Spring onion eggy crumpets

The title of this is pretty much self-explanatory, so this post is less of a recipe and more of a oh-my-god-you-need-this-breakfast-in-your-life call. Forget eggy bread, eggy crumpets are the future.

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Spring onion eggy crumpets

Ingredients (serves 1):

2 crumpets
1 egg, beaten
1 spring onion, very finely chopped
Salt (I use smoked) and freshly-ground pepper
Butter, for frying

Beat the egg and add onion, salt and pepper. Melt the butter in a non-stick pan. Dip each crumpet in the egg to soak, and place hole-side-up in the frying pan. You’ll probably have some egg left which you can pour on top of the crumpets. Fry on relatively high heat till the bottoms go brown and crispy, then flip and cook till the tops turn golden.

Enjoy as part of a balanced breakfast.

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(cake recipe to come)

Soy salmon

Like the self-respecting grown-up that I am, I spent the last month indulging in pretty much every kind of food and drink that is bad for you. And now, I’m trying to eat all the greens, in a desperate attempt to get my body to forgive me. I haven’t been able to give up the carbs and I never will, but there has been minimal meat, lots of vegetables and always a poached egg.

This is one of the slightly more involved things I made last week (which tells you a lot about the levels of effort around here). I fancied some salmon as apparently those omega-3 acids are good for you, but the rest pretty much fits the pattern. The recipe below is intentionally/lazily (delete as appropriate) vague, as I never really measure things like garlic or chilli. More fun that way.

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Soy Salmon

Ingredients:

salmon fillets (one per person), cut in slices if you like
soy sauce
brown rice vinegar
fresh ginger
chilli flakes
garlic
one spring onion per person
rice or noodles
vegetables of your choice
one egg per person
black and white sesame seeds

Marinate the salmon in soy sauce, rice vinegar, some chilli flakes, ginger, and an indecent amount of garlic. Add also the white part of the spring onion, thinly sliced.
Set the rice to boil. Rice noodles or udon would also be good here.
Cook the vegetables — I stir-fried mushrooms and boiled some cavolo nero.
Heat a small amount of sesame oil in a non-stick frying pan and cook the salmon, together with the marinade. When it’s done, mix with the vegetables, serve on your carbs of choice and top with a poached egg, the green part of the spring onion in slices, and sesame seeds. Feel slightly healthier than before.

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Early Christmas lunch

Just in case you’re all completely sick of turkey by now, but hopefully not all food, I thought I’d post what I cooked for an early Christmas lunch with some friends last Sunday. I find turkey really boring and we never bothered with it in my family – we just tend to make whatever we fancy or can find at the local butchers. I think this would go down well as a New Year’s Eve dinner too.

I didn’t bother we starters as we had two big roasts for the main, but Alex made some bacon-wrapped dates – so simple but really good, and kept guests happy while we were panicking over pork crackling. To make them, cut the bacon rashers in half lengthwise and wrap each date with half a rasher. Pop under a medium grill till crispy.

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The two mains were the ever-dependable pork belly with anchovies and chestnuts (recipe here) and a slow-cooked lamb shoulder with a few garlic cloves stuffed in it. Both cooked for 4 hours, and the pork crackling was finished off under the grill. I added potato chunks to both trays about an hour before the meats were done, and let them cook in the meat juices. Served it all with honey-roast carrots and parsnips and boiled cavolo nero.

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It had been ages since I made one of my favourite desserts, an apple tarte tatin, so I gave it a go again. I’m a bit out of practice so it wasn’t as photogenic as last time, but still tasted just as good. The apples take a good few hours to caramelise in the oven, so I cooked them the night before and finished them off with the pastry added on top after the meats were done. It takes a while, but involves minimal effort (apart from praying that the apples drop when you flip it upside down).

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We finished it all off with a selection of cheeses and chocolates, and a good round of the Formula 1 game which is optional but highly recommended. Merry Christmas!

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Courgette fritters

I always thought of courgette fritters as something you order at a greek tavern and because they taste so amazing I assumed they would be too difficult to make at home. I do have an irrational fear of deep-frying too so that might have contributed to my reluctance. It turns out they are pretty easy, and you can shallow fry them instead. We even made a “diet” version by dry frying them on a non-stick pan. They turned out less like fritters and more like savoury pancakes, but still tasted great. I added a red pointy pepper for sweetness and some chili for a bit of a kick.

