Brown Butter, Sage & Cheese Omelette

The star in this recipe is not the cheese, but the sage and brown butter. Looking at the picture of my omelette, you might think it will be far too oily, but trust me, it’s not. This is another post in “The Runny Egg” Series, so our omlette will obviously be of the runny sort. The addition of cheese however binds the runny egg a bit, so it might be a way to convert our dry egg friends to the joys of the runny ones!

What do you need for this omelette? Eggs, obviously, but also fresh sage. If you can’t find that, you could go with marjoram, but that’s about the only replacement I can think of. We have a sage shrub on our tiny balcony and it seems to be doing reasonably well. I dare not move it at all, for fear of upsetting it and seeing it wilt away in obstinate protest. Sage is wonderfully fragrant, but it can overpower a dish easily, so go easy. I use only about 5 smallish leaves for a two egg omelette. Three will do if they are very large. Just wash them and dry them a little without crushing the things.

I use salted butter to make the this beurre noisette (hazelnut brown butter), which is quite unorthodox, but adds a thrillingly savoury note to it. If you can find a good butter with proper salt flakes in it, like the one shown here, then please use that one. It really does make a huge difference. Eggs, of course get the best you can find and please forget the pasteurised ones, the low cholesterol (it means tiny yolks) or extra selenium, cadmium or lead type eggs. A simple, free range chicken egg will do just fine.

To make a nice breakfast omelette for one you will need:

  • 2 fresh eggs
  • ½ Tbsp unsalted butter
  • 2 Tbsp grated cheese
  • 1 small pinch salt
  • white pepper
  • 1 Tbsp salted butter
  • 5 sage leaves

I use two different types of cheese for this, Emmenthaler for creamy stringiness and aged cheddar for depth. One generous, loose packed tablespoon of each will be enough. Grate your cheese first and then crack the eggs into a bowl, add a small pinch of salt and a fair amount of white pepper and whisk them until they bubble a little. You’re just breaking up the eggs, not making a sabayon, so don’t overdo it. Make sure to salt the eggs very lightly, because the cheese will add salt and you also have the salted beurre noisette we will pour over later.

Now heat the unsalted butter in the pan. You want to be at medium high heat, if you want a brown omelette and at medium low if you don’t. Once the butter is foaming, pour in the eggs and wait for the sides to just set, then scrape the side gently into the middle, all around the edges. The remaining liquid egg should flow to fill the gaps you have made. You should be able to do this for roughly one and a half rounds before you need to tilt the pan to fill the gap. Stop after the first tilting, grab your grated cheese and scatter it all over the runny egg. Tilt your pan and use a spatula to fold the egg roughly in half. Your upper half, should be a little smaller than your bottom half. This is not vital, but it makes the finished omelette look much better.

Slip the omelette on a plate and immediately add the salted butter to the pan. Keep the heat high and as soon as the butter is frothing, toss the sage leaves in. You should hear a satisfying crackle. Wait for the butter to just turn brown and pour it over the omelette.

Now all you need is a nice slice of toasted Flaxseed Loaf (see recipe), a cup of tea and the morning is starting very well indeed. This is a new recipe I came up with this morning, so please do try it and let me know what you think.

Hokkien Fried Noodles

For those of you who have been wondering why I have been rendering all this lard, wonder no more! Hokkien Char is one of my absolute favourites. I try to limit my consumption of it, because to be painfully honest, it’s not health food. Good thing is you can easily make it at home and then you have full control over the amount of lard you put in. One word of warning: Too little and it will taste nothing like Hokkien Char! For those of you who missed my lard rendering adventure, click here: Homemade Pork Lard and let’s get started.

I have divided the recipe into 4 not because it’s long and difficult, but because it makes it easier to get your head around the different blocks. If you want a shopping list, scroll to the bottom of the blog and you’ll find it there.

For the Meat:
  • 150g pork shoulder
  • 75g pork liver
  • 1 tsp light soy sauce
  • ¼ tsp salt
  • 2 tsp corn starch
  • 2 Tbsp Chinese rice wine

Cut the pork shoulder into thin slices. Slice the liver a little thicker. I find it easier to slice these when the meat and liver are still slightly frozen. If you bought them fresh, I suggest cutting them into blocks the of the size you want your slices to be and the sticking them into the freezer for an hour or two. Salt the meat and liver and pour the soy sauce and rice wine over and mix well. Add the corn starch and mix again. Do not omit the starch, as it will help your sauce thicken properly! Leave for at least 10 minutes, but try not to exceed 30, if you can.

