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Simplicity At Its Best: Mediterranean Dinner in France

Published July 28, 2014 by The Feminist

france

When I was on holiday in the South of France (I don’t mean to rub it in) I discovered one simple truth: simplicity is the key to good Mediterranean cooking. With ingredients that you can count on just one hand, you can conjure up the most delicious dish imaginable.

So there I was…in my (temporarily rented) garden… watching how the boats sailed into the harbor… and I just knew that I had to attempt one of those classic, simple dishes myself.

So meet this delicious Coeur de Boeuf and Burrata mozzarella starter. In my homecountry  Belgium, I would never have voluntarily opted for a tomato and mozzarella salad at a restaurant. The tomatoes taste like water, the mozzarella tastes like water… I just found it really bland and boring most of the time. Until the French Riviera made me realize that a simple plate of tomato-mozzarella can be truly magical if you have the best products on the planet to work with. These Coeur de boeuf tomatoes were juicy, succulent and bursting with flavour and the burrata mozzarella… by golly, don’t get me started on the mozzarella! Burrata is the creamy King of mozzarella cheese: a texture that almost resembles thick yoghurt and a lovely rich flavour that almost does not require any additional seasoning. To make my version of this Italian classic dish extra special, I used some extraordinary olive oil I bought in Nice in the restaurant Oliviera (which I already blabbed on about in my previous post). It has a lovely sweet and nutty, almondy flavour and gives a peppery finish at the back of your tongue.

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Ingredients:

  • Burrata mozzarella cheese, sliced
  • Coeur de boeuf tomatoes, thinly sliced
  • Coarse sea salt and freshly ground pepper
  • Good quality olive oil
  • Fresh basil

Following  the rules of simplicity, I also made this lovely fish dish: locally sourced fish topped with an almond and red pepper tapenade on a bed of courgette and fresh flageolet beans. Served with some homemade garlic bread (really really garlicy!)

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Just spread some good quality, store-bought almond and pepper tapenade (preferably bought at a local market, of course) on top of your fish. Put in the oven for 15-20 minutes at 200°C until tender and juicy. Cut the courgettes into thick slices and take the beans out of the pods. Blanche the beans al dente. Heat a tablespoon of olive oil in a huge pot, add the courgettes and salt and pepper and sauté for a couple of minutes. Add the blanched flageolets and let it simmer for a further 10 minutes. Right before serving stir in some fresh basil leaves and sprinkle on some lemon juice.

Now pour yourself a glass of wine and enjoy the sun!

 

 

Holiday Recap: I came, I saw and I ate

Published July 25, 2014 by The Feminist

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I’m back, dear readers. After spending a week enjoying the heat of the sun and the gentle sea breeze in Cannes, followed by a week of nothing but mountain glory in the North of Italy, it was time for me to come home.

I did not want to, believe me. I would have rather stayed in France and would have preferred to spend my entire life sitting on the beach, eating fish soup with delicious rouille whilst making googly eyes at a tall and dark French Adonis, but unfortunately, life is not a fairy tale. Reality awaited. And I had some duties to return to. Like paying rent, going to work and, last but definitely not least, connecting with my thousands of loyal followers. You.

So here it is, folks. A long (and yet incomplete) list of all the delicious things I had the joy of eating during my stay at the French Riviera and in the Italian Dolomites.

Because I Cannes
Let’s start with the heavenly delights of France!
First off, I have some unfortunate news: I did not spot any celebrities. *releases a soft wail of disappointment*. However, what Cannes was not able to offer me regarding star status, it totally made up for in its array of hotness walking around. Because –let me make abundantly clear- Cannes is FULL of handsome men.
I mean, hallelujah! It was almost uncanny –pun fully intended- to see so much hotness on one tiny spot by the sea. Add to that the fact that the French Riviera had tons of delicious food on offer –I’m now referring to those of the non-male, edible variety- and you will understand why I had such a lovely time.

Sweet and juicy scallops with a saffron sauce and plenty of different vegetable side dishes. Always a winner with me!

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A delicious fish skewer, marinated in lemon and herbs with a sauce vièrge. That dish was preceded by the most delicious fish soup I had ever tasted and was so damn yummy I forgot to talk a picture.

