Bucket list eggs benedict

Sometimes I can be a real Calvinist. Sometimes I do things not because I want to do them, but because I feel I should do them. For instance, that time I struggled through all of Crime and Punishment, and hated most of it, but wouldn’t put it down, just because I felt I ought to have read at least one of the Russians. In the same vain, I sometimes feel I should cook the classic difficult dishes, just to prove that I can. Prove to whom? I don’t know, myself, I guess. The other weekend I made some eggs benedict just to see if I could. It’s meant to be one of those difficult dishes, up there with soufflé and macarons, so I wanted to have a go and, hopefully, tick one more dish off the cooking bucket list.

Why are eggs benedict so difficult? Mostly because the recipe includes making Hollandaise sauce, which is one of those whimsy emulsions that apparently feel like going tits-up most of the time. As a bonus difficulty you have to poach eggs, which I always find slightly tricky to get right. Bonus-bonus difficulty for us, Europeans: none of the recipes agree on what meat actually goes between the egg and the English muffin – some say ham, some say bacon, but then apparently in some parts of Northern America, bacon is called ham. (Tom Green explained it quite well, back when he was still allowed on TV.)

So here’s some beginner’s luck for you: everything went right on my first try. Which is why I will never make this again. The Hollandaise came out nice and creamy, the eggs had a beautiful, runny yolk. The muffins didn’t burn, the bacon was bacony. Sure, it went right once, but that doesn’t mean you can go around tempting fate. On top of that, I’ve got a confession to make: it was good, really – but it wasn’t “30 minutes worth of beating egg yolks in my pyjamas whilst I’m still seeing double” good. I’d order it if I went out for breakfast, definitely. But in my own house, I think I’d sooner just have an extra half hour’s sleeping off my hangover, and settle for a fry up. But here, just in case you guys want to have a go, eggs benedict!

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For two breakfast punters, use the following:

For the Hollandaise sauce:

  • 2 egg yolks
  • 125 gr butter
  • 1/2 tsp vinegar
  • some ice water
  • a pinch of salt
  • a squeeze of lemon juice

This will make you more than enough for two people, but I don’t know how to make less.

For the benedict:

  • 2 English muffins
  • a few slices of bacon – enough to cover your English muffins with
  • 4 eggs
  • some pepper (although this is entirely optional and almost certainly unorthodox)

I started with the Hollandaise because the dish stands or falls with that, doesn’t it!

On low, low heat, start melting your butter in a saucepan.

Now set up a bain marie: grab a pot, pan, saucepan, whatever, put in a layer of water. Find a bowl (or as in my case, slightly smaller pan) that will fit in the larger pan without falling into it completely – it should hover over the water, but not touch it.

Heat your water. In the meantime, pop the egg yolks into the pan, add the vinegar and ice water, a pinch of salt, and start beating like a basket case. You want a nice and foamy mixture before you even take it near the bain marie. Is it nice and foamy? OK, put her on the simmering water. Keep beating – in a minute or so it’ll go funny and it’lll start looking like, I don’t know, some kind of thick mayonnaise. That’s good!

When it’s looking pretty thick and creamy, take it off the heat (shouldn’t be more than about 3 minutes, really). Now start whisking in the butter, bit by bit. If it’s still kinda thick when all the butter’s been incorporated into the mixture, add a little bit more ice water. Finishing touch, suqeeze in that little bit of lemon juice. You want to try and keep the sauce warm, so turn down the heat on the bain marie, put the sauce on, and stir every time you possibly can.

Now, cut your muffins in half and toast them. Throw your bacon into a frying pan and leave it to its own devices.

Poach your eggs! Know how to poach eggs? Skip this. If not, grab a pan full of water and bring it to a boil. Add some vinegar, it’s meant to help the eggs poach better or something. A lot of people say you really don’t need to add vinegar, that it doesn’t actually help at all, but I secretly love the taste of it so fuck those people. Now, break one egg, but don’t chuck it in the water straight away, chuck it in your favourite tea cup. Grab yourself a spoon, and start swirling the water in the pan so that you get a tiny little whirlpool in the middle. Take the egg and slowly, gently let it slide in there. Now leave it alone for 2 – 3 minutes. Scoop it out with a skimmer or something, gently shake off a little bit of water and put it on a wee plate until you need it. Repeat with the other eggs.

Assemble! Muffins, bacon, eggs, sauce, freshly ground black pepper.

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The aubergine, my trusty friend in times of need

Semester one of this academic year is over, which means that I just handed in the last of my essays and I can finally take it easy for a bit. Time management is still a problem for me, and instead of working steadily over December and January, I just took off for the Christmas holidays and had to pack two months’ worth of work into January. It wasn’t pretty.

