Friday, February 28, 2014

Something rainbow, something charcoal black - February Foodie Penpals

It's another month of Foodie Penpals! I can't believe how time flies sometimes! I also can't believe it's already been a month since the last package! More exclamation marks!!!! (<- means it's true!!! [<- and that too!! {and.. okay nevermind..}]) Yes, let's get on with it before this turns awkward.

I got to send a package to Steph over at Tub on the Run. We didn't send many emails to each other, but there were sooo many words in them! We should have gotten grades for the essays we've been writing. Putting her package together, I had absolutely no inspiration and decided to a product of every single colour to make all the colours of the a very roughly and imaginative rainbow! And she said she loved it! Actually, come to think of it, she never told me whether she saw that rainbow...

Of course I got a package myself too. Rock Salt sent me all the goodies you see in the pictures. There was so many good about these goodies. First of all: those packages! I have an awkward obsession with packages that went so far that I dumped all the decorations in my room and just put colourful bottles and tea boxes and tin cans all over the place. And I'm not even kidding.

Just like Rock Salt I'm loving the package of Deep Black Charcoal Hearts. The biscuits come in a lovely package, in a cute tray (yes, I suddenly feel peckish) and have actual charcoal as ingredient (Omg, what? Really? No way! Wauw.). Oh, and they're in a heart shape. Ah yes, and they tasted good too. Curiously good, but definitely good.

Then there's apple crumble shortbread and real milk chocolate caramel wafer biscuits. I don't think I need to say anything about these. Who does not love chocolate, caramel or apple crumble? I don't think I'd like you very much if you didn't like any of these. You might need to check if you exist, because I'm sure it's not possible.

Also, there's gold leaf in a little envelope. Oh I really can't wait to try that on something that is 100% chocolate. Something sachertorte or bonbons, something rich, something decadent and something that screams "Gold!".

Lastly, there was a whole bag of rhubarb and custard candies. I really liked the idea and I do think rhubarb and custard really match together (especially if you add strawberries as well), but to me this candy didn't taste like either of them. Maybe my taste-buds are no good, but this candy just tasted like candy. But they're nice and super colourful, so in the end who cares?

Thank you so much Steph and Rock Salt for this amazing Foodie Penpals month!

Anyone in Europe who wants to join this lovely project of sending random bloggers foodie presents? Check this link for more information. I could totally recommend it and I would love to see you there so I can shower you in whatever food I can think of!

Tuesday, February 25, 2014


It's a pity that just when I was stepping out of my European comfort zone (by making anko which Ive already made several times, so not sure if it counts), I run straight back in. Because last weekend I made bread.

But not any bread. I was still out of my comfort zone with these bagels. I mean, a dough that you shape directly after kneading it and don't ever bother to knead after the first rise? A dough that you cook in water before baking it? It sounds like madness.

Bagels are very popular in New York and the rest of America. The bagel tradition is thought to have been brought to American by Jewish immigrants from East Europe. It was in or around Germany or Poland where they were first invented. The word 'bagel' is derived from the German worden 'beigen' (to bend) or the Yiddish word 'beygl'. Because of their shape bagels were thought to represent the eternal cycle of life and were given to women in childbirth in Poland in the 1600's.

As with any food traditions this is just speculation. There are sources that state the bagel was invented in Italy or Russia. Since food used to be very closely tied to local traditions and produce, every city or town had its own version of bagels. Some cities didn't bother, some did and sometimes the tradition spread to places as far as America. As with anything that was invented many, many, so many years ago there are variations of it all over the world. However, the bagel I'm sharing is the American-New York type bagel. 

