Saturday, August 25, 2007

SHF #34 - going local!

Moving to a new country can be quite a shock to the system. You have to deal with a new language, culture and customs whilst settling in, looking for an apartment and finding which isle has what in the supermarket. Lucky for me when I moved here, I spent the first two weeks living with a colleague (and now close friend) of mine who helped Barry and me settle in so much here in Basel.

She made me feel really at home in her apartment, translated house adds, helped me to make viewing appointments (my German is ok but I often struggle with Swiss-German), introduced us to Fastnacht and fed us our first cheese fondue in Basel. We also spent evenings baking Christmas biscuits together and made many nice walks in the Jura. Without her it would have taken us a lot longer to settle in and we forged a great friendship in those two weeks (and since then). I think it helped a lot that we share a love for the outdoors and great food and I'm learning lots of Swiss recipes from her. One of them is this red berry meringue tart that is her signature dish. The recipe came from her mother and before that I don't know. I thought it a very fitting entry for this months SHF hosted by Johanna as for me it will always remind me of Basel and settling in here.

You can only make it for a few months in summer as in Switzerland the produce is extremely seasonal (and even regional!) but it is delicious. A buttery nutty crust filled with a mix of tart red berries and a fluffy sweet meringue. Its very fresh and looks beautiful (although unfortunately no pictures due to death of digital camera). This year, I will also try to make it in winter by freezing some red berries to use and perhaps substituting them for cranberries.

Simone’s red berry meringue tart
Fort he crust
-200g butter
-100g sugar
-300g flour
-1 egg
-2tbsp ground almonds

For the filling
-3 egg whites
-130g sugar
-1 Tbsp ground almonds
-500g red berries
Mix the ingredients for the crust together, roll it out and place into a buttered tart dish.Bake this blind for 15 min 190°C. In the mean time, whisk the egg white till thick and add the sugar slowly. Then stir the in ground almonds and berries. Pour the mixture into the base, first bake 10 min at 190°C. Then reduce the oven temperature to 160°C and bake for a further 20-25 min.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Hay hay it's a very pink Donna Day

One of my favourite colours at the moment is bright fushia pink! I don't know why, perhaps it’s due to the lack of a full blown summer which I somehow associate it with, but it just cheers me up. And cheering up is what I needed a lot of lately. With a paper needing revision and two fellowship deadlines within one week I was at the end of my tether. So I was in need of some comfort, especially in my dinners! Normally, when I get stressed, I actually like to cook something more elaborate as it relaxes me somehow but I didn’t even have time for that. So this recipe comes from one of my favourite books at the moment and it was the perfect dinner solution. Not so time consuming but still resulting in a great sense of achievement and as I made loads of them, I was sorted for several meals. By coincidence gnocchi were also the theme for HHDD #14 hosted by Cafe Lynnylu. This is an event I always wanted to take part in but kept missing the deadline so I am really pleased I finally made it.

The gnocchi tasted great, I had some trouble getting the dough to come together as I added too much beetroot (2 pureed small ones) and so needed a lot more flour than the recipe stated. I guess next time I would leave out the egg. I finally gave up and the dough was still pretty sticky when I made the gnocchi but I didn’t want to add more flour as the recipe warned they would become too stiff. That’s why the shape is a bit funky but the texture was perfect, light and fluffy with an earthy hint of beetroot. They were so much better then anything store bought! We ate them with mushrooms fried with onion, garlic and parsley topped with parmesan which complemented the earthy flavor very well. I also had them for lunch with Baerlauch pesto, roasted aubergine or just with some goats cheese melted on top. It definitely was a quiet and comforting point in my days to sit down with a bowl of these little pink beauties. The picture unfortunately doesn't do them justice as my camera decided it doesn't like to be turned on anymore so I'm relying on Barry's phone's camera.

Now everything is submitted and after some glasses of Cremant D'Alsace to celebrate I can put the gnocchi recipe away....but not for too long as I will make these much more, even for non-stressful days.