Courgette fritters

Ingredients (serves 3 as a main)

2 large courgettes, grated
1 red pointed pepper, chopped finely
3-4 spring onions, chopped finely
150 gr feta, crumbled
1-2 chillies, chopped finely
1/2 tsp paprika
1/2 tsp dried dill (or a handful of fresh dill, chopped)
1/2 tsp dried oregano
pinch of salt
lots of ground pepper
2 eggs
about 4 tbsp flour, to get the right consistency

Mix all the ingredients together, adding the flour slowly and mixing until you get a gloopy but not too thick consistency. In the meantime, heat some sunflower/olive oil in a frying pan; you want plenty to cover the bottom of the pan and be about 1/2 cm high. With the pan over medium-high heat, use a tablespoon to carefully drop some mixture in the pan and slightly flatten the top. Cook on one side until golden brown and then flip it to cook the other side. If they seem to be cooking too quickly you can turn the heat down a bit, as you don’t want them to still be raw on the inside. A few minutes on each side should do. Remove and place on kitchen roll to absorb the extra oil.

Serve these with tzatziki (garlicky yoghurt with cucumber) for dipping. They are also perfect as part of a greek meze dinner, as I did recently, serving them with spetsofai, a slab of feta and lots of crusty bread.

Croque Madame

This is one of my favourite sandwiches ever and so great for a weekend lunchtime treat. I’ve been trying to recreate my favourite version for a while and I think I’ve finally got the balance right – turns out you can have too much bechamel sauce. Would would have thought it.

Anyway, since I’m running out of words (unless you want to hear about fracturing toughnesses and patterned grounds) I’ll go straight to the recipe.

Croque Madame 

Ingredients (makes 4)

3 tbsp flour
3 tbsp olive oil (you can use butter, but I’m Greek)
less than a pint of milk (excuse the vagueness but I never measure – you should be able to tell from the consistency of the sauce)
1/2 to 1 tsp of english mustard (to taste)
pinch of nutmeg
salt and black pepper

8 slices of bread
lots of cheddar (about 2 cups when grated)
4 slices of ham

Quickly fry the flour in the fat over medium heat until you’ve got a paste – do not overcook or your sauce will taste biscuity. Take off the heat and add a splash of milk and incorporate until you’ve got a smooth mixture. Turn the heat on again on low-medium and keep adding milk and mixing until the mixture is thick. You want it to be slightly thicker than normal bechamel so make sure you don’t add too much milk. Stir in the mustard, salt and pepper, and let it cool slightly.

Start preparing the toasties: spread about half a tablespoon of bechamel on one side, top with grated cheese and a slice of ham, and toast them using a panini press or a griddle pan. If you’re doing it on the hob, make sure it’s on medium heat as you don’t want the bread to toast before the cheese is melted.

Turn the grill on to preheat. When the toasties are golden on both sides, top with a tablespoon of bechamel each, and then more grated cheese. Place under the grill for a few minutes until the sauce is bubbling and the cheese is starting to brown. In the meantime, fry 4 eggs – I did them all in one large frying pan, so it didn’t take long.

To serve, just top each sandwich with a fried egg.

An update and a cake

I haven’t given up on this blog yet. It might look like it, but I’m still around. I just figured that, given that I didn’t spend any time lying on the beach this summer, I probably shouldn’t be spending any time writing blog posts either. Which is to say, I didn’t go back home and I am gutted. But I’m getting there.

A few weeks ago it was my birthday. I survived the day thanks to several glasses of wine at Alimentum and friends that were nice enough to put up with my complaining about being old and not being in Greece.

The day before, my boyfriend and I made me a cake, which wasn’t a great success. It looked a bit sad for a celebration cake, and it tasted just ok. A bit too damp, not chocolatey enough. I decided to take it to the office the next day anyway, as I had promised cake and it was at least edible.

I took the cake with me to coffee and it disappeared pretty rapidly (it is cake after all). Then, one of the senior people asked me if I made it myself and complimented me on a rhubarb cake I had made a few weeks ago and taken to an office garden party. I was surprised he remembered and, of course, vainly proud. So, even though most of my spare time nowadays is spent stressing about not working hard enough, I made that cake again. I like feeding people and, let’s be honest, I like cake.

The recipe is very simple to put together and quite versatile. A sponge is topped by rhubarb and then crumble. You could of course use any fruit you like, I reckon peaches or strawberries would be pretty nice. My sponge is made from a simple cake batter, with equal amounts egg, sugar, flour and butter. I think Americans like to throw some buttermilk in there too, but I never have any handy.

Rhubarb Crumb Cake

For the cake

150 gr butter
150 gr sugar (I like to use a mixture of caster and soft dark brown)
150 gr self-raising flour
3 large eggs 

Cream the butter with the sugar(s) until smooth. Add the eggs and sift in the flour. Whisk until incorporated.