10 bagels - New York

750 grams flour
2 tablespoons rye (optional)
1,5 teapoons dried yeast
1 teaspoon salt
380-400 ml water
2,5 tablespoons molasses, malt or cane syrup
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon potato starch
2,5-3 liters water
1 teaspoon cane sugar or syrup
2 tablespoons salt
Toppings such as sesame seeds or poppy seeds

1. Whisk the flour, rye, yeast and salt together.
2. Mix the water with the molasses (or other) and oil and pour it over the dry ingredients. Knead for at least 10 minutes until you get an elastic dough. If you have a bread machine, it might be a good idea to use the dough setting. Add more water or flour if required.
3. Divide the dough into 10 equal parts and roll them into bagels by using the special bagel-making method (see below).
4. Place the bagels on a baking sheet and cover with a damp cloth or plastic foil and leave to rise for 1 hour.
5. Preheat the oven to 225 degrees Celsius or 440 degrees Fahrenheit. 
5. Prepare the "poaching liquid" by putting the potato starch in a large pan with a few tablespoons water (to prevate lumps). Then add the remaining water, sugar/syrup and salt. Leave on the stove on high heat until the water starts to boil. Reduce the heat, but keep the water boiling.
6. Carefully place a bagel in the water and boil for 1 minute. Turn over and boil for another 30 seconds. Place back on the baking sheet. Sprinkle your topping over the bagel while it's still wet. Repeat with the other 9 bagels.
7. Reduce the heat of the oven to 200 degrees Celsius or 390 degrees Fahrenheit and bake the bagles for about 20 minutes until golden brown.

Apart from the fact that I really didn't know bagels were first cooked before baking, I also didn't know yiddish was a language. Yiddish is also called Jewish, has 6 different dialects and is not widely recognized as a language, but in stead holds the status of a dialect. Wauw, who knew?

One thing you're missing right now is the amazing special bagel-making method. I made for you an amazing special drawing to clarify, which is definitely nothing professional, but it might help a bit. If you're not able to follow the pictures, I hope this description works:
1. Roll a piece of dough into a long cylindrical roll.
2. Roll one side into a point, flatten the other end.
3. Bring the two ends together: the pointy side on top of the flat end to make a circle.
4. Wrap the flat end around the pointy end and pinch around the edges to make the ends stick together.
5. Done. Could you follow?

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Spanish apple cake

A whole weekend full of birthday celebrations is over! One day to prepare the cakes (which somehow literally takes a whole day for me) and another day to eat those cakes within 5 minutes and talking about the weather all the rest of the time. (No, I'm kidding, the party was fun! We spent almost the whole day fixing a puzzle with nieces and nephews and talking about.. well, the weather mainly. I'm sure it's worse than in those good ol' days!)

After all that baking and partying all weekend long, you find yourself caught up in working really hard and achieving nothing whatsoever. And then you realize it's really about time you get down to making that post, and why didn't anyone give you 5 minutes so you could only just write it down?! But don't worry, during all that busy-ness, I had cake by my side! Not this one, everyone ate that at the party. It was famous. It was gone.

Spanish apple cake
26cm/10inch round cake - Het Superdikke Taartenboek

800 grams apples (3-4 large)
5 tablespoons rum
200 grams butter
200 grams sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
pinch of salt (optional)
4 eggs
200 grams flour
125 ground hazelnuts or almonds *
1 teaspoon baking powder
2 tablespoons cocoa
200 grams powdered sugar
1 lemon
nougatine (crumbs)

1. Peel and core the apples and chop into chunks. Put them in a bowl, cover with rum and set them aside, covered, at room temperature.
2. Cream the butter and the sugar with the cinnamon (and salt if using unsalted butter).
3. Beat in the eggs one at a time, not adding another until the previous is fully incorporated.
4. Whisk the flour with the ground hazelnuts or almonds, baking powder and cocoa.
5. Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients in several small additions.
6. Lastly, add the apples with rum and pour the batter into a greased tin.
7. Bake in a preheated oven of 160 degrees Celsius or 320 degrees Fahrenheit for about 1 hour. A skewer will most likely come out wet; since this cake has a lot of apple it will stay quite wet. Keep an eye on the cake from 40 minutes onwards and take out of the oven when the top is dry and dark brown. Leave to cool completely before removing from the tin.
8. Sieve the powdered sugar to make sure there are no lumps. Add lemon juice, 1 spoon at a time until you get a very thick, but still spreadable consistency. Spread this out over the cake and sprinkle the nougatine on top. Leave to dry for around 20 minutes.
9. Slice and serve!

