Tuesday, 29 April 2008

here’s one I made earlier…

… because I was nowhere near my kitchen this weekend. Instead, I spent a lovely weekend in Belgium to celebrate my friend’s 30th birthday. She is Spanish and prepared some yummy food: tortilla, albondigas and much more. No pictures, too busy talking. The rest of the weekend I caught up with my family: chatting with mum, taking gran out for lunch and enjoying the wonderful sunshine and 25˚C weather. And stocking up on chocolate of course.

So all I’ve got right now is this salad: goats’ cheese, walnuts, apple (this time, I also use pear, dried cranberries or goji berries) and rocket with an olive oil-balsamic vinegar dressing.

S doesn’t like goats’ cheese at all, so I only make this occasionally, just for myself. And every time again I’m surprised how fast and easy this is. All you need to do is brush the cheese with egg, roll it in breadcrumbs and gently fry it in some olive oil, until the breadcrumbs are golden and the cheese a bit squishy in the middle. While the cheese is frying, dress the salad leaves, throw in some nuts, berries or whatever else takes your fancy. Plonk the cheese onto the salad, add a good twist of black pepper et voila…. an utterly delicious salad in about 10 minutes.

Thursday, 17 April 2008


Four years ago S and I went on holiday to Japan – my first real big trip and a very exciting thing for me. For the first four days or so, I kept on pinching S and shouting at him ‘We’re in Japan! We’re in Japan!’. He bore it patiently and we're still together, so he must really love me (or maybe he just stopped listening after the fourth time I yelled). Growing up I never lacked anything, but my parents didn’t have the money to travel far. We spent many a happy summer at the Belgian seaside, in the Belgian Ardennes, and even a few summers in France. But holidaying in exotic locations was something for rich people.

When I was at university, my student club organised a trip to Istanbul. I remember passing the poster on the notice board and thinking ‘oh that must be nice for the people who can do that sort of thing’. Then I had a second look at the poster and almost fell over backwards when I saw the price of the entire trip: BEF 6,000. That’s about £100 (or US$200), for a weeklong stay. Flights and hotel with breakfast included. Of course I signed up for this trip immediately. The realisation that I too could holiday in exotic locations and that it wasn’t just something for the other half was one of those defining moments for me, as I’d always dreamed about travelling to far-off places, but never thought those dreams could become reality.

Of course as a student I didn’t have the money to travel far and extensively, so when I started working and earning a living, travel was high up on my list of priorities. Top of that list was, and always had been, Japan. And it just so happened that it was at the very top of S’s list as well. So off to Japan we went. Our trip was perfectly timed with sakura season so a lot of hanami was to be done. We encountered a lot of people taking photographs of the cherry blossoms and even saw two sweet old ladies, sitting in the park and discussing the beauty of the flowers and how the petals wafted to the ground. And of course all the sweet shops were filled with special sweets for the occasion.

I’m a big fan of Japanese sweets and there is a shop close to where I work, so once in a wile I treat myself to a nice mochi. The sweets always seem so intricate and complex and impossible to recreate at home. But among the presents I received for my birthday last year was Harumi’s Japanese Cooking. Which had just the recipe I was looking for: little read bean-filled crepes. Delicate looking, appropriately pink and super easy to make. I feel a bit like a cheat, because it was so easy, but the results were absolutely delicious. Since I followed the recipe to the letter and didn't tinker with it, I won't repeat it here, but the crepe batter was a mix of water and flour with some sugar and oil, with a few drops of red food colouring added to it. The red bean paste I simply bought in my local Japanese supermarket.

With all the DIY I’ve been a bit out of the loop in recent months, and I haven’t kept track of all the food events, but after I had made these little crepes I discovered the theme of this month’s Sugar High Friday, hosted by La Petite Boulangette, is Asian sweet invasion. Perfect for my crepes.

Friday, 11 April 2008


* that’s the sound of March flying past. And come to think of it, a good chunk of April as well.

I’ve been a very bad blogger these last few months, shame on me. Another whole month has passed without any baking or experimenting. The only action in the kitchen was that of an entire colony of mice, running around in plain daylight and eating everything in sight. Greedy little buggers. They’ve gone now; old-fashioned mousetraps with a bit of peanut butter did just the trick. I’m sure there were more than the four we caught, but the rest probably got fed up and decided to move somewhere else.

Also, last month S and I survived – barely – two very traumatic trips to Ikea. We’re scarred for life now, the mere mention of something blue and yellow Scandinavian and flatpack furniture reduces us to gibbering wrecks. Seriously, what is it with that store? Their website says everything you need is in stock, but the shelves in the warehouse are completely empty. And the personnel at the information desks think it’s much more important to chat with their mates and yell abuse at their co-workers than, I don’t know, helping out clients maybe? We did eventually manage to get an entire wardrobe puzzled together, miraculously nothing was lost when we had it delivered, we lived to tell the tale and our bedroom looks much tidier now. But those nine hours of our lives, we’ll never get those back.

Oh, and that long bank holiday weekend in March I had so many plans for? Three guesses how that was spent. Yep, even more DIY, resulting in lovingly restored sash windows, looking absolutely yummy. Sash windows aren’t edible though.

So I figured it was high time I put on my apron and baked something, before I completely lose skills like whipping egg whites. Or switching on the oven. And my good friend Claudia was just the woman to provide me with inspiration. I had been meaning to make her lemon and lavender pound cake for ages – in fact, it was the recipe that immediately caught my eye the first time I ever browsed through her book – but somehow I always got distracted trying other things. Not this time though.

The recipe is that of a very simple and basic pound cake – quite different from the one I normally make though, so it was a good ‘exercise’ to compare techniques and results. This one is certainly easier and a bit less work, withouth much difference in taste. I adapted the recipe a little bit: I omitted the lemon zest because I really don’t like lemon zest and cut down the quantities of the lavender quite a bit as I thought using the full four tablespoons might be a bit overpowering. The resulting cake was wonderfully moist and lemony with just a hint of lavender. I was convinced S wouldn’t like it, because of the lavender, but he obligingly tasted a little piece. And then… his eyes lit up, he started licking his lips and rubbing his belly, said ‘yum!’ and cut himself another piece. Maybe that 'whoosh' was also the sound of pigs flying past...

lemon and lavender pound cake
adapted from Claudia Fleming's The Last Course

200g butter
5 eggs
1 cup sugar
1 1/2 cup self-rising flour
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 tablespoon dried lavender

for syrup: 1/2 cup sugar, 1/4 cup water, 1/4 cup lemon juice

Melt butter with lavender, leave to infuse for 10 minutes, strain, discard lavender, and set aside to cool.
Beat eggs with sugar until thick and pale. Sift 1/3 of flour into egg mixture until thoroughly combined. Fold in rest of flour in 2 batches. Whisk one cup of batter with vanilla extract and melted butter, then add this to remaining batter. Bake cake at 150˚C for 45 minutes.

Make syrup (bring to simmer in saucepan and cook until sugar is dissolved). When cake is ready, poke all over with skewer and brush with half the syrup. Leave to cool for 10 minutes, invert cake and brush bottom and sides. Reinvert and brush with remaining syrup. Enjoy.