Basic gnocchi recipe

1 kg potatoes
1 egg
200 g flour
2 tsp salt

Peel the potatoes and cut into small chunks to steam (this is meant to make the end result lighter). When soft, mash them to a fine paste and stir in egg, flour and salt into the potatoes (this is where I added the beetroot, I would suggest adding less and perhaps leaving out the egg). Work everything to a soft dough, on a floured surface roll out into a long sausage and cut off little pieces (impossible with my dough). If you feel like it you can decorate these with a fork, then pop them into a pan of boiling salted water until they float up, you'll need to do this in batches. Enjoy with your topping/sauce of choice.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Minty Goodness

Another blog party, another great theme! For this edition Stephanie chose minty goodness which was very timely as the mint on my balcony is growing madly. I'm going through a bit of an Middle Eastern food phase at the moment and mint seemed to fit into that seamlessly. For the snack, I threw together these little chickpea, aubergine and pomegranate fritters topped with minty quark. Easy to make, easy to bake and very tasty with the warm nutty flavors of the chick pea flour, aubergine and zatar contrasted by the fresh and zingy mint and garlic. I also like the grainy texture of the quark which is very sturdy so stays well on top of the fritters. To accompany these, I mixed some little Arabic G&Ts by adding mint syrup (made with some leftover sugar from this recipe) and pomegranate molasses (my new favorite cooking ingredient).

For the fritters (makes 25-30)
Mix 200g chickpea flower, 1 1/2 tbsp oil, 1 grated medium aubergine, 1 tbsp zatar and seeds from 1 pomegranate (keep a few aside for garnish and the drink). The dough should be a little bit sticky but not too thin. Heat some oil in a pan and dollop little balls in there. Fry for a few minutes either side. In the mean time combine 4 tbsp quark, 1 1/2 tbsp chopped fresh mint and 1-2 chopped garlic cloves. Put a little bit on each fritter

For the drink
Melt 50 g of sugar with 25 ml water. Use either mint sugar or add some twigs whilst simmering the syrup. Leave to cool, then mix with equal quantities Hendricks Gin, tonic and pomegranate molasses. Pour into small glasses and add some pomegranate seeds and small mint leaves as garnish.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Brownie Babe Nr. 3

After my disappointing brownie last time, I decided not the divert from the tried and trusted recipe anymore. For the third edition of browniebabe hosted by Myriam I have made this recipe as long as I can remember, I would bring these to school for every birthday or special occasion and know the proportions off by heart. But even though they're great, I felt they needed to be jazzed up a little bit for this event and this is where it all started to go horribly wrong...

You know when you have (what you think is) a brilliant idea and you're so chuffed with yourself for having it that you fire straight ahead without giving it another thought....and then in hindsight you can't believe how stupid you were...well that's kind of what happened to me. I somehow decided it would be great to make honeycomb brownies. I saw someone making the stuff recently on television where it looked really easy and fast plus I love the stuff. Off I went, melted sugar, golden syrup and once caramelising added the bicarbonate problem...let it cool, chopped it up and put it in the batter....easy peasy....put it in the oven and went away. After 30 min I suddenly smelt this terrible burning, the whole flat was cloudy, so what had happened?! Of course it had kept rising as it had so much bicarb in there...duh!! So it rose higher and higher, flooded over the tin and onto the heating element at the bottom of the oven...damn! Still can't believe I didn't think of that!

Anyway, lesson learned so for the second batch I was a bit more conservative. I'd bought some Kumquats so added these as you can't really go wrong with the chocolate orange combination. To enhance the citrus flavor I also added some Yuzu juice and powder that I picked up when I was in London in May. I love the taste of this Japanese fruit which is a bit more bitter and tart than an orange but not as harsh as a lemon. I also simmered some left over kumquats with honey and Yuzu juice to drizzle on top. The brownies turned out perfect and were squidgy and moist as usual with bits of kumquats for a change of texture and taste. They're a bit bitter/tart, as was the Yuzu but this was nicely complemented by the sweet honeycomb I'd sprinkled on top.

Kumquat and Yuzu Brownies
175g butter
450g sugar
50g good quality cocoa powder
4 eggs
250g flour
1 tsp baking powder
ping of salt
24 kumquats
1 tbsp Yuzu juice*
1 tsp Yuzu powder*

Melt the butter in a large pan, add sugar and cocoa and mix well. Then stir in the eggs and sift in the flour, baking powder and salt. Finally add in the kumquats and pour into a bog baking tin. Bake 30-45 min at 175°C and take out once a knife comes out clean.