* You can do this yourself in a kitchen machine; anything from coarse to fine grains work.

I have to admit this is one of the oddest cakes I've ever had. I noticed I am really used to the apple-cinnamon combination so the addition of rum and cocoa was a really new experience. With the tang of the lemon topping though, it worked perfectly.

I'm currently debating the Spanish-ness of this recipe. The recipe claims to be Spanish, but somewhere I'm doubting it. I also can't find anything that looks like a replica on the internet (you know, after that 5 minute search I did). Any Spanish people know the answer?

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Valentine on the other side of the world

As a European to core I've always thought the Japanese were a bit odd. I've lived in Asia for a great part of my life, but if you watch Japanese anime or commercials, you can't not think the world is a crazy place. (Then again I can also take one step outside my door to think the same.)

Anyway, one of the crazy things about the Japanese is the way they celebrate Valentines. Valentine's Day slowly gained the status of a national holiday there by smart marketing: chocolate companies simply wanted to sell more. They started Valentine's campaigns, some shops joined in and within a few years the Japanese were spending as much as, if not more, than Americans on their Valentines.

But they don't celebrate it the same way: in Japan only the women give out presents. These presents, always chocolates, are not only given to their boyfriends, but also all their male family members, friends and colleagues. They're also allowed to give their female friends chocolate (yay!). Since that's a whole lot of chocolate, the Japanese like to make it themselves as well. Gathering all your friends to make and decorate chocolates to hand out together - what part of that doesn't sound awesome?

Japanese Valentine Chocolate cups
12 mini cups - by ochikeron

200 grams chocolate (milk, or your favourite flavour)
50 ml (soy) milk or cream
Fillings (japanese mix, nuts or candy)
Decorations (anything sparkly or valentine)

1. Heat the milk or cream in a pan until its hot.
2. Pour it over the chocolate and leave if for 1-2 minutes to soften. If the chocolate isn't soft enough, microwave for 10-15 seconds intervals until it's smooth.
3. Line a mini cupcake tin with mini baking cups. Put the melted chocolate in a piping bag and fill the bottom of every cup with a thin layer of chocolate. Then generously add your fillings and top off with the remaining chocolate. In the true Japanese spirit I've filled mine with cashew nuts and 'japanese mix' and they pair surprisingly well with chocolate!
4. Once all your cups are filled with chocolate, decorating them with anything you like.
5. Leave in the fridge for at least an hour until the chocolate has firmed a bit. They will however not turn rock-hard, because of the amount of milk or cream you've added.

I should really try to make more Japanese sweets. They have a really odd taste at times, but sometimes I find really amazing recipes. Like cashew nuts with chocolate, who knew it could taste that good?

I hope you forgive my horribly uncreative photography today. Somehow it doesn't seem to show how cute these little chocolates looked. For a better presentation of these chocolates, please take a look at the original recipe by ochikeron who makes really nice YouTube-videos about everything she makes.

Anyway, that's it for my 3 Valentine-themed recipes.. I hope you have a lovely and magical Valentine!

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Will you be my Valentine?

Wait, I started my Valentine's series off all wrong. Do you even know what Valentine's Day IS? Well, I didn't. So I went to find out! Well, for as far as you can for a holiday of which no one knows how it started.

Just like ever other holiday, Saint Valentine's Day is a mix of different traditions who throughout the years have merged together into one celebration. For this reason you'll find Valentine's Day, or a variation of it around the same time, all over the world. Valentine's probably started off as a pagan celebration of spring, love and fertility (possibly more or less of that). Later this feast was merged with the date of death of the Christian Saint Valentine. Valentine signed a letter "From your Valentine" (something about a jailors daughter, or wife, or his caretaker and something about saving people or murdering people and dying or being executed. According to the internet Valentine was as noble as he was cruel and must have reincarnated several times to live up to all the stories we tell about him). Anyway, that letter supposedly turned into a tradition. The roman god of love entered the story in the shape of Cherubs somewhere before or after. Roses entered the story in the era of poetry and Knights who wanted to celebrate the beauty of their maidens.

