Goulash and Csipetke

I’ve been wanting to do this for some time – ever since Balazs cooked it for us in a pot hanging over a fire in his Budapest garden. If you’ve never heard of csipetke, they are the little dumplings that you serve with the goulash and they’re exactly like the spaetzle that you find in the south of Germany (although I’m not sure that’s going to help you a great deal). If you don’t have the will to try making them (and shame on you if you don’t) you can always use a small pasta instead.

Goulash and Csipetke

On a high heat, fry 500g of good fatty stewing beef in a pan with a load of oil until nicely browned and move to a large casserole dish. Next fry a few roughly chopped onions and a load of garlic. Deglaze the pan with red wine and throw everything into the casserole followed by a couple of red chillies, bay leaves, a tin of tomatoes (controversial), a litre of beef stock and half a bottle of red wine. Finally, add four heaped tablespoons of sweet paprika,  one or two tablespoons of hot paprika and a tablespoon of caraway seeds. Don’t skimp on the paprika, if you do, you’ll only be cheating yourself. And don’t buy your paprika in those crappy little 30g jars they sell in the supermarkets – if you do, you’ll probably need about four of them… (see https://dadattheweekend.wordpress.com/2012/10/14/spice-boy/ for the right way to buy spices, or go to https://www.buywholefoodsonline.co.uk/culinary-herbs-spices-seasonings)

Ok – put a lid on it, stick it all in the oven at about 160c and forget about it for a few hours…

In the meantime, take a bowl and add about 100g of flour, a beaten egg, a pinch of salt and enough water to make a very thick batter. Mix it well, cover it and throw it in the fridge until you’re about 20 mins from serving the meal.

After a few hours, and when your beef is extremely tender, you can start to pull it all together – the goulash should be quite soupy at this point (add more water if it isn’t). Season it to taste with salt and pepper. Take a pan of boiling salted water and if you have a csipetke or spaetzle machine, stick the dough batter through it into the boiling water. If you don’t (like me), position a large holed grater over the top of the pan, and using a spatula, dump a large blob of the batter on top of the grater and push it through to create little blobs of dough which will solidify as they hit the water. Repeat until you’ve used all of the batter. The csipetke will not be evenly shaped at all, but that’s ok. Let them boil in the water for about 20 mins, drain, add butter and chopped parsley and you’re ready to go.

Serve the goulash in bowls with chopped parsley, a huge dollop of soured cream and the csipetke. Make sure you have a bottle of heavy red wine to go with it…

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Lasagne mark two (and it’s almost vegan)

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If you were to scour the recipes on this blog with a keen eye, searching for elements of other people’s work, you may well find the odd dish that has taken inspiration from a particularly good book or TV show (although I will never steal from Rick Stein – there’s something about the way in which he treats people around him that I don’t like). I can say however with great confidence that this one is unique. No one has ever cooked this dish before (please don’t google it, I don’t want my bubble burst). And it could very easily be vegan if you wanted it to be – you just have to leave out the butter, cream and parmesan. Although I didn’t.

Tomato, sweet potato and watercress lasagne

So here goes – start by making your tomato ragu. Fry a finely chopped onion along with 5 cloves of garlic and a small red chilli in a pan and once soft, add 4 finely chopped tomatoes, a load of tomato juice (or tomato puree) and a slug of red wine. Season well and then add the chopped stalks of a large bunch of basil. Once the sauce has reduced and has a rich flavour, take it off the heat and once it has cooled a little, add a handful of small yellow plum tomatoes chopped in half. Set aside.

Now make a bechamel with soy or almond milk (or cow’s milk if you prefer) by melting a huge lump of butter, incorporating plain white flour and adding the milk gradually over the heat constantly stirring until you have a silky smooth sauce. Add a 100ml of double cream, lots of grated nutmeg and season well. Set aside.

Take a large bunch of watercress (as with spinach you’ll need more than you think) and heat in a pan with butter. Once it starts heating through, add a couple of large spoons of cream cheese or ricotta. Set aside.

Now to assemble it all. Take a large oven dish, put half of the tomato ragu into the bottom and top it with a full handful of fresh basil leaves followed by a layer of lasagne sheets. Spread a thin layer of bechamel over the lasagne. Now thinly slice (a mandolin is good here) a raw sweet potato, skin and all, and places the slices over the bechamel. Spread another thin layer of the bechamel over the sweet potatoes and then spoon the watercress mixture over the top. Place another layer of lasagne sheets, followed by the remainder of the tomato ragu and finally the rest of the bechamel. Grate parmesan over the top and you’re done. You can now store the lasagne until you’re ready to eat.

