A quick and simple fish dinner

Fish, along with everything else seems to have jumped in price. Here in WA, with several thousands kilometres of coastline and an incredible range of seafood, prices seem to vary between 60 to 70 dollars per kilo for fish fillets. I remember  … God! When I first came here in 1992, fresh local octopus off Rottnest Island was less than $3.50 a kilo. Now, you are lucky to find it for $40!

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I bought some fish a bit cheaper today – Silver Perch (another name for some type of snapper fairly abundant around here but what’s in a name?) – at just over $60 a kilo. (Actually, I only bought 300g.) 

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Rather than flouring the fillets and frying or grilling or even baking them  in a fish pie, I opted for sprinkling some Mediterranean flavourings on the fillets before wrapping them in slices of Seranno Ham (my new go-to favourite ingredient)

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and then gently frying them in a little olive oil for about 4 minutes a side, so that the ham is approaching crispness while the fish inside is still moist and succulent. Of course, you could use good old salt and pepper, or anything else you like – fresh herbs, dried chilli, and so on, endless permutations! 

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I served it up with baby, baked potatoes and a (ready-bought) Asian style salad. I didn’t know a dressing was included so I made my own – 1 spoon of olive oil, one of soy sauce, one of sesame oil, (two spoonfuls would have been better but that was all I had), 1 spoon of Mirin or any white vinegar, and a teaspoon of sugar, mixed and then shaken thoroughly in a jar.

The fish was superb. Moist inside, flaking on the fork and almost (!) crisp on the outside. A winner for a gorgeous Friday night dinner – even though it includes ham!

As it does, thinking of fish brought couplets to mind, where things just go naturally together,

Fish n’ Chips, (d’you want vinegar with that?), 

Rock n’Roll, 

Tomatoes n’ Basil, 

Bangers n’ Mash, 

Peaches n’ Cream

Rags n’Bones

Salt n’ Pepper

Any others spring to mind?

Potato Terrine

I’d heard of terrines, of course, compressed dishes of fish or meat, usually served cold and an apparent staple of French cuisine but I don’t remember ever having one. Recently, however, I visited a new, for me, restaurant down on the river between the two traffic bridges.  More of a place to sit and enjoy a drink I felt, while watching life on the river flow past, as the menu was a bit limited and portions were small – more tapas sized than a main meal. I ordered the pulled lamb with the potato terrine and while the lamb was tender and tasty, I was blown away by the slice of potato terrine – a rectangle the same size and thickness of my middle and index fingers together. I have never had anything like it before – it was gorgeous. Ever so slightly crisp on the edges, the slice of terrine with its layers of thinly sliced potato cooked in some type of creamy sauce was an absolute winner. So here is my third attempt at mastering this dish – my first try was adequate, my second one fell apart (I didn’t overlap the layers of potato sufficiently) – I’ve learned from my mistakes – and this, my third attempt, has made up for past errors but can still be improved upon the next time, while adding my own little twist.

IMG_4466Here’s what I had –

a kilo of russet potatoes, washed but not peeled

250 ml cream

salt and pepper

butter

a fresh rosemary sprigs, leaves picked

3 large cloves of garlic, minced

100g Serrano ham

a rectangular oven dish or a loaf tin

grease-proof paper

tin foil

Preheat oven to 180ºC. Place cream, minced garlic, salt and pepper and the chopped rosemary leaves in a small bowl and stir.IMG_4467

IMG_4474Scrub the potatoes, and use a mandolin, if you have one, to slice the potatoes finely. Use a knife if you have to. I used an old late 1960’s Moulinex food processor, liberated from my mother’s kitchen back in the eighties, to cut almost a kilo of spuds into almost transparent slices and quickly dropped them into the cream mixture.

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Very lightly butter your dish or loaf tin. I use a low rectangular glass dish. If you use a loaf tin, only fill it about halfway, unless you want loaf size slices of the terrine. Then line whatever you are using with grease-proof paper leaving considerable overhang on each side. You’ll eventually fold the paper sides over the top of the dish.

Build up the terrine in layers by taking slice after slice of potato and placing them into the dish. Spoon over the creamy stuff as you go but don’t drown it. Lay every slice down in the same shape and direction. Allow for overlaps and after every second or third layer, I put in two paper-thin slices of Serrano ham.IMG_4476 A few tabs of butter here and there among the layers will later contribute to the firmness. Another few layers of potato and another two slices of the Serrano and so on until the dish is filled to the top. I used all but two of the kilo I started with and six slices of the ham.

Wrap the overhanging greaseproof over the top, then cover the top of the dish with foil. Bake for at least 90 minutes or longer. When you can easily poke a skewer, not through the tinfoil and greaseproof paper, but through the actual terrine itself, you know it is done to perfection.

Cover up again, remove from the oven and allow to cool for about 15 minutes.

