood for something a little more interesting, here are 2 ideas for you:

Topping #1:
  • 4 Tbsp good olive oil
  • 4 garlic cloves, roughly chopped
  • ¼ tsp cumin powder
  • ¼ tsp smoked paprika powder
  • 1 Tbsp fresh mint, roughly chopped
  • salt to taste

Heat the olive oil together with the garlic on medium heat. As soon as the garlic starts to sizzle, turn the heat to low and stir the garlic until the edges start to brown. Turn off the heat and add the cumin and paprika. Stir for a minute, then add the chopped mint. Add a pinch of salt and reserve.

Once you are ready to serve, spread the babaganoush in a flattish serving plate and pour the oil over. Decorate with fresh mint leaves, if you like.

Topping #2:
  • 4 Tbsp good olive oil
  • 1 handful of walnuts, roughly chopped
  • 4 garlic cloves, sliced thick
  • 1 Tbsp celery leaves, very roughly chopped
  • a pinch of salt

Heat the olive oil in a small pan or saucepan. Once it is hot, but not smoking, add the walnuts and fry them at medium heat until they have browned lightly and you can smell their aroma. Scoop them out of the oil and reserve. Reduce the heat to low and fry the garlic very slowly until it is light golden. Turn off the heat and take the pan off the fire. Keep stirring until the garlic is brown. Make sure the residual heat does not burn your garlic. Add the nuts back to the garlic oil, salt lightly and leave to stand for ten minutes before using. You can of course make this in advance and keep it at room temperature.

With you babaganoush in an attractive serving bowl, drizzle the oil over and decorate with the chopped celery leaves.

Topping #3:
  • 6 Tbsp good olive oil
  • 1 handful of rolled oats (not instant!)
  • 1-2 Tbsp  thinly sliced dried ancho chillies or other mild, sweet chillies
  • 3 garlic cloves, chopped medium fine
  • a generous pinch of salt

This is actually the most difficult of all three toppings. It’s not the ingredients or system, it’s the timing that makes it hard to do. If you are not sure of your chef skills, fry everything separate and then recombine at the end, starting with the garlic, then the chillies and last the oats. Here’s how you do it in one go:

Heat the oil to medium high and toss in the oats. They will absorb a lit of oil, but try not to add any extra. Stir on medium high until the oats are quite a bit darker and seem to flowing a little freer in the pan. Now add the garlic. Keep stirring until the garlic is just starting to colour at the edges. Turn up the heat a little, toss in the chillies and stir for a minute. Pour into a bowl and stir to lower the heat a little. You’re done!

Cacao Cake with Ganache Icing

I have fed this cake to people who “don’t eat cake” and they invariably ask for a second slice and sometimes a third. It’s just that good and I say this in the full knowledge that it is not my recipe. Giving credit where credit is due, this credit goes to Rose Prince and her “The Pocket Bakery” book, which I can only recommend. I made a few changes, but it’s essentially the same recipe, because… it was perfect already. One thing about this cake, though. Do not make it the day before. It really is best eaten a few hours after you’ve made it and if you get your ingredients ready, it’s mighty quick to make.

Possibly the Best Chocolate Cake on Earth

For the Cake:
  • 45g cacao
  • 90g boiling water
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 200g softened butter
  • 200g caster sugar
  • 5 eggs, separated
  • 150g toasted ground almonds (from ±175g ground almonds)
  • a pinch of salt
  • ¾ tsp cream of tartar

Start by heating your oven to 180ºC. I use a flattish tin which is 24cm across and 4.5cm high, but you can really use anything that will give you a flat, rather than tall cake. A removable bottom is essential for this cake. Butter your tin and line it with parchment paper. I like to give it a little edge, so the dough doesn’t get into the cracks and well, crack when I take out the cake. Once you have lined the thing, lightly butter the parchment. This will make it easier to pull the parchment from under the cake once baked and cooled. This is NOT the kind of cake you can turn upside down to peel the parchment off, so just so as I say.

The recipe is easy enough, so I always forget that some of the ingredients need to cool before you can use them and so… The order in which to do things is:

Cut your cold butter into cubes and put it in the bowl of your stand mixer. Cover and leave to soften.

Put the cacao powder into a cup or bowl and add the hot water. I just put the bowl on the scales, measure out the cacao and then carefully pour in the water while keeping an eye on the scales. If you have one of those electronic things that you can zero, here’s the time to use it. Stir until there are no more lumps and there you are. Leave to cool completely.

Put 175g of almond powder into a stainless steel pan and toast it until you can smell its wonderful aroma, which should be when it is just about lightly brown, not hazelnut. Pour the almond powder on a plate, or anything else that will have it spread out not too thick, so it cools faster. Once cooled, weigh off 150g, which should be almost all of it. Eat the rest.

