Friday, January 31, 2014

Foodie Penpals

Ever since I saw a post about Foodie Penpals on Wallflower Girl, I've wanted to join this crazily weird program. Every month people send each other a box of food in which they get to try new foodie things. I signed up as soon as I could only to realize that they don't actually send parcels in December. I suppose that month is too busy for most people. Let's be fair, it was too busy for me as well. Then again, this month is equally hectic and so will next month as well at the very least and I still joined.

I got to send a package to Claire from Clairey Fairy's Cooking (you've got to love the name right?) and she loved it! Which means I nailed the first challenge! We mailed back and forth a few times and she's this lovely talkative and busy mommy who already inspired me to use my leftover marzipan in a cake, which I still haven't actually got around to baking yet. I swear I will soon! It's a good thing marzipan doesn't expire actually.

The next challenge was receiving a parcel from Bighomebird from Thrift Street and writing a post about it on this very day. Take a look at all the stuff I got!

No wait, let's not forget the card. And two lemony recipes that I have yet to try. Although both recipes are Christmas recipes, Lemon Glazed Vanilla Biscuits and Lemon Snowballs, I think I'm going to try them somewhere between now and summer. I feel lemon is much more suitable for getting into the sunny feeling rather than the Christmas feel. I hope you guys will forgive me if I make a post for Christmas cookies this summer...

So let's talk about what I actually got! First, there's honeycomb. I've been dying to try honeycomb ever since I lived in Belfast and I somehow just didn't get around to buying it. Honeycomb is just crunchy bits that taste slightly like honey and lots like sugar. The term honeycomb actually comes from the texture of the sweets rather than the flavour.

The white chocolate is also a gift from heavens. I've been staring at too many cookie recipes that involve white chocolate, but just couldn't get myself to buy baking white chocolate. Normal white chocolate just burns in my oven, so I need something special which unfortunately always means expensive. Now, I don't have to torture myself into buying these anymore!

Then there's the coffee chocolate beans and the marshmallows. There's nothing more to say at this point. Coffee & chocolate is one of the best flavour combinations ever. And marshmallows, well, I'm still debating whether I should put them on hot chocolate with cream, or hot chocolate without cream. Or maybe in cookies?

Freeze-dried raspberries taste like raspberries, but then dried. The little chunks make them perfect for sprinkling! I have no actual idea about what to do with them yet. I think putting them inside cookies or cupcakes would ruin them. I doubt you would be able to taste them much. Any suggestions?

To be honest, I hope they will last until that moment I know what I should use them for. Because currently, the box of honeycomb and coffee chocolate beans have nearly halved before I even got anywhere close to baking anything with them. 

That's it! I hope you liked this slightly different post. If you happen to live in Europe and you'd love to join Foodie Penpals as well, which I could totally recommend, you can find more information and join through Thisisrocksalt. If you don't happen to live in Europe, there is also a Foodie Penpals for people in the US and Canada and I've heard of Foodie Penpal-projects in some places as far as Kenya as well.

Please tell me if you have any brilliant ideas on how to use my lovely new ingredients! What would you do with micro marshmallows? What's your favourite white chocolate recipe?

Tuesday, January 28, 2014


My sister is back from Spain! And she brought with her a recipe for me: Panellets. Her colleague had given her the recipe after she tried them once and she loved it! And after baking and tasting, I'm going to have to agree with her.

Panellets are small baked marzipan-like balls covered in a topping. They are a traditional treat of Catalonia (a part of Spain) on Castanyada, or All Saints day. Its celebrated either on 31st of October or the 1st of November. I can't seem to figure out which one it really is and I don't actually know any Spanish people I could ask, but we could both agree that its definitely not October nor November right now.

