Thursday 14 February 2013

Time for Coffee; A St Valentine’s Day Menu

The writing of this post was interrupted by the fight at Fat Hippo's OK Corral so is a fraction out of date and too late now for Big Don 'Mad' Kev Alviti's Valentine's Day Dinner.  Still, I promised to give him the recipe for German Red Cabbage and then, as usual, I went overboard a bit.

A little while back Big Don ‘Mad’ Kev Alviti posted an excellent recipe for pheasant having landed a brace or two demonstrating that at heart he was more a family man than the ruthless underboss of a powerful family.  He also asked if any of his readers had other recipes for pheasant so I posted a comment detailing the way I cook Guinea Fowl which are, I suppose, Africa’s pheasants.  I suggested he served the dish with German style red cabbage, spaetzle and cucumber dill salad.
This is Sauerbraten (a marinaded roast beef) with Spaetzle and Red Cabbage.
The dish will look something like this but, delete the beef
and exchange it for the Guinea Fowl/Pheasant in the picture below:

He seemed pleased but wanted to know how to make German style red cabbage.  I think German cuisine is much maligned and definitely hovers in the shadow of its culinary powerful neighbor France in much the same way as good, honest English food does.  I would be hard pushed to state categorically which my favorite dish was but I can say categorically that it would not be French.  I have no desire to upset any of my French readers.  You are the world’s epicures.  Most of the lexicon of culinary terminology is derived from your language, a language also highly regarded for its power to seduce women, so I think the French cottoned on to the idea ages ago that most living creatures on Earth are motivated by instincts to survive and procreate so why not do it stylishly.  And so the French fashion industry was born, Citroen and Facel Vega made barking mad cars, Brigitte Bardot proved that God was having a really good day when he made Woman and every Chef the world over strives for a Michelin star.

If I had to choose one English dish, honey glazed roast pork with roast potatoes and parsnips, boiled cabbage and parsley sauce would be right up there.  The German dish would be any Wild Gericht, (wild boar, venison) in a creamy mushroom sauce served with red cabbage and spaetzle, the German pasta and it was the latter I suggested to Big Don Alviti since we were dealing with pheasant.

Naturally I wanted to reply and explain how one prepares red cabbage German style but then I realized that we are so close to Valentine’s Day, a significant anniversary for families like the Alvitis so, I thought, why not go the whole hog and do a St Valentine’s Day Massacre Menu?

As a result, this is a long post and since I have never photographed the dishes I describe in the past, all the photos you see have been culled from the interweb thingy but I will correct that when I prepare all this for Marcia in a few days time.

First, the recipe I suggested to Big Don Kev for pheasant a few days ago:

This is how I prepare Guinea Fowl so it will work well with pheasant. It works with chicken and duck too.

Portion the birds and place in a glass bowl. Add a couple of bay leaves, roughly chopped onion, carrots, pepper corns, juniper berries, a few whole cloves and cover with red wine. Cover and leave overnight in a cool place (we have to stick it in the fridge in Angola).

Next day, brown the portions of bird off on high heat in a bit of olive oil in a cast iron casserole. Add a couple of tablespoons of flour to the sizzling birds, give it a good stir around and then add the strained liquid from the marinade. Best to do it gradually while stirring gently so that the wine combines with the flour and juices.

Strain a jar of pickled pearl onions (the really small ones) and place them in another heavy based pan, add brown sugar, a tablespoon, and caramelize. Don’t burn it, keep it all moving, and then add that to the birds.

Add wild mushrooms, can be dry but the heavier the flavor the better (button mushrooms are a bit bland), and a chopped up big chunk of smoked bacon (not the water injected sliced stuff you get in vacuum sealed packets) and also a pinch of black pepper.

Let this simmer gently for an hour or two. Check every now and then to see it isn’t burning on the bottom of the pan but be careful not to knock the flesh apart. Add chicken stock to prevent the sauce over thickening and burning and, towards the end, check seasoning. They like lots of salt here but you may get enough out of the bacon for your taste. If not, add a pinch or so to taste. Then take it off the heat and let it settle. Before serving, add cream to the sauce which by now should be thick as gravy.

I have never used a ‘Crock Pot’ but I imagine such a device would be ideal once you have assembled all the ingredients into one pot. As I have already said, this works with chicken as well but you get the best flavor if you use the genuine free range ones that are tougher than the farmed varieties.

This dish is best served with red cabbage (cooked German style), German Spaetzle (to soak up the sauce) and a cucumber dill cream side salad.

That was the end of my original comment.  So now, just for Big Don Kev, here is the rest…

Red Cabbage, German style (well, my style anyway!)