For the Prawns:
  • 6 big whole prawns, about 180-200g
  • ½ tsp salt
  • ¼ tsp baking soda

Wash and dry your prawns. Make sure they are completely dried, then take off the heads and peel the prawns leaving the last section and the tail on. Pull off the sharp thorn part of the tail. Make sure to keep the shells, because you will need them later. Devein the prawns by cutting a slit into the rounded side and removing the black vein. I prefer not to wash the prawns after this because I find that it removes a fair part of the flavour. Sprinkle your prawns with the salt and the baking powder and mix thoroughly. Leave to marinate for 10-30 minutes.

For the Sauce:
  • 1 Tbsp oyster sauce
  • 1½ tsp light soy sauce
  • 2½ Tbsp thick soy sauce
  • 1 tsp Thai fish sauce
  • ½ tsp sesame oil

All of this sauce will easily fit into a small rice bowl. It may seem like that is too small an amount of for all those noodles, cabbage and meats, but trust me; it’s enough. Mix all the ingredients together before you start cooking. Trying to pour all this in separately while your hot wok is slowly burning your noodles is a very bad idea indeed.

To finish the noodles:
  • 400g thick yellow noodles (udon noodles will do as well)
  • 100g white cabbage, about ¼ of a small cabbage
  • 2 whole spring onions
  • 2 Tbsp pork crackling
  • 4 garlic cloves
  • 1 small piece of ginger, about half a thumb
  • 2 tbsp lard
  • 200ml stock (or water with a little stock cube)

Wash the noodles in 2 changes of water and drain them in a colander.

Cut the white cabbage into thick strips. Cut the spring onions into 3cm long sections. If the spring onions are very thick, you may want to split the bottom sections lengthwise into two. Peel and chop the garlic cloves. The garlic in Hokkien Mee is traditionally just roughly chopped, but you can mince the garlic fine, if you prefer. Peel and slice the ginger and measure out 200ml of stock.

We can now start cooking. Heat the wok, add the lard and fry the crackling for 2-3 minutes until slightly darkened and crisp. Remove and reserve. Add the prawn heads and shells to the lard and fry for a minute, just to infuse the oil. Remove and discard (or use for stock). If the shells have eaten up some of your lard, add a little extra.

Make sure your lard is hot, then quickly fry the prawns to just cook them. The time for this will depend on the thickness and temperature of the prawns, but will rarely be more than two minutes. If your fat is hot enough and your prawns are not watery, you should get a nice light golden colour. Remove from the wok and keep.

Check that your fat is smoking hot, then add the ginger, stir and immediately add the garlic. As soon as the garlic takes the lightest bit of colour, add the meat and liver and give them a quick stir. Now here’s the difficult part; do not keep stirring, but spread the meat liver mix out flat and let it sear for 30 to 60 seconds before you stir again. This way you will get a nice brown colour. Your liver will be cooked through and have some bite, but then this is how it is supposed to be!

When the meat is completely cooked and slightly brown, add the noddle and stir to mix. Pour in the sauce and toss to coat as evenly as you can, then add the stock and mix. Leave at full heat to boil until reduced stirring occasionally. This should take no more than 3 minutes.

You will notice the sauce becoming dark and shiny as it reduces. Once the sauce is bubbling in the middle of the wok as well as on the sides, you’re probably done. Add the cabbage and give the whole thing a 30 second stir. Turn off the heat and add the prawns and spring onions. I keep a few of the spring onions to put on top of the finished noodles. Dish out your noodles by just sliding them off the wok rather than ladling them out. It will help them look better on your serving dish. Distribute the crackling all over the noodles as evenly as you can. Serve. Eat.

NOTE:          There are actually two types of Hokkien Mee in Malaysia, depending on where you are. If you ask for it in KL, you will get the noodles in our recipe above, if you ask for it in Penang, you will get a prawn noodle soup. Go figure.

Shopping List:

  • 400g thick yellow noodles (udon noodles will do as well)
  • 150g pork shoulder
  • 75g pork liver
  • 6 big whole prawns, about 180-200g
  • 100g white cabbage, about ¼ of a small cabbage
  • 200ml stock (or water with a little stock cube)
  • 2 Tbsp pork crackling
  • 2 tbsp lard
  • 2 whole spring onions
  • 4 garlic cloves
  • 1 small piece of ginger, about half a thumb
  • light soy sauce
  • thick soy sauce
  • oyster sauce
  • Thai fish sauce
  • Chinese rice wine
  • sesame oil
  • salt
  • corn starch
  • baking soda

Le Quatre Quarts

The four quarter cake is the most simple of all cakes and almost every other cake is a variation on these ingredients and proportions. Quatre Quarts (ka-tre kar) is French for four quarters, i.e. a quarter kilo butter, a quarter kilo sugar, a quarter kilo flour and four eggs. I couldn’t figure out why four eggs would be a quarter of anything but 16, but so it is. Not three eggs, which would at least be a quarter of a dozen, but four! Ah, les Français!!

