Steak au poivre. Even purists will love it.

When it comes to steak, I’m a purist. Salt, pepper, maybe a tad of herb butter and I’m happy. No crazy marinades, no BBQ sauce, no oysters, thank you. Oh, and medium rare, please.

But sometimes you may need a tiny bit more, maybe a little sauce to make the fries go down easier. And this is where Alton Brown comes in. In his show “Good Eats” he did not only present how to manage to get steaks out of a whole fillet, he also made a very minimalistic sauce. Just cream, cognac and pepper. It’s a dream, it goes perfectly well with a steak without totally smothering its taste. Just what I like.

adapted from Alton Brown

2 tenderloin steaks, 4 cm / 1.5 inches thick
coarse salt
1 tablespoon whole peppercorns
1 tablespoon butter
1 teaspoon olive oil
80 ml / 1/3 cup Armagnac or Cognac, plus 1 teaspoon
250 ml / 1 cup heavy cream
1 teaspoon veal fond, powdered
1 teaspoon maple syrup
a dash of lemon juice
small packet of (frozen) fries

First, the steaks. Marvelously marbled, aren’t they? Make sure you have steaks at least 1 inch / 2.5 cm thick, but if you like them medium rare (the only way to go, really) have them cut 1.5 inch / 4 cm thick.

Get them out 30 to 60 minutes before you start cooking as you want to get them to room temperature. I think it’s horrible if a steak is nearly burned on the outside and almost frozen in the middle…

Crush the pepper quite coarsely, either with pestle and mortar or the biggest setting on your pepper mill.

Sprinkle the steaks with salt and cover them with the coarse pepper. Press it on lightly with your fingers, but no need to worry if some pepper corns fall off.

Meanwhile, start making the fries with your preferred method.

Heat up your pan (I prefer cast iron) on medium-high, melt the butter and add the olive oil. Nobody knows why, but a bit of oil prevents butter from going brown so quickly.

Put in the steaks and set the timer for 4 minutes. 4 cm and 4 minutes results in medium rare. Genius! Turn them over and give them another 4 minutes.

Then get them out on a warmed plate and cover them lightly with aluminum foil. Takes quite a bit of patience, but if you were to cut into the steaks right away, all the good juices would run out and leave you with a dry bit of meat. Not good.

Pour in the Cognac or Armagnac, then start scraping on the bottom of the pan to remove all the pepper corns and delicious crusts.
DO NOT SET TO FIRE! 80 ml is quite an amount of alcohol and I would nearly have set my kitchen to fire. Instead, let it cook down slowly until it’s nearly gone.

Pour in the cream, dissolve the fond powder and let it cook for 5 minutes until the consistency is slightly thicker than regular cream.

Give it a taste and add salt, maple syrup and lemon juice if you like, then serve.

Serve the steak, the fries and the sauce on a nice plate and pour in a nice glass of red wine. Or beer.

Elivs’ Meat Loaf. Pure Rock’n’Roll.

Meat loaf is a classic dish in German and American culture and there are tons of variations: my grandma used to put in a hard-cooked egg, my mom puts in tons of herbs and spices and my friend Nadine makes kind of a Greek version with rosemary and feta. But somehow I have settled on the version mentioned in my mother-in-law’s Elvis cookbook: glazed with ketchup and with bacon on it. It somehow tastes like home and it tastes even better with a cold beer and some loud rock’n’roll.


1 cup rolled oats
1/2 cup / 125 ml cream
2 tablespoons butter
1 large onion, finely diced
2 garlic gloves, crushed
2 celery sticks, finely diced
1 kg / 2 pounds ground beef
500 g / 1 pound ground pork
2 eggs
1/2 cup fresh parsley, chopped
1 tablespoon dried thyme
1 tablespoon dried sage
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon ground pepper
1/2 teaspoon hot sauce
1/2 tablespoon soy sauce | tamari
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1 hard boiled egg (optional)
vegetable oil
1/2 cup ketchup
4-6 bacon strips
1 kg / 2 pounds potatoes, peeled and halved

Soak the oats in the cream and let them sit for 15 minutes. And preheat your oven to 180°C / 350°F.

Meanwhile, chop up the parsley, onions, garlic and celery and cook everything except the parsley in the butter on low heat until they everything starting to get soft. Then set aside to let it cool.

Get a large bowl (the Kitchen Aid bowl is just perfect) and fill in the meat, eggs, all the spices and sauces (except the ketchup), the soaked oats and the softened onions.