Chop up one large onion, place in a big heavy pan with a bit of goose fat or beef or pork dripping (or olive oil) and fry them off until they are clear and slither about the pan.  You can caramelize them slightly but don’t let them burn!  Burning ingredients brings many forms of bitterness;  in your heart when you look inside the pan and say, ‘Shit! I’ve burnt them, now I have to start again’; for the flavor of the dish and finally, for your family who eat it and think to themselves, ‘I wish Mum had cooked tonight’.  So don’t burn anything!

Peel and thinly slice a couple of tart apples (coring them first obviously) and chuck them in.

Slice a red cabbage up into thin ribbons discarding the heavy white core and chuck them in.  Give it all a stir and then add a bloody good slosh of wine vinegar, about half a whisky glass full, give it another stir and bang the lid on the pan to let the lot steam for a couple of minutes.

Add a bay leaf, a few whole cloves, a few pinches of salt, a heaped teaspoon full of brown sugar and a loaded tablespoon full of thick plum or damson jam, the stuff that looks brown rather than artificially purple.  The Germans call that jam Pflaumenmus and instead of being gelatinous like ordinary jams, it resembles the slurry oozing out of a Russian industrial estate but believe me, it is fantastic.  I am sure you must be able to get it in UK by now.  If not, go for any fruit rich plum or damson jam.  If it is homemade, even if it is runny, so much the better.

Beef stock or wine?

Now you have a choice and I know my dear old Granny (yes, I am in my mid-fifties and my German Granny is, thankfully, still alive) would argue with me on this but, bear with me while I explain.  This stuff has to simmer for at least a couple of hours so the liquid we have added so far will not be enough.  There are those, curiously putting their health before culinary happiness, who say you should now add plain water.  What a load of tosh.  There are those, my dear Granny included, who say we should add white wine.  Granny, my darling Granny, matriarch of the Von Borken family, we have wine vinegar in there, why do we need to add only wine?  Naturally, when I am in Baden-Baden and in her kitchen, I do it her way but when I am beyond her stern gaze, I add beef stock and only a dash of wine.  This red cabbage is served as an accompaniment to rich game so we need to give it some legs so it can punch the diner’s tonsils on the way down.  So I would suggest keeping the mixture simmering in beef stock, adding maybe another dash of wine vinegar an hour into the process.    For the beef stock, the real stuff is of course best but an OXO cube dissolved into a litre of water is fine, you’ll probably only need half the stock anyway so you are not going to over flavor it.  Knorr is rubbish, by the way.

For the last half hour, you want the liquid to reduce so you need to keep an eye on the pan stirring it occasionally because IT MUST NOT BURN!

Once it is no longer sloppy and with a wooden spoon you can extract a real heaped spoonful , turn off the heat, bang the lid on again so it can rest and finish off the other dishes.

I realize that if you want to do your Pheasant/Guinea Fowl/Wild Chicken with Rotkohl and Spaetzle you will need to be around to rattle the pans for a couple of hours but believe me, with practice, you can do all that and in the meantime mow the lawn, install a new loft hatch and service the truck. Oh and wash the pans, of course.  All before the wife gets home.

It is nearly Valentine’s day so if you are up for the Pheasant dish and the red cabbage, just buy the Spaetzle, I am certain it’s available in any decent delicatessen and all you have to do is cook it like pasta.  It is, though, incredibly easy to make but you really need one of these, a spaetzle press:
A lot of people hate doing things manually, they want to see an On Off button but this is so easy

It is also good for ricing potatoes and squeezing the water out of soaked socks so they dry quicker on the radiator.  The socks, not the potatoes.

With one of these, all you have to do is follow the step-by-step instructions for making Spaetzle in less time than it has taken you to read this far on this excellent site:

Dominic has been making himself spaetzle with my press since he was nine.  He has it for breakfast frying up chopped bacon and mushrooms in a pan with loads of butter and then adding the spaetzle.

Now you need an entrée.  Buy a bag of frozen King Prawns (like if you want to go crazy Big Don, buy lobster tails), let them thaw out and peel them.  Buy some really crispy lettuce, a few cherry tomatoes, some celery and some ripe Avocados.  Now you need some Heinz Salad Cream, Tomato Ketchup and some Tabasco Sauce.  Beat up in a bowl (sorry about all the washing up) a 50:50 mix of salad cream and tomato sauce.  Add a few drops of Tabasco (we don’t want ‘Burning Bum By Morning’ but we do need a little piquancy), salt and pepper, give it all a stir and place to one side.  I am surrounded by ravenous dogs so ‘placing to one side’ for me means higher than they can jump.  Shred the lettuce and make a bed of it on a large flat plate.  Don’t go mad, Mad Big Don, this is just a garnish, we’re not disguising a grave with vegetation here.  If the prawns/lobster tails are from a reputable source, such as Findus, then place them in a colander, boil up a kettle of water and blanche them to remove any trace of equine DNA before sticking them in the fridge to chill.  If they are from your local EU unlicensed fishmonger then they are likely to be raw and unlikely to be anything else other than prawns or lobster tails so just steam them in a colander over a pan of hot water with a bit of chopped garlic, onion and wine for a few minutes and then chill them in the fridge.