For the rhubarb

400 gr rhubarb, cut in inch long pieces
2-3 tbsp caster sugar

Mix the sugar with the rhubarb and let it sit while preparing the rest.

For the crumble topping

100 gr cold butter
150 gr flour or a combination of flour and ground nuts (add slowly until the texture feels right)
80 gr brown sugar (or to taste)

Mix with your hands until it crumbly.

In a oven-proof dish, layer the cake batter, then the rhubarb with all the sugary juices and finally, top with the crumble. Bake in a 180 C oven for 40-50 minutes – you might want to start checking after 35-40 minutes by inserting a knife in the middle. It needs to come out almost clean.

You can serve this with custard or cream or ice cream or be weird like my boyfriend and have it with loads of evaporated milk. I quite like it as it is, with a cup of coffee in the afternoon.

Brown Bread and Rhubarb Ice Cream

It would appear that my last blog post was sometime in April. I would say that I don’t know how this has happened but I do –  I’ve been lost in the world of thesis-writing and car-building since then. And although it’s fun (it’s not) I would like it to end now. Thanks.

But I’ve also made some ice cream. And that’s because some really nice person noticed I was wishing for an ice cream maker and sent me one. This really nice person is called Alex aka the Fairy Hobmother and works for Appliances Online. He also spreads kitchen gadget love on the internet. He’s a good one. And the really great thing is that if you leave a comment on this post and make a wish, he could visit you! Certainly worth a go.

When it came to trying out the ice cream machine, I had two options: either go for a proper, custard-based recipe or be lazy. No prizes for guessing which one I went for. I had been eyeing up this rhubarb crumble recipe from Helen’s blog for a while, and it seemed the perfect thing to try. And as the rhubarb was cooking, I realised I didn’t have any butter for the crumble. Seriously, what kind of person runs out of butter?

So I improvised a bit.

Brown bread and rhubarb ice cream 

425 ml whipping cream*

2-3 stalks of rhubarb, trimmed
juice of half a lemon
sugar (to taste)

1 or 2 slices of brown bread, in crumbs
2 tbsp sugar

Cut the rhubarb into inch long pieces, place in a pan together with the lemon juice and the sugar and cook until soft – most of it should look like a puree, with some small chunks still intact. You can taste it to check how sweet you want it – remember that the cream won’t be sweetened though.

In the meantime, place the breadcrumbs in a large tray and mix with the sugar. Bake in a 200 C oven for about 10 minutes, or until crispy.

Allow both the rhubarb and the breadcrumbs to cool. Mix in the cream and pour into the ice cream maker. Churn the ice cream according to the machine’s instructions until it’s thick like whipped cream. Place in a plastic container and leave in the freezer until it reaches the desired consistency. If you haven’t got an ice cream machine, follow Delia’s advice.

If it stays in the freezer for a while, you will need to soften it by leaving it in the fridge for 20 minutes before serving. Sprinkle with some more of the crispy breadcrumbs if you have some left.

*I used double cream because that’s what I had. My ice cream was a bit too thick for my liking, but you could try mixing 300 ml double cream and 125 ml milk and that should work better.

Bolognese Macaroni Cheese

I’ve been having a massive craving for macaroni cheese for the last month. I blame the #meateasy.

On a hot Saturday, I woke up and knew what I wanted to eat. I’m not really big on light food when it’s hot. My cravings have nothing to do with the weather. So I made some macaroni cheese.

I had been thinking about a few versions, mainly Helen’s ultimate macaroni cheese and Ree’s fancy one. But then I had some bolognese leftover in the fridge and that combined with bechamel, cheese and pasta is basically pastitsio, one of my favourite Greek dishes. So I went for it.

The measurings in the recipe are vague. It could really be summarised in a few words: mix pasta, cheesy bechamel and bolognese sauce. Top with cheese. Bake. But here’s the (slightly) more detailed version anyway.

Bolognese Macaroni Cheese

Ingredients (enough for 6)

500 gr pasta

portion of bechamel sauce:
5 tbsp flour
5 tbsp oil/butter
1 – 1 1/2 pint milk
pinch of salt (go easy as the cheeses will be salty)
lots of ground pepper
pinch of nutmeg
bay leaf

a mixture of cheeses (I used gouda, pecorino and a couple of spoons of mascarpone)
leftover bolognese sauce (I used about 1 1/2 cups, you can certainly go for more as it was on the light side)
extra pecorino for the top

For the sauce: quickly fry the flour with the fat, making sure you don’t burn it. Turn the heat right down. Warm the milk in the microwave and add it slowly to the flour-oil mixture, making sure it’s fully incorporated at every step. Season with salt and pepper, add nutmeg and the bay leaf and let it come to boil while stirring very frequently, to stop lumps from forming. If it becomes too thick, add some more milk, whisk, and let it reach boiling temperature again. You want it relatively runny so that the end result isn’t too thick and stodgy. Remove the bay leaf.