This is the hot sauce I used – it’s really crazy hot, that’s why I reduced the amount to a 1/4 teaspoon.

By the way, I like to keep my measuring spoons separated – I only have one set and I don’t see why I should put everything into the dishwasher when I used just one spoon. So each one got it’s own keyring and they hang right next to my stove.

Mix the meat with the other ingredients either by hand – or if you have RSI like me from using the computer all day – use the paddle attachment on your Kitchen Aid on the lowest setting. Let it mix for a minute or so, it should just be combined.

Take a big casserole dish (mine is a Pyrex lasagna dish) and and lightly cover the bottom with oil. Then form a loaf out of the meat mixture and place it in your casserole dish. And if you were my grandma, you would place a peeled, hard-cooked egg inside the meat loaf. She called it “Falscher Hase”, meaning something like bogus bunny – traditionally served for Easter.

See the crack on the side? Make sure to seal all the cracks or all the beautiful meat juices will run out and leave you with a dry meat loaf. Nobody really likes that.

Next, cover all the surface of the meat loaf with ketchup. This will result in a nice, caramelized crust. And remember, everything caramelized is good by definition.

Lay on some strips of bacon and arrange the peeled potatoes around the meat. Put it into the oven for about 1 – 1 1/2 hours – until the crust is golden brown and (if you happen to have a thermometer) the internal temperature is over 65°C / 150°F.

Get it out of the oven and let it sit covered for 15 minutes – like any roast, all the good juices would run out if you cut right away. Cut into slices and serve with roast potatoes and ketchup. And sneak some of the brown stuff from the bottom of the pan on your plate.

And the next day, make sandwiches: toasted ciabatta bread, some homemade mayo, more ketchup, a slice of meat loaf and some lettuce.

Spaghetti Bolognese. Hearty, chunky, highly aromatic.

Isn’t curious that half the world eats Spaghetti with Bolognese sauce, except the Italians? They think we are all crazy eating fine, delicate noodles with a thick and chunky ragú. Or even worse: with meatballs.
I admit, getting the appropriate amount of pasta and sauce into your mouth is not really easy with this combination. Either you roll the spaghetti on your fork and all the ground beef falls off. Or you try to scoop up some sauce and the long pasta strands falls of. Feel free to cook rigatoni, ruote, conchiglie or whatever you like. But I stick with Spaghetti, because nothing beats the taste of childhood memories.


1 kg / 2 pounds ground beef
2-4 tablespoons olive oil
6 thick slices bacon, diced
2 onions, chopped
2 carrots, diced
1/2 cup tomato paste
1 cup / 250 ml red wine
1 tablespoon sugar
salt and pepper
Parmesan rinds
bay leaves
rosemary and thyme
chili flakes
a splash of balsamic vinegar
125 g / 1/2 pound of your favorite pasta per person

This depends on what you like – I prefer buying grinding the meat myself. That’s because I recently had the bad luck of getting gristle and bone bits on store-bought ground beef.

Cut the onion and the bacon into chunks. No need to chop everything into tiny bits. Also, cut the carrots into cubes. I like to quarter them and cut away 5 mm thick slices.

Take your biggest and heaviest pan and heat it up on medium-high on the stove.
This one: Le Creuset. I love it.

Fry the ground meat. I like to put in half of it and then the other half. I sometimes happens if I put all in that the pan cools down too much – and that results in water being sucked out of the meat. That’s bad.

If the meat is cooked done and you see some brown bits, add the bacon, the onions and the carrots. It’s getting kinda full, but that’s OK. Let it all cook for a couple of minutes until the onions are getting soft.

Now add the tomato paste, the red wine, sugar, salt and pepper, the herbs and a splash of balsamic vinegar. Top off with enough water to cover it all. Let it cook at least 30 minutes on medium-low and add more water if too much evaporates. Meanwhile, cook your pasta in salted water.

The Parmesan rinds simply the rest of your cheese pieces that not even a Microplane grater can persuade to give away tinier bits. I collect them in my fridge in a Tupperware container and they keep for ages. They not a must in this sauce, but if you cook the sauce for quite a bit (more than an hour), they will give the sauce a deep, complex flavor – just like the bay leaves. So it’s kind of a secret ingredient.

Serve the pasta along with the sauce and top it off with huge amounts of Parmesan.

Tortellini. Simply with cream and ham.

Cream? Again?