We're still missing chocolate in this whole story. Chocolate wasn't a Valentine's tradition until much later: somewhere mid to late 1800's in the UK. One of the stories goes that Mr. Cadburry himself added chocolate to the courting festival as a great oppurtunity to sell more of his chocolates by putting them into heart-shaped boxes. Other less heart-warming stories tell of chocolate simply being linked to Valentines because of it's aphrodiastic nature.

Well, that's enough history lessons for 1 post. Most of it is very unlikely to be true anyway (kind of a sad notion now you've read it all). But look on the bright side: you've reached the recipe! It contains chocolate and it's easy and quick to make. That's got to make up for it right?

Chocolate lava cakes
2 servings - Desserts by Parragon Books

50 grams butter
50 grams dark chocolate *
1 egg
1/2 teaspoon vanilla essence
50 grams (light-brown or raw) sugar
1 tablespoon flour

1. Melt the butter in a pan on low heat. Add the chocolate and stir until smooth. Take off the heat and leave to cool slightly.
2. Turn the oven on to 200 degrees Celsius or 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Butter two creme brulee pots or line a cupcake tin.
3. Whisk the egg with the vanilla, sugar and flour together. Add the chocolate-butter and stir everything together until smooth. Pour into the prepared pots/tins.
4. Once the oven has preheated, bake the chocolate lava cakes for 10-15 minutes. Bake the cakes longer according to the thickness of your pots/tins (10 minutes for a cupcake tin, around 15 minutes for my stone pots). You want to underbake these rather than overbake!
5. Serve warm with ice-cream, fresh fruits and/or whipped cream.

* You can substitute this for your favourite chocolate, like a lemon chilli dark chocolate bar or maple-bacon milk chocolate bar or anything that is less odd.

I'm going to say it again: don't overbake these! If you overbake them they will turn into dry cake, but if you underbake them you will have a lovely chocolate sauce. Your pick of course.

For those of you who are confused: chocolate lava cake is also called chocolate fondant. There are two different methodes to making these cakes, so perhaps that is where the difference in name has come from. Personally I think chocolate lava cake makes much more sense. You'll see why once you bake these cakes and cut into the middle.

That was it for today's Valentine's idea! More chocolate coming up tomorrow!

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Did it hurt when you fell from heaven?

It's almost Valentine's! So I thought I'd share a few recipes for those of you who want to turn it into a special day. Starting off with the 'hardest' recipe: Yogurt Cake, which will require some preparing and shopping beforehand. This recipe is not actually a Valentine's recipe at all, but it is very versatile. Top this lovely no-bake yoghurt cheesecake with fresh heart-shaped strawberries or chocolate bonbons and it's definitely all valentine themed.

Mine turned out to be a Shooting Star No-bake Yoghurt Cake (use your imagination a bit, will you?). It didn't exactly drop down from heaven, but I wouldn't really want it to. Anything home baked is always better! And this time it's a lovely Dutch cheesecake. Oh yes, we're quite famous for our no-bake 'cheese'cakes and this is one of the variations!

No bake Yoghurt Cake (Kwarktaart)
2 small cakes - Superdikke Taartenboek

- bottom layer 
250 grams Greek yoghurt or quark *
25 grams sugar
1 tablespoon vanilla sugar
zest of half a lemon 
3 gelatine leaves (or according to package for 250ml)
125 ml whipping cream
- top layer

1. Prepare the bottom layer by mashing cookies with melted butter or cutting a piece of cake (or anything else). Put it in the bottom of your cooking rings (or anything else).
2. Soak the gelatine leaves in water. In the meanwhile mix the yoghurt with the sugars and lemon zest.
3. Take a small pan and melt the gelatine leaves on medium to low heat. Turn the heat to low and add the yoghurt a tablespoon at a time until everything is dissolved. Take off the heat as soon as possible to cool down.
4. Whip the cream to soft peaks and fold in the yoghurt.
5. Pour the whipped cream-yoghurt onto the bottom layer in the molds and put in the fridge to set. This should take between 1-3 hours.
6. After the yoghurt is set, prepare the topping. The yoghurt layer is fresh and tangy so I would top it off with fresh (or canned) fruits or cherries & chocolate, but go however crazy you like. Once you've topped the cake, eat it within 2-4 hours (it will get soaky and messy the longer you leave it).