In my last post (Here We Go Again…) I mentioned this humble cake and then realised that I had not actually made a proper, basic quatre quarts in a long while and so with prompt resolve I did:

Le Quatre-Quarts – The Pound Cake

  • 250g butter
  • 250g caster sugar
  • 250g flour
  • 4 whole eggs (minus the shells)
  • 1 heaped tsp baking powder (optional)

Make sure all your ingredients are at room temperature! This is vital for the success of your cake. If it can’t be done in the timeframe you have, don’t bother to even start (but see below for what you can do to get an edible cake nevertheless). You will need two different beaters for your stand mixer to make this cake. Alternatively, you can use the mixer to whisk up the butter-sugar mix and finish the rest by hand, which will give you a decent workout. Sift your sugar at the start of the operation and grease your cake tin. If you ae using baking powder, sift it into the flour and mix it well. Heat your oven to 175ºC with the rack positioned so that the cake will be in the middle of the oven.

Your butter is hopefully at an airconditioned room temperature, not molten at our Malaysian ambient 34ºC. Toss the butter into the bowl of your mixer, attach the whisk, pour in the sugar and start the machine at low speed. Once the mix has fluffed up a little and occupies more space in the bowl, increase the speed. You may need to scrape down the sides from time to time, if you see the colour at the side be deeper than the middle. It will take a good 10-15 minutes for the mix to be properly processed. You can test by rubbing a little between your fingers. If you can still feel the sugar crystals, you’re not done.

Your butter-sugar mix should have doubled in size and become very pale. Turn off the machine, change from whisk to blade. Crack your first egg into a bowl, check there are no bits of shell in it and it’s not off and then pour it into the mix. Turn on the beater at lowest speed and process until the egg is completely incorporated, then switch the machine off. I actually do this by hand with a wooden spoon. It allows a much better control of the texture.

Crack the second egg into the bowl and slip it into the bowl. Process again. There will be not much danger for the first two eggs, but the third and especially the fourth can leave you with a curdled batter. It’s not the end of the world. Just the end of the perfect quatre-quarts. Once the last egg has been added successfully, stop working the batter immediately. Working it more may curdle a perfectly good batter.

Sift the first 2-3 tablespoons of flour into your batter and mix in. Be gentle, but thorough. Keep sifting in 2-3 tablespoons at a time until all the flour has been incorporated. Spoon into your buttered cake tin and bake for about 45 minutes, until a skewer (or pairing knife) comes out clean. That means there will be streaks of fat on it, but no batter at all. The cake will crack and split across the top, so if you want to make sure the split is even, you will need to cut along the top of the batter as soon as it has risen and is starting to set. This is merely cosmetic and will have no bearing on the flavour of your cake.

I have to admit that I cheated and added the zest of 1 lemon to my cake, as I really fancied a lemon butter cake. You can add the zest of a lemon or an orange without changing the texture at all, so feel free.

Hausfrauen Ratschlag:     If you are in a rush, but still want to make a butter cake, cut your butter into small cubes and spread it out in the bowl of your mixer. Leave it to soften for 15-20 minutes while you sift the flour and butter the tin. Add the sugar and mash the butter and sugar together to soften the butter further. Use the blade of your mixer and process the butter and sugar for 5-10 minutes, then add the first egg and process to incorporate. After having incorporated the second egg, add a tablespoon of the flour. Add another tablespoon of flour after the third egg and all should be well. The texture of your cake will not be the same, but it will still be a good cake.

Here We Go Again…

…it’s another lockdown! But this tine around we got a full day’s notice, so we all grabbed the opportunity to head out and have one last hurrah before we are confined to our little flat for two weeks (or will that be four?). Eddie and I have been pining for sushi for a while now, but a combination of financial prudence in the face of a difficult economic situation and the sheer difficulty of booking one of the two tiny sushi places we like prevented sushi from happening. Our friends Maho & Seiichi had a booking, so be begged, cajoled and fawned our way to two more seats. Well, actually our dear friends did it, being Japanese going to a Japanese restaurant, it just seemed easier. For us.

Sushi Ori, operated and owned by Chef Ori is without doubt one of the best Sushi places in KL.

We were early and were shown to a rather austere holding pen, which was much improved by the appearance of two glasses of blissfully chilled Draught Suntory Beers. I’m not sure why, but beer always seem like a nice prelude to sushi. Maybe it’s the memories of these tiny little glasses one elegantly sips the workmen’s drink out of in Japan?

We pass through the simple, elegant entrance into a completely functional dining room. 10 seats, two chefs, a sushi counter and that’s about it. Bring your own wine if you want, or choose from the limited, but serviceable list. Of course purists do sake, but for some reason I have never understood, it’s one of the few things that simply doesn’t agree with me. Maybe it’s because I know nothing about sake? Fortunately Seiichi and Maho prefer wine too, so that’s an easy decision.

