October 26, 2014

Ginger biscuits and tea - I can't live without

Libelle Lekker, a Flemish food magazine, is looking for the best foodblog of Flanders. The competition has several challenges and when successfully completed a challenge you get to move on to the next round. My pumpkin waterzooi post from last week was the first round and challenge, and this week Chef Patissier Wim Ballieu gave us a dessert baking challenge. He is looking for passion in baking, he wants me to put a smile on his face.
Now I have covered already a few times on this blog how I don’t bake, simply because there are far more superior bakers that sell their goods for me to enjoy without all the clean up. On top of that, the challenge came in less than 24 hours before me getting on a plane to Moscow for the week. Talk about a challenge!! Let the Great Flemish Bake Off begin! (where is Mary Berry or Paul Hollywood when you need them?)
In between errands, running from one appointment to the next and participating in a food styling workshop, I managed to brainstorm, make a quick SOS call to my mom (of course) and a few experienced baking friends. A quick search online and an idea took shape: a Russian tea party with a pavlova of pear and poppy seeds. Switch on the samovar and get to it. Anna Pavlova, a Russian ballerina in the 20ties fascinated by sweets and the clouds was made immortel by an Australian or New Zealander (the origin is not known for sure) when he dedicated this dessert to her while she was on tour downunder. It is a baked meringue base with cream and fruit. Easy enough! So where may you ask is this beautiful pavlova, … it is safely locked into my imagination but it tastes great.

As I was breaking eggs at 8pm, it dawned on me that this was never going to work in this short time frame. Already late for dinner with friends from out of town (again so sorry), I caved and sighed: "better luck next year".

After a great meal out ( my 1st pheasant of the season), at 1 in the morning, back in my kitchen cleaning up eggshell from the kitchen counter, I sat down and made myself a cup of tea. Exhausted and deflated about failing this challenge, thinking of my trip to Moscow in a few hours, my thoughts went to  Chef Wim and his passion for baking. While I reached for my biscuit tin and dunked a biscuit in my lemongrass tea, I savoured my favourite biscuit: ginger biscuits. YUM. A daily staple for me. A biscuit always accompanies my evening tea.

As I continue packing my suitcase I pondered; do I ve passion for baking? well … I DO ve passion for baking, just not the making of it. But the eating of it? Absolutely! Not a day goes by without me treating myself to something sweet. If the challenge was: where in Brussels can you find the best eclairs I would know. What are the flavours of the Laduree macarons? I would be able to list them in alphabetical order. I could tell you about making a quick midday run for Lillicup cupcakes and how the entire office went totally silent when we all bit into our favourite one. I could talk endless about my 1st sweet memory as a young toddler eating pain a la greque at the baker’s atelier of Villa Lorraine and how I stuffed a few in my pocket when dad wasn’t looking. And how Sunday afternoons we always had pie or cake at home or what cake I blew my birthday candles out on. 
Marcel Proust agrees with me, as he wrote all about his favourite madeleine. Come to think of it, that’s like the 1st ever food post … so avant la lettre MP, so much passion. 
So as far as the passion for desserts goes, Wim, I got it, in aboundunce , the eating part.

I zipped up my suitcase and reached for a second and the last ginger biscuit (why not) and dingdong… hallelujah  … silly me … I just made these last weekend. Frantically I leaped to my fruit bowl and YES I ve ginger… let’s bake (because I ate them all by now)

Thank the universe, Sunday we turned back the clocks and gained an hour. So after 3 hours of sleep I patiently (not really) waited for daybreak, armed with my camera and sipping my 1st cup of tea of the day (a lavender white tea), I laughed out loud: how crazy is this! Can a cookie win me a challenge? No time to second guess, it is what it is.

All packed and ready to run out the door when the taxi buzzed, I shot my ginger biscuits at daybreak about 300 times (not the best light but the only light), keeping fingers and toes crossed a few pics will turn out good enough. Wim asked us to mind the styling too. Sleep deprived and frankly stressed out, I kept things simple, and stayed true to my aesthetic.

This is me: sitting at my kitchen counter, drinking tea, caught with my hand in the biscuit tin.

75gr butter
75gr brown sugar
75gr molasses
1 egg
256gr flower
1 tablespoon of grated fresh ginger
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon baking soda (optional)
pinch of salt

1. in a bowl add soften butter, sugar, molasses and the egg, use a mixer for about 2 minutes.
2. add the sifted flower, grated and drained ginger, cinnamon, salt and baking soda and mix with a spoon.
3. rest the dough in the fridge for about 15 minutes.
4. on a flowered surface, roll out the dough at a thickness of 2 cm.
5. with a cookie cutter, cut out the dough and lay on the baking tray lined with parchment paper or greased. 
6. bake in a preheated oven on 180C degrees for about 10 to 12 minutes.