The past few weeks have consisted mostly of a lot of sighing, swearing, despairing. After the fifth day in a row of spending 12 hours in the uni library, all you want to do is get sloshed, but you know you can’t, you know you’ll be in so much trouble if you do, because the next day you’ll be worthless, and you need that day. In fact, you need every hour you can possibly use for writing. So you go home, brush your teeth, and sleep, and you do it all again the next day.

When you’re essentially living in the library, you need to get creative with your food. Writing all these essays makes you hungry, and you can’t just live off cheese sandwiches, you’re feeling crap enough as it is. The aubergine has once more shown itself to be a trusty friend in desperate times. So versatile, so delicious, so comforting. You have to invest about half an hour in grilling it, but then you’ve got yourself a companion for the following few days. Throw it in with your salad, add it to your leftover pasta to give it some extra substance, or just stuff it in a sandwich. Whatever you add it to, an aubergine makes everything better. Even a shitty month spent stressing in the library.

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You’ll need:

  • one aubergine
  • plenty of olive oil (no really, plenty)
  • some chilies, dried or fresh,, chopped finely, or alternative some chili flakes
  • salt

That’s just the grilled aubergine, if you want a delicious delicious sandwich like the one pictured above, you should also get:

  • some mozzarella
  • some fresh spinach
  • some fresh basil
  • a tasty roll of your choice
  • salt and pepper

Take off the green hat on the end of your aubergine. Cut the whole thing into very thin slices, lengthways. You can salt them and leave them to drain in a colander, weighted down with a wee plate and some tins of chopped tomatoes, but this will take extra time, so I didn’t do it this last time.

So when I say grill, I actually kind of mean ‘fry’. I don’t have a griddle here and the oven is too small for an enterprise like this one, so I just use a frying pan. If you have a griddle, just brush your slices with olive oil and chuck them in there. If not, put plenty of olive oil in a good frying pan, and start chucking in the slices of aubergine – flip when necessary. When a slice is nice and soft, and looking golden brown on both sides, take it out of the pan and put it on a plate to cool down for a bit. Keep going until all the slices are done.

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Now you grab yourself a tupperware or otherwise just a wee dish or whatever (it has to be deep-ish though!), and you put in your first layer of aubergines. Drizzle on a little bit of good, nice olive oil, sprinkle on a little freshly-ground salt (unless you salted them before, in which case they’ll be salty enough), a little bit of chili (flakes), and then layer on the next slices. Keep going until all aubergines are duly oiled, salted and spiced. Then just put them in the fridge and use them up over the week.

As for the sandwich, I trust you guys have made sandwiches before.

Enjoy!

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We loved kale before it was cool

For reasons that I cannot imagine, kale somehow became hip in the past few years. Kale, the least appetising-looking, toughest, most indestructible vegetable known to man. I’m sure it was announced somewhere to be full of antioxidants, and suddenly, as these things go, tonnes of people started eating it. Mostly across the Atlantic, at first, although the UK has caught on, and I think you can probably get air-fried kale crisps at your local Tesco now.

The thing is, though, the Dutch have been eating kale for ages. Not in the health-aware, diet kind of way – in the stamppot way. In fact, if you say ‘kale’ in Dutch (‘boerenkool‘, actually), it usually refers to the dish (boerenkoolstamppot), rather than the actual crop. It’s not necessarily a cool dish, but it’s a beloved classic, anyway. It spans generations – it’s one of those rare dishes that’ll please both your grandparents and your children.

The first time I heard about people eating kale outside the context of stamppot, it kind of blew my mind. As said, to me boerenkool really just meant boerenkoolstamppot – it just never crossed my mind that you could choose not chop it to bits and to mix it up with mashed potatoes. A friend of mine recently made a kale quiche, and said it was good, so I thought it would be interesting to have a shot. Still, I’m trying to get used to the idea, so I didn’t want to exaggerate – the goat’s cheese he’d used was still too big a step for me. In my opinion, kale has to be paired with pork – bacon and smoked sausage in the stamppot, but I figured spicy sausage would do for the quiche. So that’s what we’re doing this week, kale and spicy sausage quiche!

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For one 23 cm Ø quiche, use:

  • 400 gr of kale, chopped finely
  • 1 red onion
  • 250 gr spicy pork sausage, or, if you don’t live in a country where they sell that, normal sausage that you’ve spiced up with cayenne pepper and paprika
  • 5 eggs
  • 100 ml crème fraîche
  • one pack of puff pastry

If you managed to get some spicy sausage, squeeze it out of the casing in small little balls and that’s it. If you got normal sausage (as I did, because while in Italy I used this stuff for everything, in The Hague there is no such thing as ‘spicy sausage’), squeeze it all out into a bowl, then add something like half a teaspoon of cayenne pepper (but let the quantity depend on your taste, of course) and a good dash of paprika. Mix it up well, then press it down into a slab and cut that slab up into small bits.

