grilled bratwurst and peperonata with spiced chickpeas

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This recipe introduced me to sofrito, before which I’d never pureed onions before. Such an unthinkable extent when slicing and frying were the epitome of flavour as I knew it. Still, effort was made, and onions were blitzed, peppers were roasted and my kitchen was once again filled with smells and the anticipation of something new. I served it alongside a grilled spicy bratwurst, with spiced cumin and olive-oil tossed mushrooms. I’m also intrigued by this being a great accompaniment for buttery mashed potatoes, or polenta, as the original recipe did.

Peperonata (delicious over polenta)
Recipe adapted from Herbivoracious
Serves 4

8 ripe bell peppers (any combination of red, yellow or orange)
1 large or 2 medium white onions
5 cloves garlic
6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil plus extra for garnish
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
3 tablespoons double-strength tomato paste (or 6 tablespoons of regular tomato paste)
1 red onion, thinly sliced
1 tablespoon sherry vinegar
Fresh ground black pepper to taste
Handful flatleaf parsley

Remove seeds and ribs, cut tops and bottoms off of bell peppers and roast in a 200 deg C oven. Bake till skins are blistered and slightly charred, roughly about 40 mins. Transfer to a bowl and let cool. Peel skins off and slice into strips.

While the peppers roast, prepare your sofrito. Puree chopped white onions and garlic in a blender till smooth. With olive oil in a large pan, fry the pureed onion, until the onion is browned. Add the salt, tomato paste and cook until the sofrito is uniformly coloured a dark brown.

Add the red onion, vinegar, peppers and liquid from the peppers. Set the heat to medium and cook until the red onions are fully softened. You can add a small amount of water or more cooking sherry to make the sauce. Stir in black pepper and minced parsley just before serving.

Spiced Chickpeas
Serves 2

1 can chickpeas, cooked to specifications
2 tsp cumin
1 tbsp smoked paprika
olive oil
cracked black pepper
pinch Maldon salt

Cook the chickpeas according to specifications (adapted accordingly if you’re using canned or fresh). Once it’s done, gently mash the chickpeas lightly.

Heat olive oil over medium heat in a pan. Stir in the paprika and chickpeas, cumin, pepper and salt. Mash the chickpeas in the pan to your desired consistency. Serve hot

a guide for how not to make pasta by hand

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See the cookbook above? Great. Now you know what was used as a reference, at least on page 9, which was then promptly chucked because it was just easier to “figure it out” from where we were and then see what happened. Chugging jug after jug of homemade mojitos (my new favourite thing, btw) greatly helped, too.

In the same vein of my series of “How Not To” guides (see my post here on pitfalls of the kitchentard’s first roasting experience), this here are some general guidelines to follow when you make your own pasta by hand.

It’s All In the Touch
Roll your dough between your palms. Not pinch at it while simultaneously cringing, “OMG it’s gooey! I can’t do this!” True story, and won’t get you any pasta.

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Patience Is A Virtue
In this case, yes, it is extremely important. No amount of pounding or rolling or whatever abuse you give your dough is going to make it flatten any easier when you roll it through your pasta maker. The final product, a rolled dough ball, should ideally sit for an hour or two before being pressed through the machine. If you try to roll it immediately through your pasta maker, it’ll just stick all over like a spoilt brat and make cleaning up after it all that more annoying. Just like brats.

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Drink A lot But Not A lot 
If you’ve ever watched cooking shows where some hot chef or preppy, matronly Italian woman is making pasta and it looks easy as pie, it probably is and it’s also because they’ve made it forever. One is a chef and the other is Italian for crying out loud. It’s food TV, people, they also fast forward all the waiting in between. Chances are, everybody’s also drinking backstage. So when you’re on your own making your own pasta for the first time, be sure to stock up and load up. But don’t overdo it, this is not a drinking game (……or could it?). Well, you’ll still need some wits about you.

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Roll Like A Sailor
It’s never thin enough. The dough went through the pasta maker at least 5 times. After you’ve flattened your dough, roll it through on the pasta maker’s highest setting. Then notch it down one and roll again. And then again till the flattened dough looks like something you can eat without choking on. Thick pasta is never friendly. If you’ve not let your dough rest, or if the flour wasn’t evenly distributed when you mixed egg and flour, the dough will fall apart when you press it through the pasta maker, forming holes everywhere. At which point, you pinch it together, press it back into shape and force it through the machine again like you’ve sent your brat to the army. But when you roll and everything looks good, roll with love.

