Eggs


Ethiopian omelette

I haven’t had much time to cook this week. It’s the first few days after the summer holidays, and so much work has piled up that I’m practically glued to my computer screen, replying to hundreds of emails and trying to get on top of things. You know the feeling well, right?

To be honest, I haven’t really cooked anything interesting worth sharing this week – except for this omelette. I first tasted the omelette – known as enqulal t’ibs – when an Ethiopian chef I once interviewed served it to me for brunch. She told me it could be eaten alongside ginfilfil, a spicy stew made from torn up, leftover injera bread – the soft, fermented flatbread of Ethiopia with a slightly tangy taste.

I have never made that stew – or indeed the bread – at home, but I do like to order it in restaurants. I like making this omelette for supper when I have little time to cook as it takes about 10 minutes from start to finish. As for the dried garlic and ginger – I wasn’t being lazy or too busy to use fresh: this traditional recipe really does require them to be dried and powdered.  Eat the omelette with some hot chilli sauce if you like, accompanied by baguette or crusty bread and a tomato-based green leaf salad. Serves 1.

2 large free-range organic eggs
2 tablespoons milk
¼ teaspoon salt, or to taste
Freshly ground pepper
1 shallot or very small onion, trimmed, peeled and finely chopped
½ small green bell pepper (or a mild chilli), trimmed and finely chopped
½ small red bell pepper, trimmed and finely chopped
¼ teaspoon dried powdered garlic
¼ teaspoon dried powdered ginger
¼ teaspoon cardamom seeds, freshly crushed in a mortar
2 tablespoons corn, groundnut (peanut), or sunflower oil

1.    Lightly whisk the eggs with the milk until fluffy. Add all the remaining ingredients except oil and beat well.
2.    Heat the oil in a medium frying pan. When hot, add the egg mixture and cook for a few minutes until the omelette is set.
3.    Finish the omelette under a grill if desired. Serve hot.

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lavender, gin and honey ice cream with lavender biscuits

August is one of my favourite times of the year. I try to take a break from my relentless work-related travelling, even if it’s just for a few days, to spend quality time with family and friends. My Aunt Christina owns an enormous farmhouse in a breathtakingly beautiful, tiny village in Provence. All the siblings and cousins have a great big pre-Christmas get together throughout the month, travelling in from all over the world. Some, like my cousin Amy who is a recently-qualified doctor, can only stay for a couple of days, while others, like all the little nephews and nieces, stay for several weeks, typically running riot. It’s one heck of a party.

My aunt’s farmhouse is surrounded by acres of picturesque lavender and sunflower fields. The distinctively musky perfume of lavender is heady to the point of being overwhelming.  This year I was determined to make cooking with lavender a success. This is no mean feat: use too much lavender and your dish will taste like shower gel (or “dear old Victorian ladies’ undergarments”, as my cousin Jonathan put it – an image I would rather not linger on for too long); too little and it will taste like an unfulfilled promise: all fragrance and no flavour. The trick is in getting the balance of floral flavour right.

My attempts at raspberry and lavender preserve, lavender bread and butter pudding, and lavender crème brulee have ended in disaster in previous years. So would I get it right this year? Well the proof, as they say, is in the pudding. The ice cream and biscuits were polished off within minutes.

This isn’t really a French recipe. I have simply taken Provencal lavender, which grows abundantly in most English gardens anyway, left it to dry for a couple of days on strings and, with the addition of gin, I’ve concocted a sort of English summer garden recipe. Or maybe it’s Anglo-French. Oh, I don’t know. All I know is that the recipe – or rather, recipes, as I have done two this week – tastes pretty spectacular. You can, of course, eat the ice cream or biscuits on their own, but together they’ll seduce you with sunshine-infused magic that will linger in your memory for days. Makes 2 pints/ 1 litre ice cream and approximately 25 – 30 small or 12 – 15 large biscuits. Serves around 6.

For the ice cream:
5 tablespoons gin
1 level tablespoon dried lavender flowers
6 medium egg yolks
¼ pint/ 150 ml honey (ideally lavender or other flower honey)
½ pint/ 300 ml double (thick) cream
Fresh lavender flowers to garnish (optional)

For the biscuits:
9 oz/ 225g unsalted butter, plus a little more for greasing
4 oz/ 100g white caster (superfine) sugar
I medium egg, lightly beaten
7 oz/ 175g self-raising white flour
1 level tablespoon dried lavender flowers

To make the ice cream:

1.    In a small saucepan, warm the gin slightly, and then pour it over the lavender flowers in a small bowl. Cover tightly with cling film, and leave to infuse for an hour or so.
2.    Sieve the lavender-infused gin through a fine-mesh sieve, pressing the flowers against the sieve with the back of a spoon to extract all the flavour. Discard the flowers. You should end up with about 3 tablespoons of strongly-flavoured gin. If it is a little under, top it up with some plain gin from the bottle.
3.    In a large bowl, beat the egg yolks with an electric whisk (or a wire, balloon-type whisk) until they are very light and fluffy.
4.    Heat the honey in a small saucepan until it reaches the boiling point, then remove from the heat.
5.    Pour the hot honey in a thin, steady stream over the egg yolks, whisking continuously. Keep whisking vigorously until the mixture has cooled and the yolks have increased in volume. This should take about 2 – 3 minutes if you’re using an electric whisk, or 5 – 10 minutes by hand.
6.    Add the flavoured gin and stir thoroughly to combine.
7.    Whip the double cream into soft peaks. Carefully fold it into the egg yolk mixture, blending everything well.
8.    Pour the mixture into a bowl or container and freeze for 8 hours. There is no need to remove the ice cream at regular intervals and beat it (as is the case in many freezer ice cream recipes) – simply leave it be. Just before serving, garnish with fresh lavender flowers, if using.

To make the biscuits:

1.    Pre-heat the oven to 350F/ 180C/ gas mark 4. Line a baking tray with lightly buttered non-stick baking paper.
2.    Cream the butter with the sugar (this is easily done in a food processor). Add the egg and beat well.
3.    Add the flour and mix thoroughly. Mix in the lavender flowers, and stir with a light hand until well-blended.
4.    Place small teaspoonfuls of the mixture on the prepared baking tray, shaping them in circles with the back of the spoon and allowing plenty of space around for them to spread. (Alternatively, place tablespoonfuls of mixture on the tray, and shape them into medium-sized oblong or rectangular shapes).
5.    Bake for 15 – 20 minutes or until the biscuits are pale golden in colour (be careful not to let them get too brown). They will not feel crisp to the touch until they have cooled.
6.    Allow the biscuits to cool thoroughly on a wire rack. Store in an airtight container until ready to serve with the ice cream. As both the ice cream and biscuits are very rich, serve in small, European portions!

Caribbean mango ice cream

Everyone talks about summer berries and stone fruits at this time of the year – but what about mangoes, which are in season right now? How can you possibly resist their voluptuous shapes, their vibrant sunset colours, their heady fragrance that is somewhere between flowers and honey and, of course, their seductive juiciness?

This is a rich, old-fashioned Caribbean recipe – it harks back to the time when people didn’t feel guilty about eating so much cream and eggs, and when essences used in cooking weren’t synthetic but natural. Enjoy it in that spirit – and don’t forget to use only the best quality ripe, sweet, juicy mangoes (any variety is fine), and only a touch of spice, to bring out the flavour of the mangoes and not overwhelm the ice cream. Buy fresh cream from a farm shop or farmers’ market if there is one near you – it really will make a difference to the taste.

In Britain, not only is it near-tropical weather right now (and it looks like it’s here to stay), but we also have National Ice Cream Week kicking off this week – so what better excuse to indulge in a delicious, cooling sweet treat?
Makes 2 pints/ 1 ¼ litres.

8 oz/ 200g fresh, ripe mango flesh (weight after removing skin and stones)
Around 2 oz/ 50g white sugar (optional, depending on how sweet the mango is)
3 pints/ 1 ½ litres single cream
6 egg yolks (from medium-sized organic, free-range eggs)
6 oz/ 150g caster sugar
¼ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
¼ teaspoon allspice berries, finely crushed in a mortar
1 or 2 drops natural vanilla extract

To serve:
Fresh mango slices

1.    Pulp the mango flesh. Add sugar if needed, and stir until it has dissolved. Set aside while you get on with the rest of the recipe.
2.    Heat the cream on medium heat, stirring frequently. Bring to a boil, then remove from the heat immediately. Let it cool a little, stirring occasionally to prevent a skin forming.
3.    Whisk the egg yolks with the caster sugar until fluffy and creamy, and gently combine with the cream. (You can use the remaining egg whites to make meringues or omelette).
4.    Mix well, and add nutmeg, crushed allspice and vanilla extract.
5.    Return the mixture to a low heat (or use a double boiler). Cook until the mixture becomes creamy custard, thick enough to coat the back of a spoon. Stir constantly to prevent lumps forming and burning. Do not allow to boil, otherwise the mixture may curdle.
6.    Remove from heat and allow to cool completely – it helps to stand the pan in ice cold water. While the custard is cooling, add the mango pulp and stir frequently.
7.    To freeze the ice cream: either use an ice cream maker, the ice cream compartment of a refrigerator or a freezer. If you use either of the latter two options, the ice cream must be taken out approximately every 30 minutes and beaten or whisked to prevent ice from forming, and to obtain a creamy consistency. Once you have done so, return the ice cream to the freezer immediately. Repeat the process until the ice cream has set and you have reached the desired texture. Serve with fresh mango slices.