Seiichi: Is someone eating my ankimo?!

I was going to say “Chef Ori is a master of his craft”, but it sounds trite and tired, even though he is. I do think that too much has been made of the simple craft of sushi cuisine. It has been elevated to an almost mythical status when in fact it is the same as every other simple thing; extremely hard to do well. If you are wondering what I mean, think simple butter cake, a French quatre-quarts, four quarters: quarter kilo butter, quarter kilo sugar, quarter kilo flour, four eggs. Nothing to it until you try (Le Quatre Quarts). When you are dealing with very few ingredients, you have nowhere to hide and every wrong step, every lack of technique, every bad choice of base material will be plain as day for everyone to see. So when you start baking, make a black forest cherry cake, not a butter cake!

And when you make Japanese food at home, simmer something, don’t try and make sushi. A lot of people think the super expensive fish makes sushi great, but that is not the case; in the hands of a master, even (I should say especially) the simple fish turns into something that will take your breath away when it touches your tongue. Think seabass, think sardine. In this way, sushi is no different from dim sum. You can fill your siew long pau with foie gras and con everyone, but if you can’t stun me with your har kau, you are not a master of your craft.

So after all this pseudo philosophical waffling; what did we eat? I’m not going to give you a rundown of every course, because a) it’s boring and b) by the end of it there was too much wine for me to properly remember. I’m not a foodie influencer, so forgive me for not having taken notes, but I like to enjoy eating my food more than I enjoy taking pictures of it. I did try, though, as I wanted to share it with you.

And after this little extravaganza, we returned home satisfied in the knowledge that life will go on after the lockdown and there will be more wonderful meals, more laughter with friends, more silly conversations, more music, more wine. Life seems still worth living.
For more information about Sushi Ori (no, I don’t get a commission), check out their website.

Note: Neither Eddie nor I have any intention of becoming restaurant critics. It does not become restauranteurs to set themselves up as the judges of others, so all you will see here is positive reviews of the restaurants of our friends and of people we think are making a great effort to improve the scene here in KL and elsewhere. We have but little time to go out and eat, so don’t expect the list to be in any way exhaustive.

Homemade Pork Lard

Why make your own lard? Because the commercially available one here in Malaysia is mostly terrible and expensive and you don’t get all that wonderful crackling with it either!

Our prime objective is to make lard to cook with, but a very welcome by-product is obviously the just mentioned pork crackling. I like to leave the crackling just slightly undercooked. Not so much that it’s horrible to eat, but with enough life left in it, so that when I use it to make noodles or anything else, I can still refry it for a few minutes without burning it. If you plan to just eat it as a snack, just fry it to a perfectly crisp state.

Pork Lard

This recipe will give you about 1.5 litres of lard and two 350ml jars of crackling, depending on how much of it you eat before it even reaches the bottle.

  • 2 kg hard pork fat (fatback)
  • 50g plain, fine salt

Now, before we start, one word of advice; I don’t recommend making less than half the quantity in this recipe. It’s just as much work to make 250ml than it is to make 1500ml and it won’t be any faster either.

Put all the pork fat into the pot that you are planning on rendering it in and salt the fat evenly. Leave it to cure for 25 minutes. Your pot should be filled almost to the brim. Fill the pot with water, stir the fat and drain the water off. Do this 3 times in total. Whatever water you have left in the pot after the last draining will be enough to get your rendering started. Do not add extra, it’s just going to delay the process.

Turn on the heat and boil at high heat until the fat has firmed up and become springy. Keep the heat on high until all the water has evaporated and the lard has started to render, then turn it down low, so you’re proceeding at a low simmer. It’s a pain, but the slower you go, the more fat you will extract and the better crackling you will get.

It can take a few hours for the lard to properly extract from the fat, so be patient. It is not necessary to stir the pot all the time. In fact, the fat will reach its sticky stage just before it crisps up and stirring it at that time will be annoying, as it tends to stick to the spoon and come out of the pot in one huge messy island, so just leave it alone until it has unstuck itself.

Once the crackling is separated into individual bits, you’re almost done. I like to turn the heat off completely and leave the crackling to cool in the fat. I actually just leave it to sit overnight and then reheat it again the next day. Do not cover the pot until the lard has cooled, or you will have condensation dripping into the fat.

When you are ready to bottle, heat the lard and crackling back to about 120ºC, line two baking trays with kitchen towel and scoop the crackling onto it. I like to strain the lard through a strainer and a fine cloth to get as clean a fat as possible, but this is not absolutely necessary. Reheat the lard once again to 120ºC and pour it directly into clean glass jars, as high up as it will comfortably go and close the lid immediately. The hot fat will ensure no bacteria will grow in your jars or on top of your lard.

