Not everyone’s thing but I don’t want to go long without: Steak Tartare, a spiced preparation of raw beef that goes well with fresh bread, French fries or Bretzeln. The leftover makes my favourite breakfast.
I use 150 to 200 g Beef Sirloin per portion, allowing some off-cuts for the cat and some left-overs for tomorrow’s breakfast.
Carefully clean the meat by removing all sinew, fat and skin, then mince it.
Add one fresh, organic, free-range medium-sized egg yolk per portion, a pinch of salt, a teaspoon of mustard, a very small and very finely diced onion and two teaspoons of capers, drained and chopped slightly.
Mix with a fork, adding a drizzle of good olive oil as you go along.
Form into a ball, cover with clingfilm and keep chilled until supper time. Eat within a few hours.
We eat it with French fries and a side salad, or on a buttered slice of bread, and of course with fresh Bretzeln.
This is another one of those concept dishes rather than an actual recipe.
The concept here is to go over the Farmer’s Market on a Saturday morning or stumble into the local butcher’s shop, then prepare a meal for slow cooking based on whatever was available or discovered in the fridge or larder.
Preparation takes about an hour, followed by an afternoon free for frolicking. Return hours later to a satisfying stew, on the table and ready to eat within minutes if you plan it right.
You’ll need a slow cooker or an oven with a low temperature cooking programme, or simply an oven which can hold 65 to 75 C for a couple of hours. You could even dig a traditional cooking pit! The trick is to stay below 80 C and leave the dish in peace for a couple of hours.
I like a piece of meat. Lamb shanks or leg slices, goat, mutton, high rib of beef or venison leg are my preferred choices. Clean the meat from sinew and remove skin, perhaps remove some of the fat.
Then clean a curiosity shop of vegetables. You will need onions and lots of garlic no matter what, also peeled waxy potatoes unless you wish to serve the meal with bread or other carbs, or no carbs at all!
Pretty much all vegetables that are in season are fine by me. Fennel, parsnips, savoy cabbage. Tomotoes, beans, peas. I’d stay away from courgettes or aubergines on this occasion but even cauliflower works thanks to the low temperatures.
Clean, peal, dice.
I caramelise the meat by searing in clarified butter on the cooker, using the same casserole dish that I plan to use for the whole process.
Remove the meat, then lightly caramelise the vegetables in the same pot with the help of olive oil or clarified butter.
Season to taste with salt, black pepper, red chillies, thyme, rosemary, lovage, star anise and cinnamon. Bring the meat back, add 75 ml of wine and 75 ml of water. Close the lid, put into the oven and forget about it for a couple of hours, four hours at least, five or six won’t give you trouble.
Allow for even longer if you are using tough meat such as ox tail, but for the types of meat listed earlier, four to six hours are just fine.
Pretty quick and easy to prepare and very satisfying on a cold day: Poached smoked Haddock with a poached egg, served on a bed of green lentil ragout.
For the lentil ragout, finely dice a medium-sized onion, half a fennel bulb, 2 cloves of garlic and one medium sized carrot. Melt a walnut-sized piece of butter and an equivalent amount of olive oil in a pan, then fry the diced vegetables until they begin to caramelise. Add one cup of green (“french”) lentils, two cups of cold water and one chicken stock cube.
(Really, a stock cube. It helps cook the lentils much faster than you’d think.)
Add a twig of thyme or lovage, cover and let simmer very gently. This takes about 30 minutes from now.
Meanwhile, clean the undied smoked haddock but leave the skin on, cutting portions of about 220 g per person. Heat a pint of milk in a pan, add three bay leaves and half a dozen of crushed juniper berries. Check the temperature; you want the milk hot but well below the boiling point. Gently add the fish, skin side down, and simmer for 15 minutes.
Bring a saucepan of water to the boil. When it is boiling, add a generous splash of vinegar and let the temperature drop to just below the boiling point. Crack one egg per portion into a cup, then gently drop the egg into the hot water. Let them float for 5 minutes.
Sample the lentils ragout. Season to taste with salt, mustard, and balsamic vinegar or balsamic glaze.