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FYI, if you go to Cannes, it is key to find local restaurants. They will most likely offer delicious but affordable food. So don’t go running to the Carlton for lunch. Just sayin’.

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I mean, who the hell would pay 8 euros for a cup of coffee??

The French Riviera is famous for its fish, so obviously I ate plenty of it. This was a succulent piece of red mullet with Brandade de Morue.

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This dish surely packed a punch: homemade gnocchi with pistou and octopus in a spicy tomato sauce

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If there is one restaurant experience I have to tell you about, it is this restaurant in Nice: Oliviera. Honestly, it was one of the most extraordinary restaurant experiences in my entire life. First of all, the waiter. He was awesome and talked with so much passion about the food and his olive oils you almost started drooling just by listening to him. Secondly, each dish was paired with a particular type of olive oil. Olive oil was not just used as something to cook with, it was the heart of every dish. While we were waiting for our different courses, the friendly waiter brought us plenty of different olive oils to taste. Lastly, the food was insane. Pure. Delicate. Simple. Heavenly. Succulent burrita mozzarella with Coeur de Boeuf tomatoes, feta and herbs filo pastry tart, homemade raviolis,… and all drizzled with plenty of good olive oil. Mmmm. This was a courgette flower stuffed with a spicy bulgur salad and –of course- drizzled with lots of fragrant olive oil.

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Needless to say, I enjoyed plenty of desserts as well. I started my holidays with an epic ice cream cone with the most insanely delectable flavours: caramel au beurre salé and marron glacé

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(not a very flattering pic, but it’s about the ice cream, not my face 😉 )

Furthermore, I ate quite a few café gourmands, which are espressos served with lots of delicious things along the side.

This one was bold and big with honest flavours: a mini chocolate fondant, a strawberry macaron, vanilla panna cotta with apricot coulis, an almond tart and a huge scoop of rum and raisin ice cream with whipped cream…

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And this one was more petite in portion but –Oh my Frenchy God- that was by far the best coffee layer thingy I have ever tasted in my life! The flavours! The layers! Sensation in the mouth guaranteed. (I enjoyed this one at a rather fancy-looking place called Le Nôtre in Cannes)

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On our last night in Cannes, we ate dinner at L’Assiète Provençale, which is situated in the touristy heart of Cannes –right at the harbor!- but was anything but the tourist trap. The food was refined, and offered modern interpretations of French classics. I had the most amazing fried fleur de courgettes as a starter, honey glazed tuna steak with five spiced vegetables (praise the Lord!) and by miles the BEST LEMON MERINGUE PIE I HAVE EVER TASTED. (In fact, it was so good, I only realized half way through that I forgot to take a picture. So my apologies for the half-eaten slice of pie)

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Oh Mighty Dolomites

Now onto the delicious food I’ve eaten in the Dolomites, a region that embraces both Austrian and Italian cuisine. (So double check pot!) Luckily for me, apart from eating, I spent my days hiking, climbing mountains and doing laps in the swimming pool, so (hopefully) most of those calories got burnt off.

Our hotel is renowned for its gourmet cuisine, so I definitely do not want to spare you the delicious details:

Open ravioli with pea puree, delicate fish and a cream and white wine foam.

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Pan-fried sea bass with steamed vegetables and herby mash

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Milk chocolate mousse with mango and orange-scented shortbread

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Seared swordfish with crispy vegetables and beetroot macaroons.

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Fragrant herb risotto with prawns

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The most delicious banana tart with banana-flavoured parfait

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The ultimate Tiroler dish: spinach spätzle with Almkäse (mountain cheese) and fresh mushrooms

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Steamed whiting fillet on a bed of red pepper couscous

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Vanilla and puff pastry tompouce with vanilla ice cream and red berries

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So who’s hungry now? 😉

Splendid Summer, Splendid Shoes: Preparing for Cannes

Published July 8, 2014 by The Feminist

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I am leaving for the glitz and glam of Cannes in a couple of days – *feel free to insert an envious grunt*– and since Cannes is famous for being all classy and glamourous, it is essential that I look great. (Obviously.) So no white socks in crocs for me. (Not that I would ever wear white socks… or crocs… or wear both of them together… I would rather die… but you get my drift)

Instead I’m spending a lot of time these days selecting the most fashionable of holiday wardrobes. Not just funky dresses and chic jumpsuits, but fab day outfits as well that will turn hiking into an ultra-posh event.