I fill the crackling into bottles and then place them into a 150ºC oven for 20 minutes, then close them immediately. It helps to keep the crackling fresh for longer. You will still need to keep both lard and crackling in the chiller. Fat will go rancid after a while and that’s not at all nice.

NOTE:          Make sure the cloth you use to strain the lard can take a high temperature. If in doubt, dip a corner into the pot and if it shrivels you know to go get another one.

Pâté de Campagne – Rustic Pork Pâté

Pâté is the kind of thing you see in French butchers’ windows or served by slice in a Brasserie in Paris, so you naturally assume that making it is complicated, fraught with risk and really belongs in the domain of the experienced chef. Nothing could be further from the truth. It’s easy to make and once you slice it and serve it up, the feeling of complete satisfaction is quite incomparable. A meat thermometer will be useful to have, but you can do without if you must. Apart from that, you don’t need a thing you don’t already have!

I use this really cute one litre piggy pot in cast iron, but you can literally use any glass, ceramic or metal container that can go into the oven whether with or without lid. I like to serve the pâté in the container it has been cooked in, so I can scoop out the delicious jelly that forms during the cooking process. Country pâté can be made slowly, at low temperature, or quite fast at a high temperature like meatloaf. Cooked slowly inside a bain-marie, it will be a little finer in texture, so that’s what I’m going for today.

Rustic Pork Pâté

  • 250g pork belly, skin removed
  • 500g pork shoulder or collar
  • 70g pork or chicken liver
  • 120g guanciale or Parma or Serrano ham, thickly sliced
  • 18 slices of smoked pancetta for lining the pot (optional)
  • 2 small egg whites
  • 1 small brown onion, finely diced
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced and crushed to a paste
  • 3 Tbsp peaty whiskey
  • 6 fresh sage leaves
  • 2 sprigs marjoram (about 2 Tbsp whole, loose leaves)
  • ½ tsp dried rosemary
  • 1 tsp dried thyme
  • 2 small bay leaves, hard center vein removed

Making this pâté is easiest if you have a meat grinder, but having one is not at all essential. You can quite easily chop the relatively small quantity of pork by hand. Providing that you follow my instructions on how to cut the meat, it’s not much work at all. But if you are planning on making these types of terrines more often, it’s worth investing in a simple meat grinder, or an attachment for your stand mixer.

It is absolutely essential that all the meats are very well chilled at every stage of the production. If you don’t chill properly, the protein in the meat will break down and you will end up with a crumbly pâté, which is not what you want! I actually place my seasoned mix into the freezer for half an hour before grinding it.

Wash the fresh herbs, dry them and pluck the leaves. Cut the vein out of the bay leaves and mix it all together. Chop the dry and fresh herbs as finely as you can.

Cut the belly and shoulder into small dice. If you are using a meat grinder, you can leave the dice larger, but if not, it’s a good idea to cut small dice. Dice the liver, but do not mix it with the rest of the meat. Cut the guanciale or ham into dice and keep it separate. We are going to mix this in after we have ground the meat, so however big you want your dice, that’s how you should cut them. Add the diced onion and the finely chopped garlic to the mix. Season the diced meats with a generous amount of salt, white pepper and the spice mix, then drizzle the whiskey over, cover and chill. I keep the diced guanciale in the separate container, but I place it inside the tray, because I have been known to forget to add it.

Using the largest die of your grinder, grind the belly and shoulder once. If you are hand chopping, stop when the mixture is still quite coarse. Divide the meat roughly into two. Open the grinder and change to the medium die. Now grind the liver, mix it with one half of the ground meat and grind that half one more time through the same medium die. If you’re doing this by hand, just add the liver to one half of the roughly chopped meat and continue to chop until your second half is quite fine. Mix the rough meat mixture, the fine mix and the diced pancetta thoroughly. Adjust the seasoning. I just taste a little of the raw mix. When it tastes a bit oversalted, it will be just right. Chilled meat will taste less salty than cooked meat, so be generous with your salt and pepper. I would much rather eat a slightly over seasoned pâté than a bland one.

Prepare a deepish tray that can fit your pâté mould and that you can fill with hot water to come halfway up to the mould. Preheat your oven to 160ºC

Cover your forcemeat and put it into the freezer while you line the form. Now here I can’t really give you exact instructions, because it all depends on the width and length of your pancetta (or smoked bacon, which will work just as well). If you intend to unmould your pâté, you need to focus on how the bottom of the pot is going to look like and if, like me, you are serving it in the pot, you need a nice looking top. Think patterns; simple full slices, herringbone, criss-cross, maybe a weave?? But remember that the slices will shrink! And don’t forget to leave enough hanging over to cover the top of your pâté!