Plate a good portion of the lentils ragout, topped with the fish, skin now removed, and a poached egg on top. Chilly oil, pumpkin oil or more balsamic vinegar make for a decorative splash.
A lovely little winter warmer dish, quick and easy to make with winter vegetables:
Parsnip and potato mash with seared Duck breast, served with mixed cabbage stir-fry and sage butter.
Begin by getting the mash under way: peal and clean the potatoes, peal one to 1 1/2 parsnip per diner. Remember to remove the fibrous parsnip core. Dice and put into a pot, add one finger’s width of water and a pinch of salt. Close the lid and steam for approximately 25 minutes until tender. The exact time depends on the size of your dice and potato variety, so check with a spoon or kitchen knife.
Meanwhile, prepare the duck breasts. I use smaller fillets, one per diner: trim the skin by cutting away excess, leaving a nice rectangular piece, which I cut crosswise every 5 mm. Trim remaining fat, sinew or blood vessels.
Clean and cut the cabbage into large pieces. I find a mixture of Savoy Cabbage and Red Cabbage works well, but some Chinese Cabbage left-overs or Cavolo Negro also fit in well enough.
Peel and crush two large gloves of garlic, cut one small bulb of fennel into shavings.
Pre-heat the oven to 160 C.
Meanwhile, finish the mash: drain the excess water, then add a cup of hot milk and a two-walnut sized piece of butter. Whisk with an electric mixer or mash it in the good old way using a masher, then set aside.
Heat a frying pan (one with a fire-proof handle) with a small amount of clarified butter (ghee). Salt the duck skin and sear the breast, skin-side down at moderate heat until the fat is rendered out well and the skin has a nice honey colour. Take your time for this. Now turn the breasts skin side up, transfer the pan into the oven and set your timer for 5 minutes.
Remove the pan from the oven after 5 minutes, place the breasts on a board to rest for another 5 minutes at least. Meanwhile…
Heat another frying pan to medium-to-high heat. Melt a spoon full of clarified butter, then add the garlic, fennel shavings and cabbage. Stir occasionally to achieve light caramelization throughout. Add salt to taste when your’ done frying, and never add water.
Finely chop a handful of fresh Sage leaves. Melt a generous amount of butter (say, 50 g per diner), heat it up until it is foaming but not yet browning. Quickly fry the sage leaves and remove from the heat.
Assemble with the mash in the centre of the plate, the sliced breast on top, surrounded with cabbage stir-fry. Drizzle the sage butter generously over the cabbage. Done!
So rewarding, and so simple to make. No need for mysterious powder or ominously yellow stuff from a tetra pack; just make your own. It’s quick and easy to make, delicious, and free from artificial stabilisers, preservatives, colouring, other E-numbers and whatnots. You don’t even have to faff about with the Bain-Marie if you are careful.
Follow these steps:
Have 5 fresh medium sized free-range eggs ready at room temperature.
Mix half a pint of double cream with half a pint of whole milk and gently heat the mix in a saucepan. Use one with a heavy bottom so that it retains some heat when taken off the fire.
Meanwhile, separate the five eggs. Keep the whites for something useful; we only need the yolks for custard. Whisk the yolks with four to five generous tablespoons of sugar (80 to 100 g) until foamy. Add the seeds from one vanilla pod, or an equivalent amount of vanilla essence.
When the milk-cream-mix reaches boiling point, remove it from the heat, then whisk in the egg mix. Whisk vigorously for one minute more than you think necessary. The residual heat is enough to cook the egg but you must avoid scrambled egg, especially near the bottom and the edges of the pan.
Pour into a suitable jug or container and let cool down to room temperature, then chill in the fridge until it is time to serve it, perhaps with a fruit crumble.
Well that’s a very simple recipe, but it has a place here because I keep forgetting the correct proportions. For the record:
To make four portions of fruit-crumble-and-custard, mix
50 g butter, soft but not runny,
50 g ground almonds,
50 g white wheat flour and
50 g caster sugar.
