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!

Stuffed Portobello Mushrooms

Is life too short to be stuffing mushrooms? Not if they are big Portobello mushrooms! I’m starting to rediscover the recipes of my youth. These meat stuffed mushrooms make a perfect main course for the family, or a successful starter for a dinner party. I plated them on a bed of very thinly sliced white cabbage that I fried very simply in duck fat, then added the juice form the cooked mushrooms. It may not have been haute cuisine, but all the guests asked for the recipe. It’s just that kind of a dish.

And for just a bit of science; Did you know that the Portobello mushroom and the button mushroom are one and the same? Agaricus bisporus is white or brown when young and grows to a cap size of 12-15cm and that’s when they are called Portobello mushrooms. Or Portabella or Portabello. The one thing they have nothing to do with is Portobello Road, even though there used to be a Portobello Farm there in the 18th century, so maybe…

Meat Stuffed Portobello Mushrooms

makes 6 mushrooms, enough for 3 as a main

  • 6 big portobello mushrooms
  • 250g minced meat (see note for meat options)
  • 200g goat ricotta (no cream added)
  • 1 big shallot
  • 3 garlic cloves, chopped rough
  • 1 big handful English parsley
  • 8-10 sage leaves
  • small bundle chives
  • ½ sprig fresh rosemary, leaves only
  • 1 egg
  • 1½ Tbsp Italian bread crumbs (or other
  • 6 tsp double cream
  • freshly grated Emmenthal cheese for the top
  • salt & black pepper
  • 1 tsp butter per mushroom (inside cap before filling)
  • 3 Tbsp good olive oil

Gently break the foot off the mushroom and remove it. Use a teaspoon to carefully remove the dark gills without breaking the rim of your mushroom. Salt and pepper both sides. Butter an ovenproof dish that will hold the mushrooms snugly and add your mushrooms rounded side down. Put a small tablespoon of butter into the bowl of each mushroom.

Peel and chop the garlic medium rough, then dice the shallot small. Finely chop the sage, rosemary, chives and parsley. Keep the garlic, the shallots and the herbs separately. Now heat two tablespoons of the oil in a pot and when it is smoking hot, add the minced meat. You can use any kind of mince, but preferably something with a little fat on it. Stir to break the meat up and once it is cooked through, add the garlic and fry until the garlic is just starting to take a little colour at the edges. Now add the shallots, lower the heat and fry for about two minutes. Turn off the heat, salt and pepper your meat and add the chopped herbs to it. Leave it to cool for ten minutes.

Add the ricotta to the cooked meat and stir to mix in. Now add the egg and stir to mix thoroughly. Last add the breadcrumbs and mix well once again. Check and adjust the seasoning. If the mix seems a little too wet at first, leave it to rest for five minutes and check again. If necessary, use a little more breadcrumb. If on the other hand it seems too dry, just add a dash of cream and if you don’t have that to hand, add a tablespoon of milk. preheat your oven to 200ºC

Divide your meat mix into roughly 6, pick up a mushroom and fill it so you have a nice dome of filling. Repeat until all the mushrooms have been filled. Make sure your mushrooms rest securely in your dish, then top each mushroom with a teaspoon of double cream and grate a generous amount of cheese over each. Bake uncovered for 20 minutes and leave to rest outside the oven for 5 minutes before serving. There will be a lot of juice, so make sure you serve it with something that can absorb this delicious sauce.

NOTE:          Depending on what type of minced meat you are using, you may want to vary the type of herbs you use and the side dish you serve it with.

Beef Mince – Rosemary, thyme and parsley would be the traditional herbs, but try oregano, chervil, a little rosemary, and just 4 sage leaves plus a handful of English parsley. Buttered Basmati rice will be perfect with it.

Lamb Mince – Mint and basil in an equal proportions, the same amount of chives and a tiny touch of anis seeds will be wonderful and if you replace the ricotta with 150g barrel aged feta and 50g liquid cream, you won’t regret it. Serve with a simple couscous moistened with lemon oil and chopped preserved lemons.

Chicken Mince – Forget using any minced chicken from the shop – it’s mostly watery rubbish, so mince your own. It is really quite easy, even by hand and you do not need a super fine mince anyway. Start by cutting the chicken skin into small pieces and then mince it together with the chicken meat. Sage, chervil and chives will work well. Alternatively use basil and marjoram and add three tablespoons of grated parmesan to your mix. Soft, creamy polenta will be heaven with it. (Try a 75% chicken 25% beef mix for a fuller flavour)

Pork Mince – Use the herbs listed above, because that’s the mince I designed them for. It was the only mince I had in the house. I served the mushrooms with ratatouille and fresh tomato red onion couscous.

Fish Mince – My advice is to use a mix of fish and prawn, about 70%-30%. And then rosemary should be the dominant herb, together with chives and spring onions. Rice is the obvious choice, but a small diced zucchini tossed in olive oil and moistened with fresh lemon juice and some roast potatoes will be quite outstanding.

My Very Own Spicy Fried Noodles

I woke up yesterday feeling very much like a plate of really spicy, oily fried noodles. It may have been the couple of magnums I downed with friends in anticipation of yet another lock-down, but whatever its was, the result is this entirely delicious noodle recipe that I claim as my very own! It’s part Hokkien Char, part Chilli Pan Mee with a bit of Kata Yakisoba thrown in for good measure. And no! It does not taste like the dog’s dinner, it’s a very finely balanced dish of spicy oil, creamy noodles, wonderful dark sauce, sour pickled vegetables and spicy oil. I know the spicy oil is in there twice, but that because, well… I added quite a bit of it.

