Thursday, 30 June 2011

Griddle Me This...

Tortiglioni con Avocado alla Griglia, Salsiccia Piccante & Peperoni Rossi
Tortiglioni with Grilled Avocado, Spicy Sausage and Red Peppers

Sometimes I can be a little impatient... you too? For example, when you buy an avocado and it takes a couple of days to ripen and mature, right? And sure, we all know you can put them in a paper bag or next to a banana to speed up the procedure... and sure you can just buy a ripe avocado! But you can also pop an unripe avocado onto a griddle and get it wonderful and brown on the outside... and let the heat soften up the inside and turn the already wonderful mild flavor into something altogether more delicious!

I love the mild, buttery taste of avocados- they are wonderfully versatile and can be flavored in a multitude of ways. Still, there are a couple of favorite flavors of mine that I like to use with avocado and they are Tabasco and lime. Avocados, with their naturally rather neutral flavor, are wonderful vehicles for the freshness of the lime and the heat of the Tabasco. But you know I am not going to leave it at that, right? Let me give you a couple more ingredients to make a perfect Summer pasta dish!

This is going to be another quick, tasty, cheap and healthy recipe... four wonderful ingredients in any meal. You will need couple of handfuls of pasta, an avocado, a spicy Italian sausage and a bell pepper to make 2 servings. And 15 minutes of time. Yes, I knew you would like that part of it... so let's get cracking!

You can use any kind of pasta, but I chose tortiglioni to make my dish tonight. These short rigatoni have just the right size and the right amount of bite to compliment the nice chunks of avocado. Boil them in well-salted water as according to the on-pack instructions, drain, rinse in cold water and set to one side. Being as we are going to dress the pasta with olive oil and lime juice and not have a sauce, we want to make sure the cooking process stops the minute we remove the pan from the stove.

Now for all of the tasty stuff!

We have a very little prep-work to do- but the actual cooking will all be done in 10-15 minutes. Halve, peel and chop the avocado into nice, large, bite-sized chunks. Slice up the sausage diagonally (it is good to have as large an open surface as possible when grilling) and spread it out onto a very hot grill pan. If you have a sausage with a nice garlic aroma- wonderful, if not, as soon as the sausage starts to release its juices, add a sliced clove of garlic to the pan. Once the sausage is nicely browned, remove from the pan and add the avocado chunks on one side and the peppers on the other, Try to keep them separate so you can judge the cooking times better- but try to do them at the same time so you will have a relatively warm meal!

Don't be tempted to keep fussing over the avocado- let it sit still and get some nice scorch-marks. The heat will make the avocado soft, so you don't want to crush or damage it. As soon as it is nicely browned all over, remove from the pan and squeeze generously with lime juice. Now throw a couple of coarsely-chopped spring onions onto the pan whilst you start to assemble the rest...

Dress the pasta in a little olive oil, grate with nutmeg, and arrange on a plate with the sausage, avocado and peppers. Add the onions and grate with salted ricotta. Now decorate with basil leaves, ground Tabasco and chili flakes, a final squeeze of lime and a last, light dusting of nutmeg...

Need I say Buon Apetito?!?!!

Wednesday, 29 June 2011

Pizzi Tutti Frutti

Sfizianti Pizze Dolci alla Frutta
Delicious Sweet Pizzas with Fruit Variations

Sometimes I just get the craziest of ideas! And this time, I got to thinking that I would make some sweet pizzas with fruit toppings... my mom would turn a somersault if she heard me suggest such a thing! But you know... if you sweeten that dough a little and keep it thin and crispy, it makes for a cool base for some sweet desserts! So armed again with my trusty grill pan and a selection of yummy fruits, I dared to go where no Sicilian has gone before...

Sweet pizzas are bound to have been done before many a time, but I wanted to come up with something special and distinctive to make these recipes MINE and mine alone. I wanted to have one cool idea that would really make it work- but instead I came up with a double-whammy with this one: a luscious, creamy, lime infused cream cheese topping and a sensationally spicy flavored sugar!

The pizza bases were made on my grill pan, in exactly the same way as my savory pizzas were (see my blog entry entitled "Prizzi's Honor"). The fruit toppings you can see for yourselves in my photos. But let me tell you how I combined a few simple ingredients to give you a multitude of taste sensations... It is probably a lot easier than you think!