Now, weigh down the dish, still wrapped in the greaseproof paper, until you can put the dish, weights and all, in the fridge for at least an hour – preferably over night! The more you wait and weigh it, the more solid it becomes! House bricks are ideal, if you have a few clean ones handy. Otherwise, use whatever you have, tins of beans, bags of rice, barbells, whatever.

IMG_4483Remove from the fridge and bring to room temperature for around 15 minutes. Carefully remove from the dish, unwrapping the paper and unveil a solid block. Tidy it up the sides if necessary, revealing one perfect rectangle, layers exposed.

Heat a pan, and add in any fresh herb – thyme, marjoram whatever – and a crushed garlic clove to the pan for extra flavour. Then cut rectangular slices of terrine and slide them into the pan. IMG_4485Cut side, flat side down? Up to you! Fry gently for about a minute a side as it can burn easily!

Place the finished slices on some kitchen paper to absorb any oil and sprinkle with cracked black pepper, a pinch of coarse sea salt. Super as breakfast with a poached or fried egg. Use it as an accompaniment to any meal, hot or cold.  A dab of chutney or a smear of chilli jam, hmmm, a spoonful of sauerkraut?IMG_4489

Brussel Sprouts 1

Brussel Sprouts – so called apparently from their cultivation and abundance in the Low Countries – look absolutely amazing on the stalk. They look so … well, manly!  They are a good source of fibre too apparently. 100g of cooked sprouts contain 3.5g of fibre, the same amount in 100g of cooked lentils!

I must admit it is not a veg I ate a lot of and when I did, as a child, it was at Christmas, along with the turkey, ham and the spiced beef and the trimmings, roast potatoes, peas and steamed broccoli, with semi-waterlogged sprouts overcooked in a pressure cooker, soggy but buttered up with salt and pepper and made vaguely presentable. 

IMG_4253On the spur of the moment, I bought a 500g bag of sprouts recently and decided to try my hand at preparing them in different ways. This recipe uses the microwave and I decided to use just half for this Savoury Brussel Sprouts recipe.IMG_4254

Wash and peel the sprouts. Remove any withered or discoloured outer leaves until you have a small hard core sprout. That probably reduced my 250g down to less than 200g. (I didn’t bother to weigh and check).

IMG_4255I make a deep X cut in the base of each stem and tossed them into a microwave dish with a cup of water and gave them 3 minutes on high power.IMG_4268

While the sprouts were getting nuked, I chopped up red onion (a brown one, if you have it, is fine too) and a few generous slices of bacon, also chopped.

IMG_4270 2When the microwave dinged, I checked the sprouts – I didn’t want them soggy, but feel free to give them another minutes if you like them a bit softer. I like them a bit ‘al dente’.Otherwise, strain and set aside.

In the same microwave dish, I tossed in the bacon, the onion, the dried herb, (I used oregano but anything you have can be used instead), and a generous lump of butter, covered the lot with a lid and gave it another 4 minutes on high, stirring half way through the time.IMG_4272

Add the drained sprouts to the onion and bacon mix, stir well, add a sprinkle of black pepper and nuke on high again for about 2 minutes or until the sprouts are done to your liking.

Gorgeous.

Pasta and Beans

I haven’t gone shopping for ages for various reasons  – lousy weather (Perth is in the middle of winter and while usually mild, this year’s temperatures seem to be much lower than usual), bunged up leg, lockdowns, pandemic – and instead of the usual weekend indulgences of monstrous roasts  and endless leftovers, I decided to just use whatever I could find in assorted cupboards, pantry and fridge. I didn’t realise I had so much – tins of this, packets of that, spices and herbs galore, veg, celery cunningly wrapped in foil-lined bags to preserve their crispness (I didn’t do that, of course), carrots, a capsicum and some tired French beans in a damp brown paper bag.
I remember eating something similar, – no, not the paper bag but ‘Pasta e Fagioli’ in a basement lunch restaurant in Milan somewhere near Via Manzoni back in the late 70’s – similar anyway, in the sense that tonight’s dinner (and tomorrow’s as well by the look of things) has pasta and has beans (tinned, admittedly) in it too. But after that, I am sure my pasta and beans will have no resemblance to anything a Milanese restaurant could come up with.

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Anyway, here’s the stuff I came up with. A 500g box of pasta shapes, (I used about half), an onion, a few carrots and sticks of celery, a handful of tired green beans, a green capsicum, garlic, ground Coriander, Fennel seeds, a tin of Borlotti beans and a tin of whole tomatoes and a bag of shaved Parmesan!

I cooked the pasta in boiling salted water for a few minutes less than the suggested time on the box and while that was simmering away and filling a cold kitchen pleasantly with steam, I sliced the capsicum and the carrots, not too thinly, diced the celery and chopped the onions and the green beans. I heated some olive oil  in a large frying pan and sautéd the lot with a good spoonfull of the Fennel seeds and the remains of whatever ground Coriander remained in the jar and gave everything a good stir.

