Rustic Hand-rolled Country Duck Egg Tagliatelle with a Bolognese Sauce

The thing about heart-warming food is just that… it’s about food from the the heart. Soul food, it remind you of home, elevates you when you’re down in the dumps and makes you feel better when you’ve got the sniffles. It helps you get over heartbreak, or the disappointment about the promotion that never came through. Heart warming food can mean a lot to most people, unfortunately in my experience it’s usually food that’s a tad heavy. Heavy soups or stews and big bowls of steaming pasta with rich sauces usually does it for me. Which means I can’t enjoy it come the Indian summer with its blistering heat, which incidentally is just around the corner. So while the weather’s still fair I thought I should experiment with something I’ve been dying to make for the past few months. Only I was way too busy at the time and it got shelved, but not forgotten.

Duck eggs bring back memories of my grandparent’s home with their backyard full of chickens and ducks. I think they had geese too on occasion, but I was terrified of them, their large beaks a-honking and legs that flew through the air and straight at you. I didn’t quite mind the chickens though I stayed away from the hens, and I loved eggs. I’m an egg-freak, but duck eggs weren’t my particular favourites, even though I was quite fond of the ducks who did their own thing and left you to your own. I acquired a taste for duck eggs much later, particularly when they were in an omelet or a frittata with loads of veggies or herbs. You still won’t catch me eating them boiled.

So my mum grew up with her own ducks and hens and had fresh warm eggs every morning, while we unfortunate city dwellers of the next generation are compelled to buy them off supermarket shelves, with labels suffixed with words that read ‘Regular’, ‘Country’, ‘Brown’ and more recently, ‘Power’ and ‘Enriched’…. with what I wonder… Uranium?

I guess I shouldn’t ask if I don’t want to know.

So Duck Eggs are an acquired taste, with a flavour distinctly stronger from that of chicken eggs. In addition they also contain more fat and far more cholesterol than the regular chicken egg, but conversely they also contain loads of protein. So it’s not all bad news except for those who need to watch their cholesterol levels. Besides have you seen a duck egg yolk… a deep yellow orange and large, you’ll be tempted to at least try one out.

So the label on the box at the supermarket said ‘Country Duck Eggs’ and I’ve been inspired by Cheryl, the Pasta Princess who keeps enticing me with lovely photos and recipes of all the colourful pasta she comes up with, but virtual/visual treats just aren’t enough once the taste-buds go wild. So I had to get down into the trenches, roll up my sleeves and get to work. Thanks for the inspiration Pasta Princess 🙂 This one’s for you.

This is also dedicated to my grandparents on both sides (long deceased and missed) and to simple country living and loads of good eating. So in true form I shunned the pasta machine preferring to go completely rustic on this one. Kneading, rolling, and cutting the pasta by hand. And this is it. Duck Egg Tagliatelle served with what else but a meaty Bolognese Sauce (my version made with minced beef (200gms), bacon (3 rashers), chicken stock (1 cup – beef stock is better if you’ve got it), lovely ripe tomatoes (3 large or 4 medium), loads of garlic, aubergines (2 – small), green olives (4 – 5), red wine (1 cup), a splash of balsamic, cumin powder (I love cumin :-)), paprika, and a whole lotta herbs (oregano, basil. a bay leaf and parsley). Not forgetting the cheese (I used Pecorino). So that’s one heavy, heady, meaty sauce, the sort that sticks to your pasta and bones. Stuff that grandma would say was “good for you child”.

Making the pasta isn’t all that difficult, though it does call for some muscle. You’ve got to put your body into it.

I cooked up just enough for one or two if you’re like me and prefer many many small meals through the day.

This is all you’ll need for the pasta –

3/4 cup flour (more for dusting, rolling etc…. a whole lot more actually)

1 duck egg

pinch of salt

1/2 tablespoon of olive oil

2 tablespoons water

First things first – Wash/clean your work surface and hands thoroughly. Then dump the flour onto the cleaned and dry work surface, make a well in the centre and break your egg into it. It’s always better to break the egg into a bowl and then ease it into the well especially with duck eggs because the shells are hard to crack and you don’t want bits of shell in your pasta.

Add the water, olive oil and salt to the egg and whip it up a bit before slowly bringing the flour in to the centre of the well. If the dough is too sticky add a little more flour at a time until the flour and egg are well combined into a dough.

Now comes the muscle… the part where you fold and press, then fold and press down again, and again… and again, for the next 4 to 5 minutes till the dough isn’t quite so springy and pliable any more.

