Sunday, July 27, 2014

Chips or French fries

Cooking chips, as they are called in Ireland and other English speaking places, or French fries as they are called in America, is not too difficult. Many people are frightened by the hot oil! If you are careful and don’t take any chances with it, it’s really quite straight forward. One safety precaution is to make sure you have an extinguisher in your kitchen - I’ve had one for more than twenty years and have never had to use it, even though I make chips or French fries quite often. Safety first: NEVER, EVER leave the oil over the flame unsupervised! Monitor it all the time while you’re using it. Watch it carefully! Should you, God forbid, have a fire and no extinguisher, do NOT throw water or a towel on it. Turn off the burner and quench the flames with a pan lid. Remain calm - do not panic! If there is flame on the stove quench this with some baking soda. Until you feel confident keep a lid and some baking soda handy! Keep your eye on the hot oil at all times while cooking and you shouldn't run into any problems.

For very crisp fries: peel the potato first; after chipping soak in cold water for an hour and carefully drain to eliminate the potato starch. Dry completely before placing in the basket. I never do this and am still pleased with the results. If you are careful to slice the potato along the long side you will only have skin at either end and on a few of the outer pieces. The skin makes fries/chips soggy as does oil that is not hot enough! Immersing the potatoes three times in the hot oil is the key to great fries/chips.

I like to use Yukon gold potatoes, but others prefer plain white or red potatoes. Experiment and decide which is your favourite. I usually use one large potato and leave on the skin. Most of the nutrition in a potato is just under the skin, the rest is mainly empty carbohydrate, so it’s nutritionally best to use the whole, unpeeled potato. This recipe will serve 1 - 2 people.

You will need a deep 3 quart saucepan and a basket that fits neatly into the saucepan. A basket is highly recommended when making fries/chips. Without a basket, it takes too much time to slowly scoop the potatoes out of the fat, which results in an uneven fry.

Put the pan with the oil over a high flame while you prepare the potato. N.B.: Keep a careful eye on the oil as it heats! Move it aside if it comes to temperature before you’ve finished preparing the potato! The oil will be ready when you can see a lot of waves in it and a little smoke rising from it.

Wash the potato and cut out any dark bits. Dry and place the potato on a cutting board and slice away a thin slice along one of the longer sides.

Turn the potato onto the flat side and cut thin slices along the long side

Line up the slices in a stack and lay them horizontally. Slice through the stack to create thin, long fries/chips. This is a little tricky: do not press down too hard as you slice or the pieces will slide apart! Make sure your knife is sharp and slide it gently across the stack, pressing just enough to pass through the potato. I often remove the top piece with skin to make it easier to cut the potato, then slice that piece on its own when the stack is cut.

Place the fries/chips into the frying basket. Make sure none are stuck together so that all the hot fat can surround each piece. 

When the oil shows waves and begins to smoke, carefully lower the basket of fries into the hot oil. It will bubble and rise up around your potato slices/chips. While the frying is progressing, lay out some paper towels.

Allow the potato to fry for about 3 minutes until the slices/chips look translucent and slightly brown around the edges. Raise the basket slightly above the hot oil to check the appearance of the fries/chips. When ready remove the basket and place it on the paper towels.

Reheat the oil until it’s wavy and smoky again. Carefully lower the fries back into the oil and allow them to fry until they become more brown around the edges - about 2 minutes. Monitor the progress as described above. Remove the basket and place on the towels again. 

Reheat the oil a third time until it’s wavy and slightly smoky again. Carefully lower the basket into the hot oil  and allow to fry for another 3 minutes or until the fries are nice and brown. While they are frying you can make some aioli, if you like it.

Aioli: put a tablespoon of mayonnaise in a small container, add 1/4 tsp chopped garlic, some salt and pepper to taste and, if you like, some chili powder. Mix these well with a fork.

Once the potatoes are brown, remove the basket from the oil and place it on the paper towels again. Move the pan with the hot oil from the burner and turn off the heat.

Immediately sprinkle salt and pepper over the fries in the basket and toss them to coat evenly. Transfer to a plate, taste to check seasoning and add more salt and pepper if desired. Place the dish of aioli on the plate and add a dish of ketchup if you like. In Belgium they always serve mayonnaise with French fries and not ketchup. I like both as well as aioli, which is only fancy mayonnaise!

Ilse's German Potato Salad

Germans wouldn’t necessarily accept this as German potato salad. It is the salad I’ve developed over the years, influenced by the potato salad I first learned to make when I was in Germany. I like it very much! My friend, Lupe, likes it so much she uses it as a potato side dish for breakfast. It just goes to show that when you take a recipe from one part of the world to another it can be reused in a different way than is usual. I love this about food and the way it can be reinvented. I don’t think it really matters as long as it’s enjoyed. The first time I offered this to Lupe she couldn’t stop eating it and that is what matters. This recipe will serve between 2 and 4 people depending on how hungry they are and what else you serve with it.