Leave the brownies to cool and in the mean time make the honeycomb using this recipe (I halved the amount) and the syrup by combining 2 tbsp honey, 2 tbsp Yuzu juice 15-20 chopped kumquats. Leave to simmer for about 5 min, cool slightly and drizzle over the still warm brownies.

* optional as not very easy to obtain, try Japanese supermarkets for it.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

8 secrets MeMe

So I got tagged by The Swiss Job ages ago for this meme to reveal 8 secrets no one else knows about me. It took me a while to think us some stuff no one knows and is still interesting so this is what I've come up with....

1) When I was 5, a girl in our town broke her leg and got loads of pressies and attention from everyone. I got (a bit) jealous and decided I wanted attention to so for about a week, I tried to break my leg by jumping off a wall that was about 70 cm high. I guess I had no concept of what it meant to break a bone and all the pain involved and am grateful I didn't succeed.

2) Another jumping story: about a year later, we were playing in kindergarden by jumping off a box that was again about 70 cm high. I don't know what happened but somehow I was not going fast enough according to the guy behind me so he pushed me. I fell and in the shock I managed to bite my tongue in half between my molars. My dad had to come get me and said it was a horrible sight with blood everywhere. The only thing I remember is that I wasn't allowed to talk for a few days (very difficult!) and had to have this horribly bitter disinfectant stuff put on the cut every day but was allowed a spoonful of sugar afterwards.

3) I love pickles, so much so that I used to secretly drink sips of vinegar but I was very selective, only gressie essig herb vinegar please! available at selected Coops near you.

4) The final year of my PhD, I sent a request to the Nobel Conference in Stockholm if I could please attend even though I was 2 weeks past registration deadline. Instead of rejecting me, they invited me to give a seminar as they realized they should have invited my boss! So I had 2 weeks to prepare a seminar to talk in between the greats in the field....very very terrifying but a great honor as well.

5) I've played the harp since I was 8 years old. It all started when we went on a trip in kindergarten to a rehearsal of the Geneva orchestra. I saw a lady with a harp and was determined I wanted to play this instrument. In Geneva there were no teachers (that we could find and I was still very young) but when we moved back to the Netherlands we found someone. My parents tried to deter me with a trial piano lesson first but with no success and so I ended up playing the harp. With all the moving the last few years I haven't played much but hopefully this will come again soon.

6) I'm terrified of needles and injections, just the thought of them makes me shiver, roll down my sleeves and start feeling queazy. So much so that when I stood in a cocktail stick when I was 11, I pretended I was fine so I didn't have to have surgery. My parents began to suspect something was wrong when I couldn't walk anymore 5 week later! I also got the mould for my crown fitted (copper bent around your tooth) without anastetic as the first injection didn't work but I pretended to be OK (very silly).

7) The first outdoor climb I did was called the Inaccessible Pinnacle. Pretty impressive if I do say so myself. So much so it took about 45 min of talking/shouting to get me off it as I was terrified of the drop!

8) The grossest thing I ever ate were fermented quid intestine whilst living in Japan. I was told it was a delicacy but it was pretty smelly, slimy and the taste was just not nice. So at least I can say I've tried but also...never again!

So that's it not very terribly shocking I would say. I'm not tagging anyone but feel free to complete it if you want :-)

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Blogging by Mail

The best way to cheer up a rainy Wednesday afternoon? Receiving my Blogging by mail package (kindly organized by Stephanie!) from the sunny state of Texas! I love these event where you not only get the excitement of a package....full of goodies (!) but you also get to know some other people out there in the blogging world that you haven't come across yet. My blogging partner was Jerry although, unfortunately, she forgot to include her blog in the package!?

I managed to hold off opening it till after I cycled home which was good, cause after being drenched down to my underwear (!Monday was still 30°C!) it was a great pleasure to open this box. The first thing I noticed was the lovely smell of honey! Jerry sent me a bottle of Texas's best honey and it had leaked ever so slightly tempting me with it sweetness but leaving lots in the bottle to enjoy. The other goodies were equally great from 3 different flavors coffee, orange pecan zest granola, Texas chewie pecan praline (they didn't last very long!) and the Austin spice company smoky hill mild salsa. This last one I had to beat Barry away from with a stick as I had plans last night and I wasn't gonna let him eat it! Finally, as she couldn't send me any peaches, Jerry also included a recipe for a grilled peaches Sundae which sounds absolutely fab and luckily we have a good supply of fresh peaches here so will make that this weekend. So this morning, whilst it was still raining, I enjoyed my cup of Venezuela estate coffee along with my granola ad feel ready to brave the rain again!

