Sunday, 4 February 2018

Recipe CXXIX - Roast Spatchcock Lemon Chicken

I have started shopping in Luxembourg these days, as the kind of fare on offer is more international. This week, they had a splendid Portuguese theme and were selling all kinds of cheeses, vegetables, sea salts, fruits and meats from the country. There were some delightful pastéis de nata, the Portuguese national calling card, and some rather interesting spatchcock chickens. Now usually, I do my own, but what with so many responsibilities these days, time is of the essence, so I bought it. Now, it's winter, so I couldn't really grill the thing outside in the snow, but I wanted to do it some justice, considering its provenance. This recipe was inspired by a meal I had in Andalucía many years ago, which remains one of the most memorable gastronomic experiences I had.

1 spatchcock chicken
4 large cloves of garlic
1 onion or 4 shallots
3 lemons
2 sprigs of rosemary
Some olive oil
Salt and ground black pepper

Turn on the oven to a maximum 150°C.

Spatchcocking a chicken:
If you have a whole chicken, place it with the breast on the cutting board, and cut along one side of the backbone with a sharp knife or the kitchen scissors. Then cut the other side of the backbone and remove it. Now turn the chicken over to the other side and open it up by pressing on the breastbone. You can use your hands to flatten it totally.

Having cut up 2 of your lemons into thin slices, place one of them on the bottom of an oven dish along with thick slices of garlic and onion.

Open up the skin of the chicken at the neck with your fingers and fill it with slices from the third lemon. Put some garlic and onion in there if you want too. Finally, spread salt, pepper and olive oil randomly on top of the chicken and cover the oven dish with tin foil. Put it in the oven on a low heat for 90 minutes to 2 hours.

Then take off the foil and roast at 180°C for a further 30 minutes.

I made potatoes roasted in olive oil and rosemary, and to bring some colour, Brussels sprouts fried in butter and nutmeg.

Bom apetite, as they say in Old Lisbon!

Tuesday, 15 August 2017

Recipe CXXVIII - Lasagne rolls done two ways

Pasta is a very versatile food, and you can do many things with it, although as Italians still can't see past Artusi, they are stuck with an outdated recipe book, so it is up to us non-Italians to push ahead with new recipes and ideas. This one is an adaptation of a video I saw on the Internet. I didn't really like the recipe it proposed so I took it a step further and added some more ingredients.

You are making two kinds of rolls - one with ricotta and pesto, the other with mince and béchamel.


Lasagne sheets, 1 packet (other pasta as backup in case the lasagne sheets break up, which is not uncommon!)
1 jar of green pesto
1 tub of ricotta
Some grated mozzarella
350g minced beef
1 onion
4 cloves of garlic
Some fresh herbs
Some Cheddar, grated (other cheeses like Pecorino, Manchego or Gruyère will also do)
Ground black pepper
Olive oil
Butter, flour, nutmeg and milk (for the béchamel)
Tin foil for covering


Put your oven on to 200°C. Take your ricotta, pesto and a handful of mozzarella, and put them in a bowl. Mix well.

In the meantime, parboil some lasagne sheets one or two at a time. Don't do all, as they will stick to each other and become an unmitigated disaster. Take them out of the pan carefully making sure not to break them. If they split a little through the middle though, that's not a problem.

Lay them out one by one on a cutting board and paste the ricotta mixture over them. Then roll them up like a carpet and lay them in a baking tray with olive oil in the bottom.

Then take the mince, the onion, garlic and some black pepper and fry them in olive oil until the meat loses its red colouring. Add some grated Cheddar and the herbs to the mixture.  It is at this point you should make your béchamel. I won't insult your intelligence by telling you how to make that. Make quite a lot, as you will need it for later. Add some to the mince mixture and do the same - roll them up and put them on the baking tray.

They should look like this:

Take the rest of the béchamel and spread it on top of the rolls, then sprinkle over more grate mozzarella and Cheddar, plus some ground black pepper.

Cover the tray in tin foil, put it in the oven for 20 minutes and a further10 minutes uncovered.

The results are very satisfying indeed!

Wednesday, 9 August 2017

Recipe CXXVII - Spicy Lamb and Red Wine Pasta

I was thinking about what to cook today and I fancied something spicy without the tomato-based sauce and something saucy without the cream, so I whipped this one up - it's really easy to make and perfect for these cooler summer nights.

350g lamb, sliced into bite-size pieces
1 onion, diced
5 cloves of garlic, diced
1 hot red chili pepper, cut into round slices
6 to 9 mushrooms, diced
7 to 10 small tomatoes, halved
12 to 15 black peppercorns, ground
2 sprigs each of fresh rosemary and oregano or thyme
1/3 of a bottle of wine
(I use Primitivo from Salerno usually, but in this case a nice Merlot is perfect)
350g pasta, either long or short
Salt to taste
Olive oil


Take the fresh herbs, black pepper, salt and a quarter of the diced onions and garlic, and mix them in a bowl with the lamb.