I used cheese curds, which are readily available here in Germany and called "quark" by the natives... I love that name! You can get this in a very low-fat version with only 0,2% fat here and that is what I chose to use. Feel free to choose your favorite cheese that prefer for your cheesecake- basically it is the flavoring that makes the difference. I added to 500g of cream cheese, the zest and juice of 1 lime, 1 tablespoon of powdered sugar, 1 tablespoon of honey, half a cup of milk and a tiny pinch of salt. Whisk this at the highest setting for 2-3 minutes until it becomes smooth and creamy. It should taste something slightly reminiscent of key lime pie... so it has got to be good- right?

To emphasize the line flavor, I cut some strips of lime peel into tiny slivers and soaked them in a cup of boiling, sugared water for 10-15 minutes. This removes the acidity and bitterness and makes them softer and milder. I topped my pizza base with a generous helping of the whipped cream cheese and as you can see, used carambola (star fruit), raspberries and blueberries for this one, which I think I will call "A Star is Born". I laid out the fruits decoratively and scattered a little of the lime peel in between. The finishing touch was to be my flavored sugar, which really is the star of the show in all 3 of these pizzas. The fruits are basically a matter of personal preference, but the tart and refreshing cream cheese and the sugar will make whichever fruits you decide to use come to life in a whole new way!

I am going to call this next creation my "Crazy Caprese" because of the great colors. I decided to keep it simple, with fresh kiwi, my lime-flavored cream cheese and a puree of raspberries, powdered sugar and Cointreau. I made the raspberry "sauce" my simply crushing the berries in a mortar and pestle- I think it is nicer when you have a few random chunks of fruit in there to give the topping a bit of "oomph!"

Here you can clearly see the flavored sugar I mentioned- and not it is not a simple brown sugar... I call it my "Golden Sugar"- and that wonderful, warm color comes from a number of delicious ingredients. Again, using the mortar and pestle, I ground up some regular, white, granulated sugar with some orange zest, finely chopped rosemary, finely chopped basil, cinnamon, a little star anise, a little chili, a few assorted pepper corns and the tiniest hint of salt. It is amazing how wonderfully rich and brown the sugar becomes- and the aroma is out of this world!

My final creation I am going to call "Berried Alive" for obvious reasons.  I made a puree of the berries, with a little gin and some sugar, in exactly the same way that I made the raspberry sauce.

I spread the paste out onto the pizza first, added a layer of cream cheese and then carefully stirred these together. I then added a generous amount of berries and sugar and tried hard to stop drooling! Please take my word for it- it DOES taste every bit as good as it looks- and then some! Throw tradition to the wind and have yourself a bite of pizza the likes of which you'll never see at a pizza... but you'll surely wish you would!

Tuesday, 28 June 2011

Express Yourself

Frappè al Caffé con Cacao & Sciroppo alla Menta
Iced Coffee Frappé with Cocoa and Mint Syrup

I have been reading so much about brewing coffee cold and how much smoother and nicer it tastes, that I decided to try it myself and do a little experimenting. So armed with a couple of trays of ice cubes and a healthy thirst, I set out to re-invent the frappé we all know and love and make it into a really COOL Summer drink!

The first thing I did, was to fill my French press a third of the way with ground espresso. Then I filled the press up to the top with ice cubes. Let the cubes melt, soak into the coffee powder and "brew". This will take an hour or so depending on the temperature, but you can also leave it for a longer time to have a stronger flavor. Apparently, the cold brewing method produces a much milder coffee for your stomach and will not become bitter even if you let it brew overnight.

Now that you have your coffee made, all you need to do is filter it and you are ready to put your drink together.

First things first- you need to put some ice cubes into the bottom of your glass and cover them with mint syrup. This will help to keep the mint separated from the coffee and make your drink really pretty and cool looking... and you do want that now, don't you? Yeah- you know you do!

 Now fill some ice cubes into your mixer and add the filtered coffee, a good amount of cocoa (approximately 3 teaspoons per person), and around 1/3rd of a cup of milk for each serving. You can add sugar if you wish of course, or alternatively honey. Whizz everything together until you get a relatively smooth mash of iced-coffee and spoon this carefully on top of the minty ice cubes. 

It's so easy- but so refreshing and delicious!This is a wonderful Summer refresher- perfect for those hot and sultry August afternoons- just the thing to keep you awake and fresh and fit to make it through the day...

Alternatively, for a nice, elegant, after-dinner treat, you can blend everything down to a smooth mix- including the mint syrup and serve it as an espresso-sized shot of minty, icy refreshment... who needs those boring after-dinner mints when you can have this?

Marco Polo's Pasta Salad

Insalata Mediterranea di Spaghettini Orientale
Mediterranean-Styled Glass-Noodle Salad

Ok- this is a strange one for you... combining Chinese glass-noodles with Mediterranean ingredients to make a Summer salad dish... hmmm! I wonder how that would work?