And with the right outfit go the right shoes. From comfy but bold to sky high and fabulous, there is one suitable pair for every occasion! Here is a list of all the types of shoes I would ideally like to take with me to Cannes. But since I am neither rich nor famous, I will always suggest a more affordable alternative as well. 😉

1) The thrill of the espadrille

A couple of years ago, these type of flats would have been “not done” in fashionable Cannes, but nowadays the classic espadrille has become so immensely popular that even the rich folk on la Croisette can no longer ban so much cooldom in one shoe.

For the rich and famous:

espadrille stella mccartney

(by Stella McCartney)

For mere mortals:

espadrille lace

espadrille leo

(both from Asos)

2) Extravagant pumps or sandals…

… preferably with some transparent detail.
If you want to ooze confidence, glam and an I-don’t-need-a-sugar-daddy-to-make-me-happy spirit, these are the shoes you need to wear!

For the rich and famous:

louboutin

(by Christian Louboutin, sigh.)

For mere mortals:

asos shoes

(by Asos, hip hip hurray!)

3) As brogue as can be

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past year or so, you will have noticed that women suits or hotter than hot. What used to be a solely male garment has now entered a woman’s closet as well and is regarded as the best thing since  the push up bra (or is that just me?) . The same thing can be said for the shoes that usually go with the male suit, because the so-called brogues are my favourite It-shoes. Not only does it look fab under a suit, but it is also a cool option for your summer holiday, because it is comfy and way more original than those boring ballerinas. (yawn!)

For the rich and famous:

brogues louboutin

(Louboutin, again.)

For mere mortals:

brogue

(Asos, again. Thank God for Asos!)

Looking For Frenchspiration: Lavender and Lemon Curd Cupcakes

Published June 10, 2014 by The Feminist

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Imagine you’re craving something sweet but don’t have a lot of baking ingredients lying around. Imagine you’re hungry. Imagine you’re me.

Well, then you would probably look across the Belgian border and get your inspiration from the French. France is known for its classic and yet simple desserts and tarts, so it would have been absurd not to go in search of some Frenchspiration!

So there I was, sitting in my garden with the sun shining on my face, asking myself one simple question: If I were in the South of France right now, what would I want to eat? As if it were a sign from above, this stupid, annoying fly/bee/ weird-looking-and-flying-kind-of-object started harassing me. I chased it down the garden until the unidentifiable flying object managed to seek asylum in a bush of lavender.

Lavender!

The French Gods had spoken.

Lavender is probably the Frenchiest of things imaginable (Next to croissants and wine of course. ) and it is a marvelous ingredient to cook with. From lavender and honey roasted lamb shanks to lavender and apple tarte tatin. Lavender is  something that belongs in everyone’s kitchen, not just everyone’s bathroom.

Apart from the lavender, lemon is the other main flavour in this dainty cupcake. Since I didn’t have fresh lemons lying around, I decided to use my cherished jar of good quality lemon curd instead. It gave the cupcakes a zingy flavour and its sticky richness was hugging my dessert-loving heart.

Lavender and lemon are truly a match made in heaven. C’est l’amour.

Trust me. (The French know a thing or two about love.)

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Ingredients (makes 6):

  • 1 egg white
  • 1 jar of good quality lemon curd
  • 1 ½ tsp fresh lavender, finely chopped (plus some extra to garnish)
  • 20gr butter
  • 60ml milk
  • 60gr plain flour
  • 70gr caster sugar
  • ¾ tsp baking powder

Method:

  1. Preheat the oven to 170°C. In a large bowl, mix together the butter, sugar, flour and baking powder until you get a sandy consistency.
  2. Stir in the lavender and pour in the milk. Mix well.
  3. Add the egg white and whisk until everything is combined. Stir in a tablespoon of lemon curd.
  4. Pour the mixture into your cupcake cases and bake in the oven for 20 minutes.
  5. Leave to cool completely before spreading a generous layer of lemon curd on top. Finally, sprinkle on some extra lavender
  6. Bon Appétit!