Chop your onion and fry it in some oil. After a couple of minutes, add the sausage and wait for it to brown. Then remove it from the pan, throw it back into that bowl you used earlier, and throw the kale into the pan. Salt it. Wait for it to shrink down to about half the size of what you started with.

In the meantime, grease a springform tin and line it with puff pastry. When the kale is done, mix in the sausage meat and and onion. Now, in a separate bowl, mix the crème fraîche with the eggs, add salt and pepper, then add this to the kale mixture. Mix well, and put it in the springform tin. Decorate the top with some leftover strips of puff pastry, shove it in a preheated oven (220 degrees) for a generous half hour and you’re done!

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Brunch, the only acceptable portmanteau

A few years ago I wrote about how much I hate portmanteau words. This is still valid (Brexit, oh dear Jesus), but there’s one word for which I make an exception: brunch. I guess brunch isn’t so bad because it doesn’t really sound like a portmanteau anymore. Maybe because it’s been around for so long, who knows?

I guess mostly I just cut brunch slack because of what it represents: getting up later than you would for breakfast, and having all kinds of food that you would have for neither breakfast or lunch and which are more delicious than either. Admittedly, on an average Sunday I’ll also get up later than you normally would for breakfast, take whatever I find in the fridge and have that around 2 pm, but that’s just not the same as a proper brunch. Brunch requires love and attention, well-prepared little dishes, a set table, stuff like that – it’s more than just dragging your hungover ass to the kitchen and chucking eggs into a frying pan. Also, not an unimportant point, it’s the only meal of the day that you can have prosecco with, which immediately grants it yet more bonus points.

So the reason that I’ve been thinking about brunch lately, is that for reasons I won’t elaborate on, I just had brunch like two weekends in a row. One of these occasions was in Italy, and I was organising it. My American friend was coming, and I imagined that, like me, she’d want some ham and cheese croissants. Because Italians only do sweet croissants, I decided to do something unorthodox: make my own croissant out of puff pastry. What do I care. Yes, of course I realise that these weren’t actually croissants, they were only croissant-shaped puff pastry ham and cheese rolie wolies or something, and if you’re in a country where you can get savoury croissants, I guess you can just do that, but in a pinch they’ll do fine, really! Plus, they’re fun to make, and they make the house smell nice.

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For 8 croissant-shaped puff pastry ham and cheese rolie schmolies, use:

  • one sheet of puff pastry, or one block that you’ve rolled out to roughly a rectangle
  • a few slices of ham
  • a few slices of cheese
  • some egg white
  • baking parchment

Preheat the oven to 200 degrees.

Take your slab of puff pastry and cut it up like so:

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Also cut a line of about 4 cm from the bottom edge up in the general direction of the pointy end. Now pile up the ham and cheese like so:

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Lightly roll up the rolie zolies. Don’t press down on them too hard! Once they’re all rolled up, grab your favourite silicon brush and coat them in a bit of egg white to make them nice and shiny.

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Stick the rolie yolies in the oven for about 15 to 20 minutes (start checking on them from 15 minutes onwards to see how they’re getting on – we’re going for a nice golden brown). Have them with prosecco and all kinds of other tiny fun little dishes that you invented.

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Illicit leftovers

One of the many facts of life that most people know, but no one likes to admit: leftovers are better than fresh food. There, I said it. Leftovers are so amazing because all the flavours have had more time to settle down and mix with each other – to make friends, so to speak. Rather than being a bunch of ingredients, the dish becomes a whole. It’s magic. Italians totally know this, but they cover it up neatly by just preparing a dish a day in advance, rather than eating it straight away and hoping it won’t be finished. That way it tastes like leftovers, but it’s not.

The other reason leftovers are so great, is because you get to use them for all kinds of blasphemous creations of your own, rather than what they were actually intended for. You know, like meatballs that you slice up and stuff in your sandwich to take to work the next day. What makes it so good? Probably the fact that you know it’s wrong, you’re not meant to, it’s against the laws of, I don’t know, proper conduct or something.