Boil the pasta for 2-3 minutes less than what the instructions say. Toss with a bit of olive oil and set aside.

Add the grated cheeses to the sauce and stir until melted. Add the pasta and mix well. Finally, stir the bolognese sauce in.

Spoon the mixture into oven dishes (I used a couple as I didn’t have  a big one available). Top with more grated pecorino and bake in the oven at 180 degrees for about 30-40 minutes, or until the top is nice and golden.

As it’s quite an intense meal, I served it with some spring greens. I boiled them for 2-3 minutes – don’t overcook them as they will lose their vibrant green colour and most of their goodness. Steaming would work too. I then quickly fried them with a drop of olive oil, a finely chopped garlic clove, salt and plenty of pepper and nutmeg. It made for a great side dish.

No-knead bread

Yes, I know. No-knead bread has been around for ages. I’m late to the party. But it’s easy and delicious. It’s also incredibly exciting, unless your definition of excitement doesn’t include covering the kitchen floor and your clothes in flour and then staring at the oven for half an hour before pulling out a loaf of bread. And then doing a little dance while listening to the crackling of the crust as it cools down. I find that exciting.
This comes from the book “Artisan Bread in 5 minutes a Day” and, while I love it for introducing me to the concept, I also have Clotilde to thank for finally managing to make a nice loaf of bread. After many failed attempts, I read this and realised the obvious thing: I had been severely underflouring my dough.

The consistency of my doughs still varies, but most of my loaves now are successful. The wetter doughs produce larger holes but flatter loaves, and they are excellent for eating with soups and stews. A drier dough sacrifices the impressively hole-y interior but gives you nicely shaped loaves that you can use to make sandwiches. It is also much easier to handle, meaning that you can make large loaves easily.

The loaf pictured below came from dough slightly on the drier side – I probably used 600 gr of flour here. Stick to 550 if you would like bigger holes, but your loaves will be flatter. In all cases, you get really crusty exterior without drying up the inside.

No-knead bread

Ingredients (makes 2 medium sized loaves)

2 cups lukewarm water
1 tbsp active dried yeast (or instant yeast)
1 tbsp salt
550 – 600 gr flour (see notes for type of flour used)
extra flour for dusting

In a large bowl, mix the water, yeast and salt and leave for a few minutes until the yeast granules dissolve (you don’t need to worry too much about the mixture frothing up – if you’re using instant yeast you don’t really have to wait at all).

Mix in most of the flour (about 500 gr) and stir using a spoon until you can’t see any dry patches. Add an extra 50-100gr and incorporate using wet hands. Your final dough should be wet enough so that it slowly deforms and takes the shape of the bowl.

Cover with a plate or a lid (not airtight), and let it rise for at least 2 hours (up to 5 won’t harm it). You are done with the rising when the top has flattened.

You can use the dough now but it’s better to refrigerate it for a couple of hours as it will be easier to handle. The dough will last in the fridge for at least a week and probably 10 days, so you can make this in advance and even double it if you have a large enough container.

Take your dough out of the fridge, flour the surface and your hands and pull out a chunk about half the size of the whole dough*. Form a smooth ball by pulling the sides of the dough underneath it. Don’t overdo it or the top layer of the dough will start splitting! Tuck the ends underneath – the bottom might look a bit messy but it will even out during rising/baking.  Place it on a smooth chopping board dusted with flour.

Let it rise for 40 minutes. Turn the oven on to 230 degrees Celsius and place a pizza stone on the middle shelf 10 minutes before the end of the rising time. Place a tray on the shelf underneath.

Dust the surface of the dough with flour and make some quite deep cuts using a bread knife. Make sure the bottom isn’t sticking to the chopping board – if it is, push some flour underneath using the bread knife. Slide the dough onto the pizza stone and quickly pour a cup of hot water (from the tap) into the tray underneath. Shut the oven door as quickly as possible to trap the steam in.

Bake for 30 minutes, until the top is looking nice and golden. Let it cool before you cut a slice.

Not that I’ve ever done that!

To keep the outside crispy, I store the bread with the cut side flat on a plate.

*If it’s too wet to handle, you haven’t got enough flour in it. You can incorporate some more flour at this step, or choose to bake it in a loaf tin. If using a loaf tin, make sure you grease it well with some oil and let the dough rise for an extra 45 minutes – 1 hour.