russian-salad

Normally the words ‘Russian salad’ fill me with dread. Russian salad – also known as Salade Olivier or Salade Russe – belongs to that category of ‘international hotel food’ that is indistinct, safe and seemingly without borders. You know, the sort of food that’s found in every country and in most households: hummus, pasta with pesto/ tomato sauce, mushroom risotto, spaghetti bolognese, vegetable curry, rocket and parmesan salad, grilled goats cheese, omelette fines herbes, lasagne, ratatouille, chilli con carne, tiramisu, banoffee pie… you get the idea.

Moreover, Russian salad seems to be a throwback to the 1970s, when it would have graced many a ‘sophisticated’ dinner party table alongside blancmange and black forest gateau. Generally a little too ‘Abigail’s Party’ for my liking.

But, of course, my Russian salad is different. For a start, the recipe was given to me by the chef of a small, family-run Tuscan restaurant. He serves it spooned into radicchio leaves or in the cavities of cooked artichokes – so this dish is sort of vaguely Russian with an Italian sensibility. The vegetables are soft yet crisp. They are steamed rather than boiled. They retain their bright colours and nutrients. And finally, the tangy lemon mayonnaise is suffused with the anticipation of summertime.

The secret of a successful Russian salad is to add very little mayonnaise – just enough to coat the vegetables and bring them together in harmony, rather than suffocating them in gloopy, heavy, unctuous mass of unnecessary calories. What’s more, any leftovers are delicious tucked into a sandwich. Resolutely rustic with a distinct homemade feel, you certainly won’t find this version in any hotel restaurant – either side of the 1970s! Serves 4 to 6.

For the lemon mayonnaise:
1 medium organic free-range egg, at room temperature
Salt
6 fl oz/ 180 ml mild extra-virgin olive oil
Juice of ½ lemon
1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest

For the salad:
3 small red or yellow beetroot, trimmed
2 medium potatoes
4 oz/ 100g fine green beans, trimmed and sliced
4 oz/ 100g green/ yellow wax beans or runner beans, trimmed and sliced
2 small carrots, trimmed, peeled and diced
2 tablespoons finely chopped cornichons or dill pickles
3 tablespoons small capers, rinsed
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
Salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1 recipe lemon mayonnaise (as above)

Optional garnishes:
Green or black olives, pitted and halved
Lightly toasted caraway seeds
Mild paprika
Fresh dill or flat-leaf parsley, roughly torn
Very thin half-slices of lemon

1.    Start by making the mayonnaise. Crack the egg into a blender. Add salt and 2 to 3 tablespoons of the oil. Blend until the egg is pale yellow and frothy.
2.    Keep the blender running, and add the remaining oil in a thin stream. If the egg begins to curdle and the oil is not being absorbed, stop pouring in the oil and continue blending the mixture until all the oil is incorporated. Then continue to add the oil until the mayonnaise thickens.
3.    Add some of the lemon juice and zest, blend for a few seconds longer, and taste. Then continue adding the lemon juice and zest, and taste until the mayonnaise achieves the desired lemony strength.
4.    Transfer the mayonnaise into a container and chill in the refrigerator until ready to use.
5.    To make salad, steam the beetroot, potatoes, two types of green beans, and carrots in individual compartments of a steamer. Take special care to keep the beetroot separate, or it will stain other vegetables. Cook until all the vegetables are tender but still a little firm. Drain and, when cool enough to handle, peel and dice the potatoes and beetroot.
6.    Place all the vegetables in a large bowl. Mix in the cornichons, capers, olive oil, vinegar, and salt and pepper.
7.    Add enough mayonnaise to lightly bind the salad. Garnish with one or more of the suggested garnishes, if desired. Chill the salad in the refrigerator. Serve cold or at room temperature.

flower-frittata

I wasn’t planning to share another recipe until after Easter. But I made this gorgeous Italian-style sweet omelette for brunch, and was so seduced by the magical colours and delicate perfume that I decided to write it up, in case any of you are looking for special occasion brunch dishes for the Easter holidays.

There is something very charming and ultra-feminine about cooking with flowers. If you’ve never tried it before, this is a good recipe to start (yes, even if you are a guy – and especially if you are looking to impress somebody special!).

Buy unsprayed, chemical-free flowers from florists, large supermarkets, delicatessens, or some branches of Whole Foods – or just pick them from a garden (preferably your own!).

Serve the frittata with champagne (why not make it pink champagne?). Alternatively, cut into diamond shapes, and serve with afternoon tea in the garden. Serves 4.