Well as it happens- it worked pretty damned well and was a nice enough treat that old Marco Polo would have probably even approved! Quick, easy and inexpensive, healthy, tasty and light, this is a perfect mid-day snack for a hot Summers day... read on!

This really is a 10- minute, ultra no-fuss little meal. You will need a kettle, a bowl and a frying pan... a red pepper, a couple of spring onions, a handful of snow-peas, a handful of olives and a few capers. Seasonings are basil, lime juice, mint, chili flakes and extra-virgin olive oil. Let's get this party started!

Glass (or cellophane) noodles are so convenient. Just pour boiling water over them and let them sit in a bowl for 10 minutes. Ready! Pretty cool, huh?

In the meantime, turn your grill pan up really high and put your sliced of red pepper on there. Just let them sit and char a little- we want that nice toasted flavor! After 5 minutes, add the onions and snow peas... And that it all the cooking you are going to be doing today!

You may as well call your guests already, because you have only 1-2 minutes of work left! Time to put this baby together!

Give the noodles a good squeeze of lime juice and a drizzle of olive oil. Add the
 grilled peppers, peas and onion and some finely sliced basil and mint. A pinch of salt, a pinch of sugar and a fresh grind of chili powder. Garnish with black olives, capers and a little more olive oil and simply enjoy!

Monday, 27 June 2011

Zabba Dabba Doo!

Crema di Zabaione con Meringhe alla Griglia & Fette d'Arancia
Zabaione Cream with Grilled Meringue and Orange Slices

Just to prove that I can sometimes be a sweet guy, I decided to make a nice little dessert for you all. Unfortunately I had to eat it all by myself- I would have loved to have shared it with you! So I guess the best that I can do to make up for it is to write up this little rendition of how I made it, in the hope that you will make it for yourselves someday!

Can you believe I made this beautiful dessert using only one egg and a half an orange per person? Do you already love it?!?! That is pretty awesome isn't it! Sometimes, the simplest of ideas and ingredients make for the best recipes. As usual, this little number was born of my impatience and sheer thick-headedness... I just WANTED it to work... and it did work! 

And how!

To make the little meringue rolls, I whipped egg whites with powdered sugar and a little grated orange zest until they were nice and firm. Then I grabbed my beloved grill pan and heated it until it was very hot. I carefully dropped the meringue mixture onto the pan, one tablespoonful at a time. After a minute or so, the bottom of the meringe will have set.  Now you are going to have to be brave, as the meringue in itself is VERY soft. Using a spatula, carefully roll the meringue up and off the pan- push it gently back and it will fold over onto itself. It is not THAT difficult once you have loosened the front edge. Now roll these little meringues over again, forming a little "tube" or "cushion". The meringue will soon firm-up and you will be able to roll them over. After 4-5 minutes, they will be a nice, light, golden browned on all sides. Tricky but not impossible! And well worth the experimentation!

The zabaione is thankfully a little LESS tricky- but it is still tricky enough to be a challenge. That being said, the sense of achievement after making a zabaione is reward enough... that and the joy of eating it!

Beat the yolks and some sugar until the mixture is palest yellow tending towards white, then beat in a little dessert wine and cook over a double boiler. The original recipe calls for a sweet, Sicilian Marsala- but I have this yummy, sweet, Sicilian wine called Zibibbo and that is what I used. Mainly because of the name- isn't that a hoot? I also added a dash of Cointreau to incress the orange flavor. A good squeeze of orange juice and some finely grated orange zest go in next... Don't let it reach a boil and remove it from the fire as soon as it thickens.

Zabaione tastes wonderful hot, warm or cold and I decided to finish mine off under the broiler. I filled a small bowl with 5-6 heaped tablespoons of the zabaione cream and then 3-4 of the little meringue rolls. I then added some orange slices, gave it a nice sprinkle of powdered sugar and popped it under the broiler for a minute or so at the top heat, just to brown everything off nicely!

And there you have it. Proof that I can be sweet as well as being cheap and cheerful! And a dessert that is so cheap to make is also sure to make you cheerful!

Sunday, 26 June 2011

Piggy in the Middle

Peperoni Ripieni di Maiale Speziato con Riso & Piselli
Spicy Pork- Stuffed Peppers with Rice & Peas

Oh, how I used to hate it when the big boys would play "Piggy in the Middle" at school.
It almost invariably would be me that was the sad porker, reaching up to grab the ball, or worse still, my bag, as the older boys threw it to each other, over my head and out of reach!
That's not very nice is it? 
This stuffed pepper dish IS very nice though- and you know what? 
Those guys wouldn't get any of this now, even if they came begging!