500 g / 1 pound / 2 packages fresh tortellini, either filled with meat/ham or spinach/ricotta
1 large onion, diced
200 g / 1/2 pound cooked ham, cut into strips
200 ml / 1 cup cream – maybe more
60 ml / 1/4 cup white wine, optional
nutmeg, freshly ground
salt and pepper
fresh parsley, chopped

Dice the onion your favorite way. Not too fine though, you still want to taste it afterwards.

Next, cut the ham into strips, I like them 2 cm / 1 inch long and 5 mm / 1/4 inch wide. It’s really easy: cut the ham slices into inch-wide long strips, stack them on top of each other and start cutting away 5 mm slices.

Get out your largest non-stick pan, heat it up on medium-low and let the butter melt. While you’re at it, heat up a pot with lots of salt water for the tortellini.

Gently cook the onions in the butter for several minutes, you want the soft and translucent, but no color. Add the ham and let it heat up in the pan – no need for browning here, either.

When the water boils, throw in the tortellini and cook them. The ones I bought were fresh and only needed 2 minutes. Tortellini are so easy, they start floating to the top when they are ready.

Fish the floating tortellini out with a slotted spoon and put them into the pan. Mix with the ham and the onions.

If you have a little rest of white wine sitting in your fridge, now’s the time to use it. Add to the pan and let nearly everything of it evaporate, then add the cream. If you’re not using wine, just add the cream. Yeah, all of it. And a couple of glugs extra.

Season with salt, pepper and quite a bit of fresh ground nutmeg – and let it cook for a couple of minutes until the cream thickens a bit. If you like, you can season with a dash of lemon juice.

Sprinkle with parsley and enjoy!

Zürcher Geschnetzeltes. Stroganoff the Swiss way.

Did you know that sweet sherry is a total pain to clean up? Some years ago, a bottle broke with less than half a cup of sherry left. It might not sound so much, but it was a tremendous disaster. Sweet syrupy drops rolling down in slow motion, sticking to everything in their way and running into every little groove. Photo albums, books, shelves, parquet floor, the TV set and various video game consoles got their share. Up to this day, the reset button of the Nintendo N64 still needs a bit of extra persuasion. Not to mention that some weeks ago, when I disassembled book shelves to replace them with new ones, I found various remnants of the sherry fiasco on those hard-to-reach places.

Sherry is a key ingredient in this dish, though I – ahem – stick to the medium-dry variety nowadays. You can leave the mushrooms out if you want to, even the green pepper corns if you must. And binding the sauce with cream cheese is such a clever trick: it brings a certain discreet acidity and as it is thick and often contains a little amount of starch, that saves you from stirring up a slurry. In my hands, corn starch always makes a mess. Luckily, no comparison with sherry.

for 4

1 package cream cheese (200 g / 7 oz)
1/4 cup / 60 ml medium-dry sherry
500 g / 1 pound chicken, turkey or pork, cut into strips
2-3 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 jar / tin of mushrooms – or 250 g / 1/2 pound fresh mushrooms, sliced
1 onion, diced
2-3 tablespoons paprika powder
1-2 teaspoons green or red pepper corns in brine

Put the cream cheese into a bowl and stir it with the sherry so that there are no lumps left and it has the consistency of a good mayonnaise.

Drain the mushrooms if you’re using a glass or can. And peel and slice them if you’re using fresh ones.

Dice the onion. And cut the meat into finger-thick strips.

Heat up a non-stick pan on high, then add the oil and just before it starts to smoke, add the meat and let it brown on all sides. Be patient, the meat will come loose as soon as it is brown enough. When the meat is done, get it out of the pan and onto a plate.

You may be wondering why I always heat up pans and pots empty. I don’t know how and why this works, but if you’re using non-stick pots, this is the way to have a quasi non-sticking surface: heat up empty and once in while, drop in half a teaspoon of water. If it just boils, the pot is still too cold. If if looks like a bubble and hovers of the surface, then you have the perfect temperature – pour in the oil, let it heat up and add the things you want to cook. And if the water splits up into dozens of hovering little balls, the pan is too hot. Remove from the heat and let it cool down for a minute.

In go the mushrooms and onions – let them also get a bit of color.

Now, the meat goes back in, then add the paprika powder and let the paprika get a tiny bit of color until you can smell the paprika. Be careful not to burn it though, or the whole dish will taste terrible.

Add enough water to just cover everything in the pan, season with salt, peppercorns, nutmeg and let it simmer for 15-20 minutes.

