December 21, 2014

Christmas: to-do, to-get lists and traditions

It has been an incredible busy year, full of travel and great new discoveries. So i am but too happy that my mom is hosting Christmas Eve dinner  and Christmas lunch at her house this year.
We traditionally pick our menu together from inspiration from foodie magazines or ingredients we must have.
Elle a Table magazine has always been a major influence in our menu selection but we try to keep it cool. We cook together but at some point the kitchen is too small (and it is BIG) for us both, as we both are always right. So that is about the time where my stepdad, gets send to the cave to get the champagne. After a few sips, my mom and I turn on my bro, poor bro, and we pick on him. 
In between the many dishes we give each other gifts, we start with small, silly or funny gifts and gradually build up to big league gifts. Good food and great wine are at the heart of our celebrations. 


We also have Christmas crackers on the table, a British custom that we adopted, mostly for the jokes and the crownes.
Each family has their own Christmas traditions, these are ours, and I love it.

But the Holiday Season can be an overwhelming time so here a shortlist of things to remember in your countdown to Christmas:



1.     Plan what must be done : if you are like me you have your TO DO and TO GET list ready. What needs to be purchased, gift ideas, wardrobe ideas, things to order, things to do, ideas for the blog… it all get scribbled down on a piece of paper. I write long-term lists and ideas in my pimped Moleskine weekly notebook and then transcribe the to-get list and to-do list on Sundays on the piece of paper. I than plan when I will do what. I group what can be done in 1 hour time. So for purchases I group stores located near each other. And daily I execute a part of the list at lunch time or after work. Systematically. Things get crossed off (so fun) , things get added, things get changed but at the end of the week, trust me, everything on the list is done. I am ready for my next list for next week. At the end of the week I feel so happy I got it all done. This list-living might seem to some incredible limited and slave driving but to me it is liberating. I no longer have to think or worry, the list has it all sorted. and i get my weekends free to spend with family and friends.
So PLAN your end of year your way –  planning is essential as we all have the same deadline come Christmas. So get on with it!

2.     Smell the pine: oh yes my friends, before me-time was common language, I was blissfully aware when I needed a time-out from the craziness. This is my favorite time of the year and I NEED to enjoy it : stop and smell the pine! There are Christmas parties to go to, decorations to put out, gifts to select and buy, drinks to be had and having a merry old time all around. Put a log on the fire, take a walk in the crisp cold, snuggle up on the couch with tea and a book or bake gingerman biscuits, whatever makes you tick. Take your time to enjoy this season as before you know it's January: the greyest, darkest and dullest month of the year.



3.     Eat and be merry: there are such lovely foods to eat this time of year, so indulge. Nothing beats a great pot au feu (stew) on a cold day shared with friends. A fab glass of red wine while reading a good book or magazine. Candle light glowing making it a romantic season. A piece of venison perfectly cooked served with lovely caramelized chicon after a shopping frenzy. Or after work a picnic de luxe on the sofa with a friend: champagne, foie gras and caviar on blinis, so decadently lovely. Soon enough we will want salads and detox smoothies but now is the time to indulge.


Merry Christmas! 

December 10, 2014

Restaurant "La Villa in the sky" Brussels : the concept, the view and the food

Pop-up restaurants are en vogue these days; nothing wrong with a chef testing a new concept or i can even get behind a foreign or remotely located chef wanting to give us a chance to discover her/his food. What I dislike is when it is nothing more than a tent and a picnic table and cold food at outrages prices because the chef has a Michelin star restaurant. The Chef is not there nor are you at her/his restaurant. So let's keep it real, shall we!


THANK GOD plenty of Chefs get it right; La Villa in the Sky got it right. Apart from needing to invest in heating and possible better chairs should they make it a permanent thing; i thought the location (top of the IT tower) and the food was excellent. The view; it is rare to see that part of the city, even on a cloudy, grey day, the view is spectacular. Chef Alexandre Dionisio closed his star restaurant and jumped into this adventure with Villa Lorraine.

Most importantly the food was bang on. A parade of appetizers announce the promise of a great 3 course menu that is being cooked up in the open kitchen behind you. Daily fresh ingredients are manipulated into a delightful menu, wines can be self-selected or married to your dishes in a traditional or unconventional way, up to you. 

a teaser of red onion and guacamole 

smooth mash and wagyu slow cooked beef 
I loved the fried little bouchot mussels in the starter and the Turbot main dish was scrumptious! ... and the madeleines that came after the dessert were to die for. (I ate 3, sorry my friends who didn't get any)

love those fried mussels and celery

turbot, mash and mushrooms - LOVED the gold and spice mix

meringue, passion fuit and mango and ... vinegar  

those madeleines!!! 




December 6, 2014

Christmas gifts for foodies: a few ideas



It is that time of year where most of us get overwhelmed with gifts that must be purchased and must score. So let me help you a little on your way with some ideas for your foodie friends and family. And to make it easy all purchases can be found online and send direct to the xmas tree it needs to go under. No stress, no fuss... my kind of shopping. and honestly any gift below i would LOVE to receive - hint hint hint ;-) 

for the trend-spotter:  up coming city trips or your home town, a Wallpaper city guide will take you to the best places in town, it won't disappoint. I never travel without it, it has given me GREAT recommendations these past few years.