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Make Food
All work in the kitchen is rewarded. So make food, and enjoy. By now it’s already four hours past; you were ready to break out the instant noodles or just continue the liquid diet till your senses ate themselves. But remember, you’ve practiced patience is a virtue, and once you’re past here you’ll be hungry no more and enlightened. Still doesn’t mean you can make great pasta by hand.

Recipes coming soon.

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for one + buttery lemon linguine

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After the whole rush of an entire year celebrated and passed in a week and a half, we’re back to food for one. One daily packed lunch for work, and dinners by the TV, computer or a book, whichever your routine. For matching leftovers (such as marinated sliced beef here) and for packed lunches, this recipe is one of my favourites. You can always trust butter and fresh herbs to make friends nicely with steaming hot pasta. And if you’ve never tried a squeeze of lemon here, I strongly urge you to. It makes a world of difference.

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Buttery Lemon Linguine (recipe adapted from The Pioneer Woman)
Serves 8

1 pound linguine
4 Tablespoons Butter
1/4 cup Finely Minced Coriander (or parsley, basil, your preference)
1 whole Lemon
Salt And Black Pepper, to taste

Cook the noodles according to package instructions. Drain and set aside.

Melt butter in a large pan over medium-high heat. Throw in the cooked pasta and cook it in the butter for a few minutes.

Add in the chopped coriander, salt and pepper to taste.

Add squeeze in the juice of a lemon, then toss before serving.

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BBQ Chilli with harissa

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I’d written before that a traditional chilli con carne would typically need coriander seeds, tomatoes, and chillies, based on an early recipe I’d experimented with. With this dish, however, I wasn’t starting from scratch. A dish like chilli is easy to experiment with, but figuring out the combinations was what tickled my intrigue.

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Other than BBQ sauce, two secret “shortcuts” that I used in this chilli were harissa, and a can of Heinz cream of tomato soup. Harissa is an obviously wonderful addition for its exotic blend of Mediterranean goodness. The cream of tomato soup, however, was characteristically charming, not merely convenient. Its addition allowed me to skip the use of any type of cornstarch or flour to thicken and skip the acidity of fresh or stewed tomatoes, which typically would have to be balanced out more strenuously with herbs and stock. Dunking in some black kidney beans did the rest, not to mention a hefty dollop of good ol’ BBQ sauce to lift this recipe into triumph.

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A lot of conversations I have about chilli aren’t always about the recipe, but often veer towards the question: what would you serve chilli with? The typical way has always been with chips, with a variety of flavoured nachos; I’ve served mine with slices of baguettes. My partner takes the cake, though, for craving this with a piping hot bowl of white rice, which I have to say is absolutely strange, but also quite the stroke of genius (the way I love dinuguan with rice).

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BBQ Chilli with Harissa

serves 4

400g minced beef
1 can black kidney beans
1 can of Heinz cream of tomato soup (I use roughly 300g)
4 tbsp panko crumbs
1 large red onion, diced
8 cloves garlic, rougly chopped
1 – 2 fistfuls of fresh oregano, roughly chopped (about 4 tbsp)
50ml Heinz BBQ sauce (or your favourite)
1½ tbsp harissa (this will make it fairly spicy)
4 bay leaves
50ml red wine (I used cabernet savignon)
1 ½ cup beef broth
2 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
1 tbsp paprika
1 tbsp cumin
1 tbsp butter
3 tbsp olive oil