My favourite illicit leftover is pasta sauce, preferably ragù alla bolognese. It’s so mincy, and salty, and tomatoey. It goes well with everything, which means your improper creations can never get too blasphemous – it’ll always work out! When I lived in Italy, I felt like ragù was somehow sacred, you couldn’t just put it in or on whatever – if you had some left, you’d just have to make more pasta the next day. But I live in the Netherlands now, I’ll do whatever I like with my leftover ragù. Like put it in a fried piadina with eggs and a bunch of other stuff for the best hangover breakfast piadina ever.

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This is one of those things where I just use whatever’s in the fridge. You can do that, and use up all of your leftovers, or you can go for the ingredients I used. You decide.

For one hungover and starving individual, you might like:

  • one fried piadina – for lots of info on how to make them, check out this recipe for how to make piadine, and then, rather than chucking it in a pan dry, quickly fry it in some oil – but really, it’s easy, you won’t even need to look, just read the basics in the recipe below!
  • 1 egg
  • some leftover pasta sauce (bolognese is best!)
  • half an avocado
  • half a small red onion
  • half a tomato
  • a couple of mushrooms
  • some cheese, grated or sliced
  • some crème fresh or sour cream

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Make this fried piadina – mix flour, olive oil, salt and water – eyeball the quantities to get a large ping pong ball or a small tennis ball of dough. Stir with a wooden spoon, knead, make a supple dough, and roll it out to a very thin dough pancake. Then heat up some oil and chuck in the piadina. When it starts to bubble up, flip it. Leave until both sides are golden, then put it on some kitchen roll for a few minutes while you prepare the rest.

Now fry your egg, your onion and your mushrooms in the same pan. If you’re like me, you’ll want to keep the yolk intact so that the delicious yolk will spread out over all of the filling later.

Heat up your pasta sauce in a small pot or in the microwave. Meanwhile, cut up your tomato. Spread your avocado over the piadina, add the tomato, then add all of the other vegetables, the egg, the cheese, sour cream and the pasta sauce. Now try to roll up your piadina as tightly as possible, then cut it in half. Enjoy with a cup of tea, follow up with a nap.

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Meatballs for gamblers

Do you guys like games? I love games. You can keep me happy all night with a fridge full of beer and a good long round of Risk. The competition, the hilarity when you wipe out one of your friends’ painstakingly built up army, the thrill of the win or the crush of defeat, I love it. But it doesn’t have to be a long or complicated game like Risk. Even simple games are great. I’ll get just as excited and competitive about Snakes and ladders, no problem.

So guess what, I love food, I love games, I love combining them. Why sit around playing cards and drinking, as if the two were completely unrelated activities, when you can integrate them and play Ring of Fire?

Recently, a friend of mine came out with something I thought was pretty amusing: Russian roulette crisps. At first I thought it was something she’d made up herself, but then I realised this was actually the way these things were marketed: Russian roulette doritos, where most of them are simple nacho cheese flavour, but some of them are spicy like you wouldn’t imagine. We had some fun trying them out and watching each other cry with the spiciness or smile relievedly when it was plain cheese flavour.

However, the crisps had one big downside: the flavour powder obviously spreads from one crisp to the next in the bag, so rather than getting one super spicy one every now and then, you’d really go from mild to half-spicy to really spicy. We had fun with the concept for a while, but the execution wasn’t the best.

Thank god I found a way to make this game perfect, though: Russian roulette meatballs. For every five plain meatballs, you stuff one with chopped chilis – five out of six you’re OK, one out of six your head explodes. The difference in stuffing is invisible from the outside, so you make a hundred in total, take them to a party, and you wait for the fun to start. Make sure to put a note up, because games are only fun if people actually realise they’re playing.

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You can season your meat as you always do, with whatever flavours you like. I just listed what I used this time round, but you can use whatever. However, I’d suggest not making them (too) spicy, or the effect of the spicy filling will be lost.

So, for a well-attended party, use:

  • a generous kilo of mince (count 12 – 15 gr of mince per meatball)
  • 1 egg
  • some breadcrumbs
  • 1.5 tsp paprika
  • a good pinch of salt
  • 1 tsp nutmeg
  • 1,5 tsp black pepper
  • 1 tsp garlic powder
  • a small-ish onion, grated
  • a dash of olive oil
  • a few dried chilis, ground or chopped – alternatively you can use simple fresh chilies, or ghost peppers, or whatever. See how spicy you want to go.

I stuffed my five-out-of-six meatballs with mozzarella. It was a bunch of hassle, and next time I’d just go for plain ones. You decide. If you want to stuff them, use:

  • one mozzarella

You’ll also need some baking paper.