Finally cover with cling film and leave to rest for about 30 minutes.

After the dough has rested, unwrap and pat it down into a circle of your work surface.

Sprinkle a little flour and taking your rolling pin made an indentation band in the middle of the dough and roll out one side and then the other.

Keep rotating the dough, or rather it does it on its own as you continue to roll. The springiness of the dough reducing as you roll it thinner and thinner until the sheet is about a millimetre or less, and has almost lost its elasticity.

Fold the sheet about an inch or so and keep repeating till the entire circle of dough has been folded.

Take a sharp knife and cut strips about a centimetre thick.

Work quickly at this stage opening up the ribbons of pasta nd leaving them to dry for 3 – 4 minutes (I draped them over a lightly floured plate) as you bring the pot of water to a boil.

Add in a tablespoon of salt and drop the pasta into the boiliing water. Your pasta should be done in 3 minutes or so, as it will rise quickly to the surface. Lift the pasta out of the boiling water using a slotted spoon and drizzle over some extra virgin olive oil before spooning on that delicious Bolognese. Finish with fresh chopped flat-leaf parsley and grated Pecorino Romano cheese.

Grandma must be smiling, that’s for sure 🙂

Have a great weekend.

Advertisements

Supremely Cheesy Garlic Chive Crackers and the Buddha who lost his head

My Buddha lost his head the other day. 

He’s been with me for well over a decade my little stone Buddha. Surviving treks and trips across the country, being carted around in haversacks dumped on dirty railway platforms and in the cargo hold of planes, and through weeks of silent meditation… not to mention a Labrador named Shanti who hid him deep within the recesses of her ripped-apart bed one day when she wanted to vent at being left alone at home for too long. I honestly expected him to emerge on her walk the next morning thinking of how she would get him out of her system. We’re talking stone here… But silly me, because it was Shanti who had the last bark and a change of heart and led me to where she had sequestered him. It was all so funny, I cracked up, hugged her and I swear I could hear her give a little doggie-giggle in glee when I turned my head away. So yeah my Buddha’s been a constant companion over the last decade.

And then quite unexpectedly he loses his head.

Incidentally I’m all for venting. I believe it to be good for digestion, though I fully subscribe to the Buddhist notion of it being devoid of any trace of anger… crazy, huh? So now you think I’m nuts, or on something. Seriously people, I haven’t even tried weed, let alone other more potent stuff and now that I’m stepping into the mid 40s I doubt I’m going to start. Though I understand that menopause can get you to do really crazy things.

But getting back on track I suppose you’re wondering if it’s even possible to vent without anger. After all, isn’t the purpose of venting just that, to express anger towards…???  Someone. But it isn’t… and I’m not talking some cockamamie bs here. Anger is self-destructive. Corrosive, it eats away at our insides burning holes in our bodies, minds and souls if you believe in them, while the person whom you thought your anger was directed at walks away without a care in the world. Stick n stones…

But that doesn’t mean that you ignore a situation gone bad, address it by all means but with a measure of calm. It is truly okay when we’re overrun to look for avenues to express the feelings that arise within us but with the least possible damage to ourselves. While some may choose to pray or meditate and by observing their anger watch it dissipate, others may walk or run till their legs ache and sheer exhaustion distracts them from their previous state of being. I also believe that you won’t quite qualify for the loony bin if you choose to look up at the sky and just scream or better still make sure no one’s watching you do it unless it’s your best friend who knows what a nut-job you are anyway. Venting can be quite therapeutic when it’s directed at no one in particular.

Which of course brings me to comfort food and crackers. I absolutely love crackers and I’ve never baked them. Silly, huh??? And its not just any old cracker I’m talking about here. I’ve been craving cheesy crackers. It was this huge bunch of garlic chives that I saw at the supermarket and promptly picked up on which I squarely lay the blame. But having never baked crackers before I was a bit worried about proportions and then I came across this recipe for Cornmeal and Chive Crackers from Pitchfork diaries and adapted it, omitting the cornmeal component entirely and using two different kinds of cheese, a sharp aged yellow Cheddar and Gouda. The result was a flaky and delicately crisp, but oh so cheesy cracker with the flavour of the garlic chives coming through all the way. I added white and black sesame seeds for a bit of nuttiness and that extra crunch.