I drained the pasta and threw it back in the same pot along with the tin of drained Borlotti beans and put the lid on to keep it warm while I continued sautéing (messing, stirring and tossing) the veg. Next I tipped in the tin of toms and poured a cup or two of water and two  large spoonfuls of tomato paste (it came in a handy foil packet), along with a stock cube over the veg and brought the pan to a gentle simmer.

At this stage i realised I was going to need a bigger pot to hold all the pasta and beans along with the full pan of veg and spices. Anyway, I found a larger pot, gave everything a stir and let it simmer for a few more minutes until both carrots and pasta were ‘al dente’.

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Then in the garden, braving the cold for Basil and Parsley. Finally, a deep dish, freshly torn Basil leaves and Italian style parsley, shaved Parmesan awaiting the result.

Gorgeous!

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A few flakes of Parmesan and a pinch of pepper. I particularly liked the mild aniseedy flavour the Fennel gave the mix. Would go particularly well with a robust red wine (but I have just launched myself, for my sins, on Dry July!)

Slow-Cooked Lamb & Potato Rösti

It has been almost a year since I posted anything. I have no idea why I stopped posting the usual medley and I certainly can’t say I was too busy. If anything I have had more time on my hands over the last year than I have ever had. Between Covid lockdowns and a reverse shoulder replacement – if you would credit it, where my right arm, instead of ending in a ball which fits snugly into the socket on my shoulder, now holds the socket while the ball is screwed into my shoulder blade – which took quite a while to recover from and then further major surgery to repair a ruptured Achilles tendon on my right leg which involved another 14 weeks of very restricted movement. So for nearly eight months I have been house bound, sitting around on the back deck, reading, dozing, listening to music and doing bugger all else while the garden and the rest of the world go to wrack and ruin. Thank God for fantastic West Australian weather! No chance of me catching Covid, I can tell you, restricted to the back deck and unable to swim, drive or walk anywhere. And then, last night in bed, of all places, I was imagining a succulent lamb roast for the long Labour Day weekend here in Perth so here goes for my first blog in nearly a year. 

I love lamb in that I feel it is the most free-range of all meats, unlike poor old cows herded into dusty feed lots and fed with minced pig brains or some such muck, or wretched battery chickens cooped up in appalling conditions, or gross sows rolling over and suffocating their squealing piglets. No, lamb, for me is the essence of  good red meat and I like to envisage lambs romping and skipping over the springy turf. (God, the temptation to use ‘gambolling’ to describe the wooly little brutes frisking about in sun drenched meadows was almost overpowering!)

Recently however, whenever I roasted a leg or a shoulder – sometimes with garlic and sticks of rosemary and cinnamon pushed into knife stab holes, sometimes slathered with anchovies which dissolve in the roasting, other times coated in spices, honey, nuts and yoghurt – it has turned out tough and not particularly good – I ate it anyway, of course. Perhaps it is my gas oven, maybe the door is not a complete seal or the temperature gauge is not working or else, God forbid – it is me and my cooking methods? But how can you go wrong with lamb?

Anyway, after another disappointing roast last weekend – tasty but tough and chewy – I decided to try a new approach and I fished out my ancient Slow Cooker, acquired from David and Elaine B (Hi Guys wherever you are !) when they were leaving Brunei Darussalam to return to the UK in the mid eighties.  For the most part, I have only used the slow cooker for things like corned beef and an occasional chunky veg soup and each time, this battered but venerable, 35 year old appliance  has worked wonders so I decided to try slow cooking my rolled, boneless half leg of lamb.

First up was to throw a tin of tomatoes, a generous few slugs of Shiraz, a few stalks of rosemary, a good splash of balsamic vinegar and a decent spoonful of smooth Dijon mustard and a whole head of garlic, with just the tips cut off, IMG_3877into the crock pot, aka slow cooker, and left the lot to heat up while I browned the meat in a wok. A bit messy and splashy but it began to smell lovely as the fatty outer layer of the roast began to brown. Gorgeous smell.IMG_3874 I tipped the meat into the slow cooker on top of the gooey mix of tomatoes etc, put on the lid and planned to leave if for at least five hours.

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Unfortunately, I knocked the wok with the hot oil onto the kitchen floor, giving the worn jarrah floorboards a slippery sheen, nearly breaking my other leg as I slithered across the floor. Note: Be careful when browning a roast in a wok!

IMG_3880Next up was the Swiss style potato dish – Rösti. I used three peeled potatoes – any type of spud will do for this dish and I just picked up the first few spuds I saw in the market this morning. I grated the spuds coarsely and then roughly squeezed the excess water out of them. I ended up with about four or five handfuls of grated spud which I tipped into a bowl, along with half the grated white onion.