  1. Pour 2 tbsp olive oil and all the butter into a large pan (I used a wok to make this, but you can use a proper deep pan). Add diced onions and garlic and fry over high heat till slightly brown
  2. Move the garlic and onions to the side of the pan. Add in the last 1 tbsp of olive oil to the other side. Toss in panko crumbs into this oil. They will brown quickly, so stir it fast, on its own. Once it has turned slightly brown, mix it quickly with the onions and garlic and lower the heat to medium.
  3. Add in the minced meat. Stir to combine all the ingredients and break up slightly the meat, leaving a few chunks here and there.
  4. Add in the red wine, beef stock, BBQ sauce, Worcestershire sauce, bay leaves, cumin, paprika, cream of tomato soup, oregano and kidney beans. Stir over medium heat for 10 minutes
  5. Add in the harissa. Lower the heat to simmer, cover with a lid and let the liquid burn off, about 10 – 15 minutes.
  6. Most of the liquid would have burned off after 15 minutes and the chilli would be slightly thick. Get it off the heat and serve.

guinness steak & leak stew


Let’s cut to the chase here, I know you’re no fool. Everybody loves stew. And I mean everybody. A good stew is the culinary equivalent of the underdog kick-ass. In recent years though, since the blogging world exploded, stews have taken a more comfortable identity. Like Mark Zuckerberg post-Facebook. They are more readily made and accepted and if anybody hated it, well, you just didn’t hear about it.

That being said, the only two stews I’ve ever made in my life involve beer, my other favourite liquid. This Guinness beef stew benefits from an hour or two on the stove, and letting it sit overnight just intensifies the flavour. I dished it up with a slice of potato onion bread from the store, which does good in sopping up the stew, but I wouldn’t have minded a side of mash instead.


The one mistake I keep making, in part because I believe I’m fairly greedy, is that I always forget to leave it on cooking for more than an hour to get the alcohol evaporated. If your stew tastes a tad bitter, it hasn’t cooked all the way through. If you’re a stickler for perfection or thinking of serving an alcohol-based dish to a teetotaller who’s one shot short of a flamin’ party, there are helpful charts around the web that tell you exactly how much liquid + how much time = how much alcohol burned off. That’s as much math as I can do for a day involving all the equation signs I need to know, so the recipe is as follows.

For this recipe and amount of liquid, I left it on the stove for 40 minutes, which clearly wasn’t enough. Give it a good hour and a half to be safe, and you should also have the softest of steaks.

Guinness Steak & Leek Stew
Serves 3

400g chuck, fat trimmed and cut into cubes
1 large leek, sliced into rounds
2 large yellow onions (I used red in this recipe)
4 cloves garlic, chopped
2.5 cups beef broth
1 large can Guinness stout (440ml)
3 large carrots, chopped
4 stalks of celery, chopped
3 tbsp worchestershire sauce
6 white mushrooms, sliced
olive oil
sea salt
cracked black pepper

1. Brown onions in olive oil, add garlic. Toss in leeks, celery, mushrooms and carrots.
2. In a griddle, brown the chuck.
3. Toss the chuck into the pot with the vegetables.
4. Add broth into the pot, empty Guinness into the pot and dash off with worchestershire
5. Season the dish well, and leave on low heat for at least an hour and a half to braise.

favourite meatballs

I can never seem to stop talking about meatballs. Or eating it. Recently, I’ve come to think that meatballs could be the answers to the world’s problems (if the problem weren’t meat itself). There can be no meatballs that nobody likes.

I am a fanatic of Swedish meatballs, and a potential fan of Abondigas (Spain is on my travel list). A café near my work place changed my mind about raisins in general, since I discovered that those little monsters, so defiant against my tastebuds in all foods, even salads, could be so sweetly seductive in meatballs. Served with hand-made tagliatalle, those raisin-sprinkled meatballs yielded a subtle sweetness that married the tangy tomato sauce like a royal celebration.


Special ingredients aside, the basics were what intrigued me. First you start with onions, garlic, beef. Then breadcrumbs. Then maybe chopped parsley, coriander, a bit of spice. You could add anything you wanted into these little balls and create something exotic. It was like a canvas waiting for paint, and you could do no wrong.

The meatballs I know are most commonly made with store-bought or home-made breadcrumbs. There are also meatballs that are made with milk-soaked bread. I’ve never tried the latter, but this recipe is a favourite for the reason of the breadcrumbs. Specifically, panko breadcrumbs.

Panko is what the Japanese use in their cuisine for ebi fry, pork cutlets and whatnot. The real crispy stuff. It’s what makes the fry all golden and impossibly scrumptious looking. It’s also what gives this meatball recipe a real texture and bite. They dry out the meat mixture well enough so that there’s a good coating of panko in the mix. Rolling it tight between your palm fastens the meatball together so it doesn’t crumble easily, and the panko crumbs do the rest. It’s not highly authentic and possibly even questionable, but then again, this is one of many.