To cook it, place in a preheated over at 180c for 40 mins and then get it out and let it rest for a few minutes before serving with a loaf of your very best sourdough

 

 

 

Sourdough

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Sunday morning, my first sourdough loaf is in the oven, it’s cold and crisp outside, William just came downstairs and gave me a hug, Immie and Oscar are fast asleep, Gardner’s world is on BBC2 and I’m about as happy as a 47 year old half Hungarian can be.

The sourdough starter has been alive for a week now and this loaf started its journey yesterday evening at about 6pm, so it better be good. But we before we tackle the bread situation, I’m going to start with a plug for my new best friend Nigel. Nigel owns a truffle business. He imports truffles from around the world and sells them online through his site http://www.trufflehunter.co.uk. We became acquainted on a course aimed at helping small businesses grow – the idea is that you meet other business owners and learn from each other, share experiences, grow your network etc etc. I met a bloke who sells truffles. Pretty much hit the jackpot I reckon. Not that it matters, but he’s a pretty good bloke too – it’s not all about the truffles you know (yes it is). Anyway, check out his site and buy something – I hear the minced summer truffle is very good – mine hasn’t arrived yet but I’ll report back when it does. And I will most definitely be using his black winter truffles for dinner at my sister’s on Christmas Eve (mates rates!). Oh yes I will.

Anyway, back to the bread…

Before you can start baking you need a sourdough starter, which takes about a week to get going. There are a bunch of ways you can do it – I used wholemeal flour, water, honey and yoghurt in mine, but I’m sure there are better ones out there, so I recommend googling it and picking one that suits you.

Making the bread don’t require any more effort than a normal loaf, but it does need time as the sourdough starter works more slowly than yeast, so you need to get going the day before you want to eat your bread.

Start by making a basic bread mix with your preferred flour (I used a strong white flour for this one), a little salt and plenty of olive oil, and then rather than pouring in water, use the starter instead (and then replenish the starter with fresh flour and water). Mix and knead the bread throughly until you have a lovely smooth and very elastic dough. Let it prove for a couple of hours in a bowl at room temperature covered in a damp cloth.

After a couple of hours, knock back the bread, shape it into a ball and put it in a banneton. I don’t have a banneton (yet) so I used a large bowl lined with a teatowel well dusted with flour. Cover it all and put it in the fridge overnight.

In the morning, heat your oven to 225c and place a tin in the oven filled with boiling water to ensure you get a nice steamy atmosphere in there which will give the bread a good crust. Once it’s reached temperature, tip out the bread onto a baking tray dusted with flour, slash the top of the bread with a sharp knife, dust it with more flour and stick it in the oven for about 45 mins. I turn the oven down to 200c after about 10 minutes. Check the bread from time to time to ensure it doesn’t burn.

Take it out, cool it, eat it.

Postscript – I’ve just broken into it and had a few chunks with a slab of butter. It’s so much lighter, crunchier, airier and tastier than bread baked with yeast. You have to try this.

 

 

 

 

Szechuan peppercorns

Szechuan chicken wings

I’ve been shopping for spices again, but this time I think I went a little overboard. When I ordered 1kg of Szechuan peppercorns and 500g of curry leaves, I thought I’d have enough to keep me going for a while, but It turns out that spices are lighter than I thought. A lot lighter than I thought. And as a result, I now have a bag of curry leaves the size of a decent pillow and enough Szechuan peppercorns to last me and everyone I have ever met for at least a decade.

Yep – I’m really not sure what I’m going to do with those leaves, but if you’d like some let me know and I’ll have them shipped to you… 

 

Curry leaves

Szechuan peppercorns though – they are unbelievably  good. So good in fact that I’m annoyed it’s taken me so long to discover them for myself. They’ve always been there of course – providing the basis for that incredible mouth-numbing/tingling feeling you get with a really beautiful extra spicy szechuan pork and noodle soup (go to the New China restaurant on Gerard street if you haven’t experienced it. You can hardly see the soup for the chillies, I promise you won’t forget it).