* This recipe requires a thick yoghurt, so if you don't have Greek yoghurt or quark, strain your yoghurt beforehand. Alternatively, use more gelatine. 

I wanted to give you as much freedom as possible, so you can really go all Valentine-crazy in whatever way you like. For that reason I omitted the recipe for the bottom and top layer. Also, I'm confident you are way better at decorating. Or making the base: you can use your own favourite cake base, or your favourite cake as base or anything from crumbled cookies to fresh fruits, cereal or chocolate as a bottom layer. If you don't want a bottom layer at all, then try going for tall glasses and make a layered dessert with fruits and the whipped cream-yoghurt mixture. You'll win either way.

You can get equally creative with the top layer: omitting it and putting the fruits in the base or inside the cheesecake as surprise or going for fruits or chocolate to jams or nuts and caramel on top. Just remember to taste the yoghurt while you're making it, or try imagining yoghurt-lemon-and-sugar together. Topping this lovely cake with walnuts will not give you any kind of flavour balance, but a cranberry jam would match perfectly.  Cutting strawberries into thin heart-shapes in various sized and placing those on top with a bit of clear pink jello to keep them fresh and vibrant would be an amazing Valentine's idea.

I hope you have a magical Valentine's day! If these shooting stars aren't your thing: just you wait till tomorrow... more Valentine's treats are coming up!

Monday, February 10, 2014

Anko - 餡

I keep having these Japanese cravings from time to time. It's something that always comes back. I suddenly get all crazy about Japanese food, bentos or anime and I need to make something. You can't know a culture until you've tasted its food. It's like walking a mile in someones shoes, but then the food variant. In my mind it all makes sense.

I have this feeling that anyone who hasn't tasted anko before is going to think it looks... odd. I admit it doesn't really look smashing (instead it looks smashed), but I promise you it tastes amazing! And it's really healthy! In East Asia azuki beans are prized for their health benefits. They are rich in minerals and vitamins. They're low in calories (compared to other beans) and contain lots of healthy fibers and proteins. So what're you waiting for?

Anko (Azuki bean paste)
about 500 grams (1 small bowl) - by Just One Cookbook and Savory Japan

200 grams azuki beans
200 grams sugar
Pinch of salt or soy sauce

1. Leave the beans to soak overnight. (You'll need 10 times longer to cook the beans soft if you don't.)
2. Take a large pan and bring the beans to a boil with about double the amount of water. Leave to boil for about 5 minutes, then drain the water. This blanching is done to remove the bitterness and make the beans easier to digest.
3. Put the beans back in the pan, cover with water and bring to a boil again. Leave to simmer on medium heat until the beans are soft. This could take up to 1 hour. Make sure to check frequently, give it a stir and add extra cold water when needed.
4. Once the beans are soft, add the sugar and stir. Leave to cook, while stirring, for about 20 minutes until you get the consistency of a thick paste (it will turn thicker after cooling). If you scrape the bottom with a spoon the anko should very slowly fall back in place. Stir in a pinch of salt or soy sauce once you feel the paste is done.
5. Take off the heat and blender it into a smooth paste (Tsubushian) before you leave it to cool, or cool it straight away so you get a chunky texture (Tsubuan). *

* Pressing it through a sieve to remove the skins will give you an even softer paste (Koshian).

Now the azuki bean paste is done! You can freeze it if you are not yet sure what to do with it, or eat it straight away. You can use it for the traditional anpan, dorayaki, daifuku or on dango. Of course you can use it for something less traditional: blend it into smoothies, turning it into ice creams or using it as topping for ice creams and japanese-style sundae's. Or stuff it into white bread dough and bake it. Like I did. Although my technique admittedly needs some work. (Anyone any ideas/tips to prevent those large air pockets?)