InIMG_3922to that, I added a good teaspoon each of ground black pepper, sea salt and dried Italian herbs, along with a bit of melted butter.

More butter and a good splash of oil into a frying pan and let it get really hot before I tipped the grated potato and onion mix into the pan and smoothed it out as best as IMG_3923I could with the back of a wooden spoon. IMG_3925I didn’t bother to stir or shake the pan, I just left it on high for about 10 minutes before carefully tipping up one edge of the stuff to see if it was browning nicely on the bottom. It was, so I carefully placed a large cutting board over the pan and flipped it over and then slid the rösti back into the pan so the other side could get browned.

While all that was happening, I turned off the slow cooker, fished out the lamb, practically falling apart after nearly six hours, and forked it apart with two forks. IMG_3924I poured the juice from the crock pot into a small saucepan and brought it back to the boil to reduce down and then stirred a spoonful of cornflour to thicken it.IMG_3926

The rösti slid out of the pan onto a cutting board and made a satisfying crunch when I cut into it with a pizza cutter. The pulled, tender, succulent and juicy lamb piled on top of the rösti with a velvety smooth, rich, meaty sauce,  a side dish of steamed spinach (and the rest of the bottle of Shiraz) made an excellent dinner.

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Disclaimer

Looking over the above, while every word is true, I have to admit my photography has room for improvement. My only excuse is greasy hands, a slippery floor and an Iphone 6 with an annoying habit of turning itself off!

Ingredients:

Lamb leg, rolled roast, 1,25kg, Tinned tomatoes, Balsamic vinegar, Red wine, (Shiraz), Dijon mustard, Garlic, Rosemary

Rösti, 3 spuds, 1/2 onion, mixed herbs, salt & pepper, Butter & oil

A ‘Pick Me Up’ for Hard Times

There is something about Easter and chocolate, isn’t there? Cadburys apparently made over 477 million chocolate eggs and probably the same amount of chocolate bunnies and I am sure Lindt and other manufacturers did something similar. In Belgium, the self proclaimed chocolate centre of the world (!), chocolatiers were declared essential workers in an otherwise locked down economy and chocolate bunnies were adorned with white chocolate face masks. bunEaster alone here in Perth without family, grandchildren and friends for lunch was no excuse for not indulging myself so I decided to treat myself to a slow roasted leg of lamb, creamy mashed potatoes and minted peas followed up by a fancy dessert.

Nearly a quarter of a century before – yes, really that long ago – two of my students were junior chefs from the Italian part of Switzerland and one night during a Sinners and Saints party at my place, they made a tiramisu and scribbled the recipe down which I recently discovered among old papers.

Anyway, for those that don’t know (or care), Tiramisu (Pick me up, in Italian) is a light, coffee flavoured dessert and is as classic an Italian dish as Spaghetti Bol, or Pizza Quattro Staggione or Saltimboca or … whatever.

I had tried the recipe a few months ago when I was having my son and daughter around for a Sunday lunch but it was a complete disaster, everything curdled and the resulting mess was soggy and unappetising. This time would be different, I swore, and the secret? Seperate the egg yolks from the whites and beat each separately! Simple as that!

OK, Ingredients firstIMG_3523

  • 5 eggs – all I had left in the fridge as my chickens have taken a break from laying
  • 500g mascarpone ( a light cream cheese, similar to Philadelphia but much nicer)
  • 6 dessertspoons of fine caster sugar
  • double shot of espresso coffee
  • l packet of Savoiardi sponge (lady) fingers
  • a scoop of Nutella
  • a double shot of Tia Maria coffee liqueur
  • a bar of dark chocolate, melted
  • …and a dusting of cocoa powder on top

IMG_3521First off, make the coffee. I made a double espresso and then ‘cooled’ it down by adding a double shot of Tia Maria. Next, separate the eggs, and place the egg whites in one bowl, and the egg yolks in another. I broke each egg into my hand and sort of dribbled the albumen from hand to hand and plonked the yolk into another bowl. I wasn’t able to keep them completely separate as I managed to leak a spot of yolk into the whites making them very difficult to beat, according to what my mother used to say!IMG_3524

Add 3 dessertspoons of sugar, whizzed in the blender to make it extra fine, to the egg white bowl and use an electric beater to whip the egg whites to stiffish peaks. Hopefully, after a couple minutes of whipping, the egg whites will start to thicken, in my case, barely, because of the drop of yolk, but I didn’t want to over whip the whites.IMG_3526

Set the stiff egg whites aside, and switch over to the egg yolk bowl. Add 3 more dessertspoons of sugar to the egg yolks and beat this for a couple minutes, until it goes from bright to a pale yellow.