Here are the ingredients –

¾ cup all purpose flour (extra while kneading and for dusting as required)

3 tablespoons butter – melted (microwave for 15 seconds)

3 tablespoons each – Sharp Cheddar and Gouda Cheese

4 tablespoons garlic chives – chopped

Pinch of salt (you can omit this as I discovered later)

½ teaspoon black pepper (crushed) 

1 tablespoon each – lightly toasted (cooled) white and black sesame seeds

Start by microwaving the butter so it begins to melt, then add the cheese and stir to incorporate. Once the cheese is all mixed in, stir in the chives and mix well. Sift the flour onto the butter-cheese-chive mix, add the pepper (you can omit the salt) and sprinkle the sesame seeds over the dough. Knead till all the ingredients are well assimilated to a soft dough.

Divide the dough into three balls. Cut out two strips of parchment paper and after dusting one of them with flour, place one of the dough balls onto the parchment and press down to flatten. Sprinkle the dough with flour and cover with the second sheet of parchment. Using a rolling pin, roll out the dough as thin as you can possibly roll it.

Make sure that you roll the dough out from the centre to the edges since you want even thickness throughout.

Lift the top parchment off carefully and cut into shapes using cookie cutters or a steel ruler and pizza cutter like I did and prick the rectangles with a fork or a skewer to prevent them from puffing up while baking. Repeat the process for the rest of the dough balls.

Lift the rectangles carefully off the parchment paper onto a parchment lined baking tray with a spatula and bake them in a 180° C preheated oven for 20 – 25 minutes or till they turn a light golden brown.

Cool the crackers on the baking trays itself once you take them out of the oven, before transferring them onto a cooling rack. I had some with ricotta… Cheese all the way! And they’re great on their own, especially with a hot cup of tea. 

I even had some at dinner with curried black-eyed beans, and they were delicious.

And I had some for dessert the next day with a lychee ice-cream.

Well, to get back to the Buddha I must say that I was a bit disheartened when he went over the edge and lost his head, but I managed to glue it back on, and he looks none the worse for wear.

And yes a dear friend ordered me another from Amazon which is en route 🙂

Enjoy your Sunday and have a great new week!

 

 

Good ol’ Caramel Rum n Raisin Cupcakes and a couple of Kites

I’m not huge on frostings. Seriously. Most times when I’m faced with a cupcake laden with frosting, I tend to have a pile of frosting sitting on the side of my plate. And believe me it does take some dexterity to get that frosting off without losing the top of your precious cupcake lying beneath. 

So, there it is, I’ve said it. I like a cupcake without frosting and don’t you tell me to eat a muffin instead. For starters, there’s a huge difference between the two, though with many a patisserie churning out cakey muffins, the true more bready muffin with its pat of butter is finding its identity merging with that of its sweeter, cakey cousin. I love muffins by the way, but today is about cupcakes, though the batter was so moist I ended up adding a little more flour than my recipe originally called for. I thought I’d have to re-christen it a muff-cake, but that bordered on x-ratedly weird, so I ditched the idea. What’s a touch of extra flour when the result is this boozy, decadent, moist and heavenly cake in a couple o’ bites.

It all started with this pair of kites outside my window and their quest to build a nest. Now how difficult do you think building a nest would be for a couple of kites, given that they are pretty much the largest birds in these skies.

The Home-maker... twig in beak

The home-maker...twig in beak

Massively difficult as I found out. Though at the end of the day, or the week more like it, the kites did prevail. It kind of made me think of a pregnant Mary doing the round of inns in Bethlehem with Joseph, and having the door slammed in her face. Only this time around it was the crows who played dirty. What’s it about crows playing spoilsport to a pregnant kite. Predator like they dive-bombed the poor kite who valiantly tried to hold her ground at first, then hopped about from branch to branch desperately holding on to an all too large twig she had carried up into the tree, before dropping it and screeching for help.

And it arrived. Her mate, careening in at top speed into the murder of crows, seven of them, at times even nine, scattering them about, before the nasty critters regrouped (apologies to all you crow lovers out there) and turned on him, chasing him off, pursuing him from tree to tree, pecking at his tail feathers.

we're watchin' you... with our little black beady eyes

I’m not merely talking the common house crow here, but also the more vicious jungle variety, larger, black and sharper beaked, almost raven-like. Two hours every morning, and then they were gone, off to gloat about their little victory over the kites who after the crows departed each day would go into high gear, building twig upon twig, but to no avail. The next day would find the crows back at their vicious game, the mess of twigs dismantled, the dive-bombing back on point. But the doughty kites persisted, and the crows finally gave up. I’d like to believe that they were just messing around and realised they’d gone too far. Whatever it was, it meant that the nest was up, twigs, cloth, cotton and whatever else the kites could muster. I caught a glimpse of what I thought was an egg yesterday, there must be, because mama kite sits in the nest all day, while her mate dutifully tends to her, bringing tasty tidbits and sitting on the branch of the adjoining tree screeching out what I can only assume to be the kite equivalent of “any time now” to every passing avian who would care to know.

