Peanut Butter Cookies

When I told Eddie I was going to make peanut butter cookies, he objected, saying he didn’t really like them. Well, he’s eaten half the batch, so never listen to what the children say! I haven’t made cookies in a while, so I had quite forgotten what quantity of dough I needed to fill the two trays I’m normally happy to make and ended up with twice as many cookies as we really needed. Well, no one really needs cookies, do they? But as far as unnecessary cookies go, these are really good ones.

I made the first batch without putting a peanut on top and to be honest, I also slightly overbaked them, so now I know what to do and your will be perfect. I used Skippy Crunchy Peanut Butter to make mine, but if you want to be healthy, you could use organic peanut butter. Or you could just not make cookies…

Makes about 60 cookies of 17g each

  • 200g butter
  • 200g crunchy peanut butter
  • 120g caster sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 120g soft brown sugar
  • 300g flour
  • 1g salt
  • 2.5g (1tsp) baking powder
  • 4.5g (1½tsp)  baking soda

Leave your butter out for a good hour before you start. I dice mine and chuck it into the bowl of the stand mixer and cover it with those handy plastic covers that come with the bowls. Don’t worry about the butter getting too soft. This dough is so soft, you will need to chill it for a good while before you can shape it anyway. Once the butter is soft, add the peanut butter and sugars. Using the paddle attachment, cream the dough until it is really light and fluffy, then add the eggs one by one.

Sift the flour with the baking soda and baking powder, add the salt and stir it into the butter mixture, then chill for at least two hours. I actually make the dough a day before I shape it. I take out the butter before showering in the morning, then quickly make the dough after my coffee and scrape it into a bowl and leave it for the next morning. Nothing softens your hands quite like rolling 60 peanut butter balls in the morning.

Form 17g balls of the dough (I use my scales to do this, but then I’m a bit OCDC), flatten them and then score them with a fork. All of this is easier said then done, because in our Malaysian climate the dough melts super fast, so you may need to return it to the chiller at intervals. I basically rolled and flattened one sheet of 15 cookies, well spaces as they expand quite enthusiastically, then stuck it in the chiller while I made another tray, by which time they were just ready to be stored and peanut decorated.

It’s a good idea to put the read to bake cookies into the freezer for half an hour before baking them, It will help them keep their shape. Bake at 170ºC-175ºC for 10 minutes, then turn off the oven, open the door and leave the cookies to dry out in the oven. If you’re doing them in batches, just finish the whole lot, then return all the trays to the oven after you have turned it off. Do NOT exceed 175ºC, or your cookies will turn out like mine. Overbaked.

Half batch for 30 cookies:

  • 100g butter
  • 100g crunchy peanut butter
  • 60g caster sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 60g soft brown sugar
  • 150g flour
  • 0.5g salt
  • 1.3g (½ tsp) baking powder
  • 2.3g (½ heaped tsp)  baking soda

Baked Chicken with Black Olives

This is one of those dishes you can very quickly throw together if you have only an hour to cook. Even if you don’t have readymade tomato sauce, you can cheat and I’ll show you how. Just please don’t go out and buy tomato sauce in a jar. There simply isn’t a good one. So what you will need is:

  • 4 chicken thighs, or 2 whole chicken legs cut into 2 (well, 4, but you see what I mean)
  • 4 slices of Parma or Serrano Ham (or smoked cheese slices, if you’re not the porky type)
  • 300ml simple tomato sauce A Simple Tomato Sauce
  • 1 big brown onion
  • 8 garlic cloves
  • 1 glass white wine, about 125ml. More if you drink some.
  • 1 handful black olives
  • 1 handful sweet basil leaves
  • 1 handful breadcrumbs
  • salt & black pepper
  • plenty of good olive oil

I like to buy a whole chicken, because the quality of the pre-cut chicken is often very dubious. I portion the chicken up myself, so I have the carcass for soup and the breasts and wings to go in the freezer for another day. But for this recipe I didn’t have the time, so I bought 4 thighs in the shop. If you prefer to use cheese instead of the ham, get deboned chicken. It will be easier to eat. The cheese version is very good, especially if you can get hold of smoked scamorza. Just don’t try anything stupid, like using turkey slice…