Mix in the mascarpone and the Nutella IMG_3529(I used all that was left in the jar, but use as much as you want, and then mix thoroughly with the electric beater again before gently folding in the stiff egg whites, as slowly as possible.IMG_3530

Place the espresso and the Tia Maria (use any spirit your like – Sambuca, rum, brandy or nothing at all) in a small bowl, and then dunk each of the sponge fingers in the coffee and booze mixture for literally a second or two or the biscuits can become too soggy, (I like to see a dry core inside the finger when I break it in two), and lay a layer of them in the serving dish. IMG_3532Then pour a layer of the mascarpone mixture to cover them. IMG_3533Lay another layer of biscuits on top of that and cover again with the mascarpone. I threw the broken bits of dark chocolate into a small bowl in the microwave to melt and then dribbled the melted choc over the creamy mixture before adding a finely sieved spoonful of raw cacao powder over the lot. IMG_3536Bang it into the fridge and leave it for a few hours to sets as this lets the layers soak into each other and allows the mascarpone cheese and everything else firm up.

When cut into squares later, it should be fairly set, certainly not runny or goopy (like my first disastrous attempt).

IMG_3538Cheers!

Dublin Coddle and other Irish Staples

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Well, it is that time of year again – Saint Patrick’s Day – March 17 – and for those who don’t know, Saint Patrick is the patron saint of Ireland, who, it is believed, brought the Christian faith to the far flung western isle 1,588 years ago.

Celebrating everything Irish all over the world with parades, music and food, this year the Irish Government has formally cancelled all parades and public gatherings in the interest of public health and safety due to the coronavirus pandemic. A similar thing happened nineteen years ago when the annual parade was cancelled due to the outbreak of the highly infectious foot and mouth disease.

As usual, St. Patrick’s Day occurs halfway through the Christian Lenten period before Easter – a time traditionally when many practising Christians would voluntarily give up something – as kids it might have been lollies, sweets and candies, later as adults, cigarettes, milk in the tea or coffee,  alcohol and so on. But then along comes St. Patrick’s Day (yippee!) and all bets are off. Recognised by the church as a holy day of obligation, the feast day had a special dispensatory clause which allowed all fasting people to resume their ‘vice’ for that day only – hence the widespread popularity of the day which led to widespread drunkeness and debauchery in some cases! Not that I know anything about that, of course.IMG_3467

Anyway, in honour of my country’s patron saint, I have decided to cook some traditional Irish food – Dublin Coddle and Irish Soda Bread which, when eaten together and washed down with a Guinness is about as Irish as I can get in this scary, pandemic time.

Happy St. Patrick’s Day 2020 to everyone!

Dublin Coddle

Ingredients

I kg. Good pork sausages

2 Tbsp. Of oil

450 g bacon rashers, roughly chopped

2 large onions sliced thickly

2 cloves of garlic, crushed

2 carrots sliced thickly

4 large potatoes, sliced thickly

Black pepper to taste

Chopped parsley

Bunch of fresh herbs – rosemary, thyme, sage

375 (at least) ml dry cider

3 Tbsp. plain flour

Method

  • Put the flour into a strong plastic bag and season with salt and pepper.  Cut the sausages into thirds and then dip into the seasoned flour.IMG_3472
  • Heat the oil in a thick-based pan and quickly seal the floured sausages in the hot oil for about three minutes.  Remove and set aside.IMG_3474
  • Soften the onions and crushed garlic in the oil for a further 5 minuteIMG_3470s.
  • Put the sausages, chopped bacon, onion and garlic in a large pot with the sliced potatoes and carrots.  Tie the herbs together (use any herbs available or in, desperation, use ½ tsp. of mixed, dried herbs) and cover the lot with the dry cider.IMG_3476
  • Bring to a point of boiling and then reduce the heat to a very gentle simmer for at least an hour, or until the vegetables are cooked but not mushy.
  • Serve in deep bowls and garnish with chopped parsley.  Accompany with draught Guinness and homemade soda bread.

(serves 6)

Irish Soda BreadIMG_3477

Spread generously with butter and thick strawberry jam, Irish Soda bread evokes childhood memories of summer when the weather was so hot that the tar on the road would bubble.  We’d put used ice-pop sticks into the tar and then chase each other around, trying to smear the tar on each other, knowing that whoever got smeared would be in trouble with their mum that night.  Anyway, I digress…

Ingredients – Basically divided into two types – Wet and Dry ingredients.