Once your artful lining is completed, just fill the forcemeat into the pot, fold the pancetta over the top, push it all down well to make sure you have no holes in your pâté. Put the lid on the mould and if your mould doesn’t have a lid, just leave it open. Put it in your baking tray, place all into the middle of your oven, fill the ray with hot water and bake your pâté for one and a half to two hours, or until the internal temperature has reached at the very least 65ºC. I do bring my pâté to 75ºC, just to be on the safe side.

Once cooked, you may want to put a flat, aluminium wrapped piece of cardboard on top and weigh it down with a big can of whatever is to hand. This is not absolutely necessary, but it will give you a better, more firmly textured pâté. As soon as the pâté is cool enough to go into the chiller, chill it. You can eat it the next day, but it will be much better a bout 2 days later, when it has had time to mature. Your whole pâté will easily last in the chiller for a week or two, but once cut, you should try and eat it within 7 days.

The pictures above show the pâté during the cooking, in the water bath, then fully cooked but still hot. You can see how the meat has shrunk and the fat has accumulated at the sides. If you are not using a thermometer, look for a nice gap of about 1 cm all around and you can be sure that your pâté is cooked. Once you have chilled it overnight, the delicious fat will have turned white as in the picture here.

NOTE: If like me, you have a little too much forcemeat, fashion it into a burger patty and pan fry it! It makes a great snack for a hungry cook. The burger will taste overly salty and that’s how you want it, because when you eat the pâté cold, the saltiness will be just right.

A Happy New Year

Now that our revels are ended, I’m slowly growing tired of wishing “Happy New Year” to all and sundry all day long, desperately trying to remember whom I have wished and whom I haven’t and probably getting it wrong, wishing the same, by now exasperated person eight times, I am looking forward to the time when good manners allow me to ignore the fact that it’s a happy new year and just get on with my usual grumpy “G’morning”. Saying all that, it has been a good start of the year for Eddie and me.

For the first time in almost 20 years, we welcomed the new year at home in the company of good friends. Of course I had to go a little mad on the food. Apart from a long board of cold cuts, a platter of cheeses provided by our friend Jane, as well as a bowl of caviar plus blinis and all the trimmings, deftly put together by Corinne (friend), I made:

2 loaves of bread Pumpkin & Sunflower Seed Bread The Incomparable Toast
Pâté de Campagne Pâté de Campagne – Rustic Pork Pâté
Terrine de Foie Gras
Baked Fish Pie with Rough Puff Crust (somewhat failed)
Macédoine de Legumes (Vegetable Salad)
Oeufs à la Russe façon du Chef (more on that later)
Apricot Tart
Rhubarb Pie Rhubarb Tart

All of that for 7 people, so you can imagine that there was quite a bit left over. I am going to share all the recipes with you over the next few weeks, which means that I will have to cook the fish pie again and take my time to make the pastry, which although delicious was somewhat soaked. I just didn’t give it the time it deserved, so it refused to stretch and instead of nicely puffing up over the steaming pie, it cracked and got flooded with cream sauce. Not a good look! Talking of not a good look, I still don’t seem to manage to compose the face quick enough to get a picture in which I don’t look like a complete village idiot.

There’s another picture that I captioned “Old People Dancing”, but I deleted it in case it frightens the children. Those flowers, by the way, are bought cheaply at the wholesalers and arranged without much talent by me. It goes to show that if you buy enough of them, they will look good no matter what you do to them.

I will leave you with a picture of our table ravished rather than ravishing and a promise of posting the first recipe day after tomorrow. Fabulous Fish Pie coming up next week.

Escargots de Bourgogne

It’s a bit of a weird tradition, but my mother used to serve either snails or frog’s legs in garlic butter for our New Year’s Eve starter. In hindsight, it’s probably a good idea to fill everyone up with lashings of butter before they start the serious drinking. It’s a tradition I am going to revive for my own New Year’s 2020, the first year I will be home for the evening in about 15 years! The great thing about snails is that you can make it all in advance and just push it into the oven on the night. The other added advantage is the wonderful smell that will permeate the house and make the neighbours jealous. I did a trial run at our friend’s house a few days ago, so here’s the recipe.

I use these little ceramic 6 snail pans, which you should be able to buy cheaply online, or from a professional catering supplier. These come from FKF in Kuala Lumpur and are by far not as expensive as they look.

Snails in Garlic Butter

  • 36 prepared snails (you can buy a perfectly decent 12 dozen can online and freeze whatever you are not using)
  • 220g unsalted butter
  • 25g / 1 heaped Tbsp chopped garlic
  • 15ml / 1½ Tbsp lemon juice
  • 12g / 2 heaped Tbsp chopped parsley
  • 7g / 1 heaped Tbsp finely sliced celery leaf stalks
  • 15g / 2 Tbsp chopped shallots
  • 8g /1½ tsp salt
  • pepper to taste
  • 6 Tbsp lightly seasoned breadcrumbs

This recipe will give you exactly enough garlic butter for the snails, provided you use traditional ceramic trays to prepare your snails in. If you are using snail shells, you will need about 30% more garlic butter. I have used canned snails, but feel free to use fresh ones if you know what to do and have the determination to do it.