Everybody knows and loves stuffed peppers and rice, another one of the most well-loved comfort food dishes I can think of. With those long, narrow, sweet pimento peppers in season, it seemed a shame not to buy a whole bagful the other day. The question was- how to use them?! My solution was quick, fun, different and delicious... three good reasons to give it a go!
I decided to use ground pork to stuff my peppers- that and chopped onion, grated apple, fresh thyme, mint and parsley, cumin seeds, turmeric powder, Madras curry powder, crushed garlic and a few shots of Tabasco sauce. I mixed together 1/2 lb. of ground pork with these ingredients, seasoned it with salt and pepper and added the juice and zest of 1 lime. 

Now, that's a little different to the stuffed peppers you are used to, right? 
But it does sound good, doesn't it?

I cut the peppers into slices of about 1 1/2", removed the seeds and the inner sinew and stuffed them with the ground pork mixture. I popped these stuffed slices into a dry Teflon pan at a high heat and seared and the pork on the top and bottom and then flipped them onto their sides to do the same. Press down on these yummy, stuffed pepper slices and you will find that wonderful juices from both the meat and the grated apple will ooze out, infused with all those good spice flavors- yum!

Usually, with the traditional bell-peppers, we would either steam or bake them until they are cooked and delicious. This could take anything from 45 minutes to an hour. I wanted to do something a little faster and being as these are just small slices of pepper and not the whole thing, I simply added  a teaspoon of tomato paste and after heating this through for 1-3 minutes, I de glazed the pan with 1 cupful of apple juice. I wanted a nice fruity sauce to go with these, to compliment the apple and cumin seeds in the filling. I turned down the heat to a simmer, popped on the lid and prepared the rice and peas for my side-dish.

I boiled my rice in salt water for 10 minutes, then added the sliced fresh peas, some parsley, chopped mint, saffron powder and chives. I put the lid on, turned off the heat and let the rice finish cooking and fluffing up with the remaining temperature of the pan. 

10 minutes later, both the rice and the peppers were finished and all I had to do was to serve them up. I added a few drops of almond oil to the rice- but I am sure any aromatic oil like sesame would work equally well. Simply set the stuffed pepper slices on the rice and spoon some of the tangy apple and meat juices on top. 

Another simple, quick. low-cost meal and a new twist on an old favorite. 

This little piggy grew up and shopped for spices!

Freshen Up Your Act!

Insalata di Cetrioli, Noce Pesca e Peperoni Rossi
Cucumber, Nectarine and Red Pepper Salad

Here's another little quickie for you... a mouth-watering appetizer or a fruity-spicy-lighter-than-lighty lunch! The sun is shining again today in Frankfurt at last and I am in the mood for a little pick-me-up and a reminder that it IS actually Summer! So, armed with a few fresh ingredients and a little impatience, I decided to whip me up a refreshing Summer salad in less time than it takes to wash a lettuce...

Because I am not intending to use any lettuce!

I am not much of a dancer, but any good D.J. will tell you that it is all "in the mix"- and that's what this salad is all about. So get ready to boogie- because this is a cool re-mix that will be a real hit at your next dinner party!

As usual, I am going to use products that are in season. The sweetness of nectarine, the freshness of the cucumber, the mild tang of the red pepper and the aroma of the basil and celery just go together so well! The only other things I added were a few slices of spring onion greens, a little fresh thyme, a light grind of chili flakes and a sprinkle of sea salt. The salad is dressed in olive oil and lime juice and drizzled with honey before serving. That's about all there is to it!

Simple, quick, cheap, refreshing, healthy, foolproof... need I say more?
Just go ahead and try it!

Saturday, 25 June 2011

Pot Luck!

Uovo in Camicia al Forno con Pasta & Verdure Asiatiche
Poached Egg + Ramen Noodles Baked in a Clay Pot

Everyone has a couple of bags of those convenient Asian noodle-snacks hidden away somewhere at home. They are very delicious, quick and easy to make and an acceptable form of convenience food I think. If you discard the msg-loaded artificial seasoning that is! The noodles themselves are great and take very little cooking time. Perfect for a light lunch on a gray day like today... when I decided to try doing my own take on a hot Ramen dish...

"Ramen" is the collective term for those healthy, steaming, noodle soups that have become so popular in recent years. Nothing is more satisfying and comforting than a nice hot broth with some fresh vegetables, meat, tofu or fish. Or as easy to make!

I decided to use a chicken broth for mine, but beef or vegetable would also have worked just as well. I am not going to suggest that you need to boil up your own broth to make a bowl of soup or two- I hate that kind of pretention when it comes to home cooking. Life really is too short! Just make sure to get a decent, low-salt product and move on... we want to be eating in 20 minutes time!