8 large organic free-range eggs
Generous handfuls of edible flowers (any combination of unsprayed rose petals, pansies, violets, marigolds, chive flowers, courgette flowers, etc)
2 tablespoons double cream
½ teaspoon cinnamon powder
1 oz/ 25g unsalted butter
Caster sugar (powdered sugar) for dusting

1.    Heat the grill (broiler) to medium heat.
2.    Crack the eggs into a bowl. Beat them lightly with a fork.
3.    Add most of the flowers (reserve some for garnish), cream and cinnamon, and combine everything very gently.
4.    Heat the butter in a small frying pan on medium heat. Pour in the egg mixture, and turn the heat down to low.
5.    Swirl the egg mixture around the pan, and stir it with a light hand until large curds form.
6.    Now do not disturb the egg mixture, and let it cook on low heat until the frittata is firm and the top is wobbly.
7.    Finish cooking the frittata by placing it under the grill until the top is just set.
8.    Remove from heat and let it cool in the pan for a couple of minutes.
9.    Slide the whole frittata onto a serving plate. Let it cool slightly. Sprinkle with caster sugar, and garnish extravagantly with the remaining flowers. Cut into wedges before serving.

courgettefetablack-olive-omelette

This omelette is best served for brunch, lunch or supper with warm pitta bread and a chunky salad dressed with a sharp, piquant dressing. Serves 2 as a main dish, or 4 as part of a spread.

2 tablespoons virgin olive oil, Greek if you have it
2 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
1 large courgette, trimmed and thinly sliced
6 large eggs
Salt and pepper
2 tablespoons milk
1 heaped teaspoon Greek dried wild oregano, crumbled
100g/ 4 oz feta cheese, diced into small cubes
50g/ 2 oz black olives, pitted and halved

1.    Heat the olive oil on very low heat in an omelette pan, and sauté the garlic and lemon zest for just a few seconds, being careful that they do not turn brown.
2.    Add the courgette slices, increase the heat to medium, stir, cover the pan with a lid, and cook for a few minutes until soft.
3.    Beat the eggs, add the salt, pepper and milk, and whisk again thoroughly.
4.    Remove the lid from the pan, pour in the eggs evenly and let the omelette cook for 5 – 7 minutes.
5.    Sprinkle the omelette with oregano, and dot the surface with the feta cubes and olives, spreading them around evenly.
6.    Place the pan under a low grill for just a few minutes, until the omelette is slightly brown at the edges, a little risen and completely cooked through – but make sure that the feta pieces or olives don’t burn. Serve warm, cut into wedges.

stack-of-breakfast-pancakes

This recipe isn’t traditionally Swiss – but the original, rather plain and straightforward version (simply comprising Swiss muesli, eggs and milk) was given to me by a Swiss chef in Switzerland. Hence ‘Swiss inspired’. I have adapted it quite a bit, adding fresh and dried fruit. I have suggested apricots and figs to keep with the ‘Swiss muesli breakfast’ theme, but use any dried fruit of your choice.

The batter for these pancakes should be fairly thick, but add a splash or two of more milk if you think it needs it. The pancakes are similar in concept to drop scones. They are ideal for a leisurely weekend breakfast, especially when you have guests staying over. Serve with fresh fruit or fruit compote, honey, or thick creamy yoghurt. Makes around 24 small pancakes/ serves 6.

2 oz/ 50g medium oatflakes
1 large egg, beaten
5 fl oz/ 150 ml milk
Small pinch of salt
2 teaspoons baking powder
4 ready-to-eat dried apricots, chopped
2 ready-to-eat dried figs, chopped
2 tablespoons sultanas or raisins
1 tablespoon chopped mixed nuts
1 small apple, cored and coarsely grated
1 small baby carrot, trimmed, peeled and coarsely grated
Small pinch of cinnamon powder

Mixture of unsalted butter and light, unflavoured oil for frying

Icing sugar for dusting

1.    Combine well all the ingredients for the pancakes in a bowl. Leave the mixture to rest for 30 to 60 minutes, so that the oatflakes have a chance to plump up.
2.    Heat a mixture of butter and oil in a non-stick frying pan, a little at a time. Turn the heat to very low. Drop in the pancake batter by tablespoonful, two or three at a time. Flatten the pancakes into circular shapes with the back of a spoon. Cook gently for approximately 3 minutes until the edges begin to set. Flip over and cook the other side until lightly browned. Repeat the process until the mixture is used up, working as quickly as you can (use another frying pan if necessary).
3.    While you are making the pancakes, place the cooked ones on a warmed plate, and wrap them in a clean tea towel so that they don’t go cold.
4.    Dust the pancakes with icing sugar. Serve as warm as possible.

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