- always store your biscuits in a tin to keep crunch.
- add a whole to the top of the cookie before baking, once baked pass a ribbon through and hang on the christmas tree.
- this dough can easily be frozen, once defrosted cut the cookies out and bake.
- you can always pimp them with dusting of icing sugar or icing

on a personal note: I dedicate this post to my dear friend Alexandra E. who passed away while I was baking. She is no longer suffering. So long old friend.

October 13, 2014

In season: a spicy pumpkin Waterzooi

The rain and wind this week definitely propelled us into fall.  Gone is the al fresco dinning and goodbye to sipping peach Bellinis in the sun, … sad indeed but also many heartwarming things to look forward too. The 1st ingredient to kick off the fall season is the squash, the pumpkin. I think childhood memories are a great source of inspiration and almost all my memories are linked to food as my dad was a chef. So my inspiration for this pumpkin recipe is a traditional Gentse Waterzooi  - originally a chicken, leek & carrot broth. My version reaches far and beyond the borders of Gent. I swapped the carrots for pumpkin and added lemongrass, chili and ginger to spice it up. I replaced the chicken with guinea fowl and the coconut cream makes it velvety smooth while the bacon adds crunch and flavor. The result is a broth scoring off the comfort-food chart and bringing a bit of warmth to fall.

Serves 4, cooking time 45 min

1 guinea fowl (or chicken) in 6 pieces, keep the carcass
100 gr of cooked smoked bacon in lardons
1 medium size Hakkaido pumpkin, cut ½ in slices of 2cm wide and 100 gr in julienne
1 cooked red beet in julienne
1 large carrot diced large
1 leek, white and pale-green parts only, diced large, rinsed well
1 medium size onion diced large
1 celery stalk diced large
2 sprigs of lemon thyme
1/2 bustle of chopped coriander (cilantro)
2 lemongrass storks
1 ginger root of about 5 cm, cut in 1 cm pieces
100 ml coconut milk
30 gr butter
4 tablespoon olive oil
2 table spoon sunflower oil
Salt and pepper
Chili flakes (dried or fresh)

1.    Season the chopped pumpkin with salt and pepper, layer in an oven dish and drizzle with olive oil, and cook till soft (about 20 min) in pre heated oven at 180C degrees Braise the vegetables (carrot, leek, celery and onion) in 1/3 of the butter.

2.     In a Dutch oven pot add the chicken and brown on all sides in butter and olive oil. Remove and save the meat. Add the carcass and brown on all sides, add the vegetables (carrot, leek, onion, celery), the lemon thyme, lemongrass en ginger, cover with water, and let simmer on a soft to medium heat till the carcass is cooked. Taste the stock and cook for about 20 min.

3.     Sift the stock and reduce by 1/3 over high heat. Blend the oven roasted pumpkin in the stock to a soup; add the coconut milk, season with salt, chili en pepper to taste. In sunflower oil fry the pumpkin julienne in the remainder of the butter. Heat the red beet julienne in the pan and separately to avoid bleeding into the pumpkin.

4.   Remove from the heat en serve in deep plates or bowls: layer the (deboned) guinea fowl meat, poor the spicy pumpkin soup over, top with the pumpkin and red beet julienne and add the chopped coriander and bacon bits.

You can leave the skin on the Hakkaido pumpkin when roasting it; it will soften enough to blend. Alternatively you can use a butternut squash for a nuttier taste.

You can add ginger powder should it require more heat.

Coriander is not to everyone’s taste, you can substitute it with thyme or flat-parsley.

October 8, 2014

Frankfurt: tasty food and great German wine

It might come as a shock but i like Frankfurt because i have discovered over the past 15 years my favorite spots. And some i have already shared on the blog before : September 2013 and December 2013.
Driving over the bridge taking in the colorful skyline of Frankfurt by night with its yellow lit Commerzbank as highest landmark, the blue and yellow Euro sign and reflecting in the water the blue lights of Deutsche Bank... It may not be as charming as most European cities and it may take a few years to discover it’s true beauty but have no doubt, beautiful it is! 

The Villa Kennedy Hotel is the best spot for a retreat type of stay away from the banking madness. You enter this sanctuary where its inner courtyard where the wrap around building embraces you and whispers: Welcome Home!

