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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Danish Christmas pudding

Still panicking over what to make for Christmas dessert? Panic no more! Already spent the past 3 months building up your boozy Christmas pudding? Chuck it out! This year we’re going for a Danish-style Christmas!

If you’re a frequent visitor to this blog, you’ll start noticing that Denmark is becoming somewhat of a theme. It’s just this Dane, he keeps coming up with the most amazing recipes! I’ve never really met all that many people from Scandinavia, and I can’t afford to go there because it’s so expensive, so this boy is just my culinary portal into the North, you know? Whatever he comes up with, I’ll give it a shot.

One of the more seasonal recipes that he’s shared with me is a rice dessert that I’d totally recommend making this year for your Christmas dinner. It’s called risalamande and if you’ve got any language skills, you may have understood that it involves rice and almonds. It also involves kirsebærsauce, or cherry sauce (literally cherry berry sauce, because cherries are berries in Scandinavia). The whole thing is pretty awesome, and not difficult to make. As so often, there’s a lot of different recipes going round, but this is the Dane’s favourite, and who am I to argue?

IMG_0479IMG_0472For 8 (but actually for 16 because after all that soup, turkey, stuffing, vegetables and what not nobody’s hungry anymore, anyway), use:

  • 200 gr pudding rice
  • 1 litre of full fat milk
  • 1 vanilla pod
  • half a litre of whipping cream, whipped
  • sugar, to taste, probably around 3 tbsp
  • some peeled almonds, roughly chopped

For the sauce:

  • a big ass jar of cherries in syrup (700 gr or so)
  • 2 tsp of corn starch

Slice the vanilla pod open lengthways. Chuck it in a pot, add the rice, and cook it in the milk according to the instructions on the pack. Mine said 12 minutes but depending on your rice it might take a lot longer.

When it’s cooked properly (just taste some to see if the texture is good – we’re going for a thick kind of porridge), take it out of the pot, put in in a big bowl and leave it to cool down. It’ll go hard, that’s OK.

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When the rice porridge has cooled down, loosen it up a bit with a fork. Then whip up your whipping cream with a couple of spoons of sugar in. Roughly chop your almonds, then add those and the whipped cream to the rice. Now scoop it around carefully, folding the rice over the cream and the cream over the rice again, so as not to break the delicious whipped cream that you just whipped your arm off for. When you get a nice and smooth mixture, you’re done. Taste for sugar, add more if you want to (but remember you’re going to eat this with sweet cherry sauce, so don’t go mad just yet).

Now we have to make the sauce! Chuck all of the syrup from your jar into a small saucepan. Heat it up carefully, no boiling. Meanwhile, mix your corn starch with a few teaspoons of water. Mix well, make sure there’s not lumps, then add it to the syrup. Keep stirring, and the syrup will thicken in a couple of seconds. Add the cherries so that they heat up along with the sauce.

Serve the risalamande cold, with the hot cherry sauce. Optionally, add one whole almond to the rice before serving up, and give a present – no wait, fuck it, a glass of your best Scotch – to whomever finds it (even if that’s your 5-year-old nephew). Merry Christmas, everyone!

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Posted in Desserts, Food, holidays, recipes, seasonal, sweet | Tagged , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Pear preferences

There are two types of people in this world: those who like their pears hard, and those who like their pears soft. These two groups are irreconcilable, and I’ve never heard of someone changing preference.

I’m of the hard pear type. For me, a good pear is so tough that it hurts your gums to bite down into it. At that point, they’re still fresh of flavour, and your hands come out of the experience relatively unharmed, that is, juice free. There’s only a very brief period in which pears are fit for human (or rather, hard pear person) consumption. A couple of days after purchase, usually, the inevitable softening sets in, and with the softening comes the sweetening. I don’t know how it’s possible, but soft pears are just so sickeningly sweet.

So there I was, in the university library café, with a pear that had seemed decent enough when I grabbed it in the morning, but that looked completely inedible now that it’d spent a few hours in my backpack. The Dane looked at it disapprovingly – he too, is a hard pear person. The thought of someone eating a bruised, browned, abomination of a pear like that one was unbearable to him. When I told him I still had a few more pears left at home, he quickly texted his mum to ask her for a recipe for pear pie, which she immediately whatsapped our way. I gave it a shot with the remaining pears and it was absolutely wonderful.

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For one pear pie, use:

  • 4 old, dirty, soft pears
  • 240 gr flour
  • 125 gr sugar
  • 150 gr butter + extra for greasing
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tbsp cold water
  • a pinch of salt
  • a sachet of vanilla sugar
  • a small chunk, about 1 cm, of fresh ginger, grated

To serve, get yourself some sour cream! As for equipment, you’ll need some baking paper, some cling film, one of those funky little silicon brushes, and a spring form cake tin.

