Monday, March 26, 2007

Finally found!

The first time I heard about cocoa nibs was August 2005 in this post. I was intrigued by the description of these roasted cocoa beans and tried to find them both in Dundee and Edinburgh but without success. Time went by, I gave up on finding them in Scotland and forgot about them again. Then this summer, making the same jam again, my interest was rekindled. I figured living in Switzerland, famous for it's chocolate, I should be able to find them. So I visited the chocolate shops, bakers, high end department stores but everybody looked at me like I'd gone mad. "Roasted cocoa beans? What on earth is wrong with a normal chocolate bar or praline??" I could see them think.

Then by fluke last saturday I found another chocolate shop, in an alley next to my favourite bakery, I figured I had nothing to lose, walked in and shyly asked if they had perhaps ever heard of roasted cocoa beans in my bestest broken German... and by a miracle, without blinking the lady said:"yes of course, we carry 2 different kinds, which one would you like?" I was so surprised that I didnt hear her description and picked the ones with the yellow label as it looked more pretty. Chuffed to bits I cycled home, I couldn't believe I'd found them and just in time for Sugar High Friday. Originally started by the Domestic Goddess, this month it was hosted by Chocolate in Context. But now to decide what to cook?! I thought about these cookies or this jam but in the end I settled on a small tart using up some chestnut jam and eggwhite to fit the wintery cold we had this weekend.

I made a simple pate brisee, lined two small tart tins with the pastry and baked them blind for about 15 min. I ground down a handful of the beans, mixed this with a few tablespoons of chestnut jam and put this on the pastry. I covered this with an eggwhite stiffly whisked with sugar. Popped it in the oven for 30 min at 150°C and let it cool to room temperature. I was really pleased with the result. The sweet gloopy chestnut jam was balanced nicely by the bitter cocoa beans and the meringue was light and fluffy on top. Next time, I think I would add a tiny bit of cornflour to the jam, to thicken it a bit as now some syrup was dripping out. But I still have lots left so I can try again and finally make all those other recipes :-)

Saturday, March 17, 2007


St. Pat's Day: Green or Irish
My family has had an affinity with green for a long time. It started with a birthday present for my dad about 10 years ago. My mum bought him tiny green glasses (he has always liked glass in general) in the antiques shop which had the most vibrant color. It's a really in your face, limy, fluorescent kind of green and really after some research we found out it is called Anna green, was made at the start of the 20th century and is produced using very slight amounts of uranium oxide (this makes the vibrant color). My dad being physicist loved this even more and so started the collection.Over the years they have accumulated quite a lot of small pieces and it has gotten to a stage where non of us can go to a second hand shop/ flea market/ garage sale without looking for it and then, when you find a possible one, deciding if it really is or not, or perhaps once with less uranium, or just a dye etc.

But with a irish boyfriend the love for green reaches a whole new level. Not only is he a keen glass hunter but he is convinced it's the best color in the world (and why would people think otherwise)! When we were furnishing our new apartment in Basel, he would have bought everything in green if he had the chance (furniture/bedlinnnen/towels/appliances) so in the end we compromise on a green couch (which I secretly love, but don't tell him!) and 3 green chairs. Don't get me wrong, I like the color, but more in plants or when I'm outside in a forrest or the mountains. But today, I thought I'd make a gesture as it's St Patrick's day! St Patrick, who was originally Welsh, came to Ireland to chase the snakes (devil) away and bring christianity to the island. For the Irish it's a great excuse to wear their national color and enjoy a few pints of Guinness.

Over on Kochtopf, they also felt patriotic about today I decided to bake something for the event. I stuck with the green color and made a green baked cheesecake. It's very lightly based on a green chocolate mousse my mum makes (and we actually eat out of the green glass) which is made with white chocolate and creme de menthe. I really like it but somehow felt it was a bit to delicate and light for the occasion (how are you meant to hold your Guinness on that?!). Instead, I made a base using a mix of chocolate biscuits and ginger nuts and added a few teaspoons of creme de menthe to the cheese part. It didn't become as vibrant green as I had hoped but after being in the oven, the green was more pronounced in a velvety green tone. The tart was lovely and creamy with a hint of mint. I liked the taste but next time I think I will add something to the cheesemix to give it a bit more texture.

