Sunday, 26 December 2010

Christmas 2010

- Macaroons
- Spicy nuts
- Granola
- Sloe gin (with honey)
- Better than Ketchup (with added nigella seeds and ground coriander)
- Jam!

Christmas lunch:
- Roast potatoes in duck fat
- Glazed carrots in orange juice (very popular!)
- Stuffing balls (ditto)
- Roast capon with sage
- Green salad
- Christmas pudding with whisky butter and creme fraiche

Monday, 31 May 2010

Merguez: Better rude than red

The problem with merguez is that they spit.

Which isn't always ideal.

The other problem with merguez is, bcause they spit, they dry up really fast.

And yet another problem with merguez is that it's much easier to find not-so-good merguez than it is to find the good stuff. The only way to find the latter, I've been told, is to locate a friendly halal butcher. Well, he doesn't necessarily have to be friendly. But halal is a must- because his will have the right ingredients, at least.

Notwithstanding this particular point, on Saturday, during our weekly shop, as I was feeling quite uninspired by what was on special offer (fricasee de porc? It's 25 degrees and sunny. I'm not cooking something that needs to braise in my Staub casserole for three hours!), and suggested to Peter that we fire up the barbecue (for the first time this summer), what went into the shopping trolley was.. a pack of merguez.

Nineteen of them, to be precise. Why they were being sold in packs of nineteen, I fail to understand. There's no way you can divide nineteen merguez and make it fair- unless of course you have nineteen guests. Not that one merguez each is fair either.

Sunday morning dawned... grey, cold, and rainy. A generally miserable day. A "curl up on the sofa, read a book, drink tea" day. Not a day fit to be the penultimate day of May. Nor a day to go pick elderflower and make jelly/syrup/champagne, which was what I'd wanted to do.

And when dinnertime came around... we didn't really feel like going out on the balcony and turning on the barbecue.

To go back to my initial point- in our last apartment, I'd ended up banning merguez from the balcony barbecue. Not only would Peter have to clean his glasses with industrial cleaning fluid afterwards (OK, a slight exaggeration, but not much of one!), but I'd then spend several days intermittently boiling water and pouring it on the balcony floor to get rid of the grease. I remember looking out there one evening to see fat swirling through the air- a sight which has not exactly remained one of my favourite memories! No wonder the merguez almost invariably proved to be dried out and pretty much tasteless.

Thus, the idea of having to start scrubbing the new balcony floor was not something that filled me with joy. Especially when I'm not going to be home much for the next three weeks.

I once fried merguez on the hobtop, on a similarly rainy day. Again, not something that I looked forward to doing again... as I had to employ cleaning solutions somewhat similar to a nuclear strike afterwards.

So, what were we going to have for dinner?

Merguez stew.

- 1 pack of merguez, each cut into three
- 6 courgettes, chopped into thick slices
- 1 red pepper, in slices
- 2 onions, in thick slices
- 3 sweet potatoes, in chunks
- 1 bottle of passata
- olive oil

I heated the olive oil in the Staub casserole (!), added the onions and the red pepper, stirred, put the lid on for a couple of minutes, added the courgettes and sweet potatoes, stirred, put the lid back on for a few minutes, then added the merguez. Stirred them in, left the lid on again for a couple of minutes. (At this point, if I'd had any, I'd have added a tin of chickpeas, but, for some mysterious reason, I was out.) I then added the bottle of passata, a bit of water (to rinse out the bottle!), put the lid on until it reached a simmer, opened it, stirred it around, decided from the smell that I didn't really need to add any spices, and left the lid slightly open until the sauce was as thick as I thought it should be. After which the lid went back on tight, and I turned it all down, as Peter was putting Greta to bed.

I think that all in all, it cooked for about 50 minutes.

And very yummy it was- Peter had two bowls, I had the same, we left just about enough to make one bowlful, if eked out with some couscous and some extra fried onions! Next time, though, I'd add chickpeas and some salt.

As for the merguez, they were the best I've ever had. Soft, juicy, spicy... and no insane orange grease to spend days cleaning up!

Saturday, 22 May 2010


I've always loved this word. Say it again. Spanakotiropita! And again! Spanakotiropita! Woo-hoo!

I'm quite fond of the actual thing as well. And it's something I've wanted to make for a long while.

Spotting feuilles de brik (really thin North African sheets of pastry) in the supermarket earlier in the week was all I needed.

