Elderflower syrup

A family favourite, and very easy to make

Elderflower syrup

  • Servings: 1.5 liters
  • Difficulty: easy
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15 elderflower ‘flowers’
1 kg sugar
20 grams citric acid
1 liter

put the flowers in the water and let seep for 24 hours.

strain the mixture carefully. Add the sugar and the citric acid.

Bring to the boil and let simmer for 5 minutes. This improves the dissolution of the sugar in the water.

Tip: Buy a whole pack of food-grade citric acid. It’s a wonderful descaler (use a 5% solution, i.e. 50 grams in one liter)

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Homemade pesto is really easy and tastes a bazillion times better than the commercial stuff

There are some commercial products that are excellent and that I wouldn’t hesitate using (say, puff pastry or dried spaghetti). But those little bottles of expensive pesto just don’t cut it. The real stuff tastes a million brazilion times better, and it’s really easy if you have a food processor.

The real stuff has a lot more garlic-punch than the commercial stuff so you’ll need to restrict for days where you are not meeting anybody the next day. You have been warned!

So here is the recipe:

Spaghetti with Pesto

  • Servings: 4
  • Difficulty: easy
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600 grams spaghetti

2 bunch basil (40 to 50 grams)
50 grams parmesan (freshly grated)
2 tablespoons pine nuts
3 garlic cloves
125 milliliters olive oil

50 grams parmesan (for serving at the table)

Cook the spaghetti according to the package instructions. It generally will be more water and salt than you’re used to but that just tastes better. 100 grams spaghetti = 1 liter water = 10 grams salt.

put all the sauce ingredients in a food processor and whizz.

Tip: For the cost-conscious, you can substitute grana padano for the parmesan and ground almonds for the pine nuts.

Alternative: Bärlauchpesto (wild garlic pesto)

Use wild garlic instead of the basil and garlic.

Use the younger leaves – the bigger ones don’t provide a good consistency.

Wash the leaves then dry thouroughly in a salad dryer.

Since the garlicness of the wild garlic varies, you’ll have to go by taste. Add some more parmesan, some more oil, even add a garlic clove.

Both pestos freeze really, really well.

Prik glua

One of the many gastronomic delights of Thailand are the fruit stalls. They are ubiquitous and cheap. The vendors sell a wide variety of fruit, usually pineapple, melons, mangos (which tend to be too unripe for our western tastes), and coconut.

The fruit are peeled, chopped into bite-sizes, and served in a clear plastic bag with a wooden skewer. Occasionally the vendor would also automatically include a small raisin-sized bag of a mysterious powder, which turned out to be prik glua, a fruit dip of salt, sugar and chili flakes. I must admit to developing a taste for it and it seriously increases your falang street credibility if you ask for it at the stall.

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The recipe is very simple, equal volume parts of salt, sugar, and chili flakes. It might be a bit too hot for western tastes but the proportions correspond to what I tasted in Thailand.

Prik glua

  • Servings: 2-3
  • Difficulty: easy
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1 tbsp salt
1 tbsp sugar
1 tbsp ground red chili flakes


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I find it goes particularly well with pineapple.

Annoy your spanish friends by pressure-cooking paella in seven minutes

I’m a huge fan of modernist cuisine, and can heartily recommend their book Modernist Cuisine at Home, which introduces loads of funky geeky concepts with delicious, reproducible results.

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Modernist Cuisine at Home

They love using pressure cookers, mostly because one has a controlled environment in terms of temperature and air humidity (the latter affects cooking times, believe it or not).

One of the eye-openers is that the ‘risotto’ or ‘paella’ effect can also be done in a pressure cooker: creamy yet al dente inside.

You’ll need to shop at a spanish speciality shop for the ingredients.

Here is the recipe, reproduced with kind permission from Modernist Cuisine:

Modernist Cuisine pressure-cooked paella

  • Servings: 2-3
  • Difficulty: easy
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40g olive oil
50g piquillo peppers
25g minced fennel
25g minced onion
20g minced carrot
7.5g minced garlic

Sweat the vegetables in oil in the base of a pressure cooker over medium heat until tender and translucent, about 3 minutes

150g bomba rice (or other short-grained paella rice)

Stir rice into the vegetable mixture and cook until the rice turns shiny and translucent, about 2 minutes

300g chicken stock
70g dry sherry

Stir into the rice mixture
Pressure-cook at a gauge pressure of 1bar for 7 minutes. Start timing when full pressure is reached.
Depressurize the pressure cooker
Check the rice for tenderness. It should be al dente. If necessary, simmer uncovered for a minute or two longer.

7g Pimenton dulce
2g thyme leaves

Stir into the rice, and let rest for 1 minute.

200g fried shrimp, or cooked chicken, or braised snails

Fold into the paella, and serve it immediately.

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Mise en place

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Sweating the vegetables

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Pressure cook for 7 minutes

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The finishing touches

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And voilà!

Eat more salad : Stock up on homemade vinaigrette!

This is a trick I learned from my cousin Sophie. Make a batch of salad sauce in advance. It reduces the effort to spontaneously eat salad, it’s cheap, and, as long as you don’t use perishable stuff like herbs and onions, it stays fresh indefinitely. Plus, you know what’s inside.

Here is my recipe:

0.5L Vinaigrette

  • Servings: 4-6
  • Difficulty: easy
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300 grams Olive Oil
150 grams Red Wine Vinegar
40 grams Dijon Mustard
.75 teaspoon salt

blend using an immersion blender.

Tips:
Pour the salad sauce in the bowl, then add the salad on top, and then toss (don’t pour the salad sauce on the salad). The sauce distribution is a lot better.
You might have noticed that I have used mass instead of volume for the ingredients. It’s my favourite way of measuring; volume is inconsistent because of wildly differing densities, plus it’s easy with a digital scale: put a jug up, press the tare button, pour in olive oil, press again the tare button. You’re quicker than with measuring jugs and not making anything dirty.

Peanut Brittle – a tasty, cheap, and unhealthy snack!

This is a really simple recipe which was inspired by the small snacks sold in my local turkish shop. I thought, I can do this!

So here is the recipe:

100 grams roasted peanuts.

120 grams sugar.

Make a dry caramel with the sugar. When you have a light brown caramel, pour all the peanuts in and make sure all the peanuts are well covered.

Transfer the peanut-caramel mass between two silicon sheets, and press down with a heavy pan. Be very careful with the caramel, sugar has a very high specific heat (i.e. it can store a lot of energy) and if it comes into contact with your skin, it will really burn you.

Leave to dry and then break into bits (letting it fall on a hard surface is a good way to do this)

It’s particularly appealing because it manages to combine all the bad things that we like – fat, sugar, and salt. So definitely unhealthy, and a calorie bomb to boot!

Baked Potatoes

If you’ve got a programmable oven, baked potatoes are a great weekday meal which you can prepare in advance. It’s cheap and nutritious, and if you avoid calorie-rich toppings such as cheese and cream and go for a lighter filling, it’s not too calorietastic.

Baked potatoes

  • Servings: 4
  • Difficulty: easy
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2 kg large, floury potatoes
2 tbsp olive oil
salt

rub the potatoes liberally in oil, salt generously, put a few holes in the skin
cook in an 180° oven for 1 hour and 20 minutes

Some tips:

  • Notice the pie tart I’m cooking the potatoes in. Leaves the oven clean and I can put the dish in the dishwasher.
  • You can prepare the toppings beforehand.

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Here some toppings you might consider: grated cheese, salmon, cottage cheese, quark and chives.