The rooms are understated but the spa is pure lux and relax. In between meetings we did have time for an al fresco lunch (great vitello tonnato), a peach Bellini ( yes i am on a roll) and a long steam in the spa in effort to vanquish my sniffling nose and its germs taking up residence in my throat, unsuccessfully unfortunately but very relaxing indeed.

Meeting my colleagues for dinner at Margarete gave us some time to catch up and taste great food. This loft style industrial looking restaurant offers a great variety of dishes (plenty of vegetarian options too) and a selection of wines by the glass. I tried the recommended red German wine Cuvee Z and loved it. The teriyaki scallops with sushi was lovely and fresh but it was the guinea fowl with Greek pasta in a saffron sauce/foam that was the winner! What great depths of flavor. We shared a lovey pineapple lavender dessert.
I highly recommend to add this restaurant to your list of must try when in Frankfurt.

After discovering this FAB 1 Michelin star called Weinsinn last year, I had to go back. Just as last year the warm welcome from the staff is hart felt and Scandinavian design style with its dark greys and blues with blond wood instantly makes you feel at home. The 4 course menu was enchanting: scallops and peas, raviolo of guinea fowl and mushroom soup, veal with pumpkin and ginger and peach with white chocolate. Each dish was carefully balanced in flavor and size, I have to say my favorite was the main course where the veal was soft as butter and the pumpkin with ginger puree was out of this world.
The M’d gave us great recommendations on wine by the glass and again German wines were a welcomed surprise. What can i say but go and try it, you won’t be disappointed. 
Auf wiedersehen!

October 5, 2014

in season now: apples, apples, apples

They say "an apple a day, keeps the doctor away" but I don’t eat that many. As a child, I seem to always have an apple nearby, often ended up being fed to the horses. And as a young adult I bought apples but never really ate them other than making them into compote when they were getting wrikles. I have a few years back discovered where my indifference to apples comes from: I need to eat them in season. That 1st bite, the sound of your teeth breaking into the apple, the juice kissing your lips and the crunch – whaw. Apples out of season  are not worth my time, now are the picking weekends in full swing. There are a few farms where you can pick your own such as FruitHoeve Picard (about 1 hour from Brussels) and Marie's Garden (in Overijse, plenty but no apples). 
Fresh picked apples can store easily 2 months in a cool and dark space like the garden shed or dry basement. I got these 3 varieties from the Sunday Flagey market stand La Ferme De L'Hoste, fresh picked for me from their trees.

These 3 little beauties have their individual personality:
The gala: sharp and firm
The Reinette Etoilee: sour and a more grainy consistence
The Elstar: fresh, juicy and firm


September 28, 2014

Ladies brunch at my place: bubbles, comfort food and chitchat

Working for an international institution means that you regularly have turn over in colleagues, and some became dear friends. So i held an intimate all ladies brunch to bid 2 great friends au revoir. I will miss you ladies!

I served: peach Bellini, yoghurt, berries and home made granola, egg muffins (recipe below), spelt pancakes, chocolate, banana &, speculoos tartine, brioche and homemade strawberry jam and croissants

table setting: for a brunch i keep it light and prefer floral place mats versus a full length table cloth. I used for extra glam a gold rimmed vintage tea service i found years ago on a flea market. I love breaking up the formal setting with a little fun, quirky item and i did this with a little black moustache a little wink to Hercule Poirot . I used gold tassels as napkin bling. 
As it was a sunny day, no candles were needed and i got a short white open roses bouquet.

gifts: i put together a pink survival kit for the ladies. It contained essentials such as chocolate to brighten their dark days, a lollipop to lick their problems, a small manneke pis with Belgian flag as scarf so they are reminded to stand up for themselves, a few chocotoffs to remind that friends stick together and much more.

recipe: the egg muffins were a big hit and easy to make
need for 12 muffins : 8 eggs, 2 tomatoes, 2 spring onions, 150 gr ricotta, 12 tbls sp breadcrumbs, 12 teasp grated cheddar cheese, butter, 50 gr bacon lardons
go: egg wash the tin, dust with breadcrumbs, pre heat the oven at 180C degrees. Mix the egg with ricotta, diced tomatoes, lardons, cut up spring oinons. season with salt and pepper, divide the mixture over the muffin tin. bake for 15 minutes and add the cheddar grated cheese, and bake further 5 minutes. let cool and remove from the tin and serve.