Minty Leprauchaun Cheesecake (serves 4-6)
100g biscuits (mixed gingernuts and chocolate biscuits)
50g butter
1 egg +1 yolk
350g cream cheese (the proper stuff-light just doesn't set as well)
90g sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla essence
2 Tbsp creme de menthe

Crumble the biscuits, melt the butter and mix these two together and spread over the bottom of a pie dish. Then whisk the eggs, cream cheese and sugar till it's creamy, then add the essence and the creme de menthe. Spread it on top of the base and bake roughly 45 min. Leave to cool in the oven, then place in fridge for at least 2 hours preferably overnight.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

View of the Eiger

With all the Fasnacht, I haven't done so much (exciting) with a visit from my brother and his girlfriend last weekend we went away to the Alps. We'd planned this a long time ago and I'd been hoping that the weather would pick up or cool down!! After the initial dump of snow in January, the Swiss winter has been very disappointing. The warmest one for the last (don't know how many) years. Not exactly what I expected from moving to Switzerland but we've made the best of it so far with 2 great trips.

And this weekend we had another great time skiing. We leisurely drove to Grindelwald last Saturday and even though the village looked depressingly green, we had two nice days. Sunday was beautiful and sunny and we had a great view of the Eiger and Jungfrau all day. Then on Monday, it was more cloudy and started snowing just before lunchtime.....but this cleared up again and conditions were great with a nice layer of fresh snow. We'll definitely be going back there...hopefully in winter to try the 15 km (!!) sledging run and otherwise in summer as it's only 3 hours by train! Tomorrow, we're off to Geneva for the weekend to meet up with my family (parents are coming from Holland and brother and girlfriend on their way back from skiing) for some serious (?!) physics at CERN (thanks to some old collegues of my dad) and lots of catching up. Next week I'm on a course in Zurich for work so things might be a bit quite for a while until I'm back.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Three days of madness and mayhem

Wow, we've just experienced and survived our first Fasnacht! From the day we arrived everyone had been telling us about the Basel carnaval and how we shouldn't miss it. The excitement had been building up the last few weeks with occasional cliques marching through the street and the noise of piccolo music rising up from our downstair neighbours.

Sunday it had finally arrived, the three kings (symbol of the poshest hotel in Basel) were dressed as Waggis and the town was waiting in anticipation. Officially, Fasnacht starts on Monday morning at 4am with the Morgestraich but we went to the nearby town of Liestal on the recommendation of Matthew and Sarah. There they have a fire festival where people carry torches through the village. So we set off, a friend from work, Barry and I, found ourselves a spot close to the arch in the city wall and waited. It started with a carnival (drum/brass) band dressed in masks with fluorescent eyes...fairly spooky but the lively music made it very fun.

Then at 7.15pm all the lights went off and in the distance, we could see the first torches floating down the hill. It was a very impressive sight but the poor men and woman (and children sometimes) carrying them must have been so hot!! Interspersed with the people carrying torches were burning carts that initally fitted through the archway, but became bigger and bigger as the time went on and the firemen had to wet the archway more and more. It was an amazing sight, specially when the fire that had been contained in the arch came out into the air with flames going up 10 meters. If you were unlucky and the carts stopped in front of you, the heat was so blazing. I would strongly recommend anyone who is in Basel for Fasnacht to include this too.

Once back in town we had dinner and went to a party at the Kaserne to stay awake till 4. We positioned ourselves near Marktplatz and it was very nice standing on the street, slowly seeing all the clique emerging, putting on their masks, turning on their lanterns and all waiting for the starting time. Again, all the lights went off and after a call of "MORGESTRAICH" they started marching whilst playing their tunes on piccolo and drums. We spent about an hour watching the different groups coming past, all in their own costumes and themed lantern. It was nice but somehow I had expected something a bit less tame and organized (I guess they're Swiss after all). So cold and hungry we had a traditional piece of Ziibelewaije (onion quiche) before turning into bed.

The next afternoon after a nice brunch (including Faschtetwaije-a traditional bread with cumin seeds) we went back into town to watch the Cortege. This was much more like I excpected it to be, mad, costumes and music everywhere, lots of people throwing confetti and having a good time. We spent ages watching all the different floats, collecting oranges and sweets that were thrown in addition to the confetti. But when the rain got too hard we went to one of the clique bars that are only open this time of the year. They are decked out with decorations and sell a limited selection of food and drink....but all you need on a wet afternoon/evening. Here we had the last required Fasnacht food of Maalsuppe (browned flour soup). This was one thing I wasn't too sure about trying but I was pleasantly surprised. It's tasted like the liquid from a good stew and served with a slice of bread and some grated cheese, it's pretty good when you're cold.

Anyway, to make a long story a wee bit shorter...on Tuesday night we watched the guggi bands (drum/brass bands) perform at the Barfussenplatz and watched the display of lanterns on Munsterplatz. On Wednesday, we saw more parades, caught more oranges, got confettied lots and ate and drank in the cellar bars. All in all, it was an amazing time and feels a bit strange that it's all over now. Things are back to normal, everything is cleaned up but the occasional traces of confetti remind me that there is a different side to the neat and organized Swiss.