Attach the whisk to your stand mixer, add 150g of the caster sugar to the now softened butter and whisk until pale white. Most of the sugar should have dissolved. Add the egg yolk one by one, whisking each time until the yolk has been incorporated. Pour the cold cacao paste into the butter and mix to incorporate, then add the cooled almond powder and mix under. Wash and dry your whisk (unless you have a second one).

In a second bowl, whisk the egg whites with a pinch of salt. As soon as they are lightly foamy, sieve the cream of tartar into the egg whites and continue to whisk until you have soft peaks. With the machine still running, sprinkle the 50g of sugar in and whisk to stiff peaks. Lift one third of this meringue under the cake batter, then another third and finally the last third. Pour the batter into the tin and bake for about 40 to 45 minutes. Your cake will look slightly burnt, but as long as it does not smell like a burnt cake, you’ll be fine.

It may look a little burnt, but as long as it doesn’t smell burnt, you’re okay.

Once the middle of the cake rises, you’re about done. Do the insert a skewer test and it should come out reasonably clean. A few oil streaks are fine, but batter on your skewer is not. Once done, take your cake out of the oven and do nothing until it has cooled considerably. Once it’s no longer warm to the touch, lift the cake out of the ring, slide it off the metal base onto a cake tray, then gently pull out the parchment. Leave to cool completely. Do not chill at this point, or in fact ever, if you can avoid it.

For the Ganache Icing:
  • 100g dark chocolate
  • 200ml double cream

Break the chocolate into small pieces and put it into a bowl. Heat the double cream to just below boiling point, then pour it over the chocolate and stir to melt. Make sure this is melted completely. Pour the whole thing on your cooled cake and spread to cover the whole surface and edges. This cake will have raised edges, but don’t worry about that. Just spread the ganache in a circular motion from the middle until it flows over the edges. Now your cake is flat. Leave to cool at room temperature for at least 30 minutes.

NOTE:          If you can’t find double cream, use 120ml normal cream and stir 20g butter into the melted mix. That will do the trick.

Cold Silken Tofu with Crisp Shallots, Garlic & Spring Onion

I’m not sure this is even a recipe. It feels a bit like cheating, as there is hardly any cooking. You could even not bother with the garlic and still end up with a great meal. One word of warning; do NOT use ready bought fried shallots! They are mostly really nasty tasting stuff and will destroy your wonderful creation. I can’t remember when I first ate this cold tofu, but we have been in love ever since. The juxtaposition of the smooth, chilled creamy tofu and the umami oomph of the sauce and crisp shallots and the fresh zing of the spring onion just makes your taste buds dance.

Cold Silken Tofu

For the crisp stuff:
  • 5 big shallots, sliced medium fine
  • 5 big garlic cloves, sliced fine
  • 3 Tbsp canola oil

The secret of perfect crisp fried shallots and garlic is in the thickness of the slicing and the temperature of the oil. Shallots want to be slightly thicker than you might think, but garlic wants to be fine and both want an oil that is at a fairly low temperature. It takes me a good 15 minutes to fry shallots and then another ten to fry the garlic and here is why: The inside of the shallots and garlic need to be dry before the outside starts to brown. Otherwise the moisture of the inside will soften the crisp outside after you have removed it from the oil. So what you want is a slow and steady frying. Annoyingly slow is just right.

For the sauce:
  • 2 Tbsp soya sauce
  • 1 Tbsp oyster sauce
  • 1 tsp sesame oil
  • ½ tsp brown sugar
  • 2 Tbsp shallot garlic oil (from the recipe above)

Just mix all the ingredients together and whisk them to an emulsion just before serving.

To finish the dish:
  • 1 silken tofu
  • 1-2 spring onions, finely sliced (I like to use the dark green tops)

If you have ever wondered how to get the super soft, silken tofu out of its box without breaking bits off, stay with me. Now I’m not sure how hygienic this method is, but it sure works! Peel the top foil off and make sure to get all the bits around the edges completely cut off, or you will be scratching marks into your tofu. Take two sheets of paper kitchen towel, fold them up to fit the open side of the tofu, place them directly on the tofu, top with a and a small plate or chopping board and turn over. Leave to drain for about ten minutes.

Flip the tofu over again, remove the paper (and the plate, of course) and reverse the tofu on your serving dish. Note that your tofu is still in its box. Now comes the trick; Cut a small corner off the box and gently blow into this. You will feel the box coming loose from the tofu immediately. Aim achieved. If you are bacteria phobic, you could fit a small rubber balloon to the hole and pump it, I guess.

Just before serving, quickly whisk the sauce back to an emulsion, pour your sauce over, top with the crispy stuff and with the spring onion. Your tofu is ready!

Fried dried prawns and garlic, dried Chinese mushrooms soaked and fried with ginger, pickled radish, fried salted fish, black beans and ginger, crisp fried krill or ikan bilis, there is no limit to the variations. You may have noticed the thread that runs through it all; there is always a crisp element!