Dry

3 cups of wholegrain flour

1 cup of plain flour

1 level tsp. of Bicarb of Soda

½ tsp. of Salt

1 tsp. of wheat germ*

1 tsp. of crushed bran

WET

1½ cups of buttermilk (500 ml)

2 Tbsp. Of oil.

1 egg

Method

  • Sieve together all the dry ingredients into a large bowl.  Go easy on the Bicarb of Soda – less is more in this instance! By sieving the ingredients, a finer mix is achieved as well as adding air to the mixture. * I didn’y haver any wheat germ so I used two teaspoons of chia seeds instead.IMG_3479
  • In a separate bowl, mix all the wet ingredients.
  • Add the wet to the dry. IMG_3480The mixture should be fairly sticky, so mix using a a flat bladed knife or a wooden spoon initially and then use your hands to make a smooth dough.IMG_3482
  • Turn it into a greased baking tin to get a loaf shape, or more traditionally, shape the dough into a flattish round shape and then make a deep cross cut in the dough.  Sprinkle with a handful of plain flour and put in the middle tray of the oven (gas 200) for about 55 minutes.
  • Turn out onto a wire rack to cook.  Eat while still warm if possible.

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(serves 6)

Quiche (Lorraine?)

I haven’t had a quiche for literally decades – one of my friend’s girlfriends used to make delicious ones – so on a whim I bought a smoked salmon quiche at a trendy and fashionable market recently. God, it was worse than awful in that it put my wife – who had never had a quiche before – right off the whole idea of the dish, when I suggested making one for the weekend.

I decided to do it from scratch, making my own pastry and only adding cheese and a few shallots to the traditional Quiche Lorraine which is made only with bacon, eggs and cream/crème fraiche.IMG_2784

This was no longer going to be a quiche lorraine in the purist sense because of the cheese and two shallots I found in the cupboard that I wanted to use up. I am neither French nor in Lorraine and as far as I am concerned, national dishes are allowed to develop once they escape from their country of origin.

For those who have no idea of what I am talking about, a quiche is an open-faced pastry pie with eggs, cream and lardons or bacon cubes. Of course there are endless variations with onion and garlic adding a more savoury flavour while added mature cheddar or a gruyère can be called, to keep the French flavour, a quiche au fromage, if you like. Add spinach and it becomes a quiche florentine, chuck in a few tomatoes and it becomes quiche provençale, throw in a handful of mushrooms and it is a quiche aux champignons.

Shocked by the amount of cream used in this recipe – the ultimate in cookingIMG_2785 extravaganza? – I must admit it is not something I often use or buy. On the rare occasions when I do, for a luxurious Irish Coffee or some special occasion, I would feel vaguely guilty. But I remember, as a child, we always used to have cream, along with butter and eggs and potatoes and buckets of milk and it was all considered healthy. However, you can, if you like, use milk instead but you will be missing out, I assure you, on the rich succulence that only cream can provide.

IMG_2788So, to work! I threw the flour, the cubed butter and the egg yolk into my aged food processor and dribbled in four spoonfuls of cold water as the processor grunted and heaved its way through the dough. I bundled out not quite coarse ‘breadcrumbs’ onto a floury board and gave it a bit of a knead before forming it into a rough ball which I wrapped in cling film and put in the fridge to ‘set’ for thirty minutes or so.IMG_2790

Using a wooden rolling pin, (I immediately thought of Andy Capp’s wife, Florrie, her hair in rollers, behind their front door, tapping a rolling pin IMG_2793meaningfully into her hand as she waited for her sot of a husband to come home) I rolled the pastry out as thinly as I could before lifting the sheet up carefully and draping it over a round baking tin.

I trimmed the edges of overhanging pastry and squashed a sheet of baking paper down on top of the pastry, filling the entire tin. I didn’t have any baking stones so I used a handful of rice and IMG_2797spread that evenly over the baking paper before putting the lot into a 180 degree C oven for about 10 minutes. After that, I removed the paper and rice – didn’t spill any, either! – and put the pastry tin back in the oven for another ten minutes.

IMG_2799While that was baking, I chopped up two small shallots and tossed them into a pan with a spoonful of oil – I had no more butter, having used it all for the pastry. After the shallots softened a bit, I tossed in the cubed bacon and stirred it around for a while before leaving it for ten minutes or so.

Just in time I remembered to take the pastry tin out of the oven – a lovely golden hue and a slightly darker crust – and left it to cool slightly.IMG_2802

While the bacon and shallots were braising, I broke four eggs into a jug, added the leftover white from the first egg and then spooned in a substantial glop of the crème fraiche, although I actually used some type of cooking cream, and then several generous glugs of fresh cream and a good pinch of freshly ground nutmeg before giving it all a good whisk. By that time, the bacon bits and shallots were ready so I tipped them out onto kitchen paper to drain a bit and grated up two large handfuls of gruyère. Scattering the bacon mixture and the grated cheese into the empty piecrust, I poured my eggy-creamy mixture on top of the lot, filling the piecrust 3/4 full.

IMG_2807I pulled out the oven rack and gently lowered the nearly filled pie tin down before topping it up with the rest of the creamy egg sauce. That way, I didn’t slop any on the floor while banging the lot into the oven at 180 degrees C.