Its 1 : 1 : 1 : 1, how hard can it be to remember?
I make this hours before the meal. Bring the four ingredients together with an electric mixer, add a handful chopped toasted hazelnuts at the end, and put in the fridge until it is time to bake the fruit crumble for approximately 18 minutes at 180 C.
Following on with the theme and tone set by the Sexy Salads article, this is about Sexy Soups. Soups which surprise, which take you on a journey of discovery through different colours, textures and tastes, soups for more than just to stain your shirtfront.
They can be vegetarian, but I confess that pork belly with crisp skin, or a juicy chicken breast, a pink seared duck breast, some prawns or at least a poached egg or a poached egg yolk are normally my very personal star of the show.
I usually begin with chicken stock, nice and easy to make and less overpowering when compared to a beef stock. I get a whole chicken, fill it with plenty of grated fresh ginger and garlic, then add enough cold water for the soup I need. This will gently simmer for 90 minutes, after which I remove the pot from the heat but leave everything to cool down as is.
One idea is to remove the breast before the cooking. They don’t really add to the soup but can be seared with rosemary butter, then served with the soup. It all depends on your plans for the soup and tomorrow’s meal.
When the soup has cooled down, remove the meat and discard the bones. The meat should make for a fabulous Chicken Fricassee on the next day, or perhaps a quick Coq au Moutarde or a sexy chicken salad with the remaining fennel, apples, oranges and bitter chicory.
A little extra effort pays dividends: whisk up one or two egg whites until they are just foamy, then add to the cold soup. Gently bring it back to the boil, occasionally lifting the egg white very gently off the pot’s bottom in the beginning to prevent it from sticking. Once the soup is at the boiling point and all the egg whites are floating on the surface, drain through a mousseline sheet or at least a very, very fine sieve to complete the clarification.
The rest is up to you, your imagination and whatever you’ll find in the back of the fridge or kitchen larder: croutons from garlic bread are always nice with a broth, and so are mustard greens, skinned cherry tomatoes or charred little Gem lettuce. Mushrooms and egg noodles perhaps, or fresh garden peas and a poached duck egg yolk?
It always pays to heat some clarified butter and crisp fresh Sage leaves to top the soup, but young pea shoots, cress, radish or mustard shoots are also nice for visual appeal, a bit of a spicy bite and a fresh taste.
Friend Linda declined the honour, but she gets it anyway as she introduced me to these very lovely Cranberry Pistachio Biscotti. They are easy to make, lovely looking, perfect with the coffee after a meal, or just at any time.
It’s an American recipe and comes in cup measures, but I added a translation. This is my version of it:
2 cups white wheat flour (250 g)
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup soft unsalted butter (110 g)
3/4 cup sugar (100 g)
2 large free range eggs
1/2 vanilla pod
1 cup shelled pistachios (two handful)
1 cup dried cranberries, alternatively dried cherries or blueberries (two handful)
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Roast the pistachios lightly in a non-sticking frying pan. Wrap the hot pistachios in a tea towel and rub the chaff off, then set aside to cool down a little.
Beat the butter with the sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in the eggs, one at a time, followed by the seeds from the vanilla pod. Mix in the flour, baking powder and salt.
Toss the berries with the cinnamon. Add the pistachios and fruit to the dough mix, stir in well.
Cover a flat tray with baking parchment. Form two logs from the dough, about 1 inch high and 1 .. 2 inch wide. Leave 3 inches between the logs.
Bake at 160 C (325 F) until golden, about 20 minutes. Let cool down at least for 30 minutes, then slice and bake the slices for approximately 7 minutes on each side until they begin to colour.
Another base recipe for which I keep forgetting the proportions, so here’s my standard shortcrust base for the record:
200 g white wheat flour,
100 g butter (soft but not runny).
Whisk together vigorously with an electric mixer, adding one egg and a teaspoon of cold water over time.
This makes a sticky dough.
Many suggest to clingfilm it, then chill and roll when cold.