And then I was meeting a friend for dinner and two good things in one day called for a treat. Rum n Raisin’s always a winner… but with a twist. Or squeeze as it turned out, (a good couple of squeezes in fact) of Hershey’s caramel syrup (and no… Hershey’s isn’t paying me a dime. Though if any one from Hershey’s reads this post I have a list on the ready, and I would be grateful if they obliged :-))

I ended up using a little more flour than I normally use for this recipe, close to 1 1/3 cups (because the caramel syrup and rum made the batter a bit more runny than I expected) to my cup of butter (softened) and powdered sugar (+ 2 tablespoons of the sugar). Creamed the butter n sugar before adding in two eggs, a 1/2 teaspoon of vanilla extract and the flour which I sifted with a level teaspoon of baking powder and a pinch of baking soda. I used dark raisins (aka black raisins… about 3/4 of a cup and some currants (1/4 cup) that had been steeping for a couple of months in rum. Oh yeah! Adding in 2 teaspoons of balsamic vinegar and a teaspoonful of granulated sugar just to take it a notch higher.

Ummm…

Don’t forget to add in a couple of tablespoons of the rum the raisins have been steeping in as well.

And then…

Now, I could have made caramel from scratch, but then I figured I’d let Hershey’s owe me one 😉 So about 4 large tablespoons of caramel syrup. And that was it, incorporate everything well, none of that measured muffin folding technique required here.

deliciously decadent!

I allowed the batter to sit for 10 minutes before filling up the cupcake liners about 3/4 of the way. Then baked them in a pre-heated oven at 200° C for 15 – 18 minutes.

Let the cupcakes cool completely before biting into an explosion of flavours. Rum… raisin… caramel… and yeah… ‘Don’t Eat n Drive!’

Black Olive and Marjoram Semolina Bread

I must confess. I had never eaten semolina bread up until now, and didn’t know it was so hearty. Had just one buttered slice at brunch today, with my alfalfa omelet, and it was quite enough to take me through to dinner.

But it makes a darn tasty loaf and quite a good looking one too. The only problem was that I didn’t have any fine semolina flour. In fact, I’ve yet to see it in the supermarkets or at any of the stores here, though semolina itself in its more grainy form is used in many dishes, both sweet and savoury.

So I improvised, and ground 1 1/4 cups semolina in the food processor, to as fine a consistency as I could. Adding in the 12gms of fresh yeast I  had activated in about a 1/2 cup of warm water, along with another cup or so of the water, till the mixture resembled scrambled eggs. It’s important to allow the semolina-yeast mixture to sit for at least 15 – 20 minutes before adding the all purpose flour (2 cups), so that the semolina absorbs the water. Then add in the rest of the yeast mix, more warm water (if required) and a teaspoon of coarse salt, before folding in the chopped and pitted black olives (1/3rd cup), 4 – 5 tablespoons of fresh sweet marjoram and 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil… my little additions to the loaf.

All speckled with green and black

Given that I had never even tasted semolina bread before embarking on this venture, and to compound matters, had neither the bread flour nor the fine semolina flour suggested by most recipes, I decided to follow the three-prove method suggested by Macheesmo

3 hours for the first proving… After the dough has more than doubled, press it down or knock it back if you like… Go on! Get all that anger out! Bread making‘s a great anger management tool. All you therapists and psychologists out there take note. So yeah… knock it back, knead it lightly and return it to the re-oiled bowl for the second proving of 45 minutes to an hour.Once the dough has risen, press it down and roll it out with a light touch of the rolling pin, before folding the dough back in and shaping it into a loaf. You can also use a pat down motion with the palms of your hands, but the rolling pin is quite good.

The dough for this bread was really soft, so I sandwiched it between two towels while it sat its third prove (about 30 minutes or so, till it got nice and puffy). I’m glad I used the towels. I probably would have had Semolina Flat Bread if I hadn’t.

Finished by brushing the loaf with egg wash, sprinkling on some sesame seeds and slashing the top (diagonal cuts) with a very sharp knife, while the oven was preheating.

I removed the towel supports just before baking the loaf for 35 – 40 minutes at 190 degrees C… and this is it.

My Black Olive and Marjoram Semolina Bread… ready for that trip to YeastSpotting.