But it's never too late or early to start eating anything that involves almonds. So let's just skip to the recipe! No wait, I have more to say! Pine nuts as topping are most traditional. You'll find almond or coconut as well, but you can use practically anything. My sister talked about chocolate panellets as well. I haven't tried these, but you can try adding a spoon cocoa powder and tell me how it turns out?

about 36 pieces - my sister's Spanish colleague

125 grams sweet potato (1-2 potatoes)
250 grams ground almonds or almond flour
215 grams sugar 
1 egg white
Optional: 1/2 teaspoon vanilla or lemon zest
Topping: pine nuts, almond chunks/slivers, coconut, hazelnuts or walnuts or even chocolate

1. Skin the potatoes and cook them until they turn soft. Drain and mash very finely in a bowl. Leave to cool.
2. Whisk the sugar and almonds together and knead in the sweet potato (and vanilla/lemon) until you get the consistency of a cookie dough. Wrap this in foil and leave in the fridge for several hours or overnight.
3. Roll the dough into small balls the size of eyeballs (yes, don't think about it too much). If you want them to be almost exactly the same size, weighing them works: mine were 17-20 grams each.
4. Roll the balls into egg white and leave to sit for a few seconds so they can get wet and soak up the liquid.
5. Roll them into your topping of choice.
6. Bake them at 200 degrees Celsius or 400 degrees Fahrenheit until golden brown. This should take no longer than 10 minutes. Leave to cool before eating and store in an air-tight container.

A lot of recipes for panellets use egg yolk. So the recipe from my sisters colleague seemed very odd, since it is so different from the rest. I have actually tried 3 different recipes before sharing you this one. The other two that included a whole egg or just the yolks, ended up deflating. I mean, you could roll perfect balls but when they're in the oven they turn into near-flat cookies. So I've scratched the egg yolks, and went for the original recipe from a person I've never actually met who lives all the way in Spain and makes this every year.

I decided I like the recipe a lot more that way. Who would prefer using a recipe from the internet or from a book when you can have something that has been handed down from mother to daughter and has accidentally found its way to you? Somehow it feels more real this way.

Does anyone else have any recipes they heard of from a friends friend? Or a sister's colleague? How did that turn out for you?

Dear sister's Spanish colleague, thank you so much for the recipe! I hope I didn't disappoint you!

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

A lost case for the winter days

Today is the day I learned "rookworst" is a typical Dutch food. Who knew?

Rookworst translates to 'smoked sausage'. (It's those massive chunks of meat you see in every picture.) It consists out of ground meat, salt and several spices. It comes in so many variations I can't even explain. You can buy pork or beef, high or low fat, fresh or commercially-packed. One thing they all have in common is the size and shape. They're always 'large' and always in the shape of a U that comes together at the ends. Do you ever eat anything like that? Or can you find it in shops?

And this special Dutch sausage is an ingredient to a typical, traditional Dutch dinner: erwtensoep. Another name for it is "snert" meaning 'something of no worth' or 'lost case'. But in normal English we can call it pea soup. Funnily enough, in abnormal English we also call it pea soup.

Note: the recipe written down by mother and contains a lot of Dutch ingredients. Since it is so very hard to translate '1 bag of soup vegetables' into an actual language, I'll try to explain anything that might not be clear below the recipe. 

Erwtensoep (Dutch pea soup)
1 large pan - by my mommie

large pan of water (the black one*)
4 bouillon/stock cubes
500 grams dried green (split) peas
2 rookworsten**
1 fresh sausage**
1 bag 'soup vegetables' (500 grams)
2 leek stems
3 potatoes
3 large 'winter' carrots
Handful parsley or celery (or both)

1. Bring the water to a boil with the stock cubes.
2. Add the (whole) sausages and the peas.
3. Cut the leek, chop the carrots, chop the potatoes and add to the soup as well.
4. Bring to a boil again and then leave to simmer.
5. After half an hour take out the sausages and slice them into chunks. Cover and set aside.
6. Leave the soup to simmer until done. This might take a while as the peas need to turn soft.***
7. Once the peas are soft, puree the soup in a blender or use an immersion blender. An erwtensoep is not real unless it has some chunks in it, so try not to puree the soup too finely!
8. Put the soup back into the pan and bring to a boil. If the soup is too thick at this point, add more water (it is very likely you'll need more water). Once the soup is boiling again, add the sausage chunks and leave for a few minutes for them to heat up. The soup is done!

* Hint: approximately 3 liters.
** You can also add chunks of bacon. Or a bone with meat. Or ham.
*** How to make peas turn soft: 1) Cook very long. 2) Leave to soak in water overnight. 3) Use fresh or canned beans. Maybe it helps!