Reduce the heat and stir in the cream cheese.Then let it cook for another minute or so. It should thicken up nicely.

Give it another taste and season it. And then you’re ready!

Serve with your favorite carbs – there’s a never-ending discussion between my husband and me: pasta or potatoes? My very nice mother-in-law settles it by cooking the favorite side for each of us.

Pork tenderloin with onions and red wine. Heaven.

A couple of years ago, there was a cooking show on TV, called “Schmeckt nicht, gibt’s nicht” – which translates to something like “no yummy, no way”. Host was a guy named Tim Mälzer and I liked the 20-minute show because he actually managed to have his meals ready in 20 minutes, mostly without saying the dreaded sentence “and here we have it prepared in advance”… It gave you a kind of down-to-earth feel when a TV cook actually starts to peel an onion in front of the camera, instead of being surrounded by an endless number of thick-rimmed glass bowls, one for each cut and measured ingredient. What a waste!

Sadly, because the show was canceled some time ago, all the recipes were taken off the TV channel’s website – not even the wayback-machine could bring them back. I was really happy when I found a printout of this recipe when I browsed through my binder! I hope I remember to print out more recipes from the Internet, they vanish so quietly…

Adapted from Tim Mälzer

300 g / 10 oz / 1/2 pound red or white onions
3 garlic gloves
4 tablespoons olive oil
500 g / 1 pound pork tenderloin
salt and pepper
125 ml / 1/2 cup red wine
80 ml / 1/3 cup port
1 tablespoon honey
2 bay leaves
fresh rosemary

Peel the onions and cut them into 1,5 cm / 1/2 inch thick slices. It seems a bit crazy, but no this is not too thick! Be careful with them so that they stay intact.

Peel and mince the garlic and measure the wines. Oh, and preheat your oven to 200°C / 400°F.

Cut the pork tenderloin into 5 cm / 2 inch thick slices and flatten them a bit. Gently.

Heat up your largest and ovenproof skillet – or even a roasting pan if you’re doubling the recipe – on high, then add the oil and then quickly sear the meat on both sides. And don’t worry if the meat is not done, we’ll get to that later…

Get the meat out of the pan and let the onion slices get some color on both sides. Let the garlic get the tiniest bit of color.

Then add the honey and let it bubble up and caramelize for half a minute or so. Sounds strange, but honey and garlic together smell divine!

Now deglaze with port and red wine, put the tenderloin slices back into the pan (wiggle them in so that they touch the bottom of the pan) and add the spices – salt, pepper, bay leaves and rosemary. Cover with some foil or parchment paper and put it in the oven for 15 minutes.

Serve with your favorite kind of carbs, mine favorite being oven-roasted potatoes.

Roast Chicken. Leaping frogs and butterflies.

(adapted from Alton Brown, on youtube: part 1 and part 2)

1 chicken (mine was around 2 kg)
1 1/2 teaspoons black peppercorns
4 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 teaspoon coarse sea salt
1 lemon, just the zest
2-3 tablespoons olive oil
fresh parsley, chopped
6 carrots
1 leek
1/2 celeriac
2 cups red wine (white wine also works!)
lemon juice

This is a chicken I bought at my supermarket. And I realized that the whole chicken is much cheaper than buying just parts of it. Another big advantage: my husband and I never argue, because he prefers the breast meat and I the legs.

You can roast the chicken whole, but I for my part can never remember if you should put up first the breast or the back side. And on the bottom side, the skin will always be soggy instead of crunchy. Apart from the trouble cutting up a whole, piping hot chicken. In my case, that ends often in disaster – much to the joy of Henry and Nala

Before you start anything at all, preheat your oven/broiler to the highest setting.

When I saw Alton Brown’s Good Eats episode on spatchcocking/butterflying a chicken, I thought “genius”: all the skin is facing up and I don’t have to go through all my chicken recipes to find out if the breast or back side should go up first. And a bit later, I discovered the “leaping frog” method of cutting up a chicken on the internet.. I find it even better: you just cut it up, not cutting things away (like the backbone). Head over to Gourmet for detailed pictures, but no worries, this is really easy.