I prefer to get it done there and then. I roll it immediately between two sheets of baking parchment or greaseproof paper, then cut to size. Now I let it rest in a cool place until I need it, for example when making Apple Tarte Tatin for dessert.
I suppose you might be tempted to sweeten the dough for a sweet cake, such as a thin apple cake glazed with Calvados and apricot jam. I don’t have a very sweet tooth and usually find that the sweet topping is sweet enough so I don’t need to add sugar to the base but it’s up to you!
This is a lovely meal, but as most good soups go, it is not quite a one pot wonder. It pleased the good wife last night though, what more can I ask?
Then she took photos almost more delicious than the meal itself, don’t you agree?
I prepared each element separately to do it justice: a slightly creamy soup made from crayfish bisque, Monkfish gently seared in Rosemary butter, king prawn tails seared in chilly oil and garlic, mussels steamed with shallots and white wine.
There are no carbohydrates to spoil it, so you should probably start with a bread dough to have fresh, crispy and piping hot bread to go with it. I usually make a simple plain Fougasse from 120 g flour per diner, which is great for texture and for mopping up the remaining bisque.
While the dough is proving, cut a bulb of fennel, a red onion, 3 cloves of garlic, and set aside. Dice a large handful of tomatoes and set aside.
Now prepare two large handfuls of king prawns, tiger prawns or similar variety. It is tempting to purchase the readily cleaned frozen stuff, but here it is essential to use whole prawns, defrosted if previously frozen.
Trim the head off and set aside. Skin the tail, optionally leaving the last element of skin at the very tail on. This makes eating messy but more engaged and more fun. Keep the skin with the heads, slice the top of the tail lengthwise and remove the intestines.
Heat a large pan, melt a walnut-sized piece of butter and an equal amount of olive oil. Sear the fennel, onions and garlic until they begin to caramelise, then add the prawn offcuts, heads, skin and all. Keep going at a fairly high heat, stirring occasionally, until the prawns also caramelise. Add a dried red chilly and a star anise, a pinch of salt.
(Now is the perfect time for putting the bread in the oven.)
Add the tomatoes, a glass of white wine, a glass of cold water. Turn down the heat, cover and slowly bring to a gentle simmer for 10 to 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Meanwhile, clean the Monkfish. Your fishmonger probably skinned it for you, but you must go over it again and very thoroughly remove the thin layers of skin. These skins turn hard when cooking and are the first reliable sign of quality cooking, or the absence thereof, when ordering a Monkfish-based dish in a restaurant. Discard the skins and set the fish aside.
Clean the mussels: discard the dead ones (those which are open and aren’t closing when knocked gently). Remove all dirt from the living ones by scraping off smaller barnacles, remove the bast, brush the outside under clean water.
Now drain the soup through a sieve, squeezing it thoroughly to get all the lovely juices out. Use the same pot to melt two tablespoons of butter until is beginning to turn brown, whisk in one tablespoon of white wheat flour, then slowly whisk in the strained soup. Turn the heat down to avoid it boiling again, add a generous splash of double cream and season to taste with salt. Set aside on very low heat.
Rub some stale white bread with garlic and tomato and gently fry into croutons, adding olive oil as late as possible, as little as possible.
Heat a tablespoon of butter, add a splash of olive oil, and gently sear the Monkfish. Add fresh rosemary or thyme if you can. Keep on moderate heat, turn over once in a while and spoon some of the herb-infused butter over it all the time.
Dice a small onion, perhaps a clove of garlic. Melt in some oil quickly, add the mussels and half a glass of white wine. Put the lid on, steam for 3 minutes.
Meanwhile heat a tablespoon of olive oil, add a dried red chilly or a teaspoon of chilly flakes and gently stir-fry the prawn tails while beginning to plate up:
The croutons form the centrepiece because they also make a little podium for the Monkfish, which I will cut into thick slices for serving. Add the soup, add the prawns and mussels.
Dress with spring onions, chopped parsley, cress, pea or mustard shoots.
Add a drizzle of Balsamic vinegar glaze, pumpkin oil or chilly oil for that extra professional look, although I don’t think this adds appeal on this occasion.