Cut your onion into wedges, about 12 wedges to the onion, meaning you halve it, the cut the half in half lengthwise and then cut each half into thirds. Makes perfect sense, I know. Now crush and peel the garlic cloves. Use 5 for the sauce and chop the remaining 3 fine for the breadcrumbs. Here’s what I mean:

We are making a flavoured breadcrumb mix to sprinkle of top of our chicken. Just chop garlic and basil together, mix with pepper, salt and breadcrumbs and you’re done.

Mix your 300ml simple tomato sauce with 100ml water to thin it out a bit. If you don’t have this sauce, just blend one can of whole peeled tomatoes and add a tablespoon of tomato paste to it, then blend to mix. It will still be delicious, trust me. Now salt and pepper the chicken, heat olive oil in a flat, preferably cast iron pan or tray and fry the chicken in it until it’s nice and golden brown. Take it out and leave to cool.

Don’t rinse or wipe the pan, even if you have a few burnt bits in it. Just toss the 5 crushed garlic cloves into the hot oil and fry for just 30 seconds. it should be so hot that the garlic browns instantly. Do not reduce the heat and add all the onions to the pan. Stir, stir and then leave them to brown just lightly. If you stir all the time, they won’t brown, if you don’t stir at all, they’ll burn. you get the idea. Once the onions look good and smell great, pour in the wine you haven’t drunk and let it sizzle to reduce it to a thick honey like consistency.

Now pour your thinned out tomato sauce, or your thickened, blended can of tomatoes in and let this simmer for just a minute. You don’t want the onions to go mushy. They should retain a good texture. I sometimes deglaze with a little red wine vinegar before I add the wine and toss the onions in the vinegar to give them a nice sour edge.

Add the olives before or after, it doesn’t make that much difference. Wrap each piece of chicken with a slice of ham. I say wrap, but its more like cover and tuck the ends under. Place into the sauce. If you’re using cheese, put the chicken into the an first, then cover with (definitely non-Kraft) cheese slices.

Pour a generous amount of olive oil over the chicken and sprinkle as much of the breadcrumbs over as you like. You can make this in the morning, or even the day before and keep it in the chiller, then add the breadcrumbs just before putting it into the oven. It’s a great Sunday Lunch dish! Bake at 180ºC for about 30 minutes. You will need more time in the oven if the dish comes from the chiller. If you watch it closely, you can see when it’s ready. You want the middle of the pan to be bubbling lightly. That’s the point from which you will need another 10 minutes.

You don’t need the breadcrumbs to be dark brown, just lightly toasted is good enough. I serve this with a simple bowl of pasta to which I add a very generous amount of butter. Add a salad and you have a great meal!

Not a Japanese Potato Salad

I thought I had to point this out. Possibly because the only potato salad one is likely to order in any restaurant here in KL is a Potato Salada, which really is more like mashed potatoes with Japanese Kewpie mayo thrown in for good measure. Don’t get me wrong; Japanese potato salad is a very good thing in its own right, but it’s just that; its own thing. If you’ve grown up in a pretty Germanic family (sorry, mother), “ein guter Kartoffelsalat” was what you got on a summer Sunday, either with thickly sliced cooked ham, or Wienerwürstchen.

This recipe isn’t exactly the traditional one I grew up with. It’s my very own, personal and improved version for a new millennium and I think it’s pretty good. Creamy potatoes that don’t fall apart, a mayonnaise with a good amount of zing to it and of course gherkins, boiled chopped egg and crunchy shallots. Capers are allowed, but sliced cocktail sausages are completely verboten! You’re allowed to eat them on the side, but they can’t be added (explain that to anyone!). If you’re in any way teutonic, you will remember eating these straight out of the jar, still dripping with briny, smoked preservative juices.