Don’t be tempted to slice into the avocados until moments before you assemble the dish unless you really hate your guests.  There are many ways of testing the quality of an avocado (poking the end, squeezing it) but I subscribe to the John Gray method.  I realize Scotch Eggs do not grow on trees but they are more or less the same shape and scoffing a couple on the way home is a sure fire guarantee of quality so remember to buy a couple extra.  I can go through Avocados at the rate of about one every ten miles, if I am driving, more if I am the passenger.

Slice a couple of the cherry tomatoes into as thin strips as you can.  Slice four inch sticks of celery into as thin strips as you can.

Shit, I forgot the Mangos.  Peel a ripe Mango and slice the flesh off.  It is always easier to peel just a bit of the skin off, slice the exposed flesh and then peel it a bit more and so on.  Peeling the whole thing and then trying to slice it makes the flesh mushy.

Bollocks, I forgot the fresh coriander leaves as well.  Seriously, I am rubbish at writing about cooking but stick me in front of the pans…

So nip back to the supermarket and buy a bunch of fresh coriander leaves.

When you get back, give everything a stir to make sure it isn’t BURNING and then chop some of the coriander up finely.

Peel the avocado.  This is dead easy.  Just attack it with a knife.  I usually kill them cleanly by quickly slicing them in half and giving them a twist so the big brain in the middle falls out.  Peel the skin off and then slice them lengthways but not quite to the end.  This way, pressing a hand down on top of them causes their earthly remains to spread out in a wonderful fan.  Slide a Chef’s knife or spatula underneath and lift this onto the restrained bed of crunchy lettuce.  Squeeze a few drops of lemon juice over the avocado.   On top of this lay a few slices, we are talking no more than two or three wafer thin segments here, of mango.  Now assemble the prawn/lobster tail on top.  Over this sprinkle just the tiniest hint of the chopped fresh coriander leaves.  Then as artistically as clumsy fingers allow, spread some of the salad cream/tomato sauce mixture over the pile.  A good dollup.  Don’t be shy but bear in mind, your guests are interested in what they are about to eat so while they are thanking God for what they are about to receive, they may also be grateful for a glimpse of steamed crustacean so they recognize what they are about to receive.

Toss the celery and tomato in a bowl to mix them up but not beat them into submission and then add a small multi-coloured bird’s nest of finely sliced celery with a hint, a mere smidgin of  the finely sliced tomato on top.  Crown this with the tiniest, thinnest slice of Mango and a few larger coriander leaves.

So we have sorted the Entrée out.  You know how to prepare your pheasant/chicken/Guinea Fowl, the German style red cabbage and you are going to buy ready-made Spaetzle (like most Germans do) so now we are just missing the side salad and a dessert.

I have maids which makes it easy for me.  I honestly hope you have a dishwasher because we need more bowls.

Peel and thinly slice a couple of cucumbers.  Lay the slices out in a bowl and finely sprinkle a bit of salt over each layer.  Do not go overboard Big Don Mad Alviti, just the very lightest dusting.  Think where the Boss says, ‘Give him a good kicking but don’t kill him’.  I know once you have a loaded packet of salt in your hand it is hard, but this time we need subtle. 

Stick the bowl in the fridge and forget about it for an hour or so. 

Where I live, Big Don A, I can only buy UHT cream which tends to come out of the packet as a stream of water followed by disgusting lumps which needs a good hiding with a whisk to get it looking half normal.  I am sure where you are, you can buy really nice fresh cream.  Buy some of that, give 250 mls or so a little stir in yet another bowl (you run out of bowls yet?) and mix in some finely chopped fresh dill, at least two tablespoons full.  If you have left the cucumber for a couple of hours you will find it is swamped in salty water.  Drain the salty water off and add the cream and dill, stir it up and stick it back in the fridge.  This will be your palate cleansing side salad.

Apart from the pheasants which you had to go out and shoot, everything I have mentioned in this Valentine’s menu is available in a supermarket so let’s keep up the momentum and talk about dessert.