On a side note: I hope I used the right japanese characters for anko. I remember writing the names of most of my food in their original language, which often goes unnoticed (except for Mπουγατσα maybe), but with japanese I really can't be sure. Perhaps a Japanese person will read this and tell me to stop trying..

On another side note: does anyone else have these kind of ridiculous cravings that keep coming back from time to time? My cravings for Japanese food don't seem to make any sense! I mean I haven't been there, haven't ever had Japanese food apart from what I made and I don't even know anyone that's Japanese!

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Dulce de membrillo

Let's talk about Quince. Have you ever heard of quinces? They're kind of like pears, but you can't eat them raw. Their taste is a lot softer than the juicy pear, but they remain rock-hard even when they're rotting to death. Lastly, they're the mother of all marmelades!

No really, marmelade means 'quince preparation' in Portuguese. It is in countries like Portugal, Spain, South France and Italy that quince is still eaten as Dulce de membrillo. In English this translates to Quince cheese, which is a lot less interesting. Then again, it's cheese made out of fruit. I didn't actually know that was possible either... It's still quite cool right?

Quince jam or cheese goes back a long way. Somewhere along the way the ancient Romans already had this. Whatever they used it for is long lost information, but nowadays it's eaten with cheese (for dessert, lunch or breakfast), as topping for bread and sandwiches, as snack or candy or to stuff pastries. On the pictures the dulce the membrillo is paired with goat's cheese and crackers. Yum!

Dulce de membrillo / Quince cheese
1 brownie tin - Handboek inmaken

1,3 kilos quinces (4-5 pieces)
600-800 grams sugar

1. Wash the quinces and chop them into chunks. You don't need to remove the core.
2. Put the quince chunks into a large pan and add enough water to cover them. Bring to a boil and leave to simmer with the lid on the pan for about 45-60 minutes until the quinces have become very soft.
3. Drain the water. Press the quinces through a sieve and measure the purree. Weigh 400 grams sugar per 600ml purree. I ended up using 600 grams sugar (900ml purree).
4. Put the quince purree with the sugar into the pan and bring to a simmer. Leave to simmer, without the lid, for about 45-60 minutes to thicken. Stir frequently, especially the last 10-20 minutes the 'cheese' will very likely caramelize or burn at the sides.*
5. Pour the quince cheese in a brownie tin and leave for 1-3 days to dry (cover with a cloth not foil!). You can also spread it out thinly on a baking sheet to make fruit leather. The thinner you make the cheese, the less time it will need to dry.

* If you are really bad at waiting, or if you don't want the actual 'cheese', you can stop at 30 minutes and put the jam in sterilized jars.

The recipe is easy like hell. It just takes a lot of time, some experience with jams perhaps and your constant attention. Especially the last one is hard for me. So I did totally burn the sides of pan. Luckily you can just scrape it off, eat the caramelized jam (quite nice!) and keep stirring. Oh yes, and don't forget the drying. You'll have to leave the dulce de membrillo for at least a day to dry, but it get's a lot better after three days. There is so much sugar in this, you do really not have to worry about it going bad. But if you really don't like the idea, you can put the 'jam' in jars after step 4 and keep them in a cool place for 3 months to thicken. Yes, I don't have the patience for that either...

Isn't the colour amazing? Who would've thought those pale white pear-shaped fruits would turn this bright orange-red?

Oh yes, dulce de membrillo is apparently also very popular in Brazil, America, Uruguay, Argentina, Chile, Peru, Mexico and Israel. And under a different name in Serbia, Hungary, Croatia, France and even as far as Pakistan. You know it's really hard to write something on traditional food when it's traditional all over the world? Especially when it's traditional for different occasions. For instance, the French eat it during Christmas as part of the 'Thirteen desserts'. Whereas you can find it all year long in Spain.

I'll stop there before I start trying to write every single tradition down. I hope you enjoyed my rant on the history of marmelade and I hope you have a great day!