First prepare the fillings, get that out of the way. Chop up the mozzarella and then (ew!) squeeze it with your hands so that you get really tiny bits. This is a bit gross but it’ll be a lot easier to get the cheese inside later without it poking out of the meatballs. Also grind or chop the dried chilis, or if you’re using fresh chilis, chop those up finely. Put them in a bowl or cup and put a teaspoon in. I’m telling you to do all of this now so that you don’t need to wash your hands in between touching mince and preparing stuffing.

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OK, so now for the meat. Mix up all of the mince ingredients, and mix well, using your hands. Now start rolling little balls out of it. You can weigh them if you want to be precise, or you can just go for small-ish ping pong balls. Either way, make sure you make enough, or the fun of the Russian Roulette effect will be limited somewhat. The ones you’re going to fill later don’t have to be perfect yet, just more or less round.

Once you’ve got more or less ball-shaped bits of mince, divide them in a 5:1 ratio. For every 5 balls you fill with mozzarella, fill one with the chopped or ground chilis. Place a ball in the palm of your hand, poke your finger in until you’ve got a deep hole, put in some filling, then carefully close the meat around the hole, and roll the ball between your hands to make it nice and round.

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Put them on an oven tray on some baking paper. Now shove them in the oven, 200 degrees, for about twenty minutes. Cut one open to see if they’re OK, then leave them to cool. A lot of the cheese ones will leak a bit of cheese as they cook, thus giving away their delicious and, more importantly, innocuous cheesy filling. That’s OK. With a bit of luck you’re serving this at a wild party, and people will be half drunk and the lights will be dimmed. Plus, it’s a game. People want to play, and no one likes a cheater. It’ll be fine. Enjoy, and have fun!

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Swedish Christmas/New year’s glögg

Alright everyone, best wishes and all that! Partyyyyy! As it’s almost the end of the year, I’d like to see you all off to 2016 with a highly alcoholic recipe. It only seems appropriate, right?

Once again, and probably for the last time for the next few weeks, this is a recipe that the Dane has shared with me. It’s for a thing called glögg, which I was also told is actually for Christmas. However, I already posted Risalamande here for Christmas, and also, we’re fucking rebels. We can have glögg for New year’s.

Now, I hear you think, “Ditta, what are you even talking about, the Danish don’t have ö, they have ø!” Damn straight! This recipe is actually Swedish, but it’s known and used in Denmark, too. This is what the Dane says about it: “The name glögg is quite interesting. We often write the Swedish version, with ö instead of ø. But if you want to, you can write it with ø. Back in the days it was spelled glødg (Swedish glödg), and this betrays the word’s origin: it comes from the verb gløde, meaning ‘to glow’, whence also German Glühwein!”

Awesome, pretty interesting eh? Now that we know all of this, let’s set about making it. We’ll need a fuckload of booze and some other stuff, not all of which I couldn’t gather, because I’m in italy and exotic spices are a bit of a problem here, but you totally should. It’s best to start making this a day in advance, because you need to soak some stuff and let it soak up flavours for a good while, so start now and you can drink this tomorrow for New Year’s Eve!

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To make glögg/gløgg, first we need to make what the Dane calls ‘wine essence’, sort of like a wine and spice syrups. We then mix that with wine and the other types of booze. So, for almost 2 liters of glogg/gløgg, use the following:

The wine essence:

  • 1 bottle (75 cl) of strong red wine
  • 10 gr whole cardamom pods
  • 20 gr cloves
  • 20 gr cinnamon (sticks)
  • 20 gr allspice
  • 250 gr dark sugar (such as demerara or brown cane sugar)

For the actual, factual glögg:

  • 1,5 more litres of the same red wine
  • 2 dl dark rum
  • 2 dl of Brøndumsnaps: strong caraway-schnaps (the Dane: “do the world a favour and just use vodka”)
  • 3 dl port
  • 100 gr almonds
  • 4 dl sultanas or raisins
  • the zest and juice of one orange

First of all we need to make the wine essence or syrup. Put all of the ingredients from the first list in a saucepan and heat carefully. You want it to be warm, but not hot – alcohol evaporates at, what, I don’t know, something absurdly low like 70 degrees or something, so you want to keep below that. Now just leave it to thicken for anything from half an hour to an hour. Leave it to cool, then strain it so you’re left with a debris-free liquid.

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Now put your raisins to soak in the port, and leave them overnight.

Next day, put the essence, the remaining litre and a half of wine, orange zest and juice, and again heat it without heating it to the point of losing alcohol (the Dane: but DON’T allow it to boil – the Dictatress must get sloshed as a retard!”).

When it’s nice and warm, add the final ingredients: the almonds, the soaked sultanas including the port in which they’ve soaked, the rum, and the vodka/schnapps. Enjoy!

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