I have been making this for years, they are so good I seem to have forgotten to write about them all this while. This is what I like to make to delight people, and if there’s a meatball recipe repository somewhere out there in the world, I’d like this recipe stored with a nifty tagline that says “Grin”. One last thing, up the ante by serving this on its own with Dijonnaise or Dijon mustard. Then again, I am one of those people who Dijon everything.

Favourite Meatballs
500g mince beef (your choice of cut)
300g panko breadcrumbs
3-4 tbsp Worchestershire sauce
4 onions, chopped
6 garlic, finely chopped
2 tbsp of dried Italian herbs, oregano (you can use fresh herbs as well)
cracked black pepper
salt

1. Mix all the above ingredients.
2. Take a small mixture and shape into balls, rolling between your palms.
3. Fry in shallow olive oil
4. Serve hot

sausage & aglio olio linguine

If I have never been more proud to take a shortcut in cooking, then this moment is it. These garlic and herb sausages were like bacon in any dish – an instant perk-upper, an instant hit of the most addictive drug, the fastest get-me-to-high I know in food that involves sausages. They were random store-bought sausages, but the flavour is akin to chorizos. Chorizos crisp very quickly and are slightly spicier. These were full and rustic, but not overpowering.

If I ever cook this again, then I suspect this photo might still be the best in my collection. Cooking for dinner means sacrificing bright daylight, and cooking at a friend’s place means not travelling with your lights. The Canon DSLR flash light unfortunately is my bane and provincial thorn in side.

I am waiting for my Canon Speedlite 430EX II flash as we speak; having ordered it, and cannot wait! Imagine the indoor restaurant food shots! Egad! I have begun thinking of excuses and apologies when eating out, for exposing unfortunate patrons to the booming shock of flash from nowhere. Hard to be as inconspicuous as I would like, but I desire those indoor shots, hunger for them, indescribably. This is like chocolate to some women and racing to most men.

My dilemma is simple. My flash will not be here till a few days’ time; these are the only images I currently have. When said flash arrives, opening up the doors to infinite number of food shots at night and closing the door forever to ugly indoor shots with crappy built-in flashes, there stands a good chance that I will cook this meal again. And having cooked that meal again, therein lies the dilemma. I cannot, cannot, cannot seem to resist this dish. The way I understand how SB loves this dish more than he does me and for the first moment our forks tingle with interaction of those linguine strands, no words can be spoken for sheer experiential pleasure.

The need to get this recipe out here before I forget it is also key in having this post up. I’ll update this post again should said pictures ever surface – I cannot guarantee they will not be drool-splotched (eww, sorry for that).

Broaching the topic of breadcrumbs two posts in a row seems a tad much, but for the sake of the dish, this is worth introducing. Seemingly innocuous little things, they add quite an unexpected dimension to pasta. And everybody does breadcrumbs differently. Today, without the benefit of a blender, my crumbs were more cubes than anything else. Made with a homemade toast, sliced thinly and then diced. Into the pan to toss with butter and the butter sauce, they were little gems.

Sausage & anchovy aglio olio linguine
Serves 2, heartily

4 – 6 garlic & herb German sausages, diced
2 large red chilli, sliced, seeds left in
1 big handful of fresh Italian parsley
6 – 8 anchovy fillets in olive oil
1 large yellow onion, diced
3 garlic, chopped
black pepper
2 slices of toast, crumbed
olive oil
1 tbsp butter
grated parmesan cheese (option)
linguine, for 2

1. Toast 2 slices of bread. Slice thinly, then dice smaller
2. Cook linguine
3. Brown sausages in pan with olive oil. Scoop out the sausages, leave the oil in.
4. Melt butter in pan with oil. Saute onions and garlic in the pan till fragrant. Toss in anchovies, stir, then add cut chillies. Season with cracked black pepper
5. Drain linguine. Add into pan with onions and butter mixture and coat evenly. Toss for 5 minutes
5. Remove pan from heat and serve noodles in bowl. Top with chopped parsley and mix together
6. Sprinkle with parmesan cheese and serve

moment of realisation and chilli con carne

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I have to be honest and say that every chilli con carne recipe I’ve ever came across in books and blogs simply never registered – my eyes would glaze over as if it were a recipe for baby food. It’s strange, because I’ve definitely eaten Mexican food before, and the taste is striking, it’s just that I’ve never registered the words Chilli. Con. Carne.