12 or 14 small, 2” diameter, potatoes
6 slices of thick, meaty bacon
1/4 of a large onion
1/4 red bell pepper
1 tsp garlic
1 Tbsp evoo
Salt & pepper to taste
3 tsps vinegar
1 tsp brown sugar
some chile powder (optional)
2 Tbsp chopped parsley
2 Tbsp chopped green onions

Wash the potatoes and cut away any brown, unsightly areas.

Slice the potatoes into 1/8” to 1/4” slices. To do this cut a thin slice off one end and stand the potato on the flat end. Then slice down carefully until the whole potato is sliced.

Place the slices in a 2 1/2 quart saucepan and cover with water. 

Bring to a boil over a high flame, reduce flame and allow to boil for about 4 minutes or until a sharp knife slides in easily and the slices are cooked.
Strain into a colander over a bowl. Set aside to cool.

While the potatoes are cooling slice the bacon into 1/4” pieces.

Put the bacon into a frying pan and fry until brown and crisp.

While the bacon is frying chop the onion and red bell pepper into 1/4” cubes.

Put the cooked potato slices into a bowl

Once the bacon is nice and brown and crisp, scoop it out of the pan, leaving the fat behind. Add the bacon to the potatoes.

Decant most of the fat keeping about 1 Tbsp in the pan and add the chopped onions and red bell pepper to the fat. Let fry for four minutes until the onions are translucent and the peppers begin to cook.

Add the garlic. Cook for another two minutes. When you can smell the garlic add the evoo. Cook for another two minutes. Add the vinegar and brown sugar, cook for another two minutes. Pour the mixture over the potatoes. Add salt and pepper and chile powder. Mix gently but well until all the potato slices are well coated. Taste and add more salt and vinegar if liked. Set aside.

Chop parsley and green onions.

Add parsley and green onions to potato mixture and stir in gently. Taste again for salt and add more if desired.

If you like you can, while the potatoes are still hot,  add  and mix in all the other ingredients except the parsley and chopped green onions. The potatoes will fall apart and result in a more homogeneous mixture similar to mashed potatoes. Once the potatoes are mixed add and fold in the parsley and chopped onions. Try it both ways and see what you think. You can also choose to add cooked peas, beans, grated carrots or diced hard boiled eggs, if you like. You may need to adjust the salt, pepper and vinegar when you add other ingredients. 

Friday, July 18, 2014

Rock Buns

Rock buns are very easy to make. They're often the first baking mothers do with their children in Ireland and the UK.  The results are quite tasty and not too sweet!


8 oz/ 225g flour
2 tsp double action baking powder (2 tsp baking powder UK)
4 oz/110g soft butter
2 oz/ 55g brown sugar
4 0z/ 110g raisins
2 oz/ 55g dried chopped apricots or currants or candied fruit skin
1 medium egg
2 Tsp vanilla extract
1 - 3 tbsp milk - I often use 1/2 water & 1/2 cream
Brown sugar for sprinkling
Oil for greasing, if you are not using Silpats
Optional: add 1 tsp mixed spice or any other spice you like.  


Soak the raisins & apricots or currants overnight to plump them. Drain in a sieve over a bowl before using and use the residual water in the dough instead of extra milk.

Heat the oven to 400F/200C/Gas 6

Sieve the flour and baking powder into a large mixing bowl, add the softened butter and lightly rub together with fingertips (or use the chopper pictured below) until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs. I like to use the chopper.

Add the sugar and the fruit and mix until all ingredients are well incorporated.

Beat the egg, vanilla and 1 tbsp of the milk in a small bowl and add to the flour mixture to create a stiff dough. If the mixture is still dry add the fruit water, milk or cream/water mixture 1 tbsp at a time until required consistency.

Line two baking sheets with wax paper or use Silpats: these sheets are pricey, but save you money for wax paper and a lot of work and they last for years. You then place the Silpats on the baking sheets to bake just as if you were using wax paper.

Place golfball size mounds evenly spaced on the 2 baking sheets. Sprinkle with the brown  sugar. Makes about 30 small buns.  You can make them bigger, if you like, then cut them in half across and serve like a scone. They will take longer to bake if the mounds are larger. The pictures at the top and bottom of this entry are the larger version.


Bake in the preheated oven for 15 - 20 mins or until golden brown and risen. Serve with whipped cream or butter or your favourite preserves. Enjoy!