Allow the bread to cool in the pan for 20 minutes then transfer the loaf on to a wire rack to cool for at least 30 – 40 minutes before slicing into it.

Now slather on some butter and take a bite…

For my first attempt at Semolina Bread I was quite pleased, though I may tweak a few things here and there when I try another variation… starting with a finer grain semolina perhaps.

The bread is quite hearty, even on its own, so I haven’t been eating more than a slice at a time. The olives in the bread were quite lovely to bite into. But the marjoram is what made this loaf special for me… a delightful addition.

Quite similar to oregano, marjoram has such a distinct sweetness of its own, I’m thinking up a zillion ways in which to use it…

Perhaps in something sweet the next time.

Spicy Minced Chicken Buns

I made my first submissions to YeastSpotting last week and it’s got me pretty fired up. Which basically means that on any given day after all my other work is done, I’m hands deep in flour. Which also means that I probably need to invest in a bread-machine. But then I don’t want to lose the thrill of kneading the dough, working it, while it clings to your fingers at first and then lets go… that’s something which will be hard to pass up.

So no bread-machine… well at least for now. At least not until I decide to open a little bakery or follow my heart and head to the hills and open my little café.

I heard raucous shouts this morning while I was fixing my mug of coffee. There’s work going on in the building complex next door, and the migrant labourers the contractor has employed all sleep in the stilt parking space on the ground floor of the building facing mine. They’ve mosquito netted their sleep area, wise in this season, where despite the repellents the critters still manage to sneak in. Anyway, today’s raucousness was the result of a rather exuberant lot of the younger men, boys really, playing football (soccer), with an old pretty beat-up and tattered ball. But that didn’t stifle their enthusiasm. They played with such abandon, shouting out at each other to pass the ball, then deftly manoeuvring it through the obstacle-course of bamboo poles, clumps of rope and pipes.

Goal! one of them yelled, as he shot the ball into what was apparently the goal, and his team converged on him, the opposing goalie looking crestfallen for a second and then joining in the cheering.

What joy. I almost forgot I had other things to do.

Which brings me to some of my favourite things and that includes, stuffed buns or bread-rolls. My favourites, the minced meat ones, the spicier the better.

Spicy Minced Chicken Buns

The dough for these is a very simple one. 2 1/2 cups all purpose flour, a teaspoon of sugar, about 12gms fresh yeast, 1 1/2 teaspoons salt, 3/4 to a cup of warm water, and 3 tablespoons olive oil. Activate the yeast (with warm water and sugar), then add the flour, salt and olive oil. Knead for 12 – 15 minutes till the dough is soft and elastic. Place in an oiled bowl, cover and leave to prove for 1 1/2 to 2 hours or till slightly more than doubled.

In the meantime get your filling ready. I filled the buns with spicy minced chicken. So for about 400gms chicken, use 2 scallions, 4 large pods of garlic, a 1″ piece of ginger (more if you like), and 2 green chillies – all minced. Sautéing them in 2 tablespoons sunflower oil, with salt to taste, a large pinch of pepper, a teaspoon each of cumin and coriander powder, a 1/2 teaspoon of turmeric, paprika and garam masala, and a pinch of clove powder. Do not add any water while cooking the mince. Keep it covered and on a low flame, breaking down the meat and separating it with a fork to prevent it from clumping together. Finish with a squeeze of lime, a sprinkling of garam masala (another 1/2 teaspoon) and two tablespoons chopped fresh coriander. Cook till all the moisture evaporates and set it aside to cool.

Spicy Minced Chicken

Now return to the dough…

Once your dough has risen (1 1/2 to 2 hours), knock it back and knead lightly, then roll it out into a log and cut out 12 pieces. Knead each piece for a bit, then using your fingers stretch out the dough to make a cup for the mince and spoon in 3 teaspoonfuls of the spicy meat.

Pinch the dough together to close and work it for a bit to shape till round. Place on a cornmeal dusted baking tray. Allow to rise for about 30 – 40 minutes.

Preheat your oven at 230 degrees C. Brush the top of the buns with an eggwash, and sprinkle with seeds or herbs of your choice. I used poppy seeds and paprika for one lot and sesame seeds and ground cumin for the other… just coz they looked so pretty.

Poppy seed and Paprika

Sesame and Cumin sprinkled

And baked them for 20 minutes at 200 degrees C.

Two for One...

They were just a bit spicy (the chillies were hot and I didn’t remove the seeds), but the bread around it provided the perfect foil to the spiciness of the mince. And they turned out refreshingly light. I ate three at a go. I really mustn’t.

Off to YeastSpotting they go!