Rub it all well in to the meat to make sure the flavour takes hold.

Pour the red wine over the top of it and put it in the fridge for a while (minimum 30 minutes) until you are ready to cook.

Remove the lamb from the wine (it will have gone a darker shade of red now), but keep all ingredients.

Put the remaining onion, the red pepper, the mushrooms and the remaining garlic in a hot pan with a good dose of olive oil and stir-fry until they soften.

Remove as much from the pan as you can leaving the oil there (or top it up), and put in a bowl for a while,then fry the lamb in the flavoured oil.

Then add the other ingredients and fry for a further 2 to 4 minutes, before you pour the wine containing the herbs on top. While it is reducing and thickening a little (you can always add more red wine if necessary!), boil your pasta. Once the pasta is ready, mix it in with the sauce and serve while hot.

Wednesday, 30 November 2016

Recipe CXXVI - Eton Mess

You're going to love this one. If you have a large group to cater for, or you have kids who just need to find their smile after eating all their hated vegetables, this is the one for you...
Started at Eton College in the UK, this is served up at cricket matches against their bitter rivals Harrow, and it goes down a storm...

Ingredients (4 people): 
300ml of fluid cream
a cup of forest fruits (although strawberries are ideal)
some meringue (crushed into smaller pieces but not too small)
sugar depending on taste

Whip the cream until it makes peaks. Crush the forest fruits until the juices run. Drain and save the juices in a cup. Gently mix in the fruits, the crushed meringue and the juice. Taste it - if it needs some sugar, add carefully. If not, get the largest spoon in the house and fill your face full until you can't talk any more!

Friday, 19 February 2016

Recipe CXXV: Minced Lamb Ragout

PREAMBLE: Recently, I have been giving a lot of thought to the process of making meat. And especially to the principles and ethics behind it. There are a lot of videos out there, some let's face it on the wacky side and some very shocking, on the way meat is made. There are videos of shocking cruelty, as well as heartbreaking suffering. Some of the things animals put up with are atrocious. Good animal husbandry is, however, expensive. 

To make good food without breaking your budget is what many of us strive for, but this comes at another cost. Many farmers now are overwhelmed by the need to mass-produce and at the same time supermarkets force them to cut corners because they want to have the lowest price amongst their competitors. We should not be surprised to learn about these distressing facts. When I see a chicken for sale for 3 or 4 euro, I want to say a silent prayer for it. If only I believed, I would.

I would prefer to pay up to double the going rate for my meat, if I know where it was sourced and I can be assured the animal led a wholesome and happy life. And how can we stop farmers going out of pocket, supermarkets from undervaluing their stock and most importantly of all the unnecessary suffering of animals? By eating less meat and paying more for it. A more varied diet will also benefit our health.

At the moment, I am spending the month in the Belgian city of Leuven, which has several very good butchers, all with solid reputations. Rondou is the butcher par excellence in the city, and it was here that I came to buy some minced lamb.

Back in Germany, the idea of mincing lamb is as odd as the idea of buying clothes because they're smart, not because they're cheap; or not complaining if a train is one minute late. Which is why I want to do this recipe, because even though it's very simple, in fact one of the staples, it is the main ingredient that is the star of the show.

When people in the town where I live go to the butcher, they ask for meat with very little fat. Fat, they think, is bad. I cringe at how the butchers remove the skin and fat layer from a pork cutlet; I die a thousand deaths when I see them slicing meat the wrong way because it's just the next bit; but I often have to leave my place in the queue when I hear someone complaining that their steak has too much fat. They don't realise that the marbled effect in steak is what gives it its tender qualities. 

What does lean meat do in the pan or oven? It hardens to the consistency of an old boot. Why would I want to do that? I want food that appeals to my eyes and stomach; that is easy and pleasing to eat; that gives me a memorable experience; that appeals to my senses, as well as fills me up. I do not want to eat just to take on the necessary calories to get me through the rest of the day.

Method: Lamb meat is by nature fattier than other meats; I guess it's because sheep run about less than other animals... anyhow, it makes a very succulent ragout.

Take the minced lamb and chop 4 cloves of garlic for every 500g. Add fresh or dried herbs, mainly rosemary and thyme, plus the appropriate amount of salt and pepper. Give it a good mixing until it is consistent. You can put it in the fridge until required, if necessary.

Half a pepper, 5 brown mushrooms, 2 onions (one red, one white), half a courgette, some fresh tomatoes, some tinned tomatoes, some red wine, olive oil, salt and pepper to taste

Slicing technique:
Cut your courgette lengthways down the middle twice, but not to the very end. This will make it easier to cut into slices.

Put a good thick layer of olive oil in a pan and fry the onions on a medium-low temperature for a minute, followed shortly by the other vegetables (except tomatoes). Let them sweat for a while. Add the minced lamb and mix thoroughly until all ingredients are spread equally throughout the pan.