I knew I had spinach at home, as well as feta, so I didn't get anything else. When I got home, I dug out Diane Kochilas' The Glorious Foods of Greece, a cookbook I've had for about 8 years, and never made anything from, despite the best of intentions. Why I didn't reach for Vefa's Kitchen is something that only crossed my mind half-way through cooking this evening. Who knows?

Brik, however, isn't quite filo pastry.

And Peter eating half the pack of spinach for lunch when I was out wasn't what I had expected.

Nor was the fact that Diane didn't actually have a recipe for ... say it again... Spanakotiropita! in her book.

However, I browsed through, and came up with a recipe for Scallion and Feta Pie (Kremmydopita). I then headed off to the supermarket again, with nothing more in my head than the fact that I needed more spinach and some spring onions. Needless to say, I didn't come home with the "2 pounds scallions or spring onions" the recipe required when I had a look at it this evening. Nor did I have 1 pound Greek feta cheese, nor 1 pound myzithra cheese.

I did have, however, 1 1/2 packs of spinach, a pack of rocket (300g each, I think), 2 packs of 220g each of not-feta, i.e. feta-like cheese made with 100% sheep's milk but not in Greece, 5 spring onions, and assorted other bits and pieces.

Thus, my take on Not Really Spanakotiropita!

- 1 pack of brik containing 10 sheets
- 2 x 220 g pack of "feta" (maybe a bit too much. One and a half packs would have been better.), chopped
- 5 spring onions with lots of green tops
- (about) 1 cup milk
- 300 g rocket
- 450 g (approx) young spinach
- the greens from the radishes that I'd also bought- very satisfying, that as I've always hated throwing them away!
- 4 large eggs
- lots of butter
- pepper, salt

Chop the spring onions, greens and bulb and all. Soften in a frying pan with some of the butter. After a few minutes, when beginning to wilt, add the spinach, cook until wilted. My frying pan wouldn't take all the greens in one go, otherwise I'd have had them all in- so I then cooked the rocket and radish leaves in the same pan, then tipped the first batch back in, added the milk, freshly-ground black pepper, and cooked that for about 5 minutes.

Tipped it all into a bowl, left to cool for a few minutes (would you believe I was also making strawberry and rhubarb jam at the same time?), then add the beaten eggs and the chopped "feta".

Then, working fast, as all the books tell you too, I layered the brik in a dish (actually the lid of my Pyrex chicken roaster), brushing each layer with some melted butter, keeping the rest covered with a damp (clean) dishtowel. Ms. Kochilas' recipe had 12 sheets, I only had 10, it didn't really matter, did it? I layered 5, making sure that there was enough overhang to fold over, then put in my filling (I should have mixed it a bit better- there were bits where it was mostly cheese, and other places where it was mostly greens), then layered the remaining five over the top, brushing them with more butter.

Into the oven at 190C for 50 minutes. Of course, at 50 minutes, I decided to leave it another 5, and then my jam jelled (well, I took the sugar thermometer off the side and put it in the middle and found that I was well above jelling temperature, argh!), so I had to jar that in a hurry. But I turned the oven off and opened the door on the way past, after it had been in for about an hour.

Verdict: Well, there isn't much left. It was yummy. Even Peter liked it enough to say that I should make it again. Not twenty times a year, he hastened to specify, but again.

As I pointed out- now that brik is available, I can make all sorts of fillings... If only I could find ground lamb! I think I need to find a good halal butcher.

Friday, 21 May 2010

I Can Has My Dream!

Behold. A brand-new, copper, jam-making pan.

My jam brings all the boys to the yard...


Lunch: organic whole-meal bread, home-made mayonnaise, noix de jambon (ham from the centre of the joint), and raw milk, six months aged Abondance.

It almost made up for Greta only having a post-prandial nap of a grand total of 26 minutes.

Sunday, 16 May 2010

I Am Insane: Two Birthday Cakes in one day

Greta's second birthday is next week- right in the middle of the week, which makes it awkward for people to come share some cake, bring her a present, and generally exclaim over how much she's grown since she took her first breath.

Therefore, we decided to hold it this Sunday. Which was made slightly awkward by the fact that it is Peter's brother's birthday.

Peter's brother, who is responsible for Greta turning up two weeks early (he had his birthday over three different evenings and three different parties, inviting us out to each one- with the result that in the early hours of the morning after the third dinner, I exploded), agreed to share his Special Day, on one condition.

He got his own cake. And it had to be chocolate. And have thirty-two candles. And have his name on it in pink frosting.

He thought he was being funny with the last one.

Well, he got what he wanted.

Giving it a second try, I turned once again to Baked: New Frontiers in Baking.