Let's start with the sausages. Since rookworst is so very Dutch, I'm going to guess that no one apart from Dutch people can get their hands on this. But don't worry! Any plain sausages will work. Or bacon, or a bone with meat, or ham. My mom already came up with all the alternatives for you!

No, I should've started with the pan. Our family is really not famous for it's precision when cooking; we "feel" our food. So you'll be fine with 3 liters, give or take 2 liters. Really, just pour some water in a big pan and see how it looks. This is how we roll here!

Then we've got 'soup vegetables'. In Holland this is just a pack with vegetables you can buy from any random supermarket. Typically it contains leek, carrot, celery, cabbage and parsley. Since you're already buying all the ingredients you might as well add a bit more carrots, leek, celery and parsley (you get to pick your favourite!). Or you can think of adding a bit of cabbage to the soup.

Translating a recipe is harder than I thought. Especially the part in which you have to explain all the ingredients. But I think I've done it! I love sharing these family recipes. Perhaps you'll be seeing more Dutch food soon... Do you guys have any traditional pea soup recipes? What kind of ingredients do you add?

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Vanilla fudge with raisins

Aww, Christmas is now officially over! I always reluctantly get back to everyday life again. The best time of the year is over. It's done. It's gone. It needs some time to get used to again. Then again, it only takes one glance at my homework to feel like it's miles away. Nooooo! Don't leave me!!

So let's just enjoy Christmas one last time in this recipe: Vanilla fudge with raisins! Nothing says "special occasion" to me like fudge does. No, that's not true.. There's a lot of things that scream special occasion to me: like gluhwein, home made panforte, a bag of candied apple and roasted almonds, Greek dark chocolate with almonds. But fudge is definitely on that list of "things-that-instantly-make-anything-special". Add a few raisins and a bit rum or whiskey and tadaa~ definitely special occasion worthy.

Vanilla fudge with raisins
25 by 15cm brownie tin (10/6inch) - original from Lakeland

100 grams raisins
3 teaspoons rum/whiskey (optional)
400 ml (sweetened) condensed milk
150 ml (whole) milk
450 grams cane sugar
115 grams butter
1 teaspoon vanilla essence

1. Put the raisins in a bowl and sprinkle the alcohol over them. Cover and leave to soak.
2. Add all the ingredients (apart from the raisins) into a pan. Set on high heat until the sugar has dissolved and the mixture starts to boil.
3. Leave to boil on medium heat for about 15 minutes. Keep stirring until a sugar thermometer reaches 115 degrees Celsius or 240 degrees Fahrenheit. If you don't have a thermometer, do not stir the mixture but instead wait until it bubbles and boils uncontrollably and rises up high in the pan. Leave on high heat, while stirring, for another minute.
4. Take the pan off the heat and stir in the raisins. Keep stirring for about 5-10 minutes till the fudge has noticeably thickened.
5. Pour into a brownie-pan or other tin and leave to cool.
6. Cut them into fudge-sized pieces. The fudge can be kept in an airtight container for several weeks. (Which makes them perfect to send to far-away or not-so-far-away friends and family for Christmas.)

If you like a really prominent taste of rum or whiskey or anything else you'd like to add, there's a few things you can do:
    1) Leave to soak overnight. Preferably in a bit more whiskey, so the raisins really get to soak
    everything up and you'll get hit with a boost of flavour every time you bite into one.
    2) Add a spoon or two of whiskey or essence at step 4: after you take the fudge off the heat and
    you'll be stirring for a while.
    3) Add more whiskey.
The whiskey here is just an example, because you can add literally anything here. From different alcohols to juices. I'm not sure if anything with a lot of acids might work, like lemon juice, because it might kill the milk. But if you know/find anything that works please let me know!

Okay, I'll be the first to admit the pictures don't look great, but I gave them away as presents!
So taking pictures had to happen quickquickquick!
To my surprise, this recipe was a huge success. It was the first time that making fudge actually turned out as it should for me (probably thanks to my new thermometer!), but I still hadn't expected to get so many compliments about it. I didn't leave my raisins to soak for very long, so the taste of whiskey was probably non-existent unless you knew it was there. People liked it! And I was totally excited about them.