  • Place the chicken on the cutting board with the legs facing you and upwards. 
  • Cut the skin in the crease between the drumsticks and the body. Try not to cut the meat, just the skin and connective tissue – let gravity help you! 
  • Flatten the drumsticks, so that they lie flat on your cutting board. OK if you hear the joint pop, but don’t worry if you don’t.
  • Take your sharpest knife or kitchen shears and cut the ribcage in half, parallel to the backbone. No need to be too exact.
  • Flip the bird open like a book, lay it on the board with the skin side up and press down on the breast and backbone with the heel of your hand. Done!

My cutting boards are all way too small, I know.

Next stop: the spice mix. Put whole pepper corns in your mortar and crunch them up a bit. Add the peeled and chopped garlic and coarse salt and make a paste.

If you don’t happen to have pestle and mortar at home, crush the pepper corns on a cutting board with a meat hammer or something else that’s heavy and has a flat bottom. Search your house and be creative: marble slabs, corn cans, mason jars work just fine. Or just fill your pepper mill with 1 1/2 teaspoons pepper and grind it all on the coarsest setting. Puree or press the garlic and mix with the pepper in a bowl.

Grab a lemon (and read the label before buying it – be sure that it’s not been chemically treated so that you can eat the peel). Run it over the zester to get just the yellow part of the peel, not the white stuff – it’s bitter.

No zester at home? Any other fine grater will do. Or a vegetable peeler and then chopping the strips up very finely. But let me tell you – buy a microplane zester. It works wonderfully on citrus peel and parmesan and it is incredibly sharp. Don’t ask how many fingernails I ruined.

Mix the lemon peel with the garlic/pepper paste and thin it with olive oil. Chop a small handful of parsley and mix it with the rest.

Mr. Brown says to use a teaspoon, but I made a little piping bag. Just fill the paste into the corner of a regular freezer bag, twist it closed and – in the last moment – cut away the tip of the corner.

Wiggle your index finger between the meat and the chicken skin to loosen it. Be gentle and try not to tear the skin. You don’t need to get it all loose, just the breasts and the drumsticks are fine. Pipe in around 1 teaspoon of the spice mix and massage the skin so that you spread the spices under the skin. Don’t worry if you have some of the paste left.

Why under the skin? Basically, skin is there to keep the good things in and the bad things out. But I guess you want the meat to get a taste of the spices and that would not happen if you put the spices on the outside of the skin. And of course in the hot oven, all those delicate spices would burn and leave you with a taste of charcoal.

Cut the vegetables into finger-long pieces and cover the bottom of an ovenproof pan or roasting pan. I used my favorite, a cast iron Le Creuset pan. But work with anything you have – even a disposable aluminum pan works fine.

Use whatever vegetables you happen to have, even if they’re not at their best anymore and as long as they don’t tend to get mushy when cooked. Potatoes and whole onions would also work fine. In Germany, you often find “soup vegetables”, that is celeriac, carrots, leeks and parsley bound together. The perfect combination for this.

Lay the chicken on top of the vegetables and massage some olive oil onto the skin. You want a crispy skin, right? Put it into the oven for 20-30 minutes – you want a crispy brown skin and an internal temperature of both breast and drumstick of 165°F / 74°C.

While you’re at it, wash some small potatoes, brush them with olive oil and sprinkle with coarse salt. Pop them into the oven on a roast underneath the chicken. They should be ready just the same time as the chicken.

The meat was done, but for my taste, the skin could have been darker. Seems my oven does not get really hot anymore. Anyway, when the chicken is done, get it out of the oven and let it rest on a plate, cover with foil or another plate.

Crank up the heat of your largest stovetop and pour in the wine, let it cook and reduce a bit. While it cooks, scrape the bottom and sides of the pan to dissolve all that brown, crunchy stuff. This is what makes the difference between a good sauce and a really, really good sauce. Stir the vegetables so that the brown parts are submerged in the sauce. After 10 minutes, you can fish out all the vegetables if you don’t like them – in fact, I liked the wine-soaked carrots very much.

Give it a taste and season with lemon juice, salt and the leftover pepper-lemon-paste. Tastes good? OK, you’re done!

Now all you need to do is carve the chicken breasts, cut away the drumsticks and serve with potatoes and the sauce. Steal the skin from your husband’s plate and enjoy with a glass of wine.

Sauerbraten. With the brine, you’re halfway there.

Sauerbraten is a very traditional German roast, the sweet and sour brother of the pot roast. And to make it, just put the meat into the brine for a couple of days (check and turn over every day) and then follow the directions for pot roast, but instead of the wine and onions, use the brine. And when making the sauce, add a handful of raisins and almond slivers. And then you’ll have a very nice dish that goes very nicely with potato dumplings or spaetzle.