Buy a big tin of peach halves in syrup and a normal sized can of pitted black cherries.  If you can't get tinned pitted black cherries, no matter, just warn everyone and provide a small plate for the spits, I mean pits.

Open the tins but only pour out the syrup into a heavy based pan (more washing and scrubbing I know).  If you have one, chuck in a sliced vanilla pod.  Also add a small piece of cinnamon bark and a clove and reduce the liquid to about a quarter of the volume.  Then remove the whole spices.  The juice should be quite syrupy. Add the peach halves and black cherries and fry them up.  You will need to gently flip the peach halves over a few times.  DON’T BURN THEM!

You could, and I urge you to try, flambé them at the table in front of a startled audience but I have found that while my sons are delighted by my theatrical extravagance, my wife is more concerned about our thatched roof.  If your wife feels the same way as mine, call the kids through to the kitchen on the pretext of collecting the plates and eating irons to lay the table, slosh in the Cointreau or Cognac and let rip.  It is a bonding experience when the kids rush back into the lounge shouting gleefully, ‘Mummy, Mummy! Dad’s just burnt his eyebrows off and had to put his head in the washing up bowl!  It was EVER so funny!’

Covered in Vanilla ice cream and the rest of the whipped fresh cream, this makes an excellent dessert.

Bon Appetit Monsieur Big Don 'Mad' Kev Alviti!

Go on, admit it.  How many of you having read my last post saw the title of this one and thought, shit, it's turned into a shoot out at Fat Hippo's?



  1. You are indeed a man of many talents. A man of many parts, even if some of them are missing, (and clearly not your brain). I too dabble in the kitchen. Well more than that, I cook every day, sometimes toute seule, and sometimes with my better half. The amazing thing is we can now do the latter without a St Valentine's Day Massacre, which I think is an amazing achievement, some 27 going on 28 years later. In fact it is quite often a symphony of joy, rather than the requiem it has on rare occasions been in those many lovely years.

    Clearly the opening of Fat Hippo's is long overdue. When shall I book my passage?

    1. I have heard of slow boats to China (your neck of the woods anyway) but never from there. And to Africa? From the comfort of Asia? Surely this is close to insanity?

      Give me another couple of months and then fly to China and get the direct flight to Angola from there. I have to warn you, dear Columnist, it may be a bit of an eye opener.

  2. Your Guinea fowl recipe is almost identical to how I do Hare (or even Rabbit). Spaetzle can also be made by forcing the mix through a large holed metal colander with the back of a soup ladle (directly into the water); I've seen it done, but never tried it.

    1. I can imagine it being perfect for Hare (or rabbit) if only we could get them. The colander technique works fine as well but a press allows for some art. Short and fat? Or long and squiggly? If you have any dish with a rich sauce, however, spaetzle beat the hell out of boiled potatoes, spaghetti or rice. Curries are a different animal entirely.

  3. Good stuff. I'm making tiny bear burgers, and I may have to try spaetzle, and most definitely the cabbage.

    My takeaway line here, from the (soon to be) Fat Hippo series on weights and measures: "a bloody good slosh of wine vinegar..." followed by a clarification, "about half a whiskey glass full..." I'm seeing a chart with categories for liquid types (e.g., a "slosh" would be different for vinegar vs. ale), comparisons to various drinking vessels, and fun British-sounding terms.

  4. Josh, you are alive!

    My measurements are more visceral, aren't they? Do you know what 125 millilitres of vinegar look like? No, neither do I but I'll bet even a teetotaller knows how big a shot of whisky is. Sorry Wiskey with an 'E'. You real men drink sour mash.

    In UK, bear meat is out of fashion, by the way, we are into horsemeat now.

  5. I caught the horsemeat comment, and because of my eclectic reading tastes, I've been in the know about the equine escapades of folks back in the old country.

    As a red-blooded American, I can honestly say I don't even know what a kilometer looks like, let alone mls. I've come across a few other "visceral" measurements ("an apron-ful of green walnuts", "cook 'til done"), and I like yours the best.

    I'm more of a single-malt man, myself, but that's because I'm trying to reconnect with my Scottish roots, including the finest in smouldered moss and boiled intestines.

  6. Right, I'm adding to the shopping list this week. I'm sat waiting for a bacon sandwich my wife us cooking (with egg, black pudding and mushrooms) and reading this has made my mouth water, i may even have to borrow one of my daughters bibs! Thanks for this, that cabage sounds like it could be a meal in itself!


Please feel free to comment, good or bad. I will allow anything that isn't truly offensive to any other commentator. Me? You can slag me without mercy but try and be witty while you are about it.