Monday, 28 January 2008

lemon meringue pie – the Daring Bakers’ January challenge

Another month, another Daring Bakers challenge, and this month’s host – Jen, the Canadian Baker – chose lemon meringue pie. Now, I love me some lemon pie. I have a favourite, foolproof recipe, but it can’t hurt to try something a bit different once in a while. As usual, I left it to the last weekend to complete the challenge. S shopped for groceries, while I was stripping more paint off the woodwork.

With a pantry full of butter, sugar, eggs, lemon and cream, I fully intended to start baking. I even got as far as making the dough for the crust. And then… the call of the DIY became too strong to ignore. And so, by the end of the weekend, there was a lot of stripped wood, a ceiling without wallpaper on it, and not a lemon meringue pie in sight. Those lemons did come in handy though for our cocktail hour on Sunday evening…

Check out all the other Daring Bakers’ real pies here.

Monday, 21 January 2008

another weekend, another DIY project

Now that we’ve finished renovating the upstairs of our house – we have doors in our bedrooms! with doorknobs! and blinds! – S and I started all over again downstairs. Stripping awfully textured wallpaper off the ceiling (yes, the ceiling. Must be some kind of British thing), stripping a gazillion layers of paint off the woodwork, ripping out three layers of awful carpet, sanding wooden floors and completely overhauling the beautiful but neglected sash windows. I guess we could hire someone to do all the work for us, but it is very hard to find decently skilled craftspeople here without having to take out an extra mortgage to pay them. Plus I’m still upset about how the jobs we could not do ourselves were done by so-called professionals. And that was more than two years ago. Also I’m a bit of a control freak and I’d rather do everything myself, so I know it’s done properly. Which takes a lot of time. In addition to all the DIY I’ve also found myself in a spring-cleaning mood recently (must be the too warm weather we’re having here) itching to clean out cupboards, reorganise shelves etc.

So, loads to do at home and not much time for other things. But just enough time to bake something quick and easy: I had some left-over chocolate shortcrust pastry in the freezer, and a whole bunch of walnuts from my aunt’s garden. But no nutcracker. So what does one do in a DIY-filled, nutcracker-less home? Why, use a DIY tool as a nutcracker of course. I found a quick and easy Donna Hay recipe, et voilĂ , little butterscotch walnut tartlets.

S wasn’t a fan (but he doesn’t like walnut and he doesn’t like honey), so I brought some tartlets over to the neighbours, who were big fans. And told me I should open a pastry shop. And please could they be my test audience. I think they just want more sweets. Now, all I have to do is find a quick way of getting rid of the other stuff in my freezer, so I can start spring-cleaning there as well.

butterscotch tartlets
adapted from Donna Hay Magazine, issue 32

shortcrust pastry
30g unsalted butter
¼ cup double cream
¼ cup honey
1 cup walnuts

bake pastry in individual moulds (I used a muffin tin) and let cool on wire rack. Put butter, honey, cream and walnuts in a pan and heat gently until butter is melted. Up heat until caramelised (a few minutes) and pour filling in pastry shells. Top with some double cream and crushed instant coffee. Eat.

Tuesday, 8 January 2008

Happy New Year!

A bit late, I know, but in my family you can wish each other a happy new year during the entire month of January (I have a ginormous extended family, so it would usually take a while to tick everyone off). Also, getting a stomach bug is a wonderful way to lose all that holiday weight, but not such a fun way to start the new year. My stomach is back to its old good self now, but there hasn’t been much cooking in the V&C kitchen and hence not much to report either.

S and I spent most of the holidays with our families in Belgium – a wonderful week of eating, sleeping and not much else. And I was too busy chatting with everyone to think about updating my blog. We‘ve always celebrated with our little family on christmas’ eve; christmas day was reserved for a big lunch with my dad’s side of the family (fifty-odd people – told you I have a big family) and the last years is a perfect day for going to the cinema, or, even better, doing nothing at all.

The traditional christmas day lunch with turkey, cranberry, stuffing etc. is not really done in Belgium though (and we don’t have Santa Claus either – but we do have Sinterklaas, who comes on 6 December). We usually eat something nice and festive, and this year we all helped cooking. Mum did something nice with fish for starters, my brother made a lovely cream of mushroom soup, S made a beautiful gratin dauphinois and of course I was in charge of dessert.

I wanted to make something Sinterklaas-inspired, with speculoos, spices, and mandarines. And dad loves ice cream, so there had to be ice cream in it as well. And this is what I came up with: speculoos with cinnamon ice cream and mandarine caramel. Those fancy schmancy mandarine segments I didn’t do on purpose (I do have a life you know, and I don’t spend it dissecting mandarines into individual thingies); my original intention was to have large segments in the caramel and when I was trying to get the membrane off each segment, they just fell apart in these little thingies. And they looked kinda cute, so I used them like that. All the components for this dessert can be prepared in advance and are very easy to make; just be careful with the speculoos, because it burns easily.


500g self raising flour

250g butter

350g soft or dark brown sugar

1 egg

1/2 shot glass of cognac (or milk or water)
mixed spices (cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg etc.)

Knead everything together into a smooth dough. Leave to rest in the fridge for at least one hour. Roll dough to a thickness of 1/2 in for crispy speculoos, or 2 in for soft speculoos and shape as desired. Bake at 170 - 200˚C, for about 5 to 10 minutes (burns easily).

For this dessert I baked thin crispy rectangles of speculoos which I trimmed again after baking (the scraps mixed with coffee made a delicious spread for sweet sandwiches), but this recipe makes massive quantities of dough and, as my mum loves the thick soft speculoos, I baked a massive slab of that with the leftovers. Which disappeared in no time.

cinnamon ice cream

Find any basic ice cream recipe and infuse milk or cream with cinnamon sticks when heating it. (sneaky, I know, but my old basic recipe doesn't really cut it. Not enough egg yolks I think)

mandarine caramel
adapted from Claudia Fleming's Last Course

1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup water
1/4 cup mandarine juice
1 tbsp butter
mandarine segments

combine water and sugar in saucepan and simmer until sugar dissolves (stir regularly). Raise heat and boil mixture until caramelised. Remove from heat and whisk in butter and fruit juice. Set over low heat and whisk until caramel is smooth. Let cool for at least 1 hour. Before serving, stir in mandarine segments (which I didn't have, so I just scattered my mandarine thingies over the plates).