Anyway, the good news is that you can create that same mouth numbing feeling at home by introducing a generous heap of ground szechuan peppercorns (along with loads of chilli, garlic and ginger) to your wok as you cook. You really must try it.

Chicken wings with Szechaun pepper

These are perfect for a sunday afternoon hangover. Hot, crispy, oily and spicy.

Get your wok nice and hot and pour in a generous amount of cooking oil (I use rapeseed oil). When it’s smoking, add your chicken wings (they should be half covered in the oil) and cook them through on all sides until golden brown.

In the meantime, roughly chop a large thumb of ginger and about 10 cloves of garlic, a red chilli and a few spring onions.

When the chicken wings are cooked, drain off the oil and throw in the chilli, garlic and ginger with the wings, along with a heaped tablespoon of ground szechuan peppercorns plenty of sea salt (I know that’s probably wrong but it really works) and a small tablespoon of Chiu Chow chilli oil.

Toss it all together in the wok for a couple of minutes until the garlic and ginger start to crisp up a little and then turn it all out into a bowl and throw in the spring onions.

That’s it – all done in less than ten minutes, spicy as hell and the most exciting thing you’ll have put in your mouth for months. And make sure you eat all the garlic and ginger bits.

(and there they are, the little beauties – in the jar on the right next to the turmeric)

Szechuan peppercorns

Chocolate tart

Chocolate Tart

6am. Sunday morning. Trying to psych myself up for a toe-curling run around the freezing fields of north north London and it occurs to me how my attitude towards running has changed since childhood. In recent years I’ve found that getting outside in shorts and trainers to be not only extremely physically rewarding, but also a fantastic way to establish the lay of the land when away from home. And it’s so good for the mind too – as long as you can reach escape velocity from the warmth of your kitchen and Country File repeats on BBC2.

Stark contrast then, from when we were fifteen and an early morning run was universally seen as the most harrowing punishment the school could inflict upon an unruly child. I expect though, that it was the menacing pack of power-crazed sixth formers screaming in our ears and forcing us to smash through the icy puddles and do press ups into them that turned an otherwise enjoyable cross country jog into something far less appealing. Interesting that people now pay good money for the same treatment every Sunday morning on Hampstead Heath.

Anyway, the lead up to the run generally starts with a strong cup of coffee and today, the bonus of a slice of last night’s chocolate tart. This one is really simple and while it might not sound very exciting, it’s a classic, and it’s really really good.

Chocolate Tart

Start by making a rich shortcrust pastry. I use James Martin’s recipe – 200g plain flour, 2 tbsp icing sugar and a small pinch of salt rubbed into 100g of cold cubed butter. Then add a beaten egg with a splash of lemon juice and water. Gently pull it all together into a ball and pop it in the fridge for 30 mins to cool and rest.

When it’s rested, roll it out thinly (thinner than a normal tart – you want the crust to be fine and crunchy) and place it in a well buttered loose bottomed tart tin. Prick the pastry all over with a fork and blind bake in the oven at 200c, covered with parchment and filled with baking beans. After about 15 minutes, remove the parchment and continue baking, up to almost 10 minutes. You’re not baking it any more after this, so you want to ensure it’s golden brown. Keep a close eye as you have to get this just right. Underdone and your tart case will be soft. Overdone and it will taste bitter. You do want a crunch though – it’s what works so well contrasted against the creamy filling.

For the filling, take 250g of good dark chocolate, 70g of butter, 4 large tablespoons of honey, a big glug of cognac and melt them all together in a bowl placed over a pan of boiling water. Once melted, gently mix in 300ml of Creme Fraiche and pour the lot into the tart case. Leave it to set and serve it with a jug of double cream.

It’s really good with a glass of Sauternes (obviously).

 

Soup. Simple.

Lentil soup

We’re all still reeling from one of the strangest days in politics seen for some time. Possibly the most unpopular man in recent history has just taken power and we’re quietly scratching our heads and wondering what the next four years will hold for us all. And if the first White House press conference held by his press secretary is anything to go by, we’re heading into strange days. It’s now fairly clear that propaganda and misinformation will form the backbone of this next administration – I wonder how long before he attempts to bring in measures to gag the media? I wonder what it would take for him to be able to do it? I wonder if he has the means to exploit global events that will undoubtably unfold over the coming years in order to slowly put enough fear into the the minds of his people that they will voluntarily lay down and allow him to slowly, piece by piece take away their basic rights and their freedom of speech? He clearly doesn’t have the brains to do it, but I suspect the people he surrounds himself will. It’s scary.