First, make the dough – it needs to rest for an hour before you can use it, so start making this well ahead of time. First, mix in the flour, sugar, vanilla sugar and grated ginger together. Also grate in the ginger. Cut the cold butter up into small chunks, and use your hands to mix those into the dry ingredients, making a crumbly mixture.

Now beat your egg with a tablespoon of water, and add that to the crumble mixture. Mix it around with a fork for a bit, then just get your hands in there, and knead the dough until it’s a smooth ball. I had to add a little bit of flour while kneading, because the dough got a little bit too sticky and difficult to handle.

When you have a nice smooth ball of dough, wrap it up in cling film and stick it in the fridge for an hour or so. Then remove it, slice it in two, put one half back into the fridge and roll the other one out to a little over the size of your cake tin. Grease your tin with butter, then put the dough in. As for rolling out the dough, it’s of the type that tears easily and that will stick to everything, so I find it really helpful to roll it out between two layers of baking paper. You can then peel off the paper fairly easily.

So put your dough circle in your cake tin and press it down well on the sides, making sure you have a little wall of dough that’s roughly the same height on all sides. Now quickly peel your pears, cut them in half, remove the cores, and put them in the cake tin, round side up, stem side to the centre of the tin.

Get your other half of dough out, roll it out, put it over your pears and press it down on the sides so that the pie is closed. Now brush some water on the top layer, then sprinkle with a little bit of sugar. Bake for 40 minutes in a preheated oven on 220°C.

The Dane suggests: Pear pie is really, really sweet, so it goes well with something slightly sour, such as sour cream with a little bit of vanilla sugar mixed in.

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Meeting your replacement

The worst thing about moving to new places is leaving other ones behind. The best thing about moving around Europe is that you’ll never lack a place to crash. The weirdest thing about moving on is when you go back to stay over at your old flat, and nothing is as it was before.

Of course it’s inevitable that you’re replaced the moment you carry your last bag of belongings over the threshold, but it still feels a bit funny to witness it with your own eyes. When I went back to Turin about a month ago, the Queen’s and my own replacement had only just moved in. I was probably more at ease in that flat than they were at that point, as had happened to me in the past, too, when flatmates from before me came to stay over in my first month or two. What didn’t help in their case, was that despite being in their twenties, this was the boys’ first time living away from their parents’ – I swear they were practically children, playing house away from mum’s supervision.

It was pretty intriguing to watch the new household that had come together – my previous flatmate, Blenderman, in his early thirties, with his routines and his habits, and these two youngsters, still finding their way in the brand new environment they suddenly found themselves in. The most spectacular thing about the whole situation was how utterly clueless they were when it came to cooking and cleaning. The whole Italian stereotype of the mammone, the mummy’s boy, materialised right before my eyes. They kept throwing plastic in with the organic waste, and banana peels in the waste paper basket. They kept putting apples in the fridge. They kept draining their tins of tuna right over the dishes they’d just rinsed. And of course, they kept eating pasta with tuna, that staple of the newly independent.

Imagine my surprise, when I’d cooked some lunch for the whole flat, and the boys were absolutely astonished to see I’d made pasta with tuna and green beans. “Wow, pasta and green beans, that’s so weird, I’ve never seen that! Did you just make that up yourself or is it, like, a real recipe or something? So novel!” Dude, are you kidding me? You eat nothing but pasta with tuna and tomato sauce, but pasta with tuna and green beans is weird? It’s that typical Italian tendency: there are recipes that your mum knows and that are thus legit, and there are recipes that your mum doesn’t know and wouldn’t come up with that are therefore weird and, depending on the person, exciting, to be mistrusted, or simply blasphemous.

But here, tuna and green beans is totally a classic. Tuna and green beans is one of the golden combinations of this world, like fish and lemon, chocolate and coffee, whisky and cigars. It’s not as unhealthy as you might imagine and it’s even easier than tuna and tomato sauce. Give it a shot.

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For 4 half broke, newly independents, use:

  • a half kilo bag of penne
  • 2 tins of tuna
  • 4 sizeable handfuls of green beans
  • some olive oil
  • two cloves of garlic
  • some freshly ground black pepper

Boil your pasta as normal, in plenty of water with enough salt.

Put a frying pan with some olive oil on the lowest heat you can manage, then add the cloves of garlic, peeled and bruised but not chopped – you’ll be taking them out later.

Remove the ends from your green beans, wash them, break them in halves on thirds, and blanch them in salted water for a couple of minutes. Drain them, then add them to the frying pan, still on the lowest heat imaginable. Remove the garlic (unless you like to eat it, like I do), add the drained tuna. When your pasta is done, drain it and add it to the beans and pasta pan. Add some freshly ground black pepper and mix well.

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