This time, however, the Flourless Chocolate Cake (copyright as above, slightly amended by me) was what grabbed my attention.

Thus, on Saturday afternoon, after spending the day in town and doing the supermarket shop, at 4 p.m. I girded my loins, and dug out the blender again.

- 300g black chocolate (i.e. three chocolate bars. I bought the Migros organic chocolate, as I like it's caramel-sugar taste)
- 140 g butter, softened
- 1 cup sugar
- 7 large eggs, separated
- 3 vanilla pods, seeded (again, the recipe asked for pure vanilla extract, which I couldn't find)
- 1 tsp salt

Preheat the oven to 350F/180C. Butter and flour the sides and bottom of a 9-inch/24cm springform pan. Melt the chocolate and set aside to cool. In the bowl of the electric mixer, fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter and sugar together until pale, light, and thoroughly combined. Add the egg yolks, beating well after each addition (I did it in three batches). After they've all been incorporated, scrape down the bowl and beat again for a few seconds. Add the cooled chocolate, mix until thoroughly combined. Scrape down the bowl, add the vanilla, beat until just incorporated.

In a large bowl, whisk the egg whites and salt until stiff peaks form (stiff, you got it?). Now here I again had the problem with the bowl of my blender being too small to add the egg whites to the chocolate mix, so I shoved my egg whites to the side of my very large bowl (having planned this one in advance), plopped in about a cup of the chocolate mix, then folded that into the egg whites, gently, with a spatula. I then added the rest of the chocolate mix, and continued, very slowly and gently so as not to knock the air out of the egg whites.

Pour the mix into the pan and don't bother smoothing the top, even if the book says to, because it will even out in a minute. Bake for 30-35 mns (I set the timer for 35), until the top of the cake seems set or firm to the touch. The book says "Be careful not to overbake this cake", so I took it out at 35 mns, although as the top was firm, it still seemed a bit jiggly to me. This caused a little bit of trauma until it was cut and I was sure it was indeed cooked through.

Transfer to a wire rack and let cool completely before removing from the mold.

However, I also had Greta's birthday cake to make. And Betty Bossi had come up trumps again, with a recipe for Fraisier au yogourt.

- 100g flour
- 60g sugar
- pinch of salt
- 55 g cold butter, in cubes
- 1 small beaten egg.

Mix the flour, sugar and salt in a large bowl. Add the butter, work by hand until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs. Add the egg, bring quickly to a soft dough, without working it.

Butter a 24-cm mold (I used a 20cm one), flour it. My recipe then said to roll out the dough- no way that this dough was going to be rolled out! So I just dropped it into the mold and smoothed it out with the backs of my fingers. Refrigerate for 30mns, says the recipe, but I didn't have time for this. Because we were going out for dinner at 6:30, and I was making two cakes at the same time!

Prick the base with a fork (erm... I did this, but I don't think it was necessary, mine was too soft!), bake for, according to the recipe, 15mns in the oven, preheated to 200C. I did mine an extra 5 minutes, because it looked undercooked. Leave to cool in the mold, then take out and leave to cool on a wire rack.

Yoghurt mix:
- 500g plain yoghurt
- 140g sugar (I used vanilla sugar, made from shoving de-seeded vanilla pods into the sugar and leaving them there)
- 3 vanilla pods, seeded

Mix the three together in a bowl. Leave to infuse.

At which point, with two cakes on the rack, we went out for dinner.

Which ran on much later than we'd thought it would- so I was back in the kitchen at midnight!

I unmolded the base for the fraisier, put it on a glass cake dish, then put the sides of the mold around it again.

Going back to the chocolate cake, I started the ganache.

- 300 g black chocolate
- 1/2 cup creme fraiche epaisse
- 1/4 cup liquid sugar (the recipe asked for light corn syrup, which is unavailable in Switzerland)
(optional, and I didn't have any- 1 tbs coffee-flavoured liqueur such as Kahlua)

I started by making a mistake, putting the bowl of chocolate into the microwave to melt, then hauling it out fast after 20 seconds. Do not melt the chocolate!

In a small saucepan, combine the cream and liquid sugar/corn syrup, and bring just to a boil. Remove from the heat and pour the cream mixture over the chocolate. Let stand for two minutes (whilst doing things with strawberries for the other recipe), then stir the mixture together slowly until the chocolate is completely melted and the mixture is smooth. Whisk for another few minutes to cool the ganache slightly. (Add the liqueur and whisk again.)