Put your clay pot on the stove, half fill it with broth and bring it to the boil. In the meantime you can cut a fine julienne of carrot, slice some sugar-snap peas diagonally and cut a few rings of spring onion.

Now... back to that broth!

Once the broth is boiling, add the noodles and allow them to soften a little. A little garlic and ginger and a piece of star anise will give a good flavor too if you have it. Otherwise I just added a little oyster sauce, 5-spice powder and a drop of sesame oil... and it already smelt delicious!

I loosened up the noodles a little with a fork and then added my finely chopped veggies around the outside edge, making sure to push them down beneath the surface. Then I made a bit of space in the center of the pot for my egg. I carefully dropped it into the hollow I had made and sprinkled it with a little lemon pepper, topped up the broth as the noodles had swollen up and diminished it a little, and popped it into the oven for 5-10 minutes, until the egg was cooked.

Those little black things you see are not ants my friends- they are toasted black sesame seeds and the look and taste fantastic on this dish! Together with a few threads of shredded chili and a final trickle of sesame oil, they are the finishing touch to a light, spicy and fiery little lunch!

The egg is the perfect addition to the spiciness of the broth- especially when the yolk mixes in and makes everything taste velvety and delicious! I hope you give it a go and hope you enjoy it as much as I did!

Friday, 24 June 2011

Bean There, Done That...

Polpette Piccante di Fagioli Rossi 
Spicy Red-Bean Veggie-Burgers

Of course we have all tried veggie-burgers. Sometimes they're good- sometimes they're not. Often it is like chewing on bird-feed, (I know I am being nasty now, as I love müsli and seeds of all kinds!)- but you know what I mean. They can taste bland and pasty and usually only end up being tasty because of the toppings that get heaped up on them. So I set out, with a can of kidney beans and some high hopes, to make something a little better... This is another one for my vegetarian girlfriends at the office... but with enough bite to satisfy even an eager omnivore like myself!

I intentionally used the term "omnivore", as I am not somebody who has to eat meat in every meal. Although I like meat, I also know that vegetarian meals don't always have to be larger-sized portions of side dishes! They can be equally satisfying and delicious... if you know how!

My only hesitation was that I wanted to make sure that the burgers would not end up tasting too dense and "mealy". I hate that word! But I also hate the texture of mashed-up beans without something nice and juicy to lighten it up. Not a fan of re-fried beans here! I generally don't like vegetables to be cooked to death- even if they are of the canned variety. So it was time to get creative and adventurous- and why not? At the price of a can of kidney beans- how much did I have to lose?!

I started out by draining, but not rinsing the beans. I set these to one side and filled the can with oatmeal. That was going to be my measure- I used equal quantities of each. For some reason I didn't want to use breadcrumbs for this- I just wanted a more chewy consistency. The oatmeal was nearby, it was a spur of the moment decision- and it ended up working really well!

I continued by chopping an onion into a fine dice and frying it in a little olive oil, with a crushed clove of garlic, a handful of fresh thyme and  a good pinch of finely chopped fresh rosemary. I seasoned with cumin seeds, paprika powder, a little nutmeg and as much cayenne as I dared. This really does depend on how brave you are- I used around a half a teaspoon for this amount of mix and it was pretty spicy! You only want the onion to become nice and translucent and don't want for it to brown too much.

The next step is to add a good tablespoon of tomato paste and to stir everything together well. I was feeling daring and so I added a shot of cognac into mine- I am sure it will be equally delicious without... but it was pretty delicious with it within too!

Add a half a cup of water into the mix and turn off the heat. This will be a thick, lumpy, spicy but flavorful mess- but that's ok! Just look at the pictures and have faith and everything will work out just fine!

Now we have finished all of our prep-work, we can start putting everything together. Using a fork, or a potato-masher, crush the beans down into a firm paste. I didn't use a machine, as I wanted the mix to be chunky and have some bite left to it- so for me it was the fork. Now add the oatmeal/onion/spice mix and 1 egg and stir together well.

At this point you will be able to tell if your mixture needs adjusting at all. The consistency you are looking for is a dense but loose one- not as firm as a regular burger. If it feels too soft, add more oatmeal and if it feels too firm, add a little more water. I added a couple of finely chopped celery leaves at this point, a handful of chopped mint and a cupful of finely grated parmesan. I wanted these flavors to stand out from the rest and therefor did not cook them down with the onion.