I took a look at it after about 20 minutes and it looked gorgeous but still runny so I gave it another ten minutes. Even then, it was still soggy in the middle so I put it back for a further 15 minutes, took it out and, third time, it seemed perfection … until I tried to get it out of the baking tin. IMG_2811Note to self: next time use one of those baking tins where you can push up from beneath the bottom.

Using a spatula and a wooden spoon, I managed to heave it out, almost unbroken, onto a plate and then … what’s the word for ‘heaven’ in French?IMG_2812

Hmmm, what am I going to do with the leftover fresh cream? Maybe … a coffee?

 

 

Ingredients (for the pastry)

175g / 6oz plain flour

100g / 4oz cold butter, cubed

1 egg yolk

4 spoons of cold water

Ingredients (for the filling)

150g bacon bits (or lardons if you can get them from a deli)

2 small red shallots, chopped finely,

50g / 2oz Gruyère

200ml / 7 fl oz cream

200 ml crème fraiche or cooking cream

4 full eggs plus the white left over from the yolk used in the pastry

Pinch of ground nutmeg.

 

 

 

Noonday Sun* Chilli Jam

img_2611Almost without my noticing it, the chilli plant in the outdoor bed was suddenly flooded with brilliant red, small Birdseye chillies. I had no real idea of how hot they might be as they got watered whenever the others – sage, basil, rosemary, marjoram and parsley – got a soaking. Too much water reduces the chilli heat, while too little kills the other, thirstier, plants. The Scoville Scale was developed to measure the heat of ‘peppers’ ranging from zero for a capsicum to 2.2 million for some chillies! And one part capsaicin – the thing that makes chillies hot – per million equals about 15 Scoville units!

Keep it simple for crying out loud! It reminds me of the former currency in Italy – my first ever time being a millionaire yet living hand-to-mouth at the same time. Ridiculous!

With last year’s crop, I froze most of them and used them continuously over the course of the year but I still had loads left. Now, with this new bumper crop, as it were, I was a bit overwhelmed until I thought of chilli jam.

Anyway, when I actually got around to picking the chillies, I ended up with about 225g.

img_2613Rooting around in the cupboards and fridge, I came up with garlic, shallots, and ginger, fish sauce, vinegar, cherry tomatoes, and even a few capsicums and a smallish knob of ginger. There was also a half empty jar of roasted peppers and the only thing I had to buy was a jar of Tamarind paste.

I found an assortment of glass jars and gave them a good soapy wash before putting them into a 200-degree oven to dry and sterilize. You could use the dishwashers instead, if you had one. I also stuck a small saucer in the freezer, remembering something my mum used to do when she made marmalade.img_2625

I chucked the capsicum, the chillies, garlic, shallots and ginger along with more than half of the sliced cherry toms into a processor, dribbling in the fish sauce at the same time. I had to do it in batches, as my processor thingy is not very big.

Anyway, I ended up with this and I still had the sugar, vinegar and the tamarind paste, and, on a sudden whim, I decided to include raw cacao powder – chilli and chocolate? Why not?img_2618

I brought all the liquid stuff to the boil very slowly, stirring to make sure all the sugar dissolves fully and then added all the pureed chilli mix and the remaining cherry toms, along with their juice. I brought the lot up to a hard, roistering boil for ten minutes or so before reducing the heat to a gentle simmer. After about 45 minutes,img_2621

I tried my mum’s tip and carefully poured a spoonful of the chilli goo onto the saucer from the freezer, waited a minute and then pushed my finger into the goo, leaving a visible furrow behind indicating that the jam was ‘set’.img_2624

I turned off the heat and carefully removed the baked hot glass jars from the oven and put them on a mat. I ladled the chilli jam into a small jug and carefully filled the jars.

While still hot, I covered the tops with several layers of tinfoil and screwed the lids on tight and waited for the jars to cool down.

img_2628The next morning I lightly toasted some sourdough bread and then slathered on my new jam and the first bite … the sensation is instantaneous – my mouth floods with flavour, no part is untouched. A sourness – the tamarind, the vinegar? – along with the sweetness and the mellowness of the capsicum and cherry toms overlay the pleasing heat of an enjoyable burn, much like a aged Scotch, rolling around the mouth and between the teeth and over the roof, before extending its pleasurable warmth down the throat while the whole sensations lengthens and extends, the lips glowing in appreciation.

Wow! There you are.

We had chicken that night and I slathered on the jam again, making the meal irresistible. What’s not to like about it – you can use it with any meat, fish, fried or otherwise, mixed with rice, poured on pasta, spread on bread, stuffed into mushrooms, filled into pies, added to dhal, spicing up the soup, the list is … well not endless, but you know what I mean.

It has certainly changed my mind about breakfast – delicious on poached eggs, or an avocado half filled with jam or with crispy bacon or … see what I mean?

For measurements and capacities, see below but it wouldn’t matter, much, if more or less is used.