Christian’s Best Spicy Fried Noodles

For the Meat Part:
  • 200g thinly sliced meat of any kind, thinly sliced
  • 1½ Tbsp rice wine
  • 1 Tbsp soy sauce
  • 1 tsp sesame oil
  • 1 heaped tsp corn starch
  • 1 Tbsp fat or oil for frying

I used pork belly, but really any type of meat will work. The noodles are so tasty, the meat only plays a supporting role and with all the oil added, a leaner cut is actually better. I stick my meat of choice in the freezer for an hour, so it just firms up without freezing through. This will make slicing it thinly very much easier! Now simply mix the sliced meat with the rice wine and soy sauce, add the corn starch, mix and then add the sesame oil and mix again. Leave to marinate for half an hour.

Heat the oil in a wok until smoking hot and stir fry the meat for just a minute, until it is just about cooked on the outside, then spead it in a single layer and leave it alone for about a minute, so it can brown nicely. Give it another stir and leave to it for 30 seconds to brown on the other side, then take out and reserve.

For the Noodles:
Here’s a store-bought version
  • 400g udon rice noodles or thick yellow mee
  • 200g sliced cabbage, well drained
  • 150g pickled vegetables
  • 4 spring onions
  • 1 Tbsp roughly chopped cilantro
  • 2 Tbsp flowering garlic chives (or plain garlic chives)
  • 2 Tbsp soy sauce
  • 1 Tbsp thick soy sauce
  • 1 Tbsp oyster sauce
  • 1 tsp sesame oil
  • 2-3 Tbsp fragrant fried chilli oil
  • 2 Tbsp oil or fat for frying

Now before you throw up your hands in dismay and ditch this recipe, let me explain. Yes, I did make my own pickled vegetables and chilli oil, but you don’t really have to. simply shred or julienne some carrots, celery and beans (or indeed whatever else you have at hand, drizzle with a tablespoon of vinegar and leave that to sit while you do the rest. As for the chilli oil, any good store-bought chilli garlic oil will do.

Start by mixing the soy sauce, thick soy sauce, oyster sauce and sesame oil in a bowl. This will be your noodle sauce that you will add to the noodles just before finishing the cooking. Wash your noodles in some warm water and drain well.

We are going to use the green part of the spring onion for garnish and the white part for flavouring, so cut the white part of the spring onions into 1cm lengths and the green part into 3cm lengths and keep the two separate. I am using flowering garlic chives because they have thicker stems and a wonderful full flavour and don’t wilt away in the hot noodles like the flat garlic chives do. If you can’t find them, just leave them out.

Heat one tablespoon of oil in your wok and when it’s smoking hot, add your cabbage. Do not salt or pepper at this stage. First stir fry the cabbage, then leave it to brown at the edges before you stir it again. Once it has browned a little, add the pickled vegetables, stir fry for two minutes and remove it all from the wok. Reserve on a reasonably flat plate or bowl. You don’t want the cabbage continuing to stew in a piled heap.

We are about to finish our noodles. You can do all the previous parts in advance and then it will take you just ten minutes to cook. Heat the last tablespoon of oil in the wok. When it is smoking hot, add the noodles and fry for two minutes. Pour in the sauce mix and keep frying for another minute, then add the meat, cabbage, pickled vegetables, garlic chives and white part of the spring onions. Last, add in as much fragrant chilli oil as you like, but remember to scoop the solids and not add too much of the oil, or your noodles will become very oily. Garnish with the chopped cilantro and green part of the spring onions and there you have it!

The lightly pickled, crunchy vegetables give a really nice zingy-ness to the dish. You have all the right flavours there; the sweetness of the cabbage, the sour vegetables, the spicy, smokey dried chilli oil, the super umani sauce; it’s just delicious.

You could stop reading here and still make a wonderful noodle, but if you can be bothered, make the chilli oil yourself. It does make a difference.

For the Fragrant Fried Chillies:
  • 2 Tbsp fermented black beans, soaked
  • 5g dried red chillies, soaked (about 6 chillies)
  • 3 garlic cloves, roughly chopped
  • 1½ Tbsp finely diced or chopped ginger
  • 3 Tbsp canola oil

Chop the soaked red chillies. It’s really up to you how rough or fine you chop them. It will change the texture of your oil, but not the taste. Chop the soaked and drained black beans medium fine. Heat the oil in a small saucepan or wok and when it is medium hot, add the chillies. Fry until they start to turn darker, then add the garlic and fry until it starts to brown at the edges. Add in the ginger and black beans and fry for another minute. Pour into a bowl or jar and reserve. This will keep in the chiller for a very long time, as both the ginger and garlic have antibiotic properties and the chillies are not a favourite of any known common critters.

For the Fermented Vegetables:
  • 2 small carrots, cut into fine julienne
  • 2 long beans, cut into 3cm lengths
  • 1 celery branch, cut on the bias into 1cm pieces
  • 2 dried chilles, finely sliced
  • 10cm piece of konbu
  • 2.5% of the vegetable weight of salt

Cut the konbu into thin strips using a pair of clean scissors. Mix all the ingredients together and massage the salt in with perfectly clean hands. If you have a vacuum machine, you can vac the vegetables into a bag, but putting it into a zip lock bag and squeezing out as much air as you can. Keep the vegetables out at a reasonable room temperature for 24 hours, then put it into the chiller for a week or more. I put mine into the wine chiller, which is at 12ºC and the pickles are ready within a week.

Note that the bag will puff up with the gases that develop. This is perfectly normal and nothing to worry about. The vegetables will have acquired a nice acidity by the end of the process. If they smell bad or off in any way, or if there is any mould on them, don’t even try them, just throw them away. I have never seen that happen, but it is wise to be careful. These pickles will keep in the chiller for a month or two.