Now for my secret ingredient! I decided that the whole mix needed a little hint of sweetness to it- just to set-off all of those spicy flavors and to counterpoint the otherwise bland flavor of the beans. So I added a handful of candied orange peel- the kind you use for baking. If you don't have any, or you don't like the stuff (many don't), use either a tablespoonful of marmalade or honey.

So- time to get frying! And if there is one thing I hate- it is greasy food as you know! I tried out a couple of these before I figured out the best technique- and this is what worked best for me: get the pan really hot and then spoon in a good, heaped spoonful of your mix- and don't touch it for at least 1 minute! After a minute, pour a little drop of olive oil into the pan right next to your burger... it will get drawn in right where you need it as if by magic! By now bottom of your burger should be firm enough for you to give it a gentle nudge and move it. As soon as that happens, you should be able to flip it. By frying them this way, you get crispy, firm burgers... by setting them into a pan full of oil you will get soggy burgers that soak up the oil and then fall apart. You just need to expose them to heat and they will become firm all by themselves. And that's it! You just made some veggie burgers with a look and texture that really is pretty similar to "the real thing". Yes, these are the real vegetarian deal!

They would be great in a roll with lettuce and all the usual dressings, but I served mine on a simple chop-salad of romaine and cucumber, with an olive oil, honey and lemon-juice dressing. I topped them with a couple of slices of cherry tomato, grated ricotta, fresh thyme and a drizzle of olive oil for a touch of something juicy and fresh... and voila! A vegetarian Summer sensation on a plate! 1 can of beans will make 7-8 of these- so have a friend over, have a nice meal and spend all the money you have just saved on a nice bottle of white and enjoy!

Thursday, 23 June 2011

Fishing for Compliments

Seppie alla Griglia con Zucchine & Fagiolini
Grilled Cuttlefish with Zucchini & Beans

I can't claim to be a big lover of fish, but I do confess that I fell deeply, madly and truly in love with cuttlefish whilst on vacation in the South of France a couple of years ago. Seche á la Plancha was my favorite dish that Summer- frazzled and crispy in a red hot pan, with garlic, peppers and lemon juice, it was biteful and delicious in the extreme. Apart from a few exceptions, such as monkfish or mahi-mahi, the only seafood I really like are shrimps, scallops, squid and octopus... we all have our preferences I suppose! So I decided to plunge into the deep tonight- and down where it was darkest of all I discovered this buried treasure in my freezer...

I would love to tell you that I scored my cuttlefish with that decorative pattern, that also goes to make it more tender, lets it get crisper and also traps the flavors better when you grill it... but I didn't. My local Thai supermarket sells it that way- and it really is nicer in my opinion. I once tried doing it myself but found it almost impossible to slice into the fish without cutting all the way through it. This is about as close as I come to buying convenience food though! 
The rest we can manage by ourselves, right? Right on!

The one thing we fear when ordering, or attempting to cook cuttlefish or squid, is that it is going to end up being like a seasoned chunk of inner-tube from our bicycle wheels. Sadly this happens all to often! My secret is simple and fail-safe. Are you ready for it? All you need to do is to place your fish into a bowl, pour boiling water over it and let it sit there until the water is cool. That it. The fish is now par-boiled and has lost its slippery texture. The pores are slightly opened and will soak-in any seasoning we add much better as well. It's good news all around! Just make sure to wring it out and for it to be relatively dry before grilling it- we don't want it to stew in its juices- we want it to get nice and crisp on the outside and to be pleasantly chewy on the inside. 

So let's do just that...

The only prep-work I had with this meal really, was preparing another one of my seasoned salts. This time I ground a mix of salt, sugar, lime zest, 5-spice powder, star anise, szechwan pepper, finely-chopped celery leaf and chili flakes, in my mortar and pestle. Can't you almost smell that already? Oh man! You will when you try it yourself- and you will love the combination!

So now we are ready to cook! Heat your grill pan up to a really high heat and add some finely chopped bacon. As soon as it starts to sizzle, add the cuttlefish and a few slices of garlic. Make sure that everything gets mixed together well, but don't stir it around too much just yet- let it have a chance to get nice and brown. Season with a little of the salt mix and a tiny splash of sesame oil. Now that the spices have been added, keep it moving and give it a good squeeze of lime juice.

And I am almost sad to say that after 3-4 minutes at the most, your cuttlefish is going to be ready- crispy and delicious, with smokey and crunchy bacon bits for that extra bit of zing!

I served mine on a bed of grilled zucchini, with a few young beans, spring onions and cherry tomatoes- but you may prefer to serve it with rice or a salad or pasta- whichever way you decide to enjoy it, you are going to love the rich and intense flavor! Especially when you sprinkle everything with a generous amount of the aromatic salt-mix, a little more sesame oil and a last squeeze of lime. This is a perfect, light, tasty and easy meal that will indeed get you those compliments without you having to go fishing too deeply for them! Hope you enjoy it as much as I do!