To glaze the cake, the book says to put the cake on the wire rack, and glaze there, then put on a plate. As I had to use three spatulas and Peter to get my cake off the base of the tin without it breaking up, I put it straight on my cake plate. No way I was going to mess around with such a fragile thing.

Pour 3/4 cup over the cake, and smooth out to the edges. Place the cake in the freezer for five minutes to set the ganache. Remove from the freezer, and then the book says to slowly pour the glaze over the cake, "it should run down the sides and cover the cake completely". My ganache was much too thick for this, so I took my spatula and glazed the sides carefully, then put the last two tablespoons of ganache on top, smoothed them out, covered the cake, and put it on the balcony for the night, as there was definitely not room for "chill the glazed cake for two hours" in my fridge!

During all of this, I had continued the Fraisier.

900g (says the recipe, I used about 600-700 g, I think) strawberries. Slice in half enough strawberries to go around the edges of the cake, points pointing upwards, and cut side on the outside. Then fill the inside with whole strawberries.

This is when it got noisy, especially for a Swiss apartment at gone half-past-midnight!

- 2 sheets of instant gelatine
- 1 dl warm water
- 2 1/2 dl cream, whipped into chantilly.

At this point, Peter turned up, told me I was making too much noise, and asked me to whip the cream quietly. Do you know how much muscle control it takes to whip cream as quietly as possible? Well, it's a good thing that I carry Greta around so much, and have consequently impressive biceps. I did my best, but was still a bit noisy for a few minutes.

Soften the gelatine in the water, add to the yoghurt and vanilla mixture with the whisk (I've never dealt with gelatine before, and I didn't get it quite soft enough, unfortunately- there were some bits of it in the finished cake, as I found out the next day! Also, as this was a first time, I spent the next 15 hours or so worrying about it setting properly.). Add the chantilly cream, gently. Leave to sit for ten minutes. Pour over the strawberries, smooth the top, and leave for at least three hours, covered, in the fridge.

Or, in my case, go to bed, it being 1 a.m.!

The next day I brought the chocolate cake in off the balcony a couple of hours beforehand, and, with a tube of hot-pink icing with sparkles, wrote the above on it. And managed to fit two candles, one in the shape of a 3, the other in a 2, into the cake without anything catastrophic happening. I was still worried about the inside/middle not being cooked, but it seemed OK...

I was very worried about unmolding the Fraisier, and did it very slowly and carefully, convinced that the whole thing was going to collapse- but it didn't, hurray! I was so proud of myself that I did a little dance.

Unlike her cake last year, Greta actually ate a few mouthfuls of her slice- in between busily running around and showing off her amazing cuteness skills.

As for the chocolate cake, my brother-in-law was very happy. And impressed, as was everybody else. He took the remains of the chocolate cake home, and the Fraisier is in the fridge for us.

The chocolate cake went down extremely well. Even Peter, who isn't a big fan of sweet things or of chocolate cake, loved it. It was definitely a keeper recipe. The inside was soft, gooey, chocolatey, and definitely not undercooked.

The Fraisier is also a recipe I'll hang on to, as it makes a nice, simple cake, perfect for strawberry season. I had expected the base to stay crispy, but it had soaked up quite a bit of moisture, and was all soft, without, however, being soaked to the point of collapse. Maybe next time, a little pre-soak in some strawberry liqueur?

Thursday, 13 May 2010

Thank you, last summer, for the tomato sauce...

When you're home late, you're cold, you shouldn't be because it's mid-May, but it's been raining on and off all day... pasta with sauce made last August is all that anybody really needs.

Last summer, I made an utterly basic tomato sauce with tomatoes from the farm down the road. The pots had just sat in the cupboard all through winter, me periodically glancing at them, and thinking that winter hadn't got that bad yet.

Winter never did get that bad. But spring did. We had three weeks of spring, everything blossomed, flowered, there were drifts of petals swirling past our windows, then we had two weeks of glorious summer during which I got sunburned twice, and ... suddenly... it became early spring again.

By which I mean it got cold, started to rain, got colder, went on raining, and was generally unpleasant. Is generally unpleasant. I have had to put my sandals away and get my wellies back out! Brrrr...

And therefore, after spending the day outside at a barbecue, we were all cold, hoping that we hadn't caught cold, and craving something warm, smooth, and ultimately comforting.

There are few things more comforting than pasta. Pasta with lots of rich, oily tomato sauce. Pasta that you can bury your head in, and pull up over your cold feet like a lovely fleece blanket. Pasta that loves you, and loves your tummy, and doesn't care that it's been waiting in the cupboard for the last 9 months...