Of course you can also use this brine for any other kind of meat, especially venison and other game would work pretty fine.


375 ml / 1,5 cups red wine
375 ml / 1,5 cups red wine vinegar
375 ml / 1,5 cups water
1 teaspoon salt
8 peppercorns
3 bay leaves
4 cloves
8 juniper berries
2 onions, cut into rings
2 carrots, cut into thin slices
1/4 celery root, cut into matchsticks

Put all together into a large pot and let it simmer for 10 minutes. Let the brine cool off and pour over your meat, which can stay in there covered for 2-5 days in your fridge.

Beef and Guinness Stew Pie. Sort of.

My dad went for a business trip to Zwickau – that’s in the Eastern part of Germany. And he brought back several bottles of “Mauritius” beer. And it was very tasty stuff. Dark, slightly sweet, not too bitter. As I stayed with my parents over new year’s, we drank quite a bit and suddenly I was remembering the taste of Guinness in the Irish Pub in Auckland, New Zealand. And my husband’s tales of the pub in Hamilton, where he had a dish called “Beef in Guinness”, a very dark, rich stew with fork-tender meat, served with garlic bread and – of course – a pint of Guinness. And so we made “Beef and Guinness” the next day, but with Mauritius. While we were cooking, my mom remebered having eaten pot pies on a trip to UK – and so we covered the stew with flaky pastry. The perfect winter food – and with the perfect timing, as it just stared to snow…

adapted from Epicurious and Food Network 

2 cups carrots, cut into 1-inch chunks
3 parsnips, cut into 1-inch chunks
2 large onions, coarsely chopped
1 garlic clove, crushed
1 kg / 2 pounds stewing beef, cut into 1-inch chunks
3 tablespoons oil
2 tablespoons flour
salt and pepper
cayenne pepper
2-3 tablespoons tomato paste
1 1/2 cups / 375 ml Guinness (or other dark stout)
fresh thyme
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1 cup mushrooms (I used sliced champignons)

1 package flaky pastry (from the freezer, thawed)
1 egg, beaten
fresh parsley

Peel the carrots and the parsnips and cut them into nice big chunks – in this case, slices 1 inch thick. And also cut the beef into 1-inch pieces. No need to be too exact here. 

Also, cut the garlic and onions quite coarsely, I like the garlic in slices. Leave the thyme as it is. And save the parsley for later.

This is a neat little trick: Pour the oil on the raw meat and toss until all the pieces are covered. And then add the flour, salt, pepper and cayenne pepper and toss again. When you now fry the meat, it will get a nice brown crust, but without flour lumps or too much flour so that it would feel breaded.

Heat up a large pot on medium-high until it is really hot, and only then pour in some oil. Fry the meat in batches until all sides are brown, then get it out and keep on a hot plate.

Throw in onions, garlic, carrots and parsnips and fry them in the hot oil until they have softened a bit. Add the tomato paste and also let it fry for some moments.

Letting the tomato paste fry makes for a caramelized flavor and gets rid of some of the sour edge.

The meat may now return to the pot. Mix it well with all the vegetables and add the thyme. Also, put in the mushrooms.

And now comes in the beer. Just pour it in until the meat and vegetables are just barely covered. Season with salt and let it cook covered until the meat is tender. That should take about 2 hours – or 1/2 hour when you’re using a pressure cooker.
Add more liquid if too much is evaporating.

Remove the thyme and give it another taste – more salt, maybe a splash of Worcestershire Sauce? If you’re really hungry, you can eat it just like that, just make sure you have some bread to steep up the sauce. It’s delicious.
Maybe even some garlic bread straight from the oven…

But if you want to make little pot pies, fill some 1-cup ovenproof dishes 3/4 full. Then cover with the thawed flaky pastry. Trim the edges with a knife and crimp the dough on the edges.

Then brush it very lightly with a beaten egg and bake it for 25 minutes at 200°C / 400°F until the crust is dark golden.

Now grab a spoon and dig right in.

And of course you have some bottles of stout left. Right?

Lasagna. Brings back childhood memories.

My mom learned to cook with an Italian family. So in my childhood, many of the everyday dishes were Italian – like pasta, gnocchi or risotto. Lasagna being – as it is rather labor intensive – a treat for special occasions. Plus, 25 years ago in Germany, there simply weren’t any lasagna sheets to buy in the supermarkets. So my mom also made the pasta sheets from scratch.