Add the non-tinned tomatoes and once the mince has browned, add the tinned tomatoes.

Put in as much wine as you like - I use half a bottle over the coming 30 minutes, keeping the whole thing nice and moist.

I served mine with linguine, but some boiled potatoes would have been just as good.

Monday, 10 August 2015

Recipe CXXIV: Home-Made Spicy Tomato Soup

Cooking on a Sunday is one of life's pleasures, and this weekend was one of those. As our guests were bringing the dessert, I decided to make a starter. This one is one of the finest things you can do in a kitchen, and it really is so, so simple.

2 kg fresh tomatoes
1 green chili pepper
1 red chili pepper - keep some of the seeds, depending on how spicy you want it
1 sweet red pepper
1 large onion
4-6 cloves of garlic 
All of the above chopped into pieces

Three-quarters of a bottle of red wine
A teaspoonful of a red spice (cayenne pepper or even tandoori masala)
5 teaspoonfuls of Worcestershire sauce
3 thick slices of white bread
A fresh basil plant from a reputable supermarket, leaves broken 
50 g butter
Salt to taste

Put a lot of butter in a large, heavy non-stick frying pan or saucepan. While it is melting, add the onions and a pinch of salt, and fry gently for a few minutes - you don't want the onions to burn and crisp up. Add the peppers and garlic. Let them slowly sweat until soft. Then add the red wine and Worcestershire sauce.
(To give it your own personal touch, you could always use a variation - just use your imagination - something like Tabasco sauce, or red wine vinegar, soy sauce or even balsamic vinegar, but make sure whatever you use, the flavours fit!)

Let the red wine and Worcestershire sauce reduce by about half until it turns into something less liquid and more gloopy.

You are now ready to add the tomatoes. Put a lid on top, turn the heat right down to a gentle simmer and let the tomatoes soften until they are easily crushed.

Once they are really soft, add the basil, bread and red spices. Let the contents of the pan mingle for 10 minutes or so, while the bread soaks up some of the liquid.

Pass the contents of the pan through a blender and pour into a serving bowl.

Serve with a nice bottle of red wine. We chose Louis Chèze Caroline Saint-Joseph 2011, a fantastic wine that really highlights the spiciness of the soup.


Sunday, 26 July 2015

Recipe CXXIII - Norwegian Suksessterte

Having recently returned from the northern paradise that is Norway, both brimming with new ideas and aching with nostalgia for the serenity, advanced civilisation and heart-breakingly beautiful scenery, I came across a little gem of a recipe. Norwegians are big on food: lots come out of cans, as only a country half inside the Arctic Circle should, but when it comes to their recipes, the flavours are so different. They could be an acquired taste to some, but once you are used to them, they are a breath of fresh air.

I would like to introduce you to the Suksessterte, or Success Tart, in English. I was invited to the house of a splendid family for coffee (a Norwegian religion) and cake, and this one was there on the table, inviting and succulent-looking, so I cut myself a slice. It was so good, I had to get the recipe. Here is my effort, slightly changed from the one I got there, to reflect the proportions I used, and the ingredients on offer in Germany.


5 egg yolks:
100 ml double cream (I had to use mascarpone and some ordinary cream, because heavy cream/double cream and the like don't exist in Germany)
100 g ordinary sugar
150 g cold butter, sliced into cubes

Almond meringue:
5 egg whites
250 g ground almonds
225 g icing sugar

Grated dark chocolate

Instructions for the cream:
Place the egg yolks, cream and sugar (NOT THE BUTTER) in a saucepan, put on a very low heat and stir until all the ingredients have melted into each other and it has become thicker. Use a spatula or a flat whisk to stir it - this should take about 15 to 20 minutes.

The mixture should not be allowed to boil or you will end up with bits of curdled egg in your mixture, and nobody wants to have that.

When it's all blended, take it off the heat, and add the butter piece-by-piece. Then get an electric mixer and whisk it for a good 5 to 10 minutes before placing it in the fridge until you have made the almond meringue.

Instructions for the almond meringue:
Put the oven on 160°C and take a square or round baking tray lined with baking paper.

Firstly, give the almonds a good pounding in the processor, to make the pieces extra small. Add the icing sugar and keep the food processor going until both ingredients have successfully mixed with each other.

With the egg whites, whisk them until they form the usual stiff peaks and then fold the almond-sugar mix into the egg white. 

Once homogeneous, transfer the mixture to the baking tray and put it in the oven for 30 to 35 minutes. In hindsight, I would not have used the baking paper, and just taken a chance with the baking tray's non-stick bottom. I will try this next time.

Once out of the oven, turn it upside-down onto a cake grid without the paper and let it cool.

Put your cake base on a clean cake tray, get the topping out of the fridge and start icing the cake with a spatula. Once you have covered it with the topping, grate chocolate on top.

Serve with copious amounts of coffee and invite your favourite visitors - vel bekomme!