King Kong's Breakfast

Soffici Frittelle di Banana con Mandorle e Uvetta
Fluffy Banana Pancakes with Almonds and Raisins

Ok- enough with those flat little British-styled pancakes this morning! Today I have decided to go positively high-rise, and I mean Empire State Building high! If King Kong could do it- then so can I! So, before I get shot down by a fleet of bi-planes, here is my man-sized answer to those early morning hunger pangs, with a giant-ape-sized serving of bananas that would keep the big guy himself satisfied...

To be honest, I was quite surprised myself as to quite how fluffy these things became, simply by beating the egg whites until they were nice and firm and then adding them back into the mix. 

Of course that is not exactly rocket science! But at the same time, I wouldn't be ME if I didn't do a little something or other to add and improve to something tried and tested... and this is what I did! 

Separate the yolks and whites of 2 eggs. Let's begin with the yolks. Add a tablespoon of sugar, 3 tablespoons of flour, 2 tablespoons of grated coconut, some grated orange zest, a pinch of nutmeg, a hint of vanilla, a teaspoon of cinnamon and whisk into a smooth paste. Slowly add a half-cup of lukewarm milk, making sure to keep mixing at a slower speed. Allow the mixture to rest for 2-3 minutes. In the meantime you can beat the egg whites until fluffy and firm and set to one side.

I sliced the banana in half lengthways and then into quarters. And then the slices broke up on me. This is by way of explanation, in case you are wondering where the inspiration came from for the wonderfully decorative presentation! Sometimes, you know... life is too short and you just want to eat! 

So I prepared a handful of almonds and raisins and got myself ready to put my epic pancake together. From this point on, things needed to move swiftly, as I was relying on the egg whites to give the pancake the body and fluffiness I wanted. 

And from the moment you mix the yolks back in, the whites WILL begin to collapse on themselves. 

So snap to it!

Take a spoonful of the fluffy egg whites and fold it into the egg yolk mixture. Once this is incorporated, it will help the rest of the egg whites to blend in better and with less stirring and folding. Good tip. You are about to groan, but yes, I did make this in a fat-free pan. You can use butter if you like- but there seriously is no need. Get the pan nice and hot and add your fluffy pancake mix. After about a minute, add the banana slices, the almonds and the raisins decoratively. And yes, I am sure you will do a better job than I did. All you need to do now is to transfer your pan to a pre-heated oven for 2-3 minutes. That is all it will take. And maybe a final minute or so with the broiler to give it a great color. 

Now wasn't that easy?

By giving the egg yolk batter a little warm milk and a few minutes to do its stuff, the flour begins to "evolve" into an almost dough-like consistency. So the result was like a cross between an American pancake and an Italian breakfast brioche. I gave mine a simple dusting of powdered sugar and wolfed it down before checking my facebook and reading a suggestion from one of my "fans", that it would taste wonderful with a nice chocolate sauce... mmmm! 

What a great idea! 

A couple of spoonfuls of Nutella, with a drop of milk to liquify it a little... that would be perfect, light dressing for this! Or of course a drizzle of honey or maple syrup would be delicious too. But whatever you do and however you enjoy it- enjoy it while it's hot! 

Wednesday, 22 June 2011

Undercover Job

Crostata di Peperoni in Pasta Filo con la Mozzarella
Bell Pepper Tart Tatin in Filo Pastry with Mozzarella

Those crafty French... they have a lot of tricks up their sleeves, don't they? Especially in the kitchen! And Tart Tatin is one of my favorites, as it is the best sure-fire way to make a pie that is guaranteed to work for even the worst baker... namely, ME! It is such a simple idea and at the same time, pure genius- make the damned thing upside down in a frying pan and then flip it over onto a plate... now why didn't I think of that?!!

The preparation for this is really, really simple. For one medium sized tart, about the size of a regular dinner plate, all it took was 1 bell pepper, 1 shallot, a small handful of diced bacon and a few sprigs of thyme... easy and cheap or what? All the more reason to try this out! Oh... and 3-4 sheets of filo pastry of course- but basically, apart from a few herbs and spices, that is all.

And the whole thing takes no more than 45 minutes to put together! So let's make us that pie- you know you want to!

Slice the bell pepper thinly and fry in a dry Teflon pan with the diced bacon. As soon as it starts to sizzle, add a good pinch of sugar and some cumin seed. After 2-3 minutes, add the sliced shallot and few chili flakes. Keep stirring and make sure that all of the pepper slices get a light glaze from the caramelized sugar. After 5-6 minutes, add a squeeze of lemon, a little olive oil and a last sprinkle of sugar. Remove from the heat and allow to cool.