Leave the butter out to come to room temperature. Properly softened butter will make your life a lot easier. Chop the garlic really fine, without turning it into a paste. The same goes for the parsley. Celery leaf is quite bitter, so I prefer to use just the stalks, finely sliced. I don’t chop the shallot either but dice it really fine.

Beat the softened butter to fluff it up, then beat in all the ingredients. You will want to check the seasoning. Your butter should be quite salty, but not ridiculously so. Remember that salt dissolved much more slowly in butter than in liquid, so leave it to stand a while before you taste it, or you might be in for a rude awakening later.

Drain and rinse your snails, then dry them on kitchen paper. They don’t need to be completely dry. I sometimes boil them up in a little court bouillon, but it’s not entirely necessary. Put a half a teaspoon of the garlic butter into the bottom of every little hole in your ceramic snail tray, place a snail into each and top with one more teaspoon of garlic butter. The snails do not need to be completely covered, or completely inside the indentation, so don’t worry how the thing looks like at this stage.

You can do this in advance and then keep the trays in the chiller until you need them, but they will also happily wait at room temperature for an hour or so. Pre-heat your oven to 180ºC and bake the snails until they bubble furiously, about 15-25 minutes, depending on whether the snails were cold or not. It’s quite hard to overcook them, so make sure they are properly heated.

Put about a tablespoonful of breadcrumbs all over each tray, turn the oven to grill setting and grill until the top is nicely browned. I like to mix my breadcrumbs with a little chopped garlic and parsley, as well as a bit of salt and black pepper, but again, it’s not entirely necessary, as long as you salted the butter properly. Eat while hot, but try not to burn your lips, these things are boiling hot!

A Christmas Jam

This year we decided to give some homemade jams and cookies to our friends for Christmas. If you haven’t received yours, you’re either not our friend, or we just haven’t made enough yet. It’s quite an undertaking and over the last two weeks I have made 6 types of cookies and 5 types of jam, which translates into hours of stirring, piping and packing. Although I like all the jams I made, the one that is most Christmassy is the apricot, citrus & cranberry one I’m going to share with you today.

If you find the idea of making jam daunting and dread the mere thought of having to sterilise jars, let me assure you that you won’t have to. There is nothing quite as good as a homemade jam. it’s the one thing that is sure to impress visitors. “I made some scones and here’s some jam I made to go with it” just casually mentioned will make most people shrivel of inadequacy.

How do you achieve this casual feeling of superiority? Follow this recipe:

Apricot, Citrus & Cranberry Jam

The idea was to make a jam that tastes like Christmas, but without adding spices and I think I’ve succeeded. At least that’s what my friends tell me, but then they’re all very kind.

makes about 2 litres of jam

  • 500g dried apricots
  • 500g dried cranberries
  • zest & juice of 2 oranges
  • zest & juice of 2 lemons
  • 1 litre water
  • 1kg caster sugar (no, it won’t be too sweet!)
  • 20g pectin powder (you can get that online, or from a good baking shop)

Cut the apricots into 1cm dice, put them into a pot and mix them with the whole dried cranberries. Zest the lemons and oranges into the pot. Juice the lemons and oranges and strain the juice over the fruit mix. Add 1 litre water and bring the whole thing to a boil. Do not add the sugar at this point!

Simmer the jam until the apricots are just soft. You don’t want the fruit to fall apart. It will take about 45minutes to an hour. Now mix the pectin powder with the sugar. Make sure this is very well and evenly mixed, or you will end up with lumps of gel in your jam, which is not an attractive thing.

Have all your jars washed, dried and ready. Stir the sugar & pectin into the jam and bring to a rolling boil for just one minute. Turn off the heat and immediately fill your jars with the jam. Close the lids tightly, trying not to burn yourself. The jam is so hat at this point that it will automatically sterilise your jars, so there is no need to boil them first, or steam them.

I have used this system for years and never had a problem with any of my jams. They literally keep for years! We have eaten 5 year old jam and live to tell the tale.

NOTE:          It is perfectly possible to make the jam without pectin. It won’t gel as nicely, but the flavour will be the same. If you can’t find pectin, reduce the amount of water to 600ml for a stiffer jam, but make sure your jam doesn’t burn at the bottom of the pot.

Minestrone Soup

I’ve bemoaned the lack of interest in soup before, but I’ll say it again: A good soup is deeply gratifying to make, heartwarming to eat, soul supporting to digest and furthermore it is an excellent indicator of a cook’s abilities . In a soup, especially a clear one, there is no hiding. All your flaws, lazy ass cut corner ways and lack of basic talent will be painfully visible. So if you’re an indifferent cook, now is the time to learn. Fortunately making stocks and soups really isn’t rocket science. Start by looking up the basics: Taking Stock and Making It.