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

First camping trip of the year

Last weekend we finally went on our first camping trip :-) I'd been dying to get away for ages but work has been mayhem recently, however last weekend we finally got the chance. After some advise from a friend, we headed to Luzern which is only 1 hour and 10 min on the train and situated at the Vierwaldstattersee. It was beautiful, the campsite (though very very busy) was right by the lake. We took a boat to Weggis where we got a gondola and train up to the top of the Rigi Klum from where we had beautiful views. We then walked down which was stunning. Sunday we swam in the lake and explored the beautiful city. So what did we eat?? When it comes to camping/walking I like things simple but tasty and the food needs to be durable (i.e. travel well).

For breakfast we got Gipfili (croissant) from the campsite shop and ate them with some cherry jam. For lunch I had made these muffins and this bananabread (both traveled great and were very tasty) and we supplemented with some aged Alpkäse to we bought from a local farmershop.

In the evening, after some local beers and a few nibbles, we had a one pot dinner of fresh pasta with mozzarella, tomato and baerlauch pesto which came together within 10 min. Just bring water to the boil, add pasta and cook 2-3 min. In the mean time chop the rest of the ingredients. Drain pasta, add the rest and leave in the warm pan for a few minutes. Best shared from the pan with a fork!

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

BreadBakingDay #2

In the nick of time for the second edition of baking bread hosted by Columbus foodie...I've been very excited about baking bread since last January. Before that, I'd been baking bread, but somehow it always seemed very time consuming, which I don't mind if the result is great but it never turn out as good as expected. Then, a friend and I went on a half day bread baking course at Migros. This is not only one of the main supermarkets in Switzerland, but they also run many courses on a wide variety of topics at their ClubSchule.

The course was in German (good practice for me) but our teacher also spoke good English and she was happy to explain again or answer any of my questions when my German knowledge fell short. It was a great set up with some theory but also lots of practice and tasting and by the end of the day, I felt very confident and I took a few essential tips home which have made the baking fantastic since then!
1) Make sure to mix sugar/salt and fat well with the flour before adding the yeast (as the little yeasties like it in diluted form but not pure)
2) You can use dry and fresh yeast interchangeable and there is no need to pre-start it as long as you kneed well.
2) The batter needs to be quite wet and just not sticking to your fingers, but when you poke it, a little bit should stick temporarily (I used to make mine way too dry!)
3) To speed up rising, either put your bowl in a sink of lukewarm water or heat the oven up to 50°C, turn it off and place the dough in there.

So for the bread with fruit, I chose to make a variation on a recipe for Schiacciata. This is a flat bread from Tuscany that can be made savory or sweet. I used some little Italian pears that have been on sale here that are quite hard (good for baking)but full of flavor. I wanted to eat these breads with some pear preserve I made and as that had some tonquin bean (or tonca; a fragrant black nutlike South American bean, you can substitute with vanilla) in it I also grated some through the batter to echo the flavors. They turned out really well, crunchy thin crust on the outside and soft and airy on the inside. They were great for breakfast with the preserve that just enhanced their flavors and for lunch with some goat cheese.

Schiacciata with pears and tonquin
250 g strong white flour
pinch of salt
1 1/2 tsp sugar
20g butter
10g fresh yeast (or 1 1/2 tsp dried)
±300 ml water
1 tonquin bean
oil for brushing

First, mix flour, sugar and salt, then add butter and mix again. Second crumble the fresh yeast into the flour and mix again. Finally add the water till everything comes together. Kneed for 10 min, leave to rest for 1 h (or use fast rising tips above), knock back, divide into 6 balls that you flatten and brush with oil. Leave to rise until puffy, then dimple the dough with your fingers. Brush again with oil and top with slices of pear. Bake at 200°C for 15 min till golden and crisp.

Pear and Tonquin preserve
450g pears
30g honey
225g sugar
1 grated tonquin bean
40 ml vinegar

Clean the pears and cut them into small pieces. Bring sugar, honey and vinegar to the boil, add the pears and grated bean then simmer for 1 hour. Place into clear, sterilized jars and store in a dark place.