If you feel that way inclined, you may want to arrange the slices decoratively in your pan like I did- but this is of course not a must! But if you DO decide to- remember to think upside down and lay down some herbs first in the bottom of your pan, as these will end up on top when you flip-over the finished pie. So, first we have cumin seed and thyme and then we lay out the slices on top of them. Now lay a sheet of filo pastry over the peppers and fold over the edges into the middle. Brush lightly with olive oil and cover with thyme. Add a sprinkle of salt and repeat with another 2-3 layers. Make sure to have a good, intact final layer, as this is going to be the base of the pie and you don't want tit to fall apart! And then into the oven it goes! Bake at a moderate heat for 10-15 minutes but keep your eyes on it- Filo pastry doesn't take much baking and also doesn't take much to burn to a cinder!

Once the pastry is crispy and brown, take the frying pan out of the oven, carefully place a plate over it and then flip it over. Now return it to the pan right-side up, sprinkle with a little more sugar and bake under the broiler for 1-2 minutes- the pastry will brown VERY quickly!

Before serving, I gave the whole pie a light drizzle of honey. I sprinkled a little fresh time and cumin on top and then set a center-piece of torn mozzarella to finish it off. A few cracked pepper corns, a drizzle of olive oil, a sprinkle of sea salt and a leaf or two of basil and you are ready to serve!

And even though it was yet another stormy and rainy night again in Frankfurt- for a short while it still seemed like Summer after all!

Tuesday, 21 June 2011


Frittata Estiva al Forno
Oven-Baked Summer Omelette

It's amazing... it is Summer Solstice and it is cold and rainy and miserable here in Frankfurt... brrr! I was just going to make myself a nice, light, Summer frittata this evening- maybe a little salad to go with it and a glass of wine and I would have been happy. And content even. But with this weather?!?! No Way!

I got home cold and wet and in the need of some comfort food!
So that is what I turned my omelette into!
Hot and sizzling and delicious!

Basically, this is two omelettes in one. The first one is a simple affair- a plain egg omelette that is covered in ham or salami, rolled together tightly and then cut into sections. I set these slices into an oven dish and then the other omelette mix gets poured around them and the whole thing bakes together under the broiler. That is what I mean when I say it is like an omelette within an omelette!

Beat 4 eggs, a cup of milk, a pinch of salt and pepper, a light grating of nutmeg and a little chopped parsley, together. This is going to be the basic omelette mix.

Heat up your Teflon pan and when it is nice and hot, pour in a small amount to make a thin omelette. As soon as it has been flipped over once and is cooked through, remove it from the heat and cover it with either a ham or your choice, or a thinly sliced salami if you prefer. I just happened to have some Soppresata at home, which is a mild salami and that is what I decided to use. Make sure to do this whilst the omelette is still warm as the heat will soften the ham or salami and make it easier to roll. Set to one side to cool and prepare the other ingredients. I decided to keep it simple and used green beans, spring onion and cherry tomatoes in mine, but you could also use peppers, zucchini, eggplant... almost any vegetable.

Put the beans into the pan you have just fried your omelette in, add a splash of water, and let them par-boil for 3-4 minutes, just to give them a head-start. Remove from the heat and cool immediately in cold water. This will stop the cooking process and make sure the beans stay firm and fresh and green. Slice the onion and tomato and grate a little salted ricotta cheese. Chop some parsley finely, grab your nutmeg and you pepper mill and get ready to put this thing together!

First, sprinkle a light dusting of breadcrumbs into your dish- this will keep the egg from sticking as well as making it a little firmer later on and easier to remove when serving. Now cut the ham or salami omelette roll into slices of around 1 1/2" and set these into the middle of your dish. Pour in the remaining egg-mix, making sure to get an even spread all the way round. You can now add the beans, onions and tomato slices. Make sure you have a nice even mix. Grate generously with nutmeg and pepper and sprinkle with a little salted ricotta cheese. Be careful doing this as ricotta can tend to be VERY salty and you don't want to overpower the whole thing with it.  Bake for around 10-15 minutes at a moderate heat and then give it another 3-4 minutes under the broiler.

Of course you could make many variations to this basic recipe. Olives, mushrooms, sun-dried tomatoes, even mint or other herbs- you name it! And even though it may not be so warm and sunny outside- pour yourself a glass of chilled white wine and enjoy your meal. And dream of being somewhere warmer and sunnier. Like Siberia....