180g Birdseye chillies, washed and trimmed 200ml Vinegar – I used Red Wine but Apple Cider or any Vinegar would be fine.
8 – 10 cloves of garlic 3 – 4 Tablespoons Fish Sauce
2 red capsicum, cleaned and chopped 3/4 cup of dark brown sugar / 130 g
6 large shallots, chopped 4 Tablespoon of Raw Cacao
750g cherry tomatoes 3 – 4 Tablespoons Tamarind paste
Thumb size piece of ginger Salt, if desired. I actually forgot.

If I had to guess, I’d say – on the scale of 0 – 2,200,200 my Noonday Sun (moderate climate) would be about 19,530, so fairly low, I suppose.

* I have always liked the line

‘Hot chilli peppers in the blistering sun…’

in Bob Dylan’s outlaw song, Romance in Durango and I wanted to call my jam after it but ‘blistering’ didn’t quite suit so I came up with the more moderate ‘noonday sun’!

Ratatouille

A (very) long time ago, when I was a student, I ended up working nights in a small French, basement restaurant in Leeson Street in Dublin – La Belle Epoque. I have no recollection of either how I got the job – dishwasher à la kitchen hand and general dogsbody- or retained it for most of the academic year because the restaurant never seemed to have any customers. Jack, one of two full time chefs, said something about the previous owners not having paid their telephone bill so the service was suspended and the new owners – my employers – refused to pay the outstanding charges. So, no phone and hence no reservations and the only customers we used to have were the very occasional punters dropping in on the off chance and, sometimes, the music group Dubliners and that was only because Jack, I think, was one of their mates.

Anyway, among other delights, like unlimited access to ice cream sorbet and gargantuan meals that the chefs would prepare every night – for themselves and the other staff – I fell in love with a simple, rustic-style vegetable dish – ratatouille that always seemed to be available.

Years passed and it slipped, like so many other things, from my memory until recently, travelling along the south shore of the Black Sea, I came across variations on a theme and fell in love with it all over again.

Back home I made it myself for the first time but my wife was aghast at the amount of olive oil I used and I may very well have been a little bit heavy handed there, I admit.

Anyway, jump to the present and, foolishly perhaps, after a sustained and concentrated boozy December, I decided to abstain from all alcohol for the month of January and while I was considering the difficulties that might impose upon me, I thought I might as well go the whole hog and become vegetarian for the month as well, in addition to submitting myself to some form of daily exercise – it is summer here after all and the beach is only a few kilometres from where I live. Anyway, casting around the other day, bored and listless – Day 10 alcohol free – I decided to cheer myself up with a succulent dish of summery vegetables of eggplant, zucchini, capsicum and tomato.

Taking advantage of my wife’s temporary absence I commandeered the kitchen and all the paraphernalia I would need and decided to cook the vegetables separately first, then combine them to cook to a glorious creamy stew.img_2568

Ingredients

Extra virgin olive oil,

1 large eggplant, roughly diced,

5 garlic cloves, chopped,

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper,

2 zucchini, sliced into rounds about as thick as a doubloon or a sovereign (!),

2 large onions, diced,

4 red capsicums, roughly diced,

1 kg tomatoes, seeded and chopped,

1 400g can of tomatoes,

Bunch of thyme, parsley and basil, chopped,

1 Tablespoon of sugar

img_2570I decided to cook the veg separately. But, as an alternative to frying the eggplant, which would soak up a huge amount of oil, I decided to toss the diced eggplant in a little oil in a plastic bag and then spread it in a single layer under a very hot grill to brown, before tipping the lot into a large bowl.img_2579

img_2574I heated a generous splash of oil in a heavy-duty casserole dish over a low heat and lightly fried the chopped garlic along with a generous sprig of rosemary. I scooped out 2/3 of the garlic and discarded the rosemary before adding the zucchini and sautéing until tender, then added it to another bowl.img_2575

Next up, I returned the pan to the heat and added just a splash more oil, another third of the garlic, and sautéed the onion, and capsicum until tender. Once again I dumped the lot into a dish as before. By this stage I had too much stuff for my casserole dish so I img_2587combined all the cooked vegetables into a large pot and added the seeded and chopped tomatoes along with a tin of toms which I whizzed in the blender before simmering the lot gently for about 1½ hours. Remove from the heat, taste for seasoning and stir in the chopped basil. I also used dried thyme and marjoram as I had forgotten to pick up some fresh stuff.

img_2591Serve with a soft-boiled poached egg, so the yolk can anoint the delicious vegetables.

As I mentioned, I seem to have made rather a lot but leftover ratatouille has many possibilities – fill a long, crusty bread roll with it or slather it on a slice of sour dough toast. A small amount of ratatouille makes a lush filling for an omelette or scrambled eggs along with some chopped pitted black olives and a little fresh goat’s cheese or coarsely grated Parmesan. Yum-oh!