First of all, chilli is pretty straight forward. Con Carne, not so. I’ve always wondered why it’s named as such, but now I’m curious why I was never more curious before. The name literally means “chilli with meat” according to Wikipedia, and although exotically derived or inspired from Mexican or Spanish cuisine, it is the official dish of Texas, USA.

There is a lot of history behind this dish, and reading up on it on Wikipedia was certainly quite fascinating – Wikipedia: “A popular saying among self-proclaimed chilli purists is, ‘If you know beans about chilli, you know chilli ain’t got no beans.’ ” Isn’t that awesome? There are chilli purists in the world. I rather fancy the beans, however. Any other way, I wouldn’t, so perhaps that says something? Perhaps not.

What’s more amazing are the variety of recipes out there, some of which even call for dark chocolate. My entire desire to cook this sprang into action when I was at a food tasting and what I ate happened to have a tag that read CHILLI CON CARNE. It was momentous – complete with the choir singing in the background, and at that moment the camera zooms into the protagonist’s face to capture the moment of realisation – ohmygod.

This recipe is adapted collectively from a few different recipes, chiefly from Gordon Ramsey (and a little inspiration from Simply Recipes), and whipped accordingly to what was available in my kitchen. If you are mixing from a few recipes, just remember two things: 1. your key ingredients like chillies, coriander seeds, tomatoes, etc. 2. the first technique: mix your dry spices into a paste. This makes a huge difference!

1 ingredient I wanted was missing (chipotle), but I made the main batch first (I made this at 2am in the morning because I couldn’t help but want to cook it) thinking I could pop by the store for some the next day. Chilli is apparently best when given an overnight to soak in the flavours, so when re-heated the chipotle powder can be stirred in. I wouldn’t recommend this method, though, so prepare ahead! I also didn’t have tomato puree in the house, so I took out sugar in the recipe and substituted with ketchup instead *insert goofy grin* Important thing is to keep tasting in between to make sure what you’re creating is just perfect!

This recipe came out superb, but nonetheless seems to inspire more experimentation to perfect rather than to correct.

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Chilli Con Carne
serves 3 – 4 if you have chips and bread and only 2 if you’re going at it with a spoon. I know that doesn’t add up but trust me, it will

400g good ground beef
1 large onion, finely chopped
½ bulb of garlic, finely chopped
200ml beef stock
1 can stewed tomatoes
400g kidney beans
1 cinnamon quill
1 bay leaf
1 tbsp paprika powder
1 tbsp oregano
1 tbsp ground cumin
1 tbsp coriander seeds
½ tbsp thyme
2 tbsp ketchup
1 red chilli, deseeded & finely chopped
1 splash tobacco
2 tbsp red chilli powder
1 dash Worcestershire sauce
cornstarch & water (if needed for thickening)
salt & pepper
olive oil, for frying

In a pan sweat the chopped onions, garlic and cut red chillies in oil. Brown your mince separately, and make sure the meat gets some direct heat from the pan; if it’s all clumped together the meat steams instead of browns, so pour away extra liquid as it comes out.

In a bowl, mix chilli powder, tobasco, thyme, cumin, oregano, coriander seeds paprika till you get a sort of paste.

Combine meat and onions. Add the paste and fry till aroma is released. Pour in beef stock, can of stewed tomatoes and ketchup. Add bay leaf and cinnamon quill and leave to simmer. After about 10 minutes, add kidney beans, and cook on low heat for further another 30 minutes. Season well. Keep checking the liquid levels. If you’re cooking on low heat it shouldn’t drain away too much.

Before turning off the heat, add a dash of Worcestershire into the mix then remove bay leaf and quill.

You can serve this immediately or keep well overnight to let the flavours soak together. I kept mine in air tight containers for a few hours to let it all soak up.