This is the kind of shallot I’m talking about

For Chef Christian’s Teutonic Potato Salad you will need:

  • 600g small new potatoes (waxy is the word)
  • 2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 tsp red wine vinegar
  • ½ espresso spoon sea salt
  • about 8 small cocktail gherkins (cornichons)
  • 1 medium shallot
  • about 12 chives (1-2 spring onions will do too)
  • 1 boiled egg

For the mayonnaise:

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

A word about potatoes. If you live in a potato country, you will easily be able to find out which potatoes to buy. We want waxy ones, not starchy ones (we keep those for our Japanese Salada), so

Put your washed, but unpeeled potatoes into a steamer filled with water and turn on the heat. I like to steam my potatoes from cold, so they heat up slowly as the water starts to boil. I find it gives a more even texture, as the outside doesn’t steam at full blast while the inside is trying to catch up. It should take about 15 minutes from the time you see steam for your potatoes to cook in this way, but do check every now and again. We want perfectly cooked potatoes, not raw ones and not falling apart ones either. It is a German recipe, after all! I recommend you cut one potato in half when you think they are done and eat it. It’s really the only way to know whether you got it right. Now immediately take the steamed potatoes out and spread them in a single layer on a baking sheet, making sure they do not touch. Place them somewhere cool that is not the chiller.

It will take about 20 minutes before the potatoes are cool enough to comfortably peel, so that’s enough time to make the dressing and the mayonnaise. If you are wondering what I am talking about; we are going to make a first, simple dressing to coat our potatoes with while they are still warm. This will salt them and add that olive oil depth to the potatoes while still leaving our mayonnaise nice and clean tasting. So just quickly whisk the olive oil, red wine vinegar and salt together, then peel the potatoes, cut them into 4 (6, if they are bigger) and put them into a bowl. Don’t use your serving bowl for this, because tossing the potato salad is a messy business and we want a clean bowl to go to the table, ja? Pour the dressing over the still warm potatoes and gently mix. You may find that some of the dressing pools at the bottom of the bowl, but if you give the potatoes a good stir every ten minutes or so, it will soon all be absorbed.

Now make a mayonnaise with the ingredients listed above. If you have no idea how to do this, you’re probably not the only one. Fortunately my previous post tells you how to, so just follow this link Mayonnaise, or the link at the bottom of this post. It’s really not that difficult, so please don’t just buy mayonnaise in a jar.

Now it’s time to put it all together: Cut the chives into about 1cm pieces and add all but one tablespoon (that’s for decoration) to the potatoes. Now peel and chop your boiled egg and keep it aside. Cut the gherkins into small dice, or just chop them, if you’re not feeling German today and add these to the potatoes as well. Now add about two third of the mayonnaise to the potatoes and gently mix in. See if you like it that way and then add as much mayo as you like to your salad. Transfer the potato salad to a clean serving bowl, spoon the chopped egg around the edges and sprinkle the chives (do chives sprinkle?) over the middle. Serve.

Note: There is a reason I chop the chives, then eggs, then gherkins in that order. That way, I don’t need to clean my chopping board in between! A bit of chives on the egg is fine and a bit of egg and chives on the gherkins is fine too. Doesn’t work the other way around!

You can serve this potato salad with boiled Vienna sausages or go all out and be truly German (or was that Austrian) and serve it with Schnitzel One Man’s Schnitzel… whatever you decide, I can promise you it will be delicious!

Mayonnaise

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

To make mayonnaise, you will need:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Simple Tomato Sauce

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Simple Tomato Sauce

makes about 600ml when strained

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Macaroni Cheese

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

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

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

A Macaroni Cheese that is really a Penne al Forno

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Flaxseed Loaf

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

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

No, it’s not burnt!

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

For the Poolish:

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

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

For the Loaf:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ham & Eggs

Variation on a Theme

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

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

So on to the recipe:

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

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

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

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

A Good Egg

How to Fry an Egg

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

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

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

Recipe:

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

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

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

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

Arrrghhhh!!!

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

Tortilla with Smoked Salmon & Saffron

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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