And this is what the perfect lasagna looks like – at least in my opinion: 5 to 6 layers of pasta, thick beef sugo, a savoury Béchamel sauce and a thick, cheesy crust. No 1000 layers of dough, no ham slices and no pools of aurora sauce. But maybe that’s just me…


1 large onion
2-3 garlic cloves
3 tablespoons olive oil
500 g / 1 pound ground beef
a sprig of rosemary
2 bay leaves
dried chili flakes
1 tube / 200 g / 7 oz tomato paste
250 ml / 1 cup red wine
salt and pepper
2 teaspoons sugar
1/2 cup green olives, sliced
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar

50 g / 1/2 stick butter
50 g / 1,75 oz flour
750 ml / 3 cups milk
salt and pepper
dash of lemon juice

lasagna pasta, fresh if possible
200 g / 7 oz cheese, grated (I took Gouda)

Roughly chop up the onion and the garlic. I like thick garlic slices, so you will have some short bursts of roasted garlic flavor in your dish. And people who don’t like garlic can easily sort them out.

Heat up a large pan (non-stick if you have) on high, then pour in the olive oil and put in the ground beef and let it brown and cook through. Add the onions, the garlic and the spices and fry that a little bit more so that the onions also will get some color.

Add the tomato paste, let that also fry for a little bit (so that some sugars in it caramelize) and then pour on the red wine and enough water to cover. Stir until all the tomato paste and the brown bits on the bottom of the pan have dissolved. Add the rest of the condiments and the olives and let that continue to cook on low while you make the Béchamel sauce. Give it a taste once in a while.

And before assembling the lasagna, fish out the bay leaves and the rosemary sprig. They taste terrible in a lasagna. Trust me, I tried…

For the Béchamel sauce, melt the butter in a smaller pot on medium heat. Put in all the flour at once and stir with a whisk until you cannot see any more dry flour. Continue stirring and frying until the flour and butter have taken a light golden color. That takes about 2 minutes.

Now add about 1/2 cup of milk and stir until the mixture becomes quite thick (it will feel like soft play dough), then add a little more milk and continue stirring. Always add a little more milk until you feel the sauce thickening. Use up all the milk and if you find it too thick you can still add some water. Season with salt, pepper, fresh nutmeg and a dash of lemon juice and let it cook for some more minutes.

This is a very basic Béchamel sauce, but you can make it more elaborate by first frying some shallots in the butter before adding the flour. Or by using half cream and half stock to build the sauce. Just remember to take the same amount of butter and flour, cooking that unitl it gets golden and then adding a cold liquid. 

That’s another basic rule for using flour / starch to thicken liquids: Always have one cold and the other hot or you will end up having lumps and a starchy flavor. Vice versa, this also is true for thickening a hot sauce with a slurry – which always has to be cold.

Oh, and please do me the favor and ALWAYS add some lemon juice or vinegar to your Béchamel sauces. Yes, that will make the sauce a lot thinner, but the taste without the lemony zing is just flat.

Now, to assemble the lasagna: First of all, preheat your oven to 180°C / 350°F. Then take you favorite casserole – glass, ceramics or metal doesn’t matter. This is a rather small casserole, about 20 by 15 cm.

Most important step of all: Put a rather thick layer of Béchamel sauce on the bottom of the casserole. This saves you buttering the dish and prevents the bottom pasta sheet from becoming a leathery and uncuttable layer.

Then, lay on one sheet of lasagna pasta – these were store-bought fresh ones. You can also use the pre-cooked hard ones, but then you should add some more water to both sauces before building the lasagna as they will need more cooking liquid.

Then spread on a big spoonful of the sugo and some dollops of Béchamel sauce. Then again pasta, sugo and Béchamel until you have used up the sugo or you have reached the top of your baking dish. Make sure you have some Béchamel left.

The last and top layer will be a pasta sheet topped with the (generous) rest of your Béchamel and lots of cheese.

As much as I love Parmesan – do not use it here or at least not as the sole cheese. It was aged for so long, it is rather dry and will burn very quickly. Also, I’m a fan of a thick, gooey cheese crust, so I stay with Gouda.

At this point, you could freeze the lasagna and then bake it some other time.

Put the lasagna it the oven and bake it for about 30-45 minutes – depending on how crusty you like your cheese. And let it stand for some minutes.

Cut out some rectangular pieces and have a glass of red wine with it.