for the purist: a purchase store card for Green label in Brussels or Zero waste shop Robuust in Antwerp, our purist heart will skip a beat. 
Green label store products
www.fonq.be  - sharky the tea strainer
  
for the home cook: a cooking store gift certificate is not lame! Not to someone who can than pick out the kitchen gadget or that cast iron pot they dreamed of. Online browse at Fonq.be or in Brussels Home of Cooking is thE shop.
Grote foto
for the lover of food: take them out to a Michelin star restaurant  for lunch. The lunch menu is usually more affordable and lunch seats don't get booked too long in advance. Trust me, they will cherish this time spend with you for ever. On my list are: In de Wulf in Dranouter and The Jane in Antwerp. Or surprise them with a reservation at the "best new restaurant concept award" such as Balls and Glory or Superette both in Ghent. 
Michelin Restaurants
Wineryfor the lover of wine: ask your local wine shop to select 4 wines for the wine-lover to taste in the comfort of her/his home. Maybe include an idea/recipe of what dish to taste it with. I recommend stopping by The Winery in Brussels  for advise.

for the beginner: a food magazine subscription is a GREAT gift that keeps on giving every month. It is the best source of courage for each beginner or inspirational to any cook filled with new seasonal dishes to try. My foodie choices are: Elle a Table in French - Libelle Lekker in Flemish - Delicious published in many languages and countries - Donna Hay magazine in English (Australian) and Martha Stewart magazine in English (USA).

 Libelle-Lekker Martha StewartELLE à tabledelicious. magazine

for the experimentalist: a cooking class learning new cuisines or perfecting a classic cooking technique perhaps? I loved the sauces class i followed at mmmmh! in septemberSign them up for a master class or baking class or molecular cooking techniques.
Mmmmh!







for the entertainer: for that extra shine - use on your wine glasses on your christmas table, nothing beats the Riedel microfiber polishing cloth. it's magic! 
on www.fonq.be 



December 2, 2014

Sydney, Australia : Seafood and Bondi Beach



Only 2 days to discover Sydney and catch up on sleep before making the long trek back to Europe. I truly enjoyed the water views and the Opera House guided tour. A day trip to Bondi Beach was just what i needed to recharge my batteries. I stayed at the Four Seasons Hotel and loved it, not exclusively but largely because of their complimentary chilled bottles of water the doormen handed to you, reminding you it is hot outside and you must hydrate. Such a classy touch! What a magical place, I kept pinching myself : “ You are in Sydney!” “You are in Bondi” And it was not a dream…


Bills : the place where it all began, now he has 3 places in Sydney. I had to get his corn fritters and at Bondi i enjoyed the passion fruit pavolova. What can i say, i ve been a long time fan and every time i go, his food makes me happy! When, dear Bill, when, will you open in Brussels?



Icebergs at Bondi: being at the Bondi swimming pool, filled with cold ocean water, is a dream come true - there i had the most amazing squid and inc pasta: super buttery and full of flavour. They have an Italian fine dinning restaurant which i would ve loved to try but the amazing views were the same in the bar and i wanted to have more time at the beach.




November 30, 2014

Brisbane, Australia: Shiraz and share plates


After a couple of  looong flights one makes it finally to the land down under, it is definitely worth the hassle and the sleep deprivation. Aussies are friendly, always in a good mood as the weather is always fine. They are laid-back and don't sweat the small stuff. Brisbane offers everything you need and as the fastest growing city in Australia has great tourist potential. 
Work kept me locked inside but when night fell we explored Brisbane as much as we could, for 2 weeks we tried different eateries around town.

My top 6 were:

HIVE in Brisbane center - a sandwich / deli lunch place by the river - they had amazing fresh sandwiches with pulled pork or fresh grilled veg such pumpkin and spinach with a great pesto. 

Le Bon Choix in Brisbane center - a French patisserie where French is spoken and where the cakes made me homesick


Gerard's Bar and Bistro in Fortitude Valley - great cocktails, charcuterie from Italy and scrumptious slow cooked wagu beef with an almonds, cauliflower and pomegranate salad to die for.




Tinderbox in FortitudeValley - wood-fire oven pizza and a delish quinoa with fresh tomatoes and creamy ricotta.

Alfred & Constance corner in Fortitude Valley - it's like 3 bars in one, they had THE best burger and Pimm's cup.


The Survey Co in Brisbane center - Next to this amazing bar called SuperWhat Not, there was a warehouse style restaurant with an eclectic menu that served the best lamb ribs, that marinade, whaw!

Sourced Grocer in Teneriffe - a great brunch with fresh courgette fritters and buckwheat crumpets with honey butter.



Reflections:
the wine: Australia has great wine but i noticed very few servers knew enough to recommend them with the food we were eating. they all went for the standard Shiraz, understandably their top grape but after a couple of days in warm over 30 degrees C i was craving a lighter served chilled red - impossible to find, how frustrating indeed! Even more so the red was not kept in chilled or temperature controlled basement or storage hence all the red wine was warm, ugh.

the service: it really surprised me to hear that very, very few servers actually find working in a restaurant a career and therefor service is very different. Often they don't know how dishes taste and attention to detailed service is lost on them. In most small eateries one needs to order and pay at the bar and they bring you your food out to the table. 

share plates: A main course is served basically bare so sides need to be ordered but more so they LOVE their share plates. Informal dinning is their go-to style from small eateries to fine dinning. A concept not yet emerged in Belgium, we have tapas style of food with drinks but not entire meals. It took me some time to getting used to but at the end you are able to taste many more dishes this way. Not sure if the concept would catch on in Belgium, we don't really share food. This so reminded me of Joey in "Friends": "Joey doesn't share food!" My friends know that is sooo me, i hate people sticking their fork in my plate but i have learned to share on side plates. this type of dinning stretched my comfort zone.