If you are going to make minestrone, there is really no way around making stock first. Cubes will be a terrible idea and a Campbell packet, though serviceable for sauces and even cream soups just won’t cut it in a minestra. Minestrone comes from “minestrare”, “to administer” in the sense of serving a restorative, which is of course where the word restaurant comes from.

She ain’t no looker, but boy does she have taste!

Makes enough soup for a starter for 6, or lunch for 4

  • 1.2l good chicken stock
  • Parmesan rind, at least the size of half your palm
  • olive oil for frying
  • 100g sliced baby carrots
  • 100g sliced celery
  • 100g diced beans
  • 180g diced brown onion
  • 150g cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 1 can cannellini beans, drained and washed
  • 3 Tbsp simple tomato sauce or ½ can diced tomatoes
  • salt & black pepper
  • grated parmesan and ground black pepper to serve

There are as many recipes for minestrone as there are people in Italy, so feel free to substitute celery for broccoli, onion for leek and pearl barley for beans. As long as your stock is a good one, your soup won’t suffer.

Your chicken stock should not be too fat, but a light covering of grease is not a bad thing. As far as the parmesan rind is concerned, peel off any wax covering and grate whatever usable cheese can be grated off. You really need only the rind. It’s not a disaster if you don’t have one, but try and keep all your old parmesan rinds from now on. They keep in the chiller for half a year at least and you can freeze them if you like. It will change the texture, but not the flavour, which is what we are after. It’s this parmesan rind that will give our soup a smell and flavour I remember from childhood. (Nostalgia setting in)

Bring the stock to a light simmer, add the parmesan rind and keep the stock simmering for 20 minutes to half an hour. I taste my stock and see whether it needs to be reduced or not. If it does, I leave the pot open, if it doesn’t, I partially cover it with a lid.

What size you dice your vegetables is really up to you, just don’t cut a superfine brunoise. This is a country soup. Beans are of course not really diced, but just sliced the same length as the other dice. I found some organic baby carrots, so rather than peeling them, I scraped the rind off and cut them into rounds. Continuing on the country soup theme, I picked the thinner branches of celery and just sliced them. These little Chitose tomatoes you can get from Isetan in KL are sweet and ripe, which is ideal. If you can’t find ripe tomatoes, lightly salt and sugar your cut tomatoes and leave them to marinate at room temperature for about half and hour, then use them together with the juice they have produced.

Heat the olive oil in a heavy cast iron pot (if you have one) and fry the onion and carrots in it for about two minutes. Make sure they don’t brown. Add the celery and fry for another minute. Now add the beans and fry for one more minute. Strain the stock into the vegetables, add the simple tomato sauce (or your half can of diced tomatoes. and simmer for about 15-20 minutes. While the stock is simmering, drain the cannellini beans and wash them under running water.

A word about canned beans; I found these canned beans to be of better quality than any of the dried beans I could buy and cook here in Malaysia, so it’s not just about convenience, but also about taste. One drawback is the fact that they can’t be boiled for very long, or they will fall apart, so they won’t add much starch to your soup. But they are wonderfully tender and taste as a bean should taste.

Feel free to use dried beans and boil them to tender loveliness, if you like, I’m sticking to my cheating ways. Oh, and if you can’t find cannellini beans, borlotti will do just as nicely. Just please don’t use red kidney beans. Reserve those for your Mexican Chilli.

This soup is not one that should have crunchy vegetables in it, so simmer until they are soft, then add the beans. If you are making the soup to serve later, don’t add the tomatoes until you have reheated the minestrone. They just need two to three minutes to heat through and soften lightly.

Just before serving, gently reheat your soup, add the tomatoes and simmer very gently for 2 minutes and you are ready to eat! Serve this with chunky bread and a bowl of freshly grated parmesan. I’ve also served this with Taleggio toast or even pesto bruschetta. See the note below.

Hausfrauen Ratschlag

Minestrone makes a great One Dish Lunch or even a light dinner. Here’s a few tips on what you can do to make your soup more substantial:

  1. Once you have fried the vegetables, dust one tablespoon of flour over and stir it in. Fry for 30 seconds, then add the stock. Increase the bean content from one to two cans and simmer an additional 5-10 minutes after adding the beans, to allow some of them to break up a little. (Don’t turn it into mash, though!)
  2. Slice a nice, thick piece of bread, butter or oil both sides lightly and toast, then spread one side with a little pesto, place it into your soup plate or bowl, grate parmesan on the bread and pour the minestrone over it all.
  3. Cut a few Italian sausages into thick rounds and boil them in your soup. Count about half a sausage per person.
  4. If you’re feeling really greedy, do all the above.