Did you have anything that turned out to be a huge success this year? Anything that rocked your Christmas dinner? Please let me know! Just because I'm a horribly curious person.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Panforte di Siena - oh yes it's Christmas season!

Woah! Look at that, just when you think you end up having vacation, you suddenly find yourself too busy vacationing that you don't have time for that wonderfully Christmas-themed blog you have anyway. It feels like I'm making excuses by now- every post starts the same. These are just hectic times for me, but they're bound to wear off and then everything will go back to normal. Sort of. Depends on how broad your definition of normal is.

Back to the food! Look at how amazing that food looks. Ever heard of Panforte? Because if you haven't then you must try this recipe. If you already know what panforte is and like the taste then you must also make it. If you've already made panforte before than you must try this new recipe. And only, only, if you have a recipe for panforte that is the best ever according to your book, only then, will I allow you not to bake up this recipe. In that case, you must now make panforte according to your own recipe. (Oh, you're not getting away this time!)

Perhaps I should try a friendlier way of convincing people this stuff is amazingly delicious (think of dried fruits and nuts with spices, sweetened with honey- ah the decadence!) and perfect for the Christmas season.

Panforte di Siena
20cm/8 inch round tin - original by Roger Pizey

120 grams almonds
100 grams hazelnuts
85 grams pistachio nuts
275 grams mixed dried fruits*
1 teaspoons cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
100 grams flour
1 tablespoon cocoa powder
180 grams honey
180 grams dark sugar

1. Toast the nuts if preferred (in a non-stick pan on high heat for a few minutes. Or 5 minutes in the oven on 180C/360F.) Chop them coarsely.
2. Cut the dried fruits into small chunks.
3. Add the nuts and dried fruits together. Sift the flour and spices together and over the nuts and fruits until fully coated.
4. Heat the honey and sugar together in a pan on high heat. Keep stirring until all sugar is dissolved. Bring to a boil and leave until the bubbles start to rise up high. Keep stirring for 1 minute and take off the heat.
5. Pour the honey over the nuts and fruits and stir in until fully incorporated.
6. Bake in a preheated oven of 160 degrees Celsius of 320 degrees Fahrenheit for 20-30 minutes. The panforte has to dry out in this time, not burn! Cover with aluminium foil if you feel the top may start to dry out too much.

*Dates and figs are definitely my favourite (I used 125 grams each).  A lot of recipes use candied or dried citrus fruit as well/only (I used 25 grams). I've seen apricots and plums as well.

Let's try the nice and friendly way of convincing you! Look at all the ingredients: almonds, hazelnuts and pistachios. To me it just screams luxury. Can you almost taste their soft flavours? Image popping them into the oven so they brown and their fragrant smells fill the room. Can you smell it? Can you feel how desperately you are wanting roasted nuts right now?

Good. Now think of winter: spiced drinks like gl├╝hwein or hot chocolate, spiced cookies, gingerbreads, spiced cakes like pumpkin cake and fruitcake. Are you with me on the spices? Hold that thought.

Now back to the nuts, slowly combine them with your spices. Add a bit of honey to sweeten it all up. Wait! There's more: think of summer. The really hot summers you get in Mediterranean countries like Spain, Italy and Greece or the summers in India, Morocco or Egypt. Think of all those lovely fruits they have: dates, figs, peaches, plums and the citrus fruits: lemons, limes and oranges. Can you see their vibrant colours? Smell their freshness? Can you almost taste the juiciness of each and every one of them? Yes? Now dry them. Do they instantly turn a bit wintery to you? Do you think you could imagine them with spices, with their warm flavours, and honey, with it's gentle sweetness, and lastly with our soft and fragrant nuts?

Yes, it all sounds a bit overwhelming. If not a bit expensive. But hey, it's Christmas so we should treat ourselves! (Okay so technically it's no longer actually Christmas, but my Christmases tend to last halfway into January. It's the best season in the world! Can you blame me for it? Also, don't you guys have leftovers?)

I really hope you had a lovely, wonderful and fun Christmas! And I wish you all a Happy New Year! Did you do anything special for the New Year?