Meanwhile, in Gentlemans Row, we’re making soup for lunch – and it’s a good one – all doable with a few basic ingredients that you have to hand.

Mixed lentil soup

Roughly chop an onion, a couple of carrots and a few celery sticks and fry them gently in a large saucepan with lots of butter and a little olive oil. When they have softened, add a handful of spices (I went for cumin, black pepper, dried chilli and salt), boiling water, a few sprigs of thyme, some fresh coriander stalks and some chicken stock. Then add a load of lentils – I used a mix of split red lentils and puy lentils. Let it all simmer away for about 20 mins and once it’s ready, blend it until rich and smooth. When serving, add a large dollup of yoghurt and a handful of finely chopped coriander.

It’s best eaten with a loaf of freshly baked bread. This Parmesan, chilli and olive bread worked pretty well…

Parmesan chilli and olive bread

 

Soufflé without the suffering

Smoked haddock and Gruyere

Too much fuss is made about the effort and precision required to make a souffle. So I can understand a degree of anxiety when faced with the idea of creating something not just tasty, but also visually perfect, which is why I focus on the former and pretty much ignore the latter (see the photo for evidence). And while these souffles may not look exactly like souffles, they do taste like souffles. and this one tastes amazing. I kind of ripped it off from Dean Street Townhouse, who’s smoked haddock souffle is so good, I’m unable to order anything else when I go there. In fact, by finally doing this at home myself, I’ve managed to free myself from their shackles and I will at last be able to move on and order something else next time I’m there (which isn’t likely to be soon given we’ve moved from Soho to Kings Cross, where I will now no doubt find a new hangout that offers something equally alluring to entrap me once again. It’s never ending).

So here goes. The only real trick is that once you start whisking the egg whites, you should try to get things put together and into the oven fairly quickly. You don’t want to be farting around for too long or your souffles will suffer. Apart from that, it really is very simple. Oh and feel free to muck about with the quantities depending on how fishy/cheesy/airy you want yours. I’m all about strong flavours as you may have noticed.

Smoked haddock and gruyere souffle (with two missing accents)
Start with about 200ml of double cream in a small pan and into it place a small fillet of really good undyed smoked haddock, probably only about 150g or so. Bring the cream to the boil, turn down and simmer for just a couple minutes and then leave to cool. When it has cooled, flake the haddock finely between your fingers. Lick your fingers, enjoy and then wash your hands. Grate in some nutmeg and finely chop a handful of dill and pop that in too.

In the meantime, make a small quantity of bechamel. Take about 20g of butter, melt it in a small saucepan, add about 20g of plain flour and mix together on the heat. Now take about 200ml of whole milk and add it very slowly, a little at a time, slowly loosening the roux until you have a silky smooth bechamel which you need to cook for a couple of minutes on a low heat. At this point, you should no longer be able to taste the four in the sauce. Season with a little salt and plenty of pepper. Separate 4 medium sized organic eggs and once the bechamel has cooled a little, whisk in the egg yolks.

Grate about 100g of gruyere (or parmesan) finely into a bowl and take 4-5 ramekins (depending on their size – you can decide if you want lots of small ones or one big one, or something in between for that matter – just use what you have), butter them liberally and then line them with some of the grated cheese so that it forms a light coating around each the ramekins. Take the remainder of the cheese, the bechamel, the creamy haddock and mix them all together in a large bowl.

Whisk the egg whites with a pinch of salt until they form stiff peaks and fold them gently into the creamy, fishy, cheesy mixture. Fill the ramekins pretty much to the top and place them in a bain marie (the water should be boiling hot) and into the oven at 190c for about 8-10 minutes (longer if you’re doing on big one)

Take them out and serve immediately with a peppery green salad and crusty bread. Don’t worry if they’re a little runny in the middle – they’re better that way. Dean Street Townhouse serve them with a rich cheese sauce, which is also amazing – I’ll try that next time and add to this post it if I manage to make it to the keyboard afterwards.

And you have any souffles left, cover them and put them in the fridge for another day – as long as you didn’t overcook them, they’ll do really well second time around as twice baked souffles…