 

 

Here Comes The Sun… Sort Of. Super Easy Summery Strawberry and Pistachio Tarts

Published June 2, 2014 by The Feminist

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I used to hate Mondays. It marks the beginning of a week full of work, stress, frantic grocery shopping and much, much more.

Until today. I forced myself to stop worrying about upcoming tasks. I told myself that it’s okay to take some me-time and relax. After all, Archimedes would never have discovered the Archimedes principle if he hadn’t taken the time to relax and take a bath. Isaac Newton would never have discovered gravity if he hadn’t taken the time to chill out under a tree. Shakespeare would never have written Romeo and Juliette, if he hadn’t taken the time to get drunk and pass out on his couch. (Actually, I don’t know whether that is true, but he just looks like someone who enjoyed to drink a lot of wine, so humor me for a second.)

So I asked myself the question: What would Shakespeare do?

He would probably tell me something like this:

Aren’t thou bored, Eveline? Aren’t thou bored of spending thy time doing shitty things? Thou should not spend the greenness of thy youth working thy arse off. Have faith in me, for I have faith in thee”

[In my head, Shakespeare sounds an awful lot like Peter Dinklage]

And then he added:

“Have a cup of tea and some nice strawberries.”

I don’t know about you, dear readers, but Shakespeare surely sounds like a trustworthy fellow. So I followed good ol’ William’s advice and had a very pleasant relaxing afternoon with a cup of tea and homemade strawberry tarts.

Although the weather outside was not exactly screaming heat wave, with these little tarts I was able to create my own sunshine. Call it an eternal sunshine of the spotless mind. (Shakespeare would have loved that.)

This delicious puff pastry tart is filled with a fresh Greek yoghurt-cream cheese mix with fragrant lime zest, and was topped with fresh strawberries and crunchy pistachios. It transported me to sunnier places.

In my head, it looked like this:

smile-big-8

Needless to say, my current surroundings were definitely not that tropical. But the fact that this tart managed to make me believe I was actually in such a magically exotic place, says a lot.

So thank you, Shakespeare. From now on, I will love Mondays!

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Ingredients:

  • One sheet of puff pastry
  • 1 egg
  • Honey
  • Pistachios, finely chopped
  • 250gr cream cheese
  • 120gr Greek Yoghurt
  • Zest of one lime
  • Fresh strawberries, sliced

Method:

  1. Preheat the oven to 200°C. Cut the puff pastry into four rectangular shapes and with a knife, lightly score a border of 0,5cm from the edges. Brush the edges with beaten egg. Bake in the oven for 15 minutes, or until golden and puffed up. Let it cool completely.
  2. Gently press the center of the tarts to make room for the filling. Brush the edges of the pastry with honey and sprinkle on some chopped pistachios.
  3. Mix the yoghurt and cream cheese together in a bowl. Add the lime zest and 2 tbsp of honey.
  4. Spoon the mixture onto the puff pastry tarts and garnish with strawberries. Finish with some extra pistachios.

Friday Food Fest: Asparagus with Harissa Salsa, grilled Halloumi and Tabbouleh

Published May 23, 2014 by The Feminist

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FACT: It’s Friday.

SUBTEXT: A good enough reason to pour yourself a large glass of wine and enjoy some marvelous food.

And that is exactly what I am doing right now.

While listening to the fabulous tunes of Pharrell Williams, I spent my Friday afternoon doing the things I love: a little bit of cooking and a little bit of drinking. With a glass of rosé in my hand, I boogied around the kitchen and  conjured up a brilliant vegetarian meal: a large plate of steamed green and white asparagus with a spicy Harissa tomato salsa, chargrilled halloumi and some refreshing tabbouleh.

(Should you be wondering: Yes, I am indeed capable of drinking, dancing and cooking all at the same time, although it is probably for the best that you cannot see what this level of multitasking has done to my kitchen. Read: it’s a mess.)

This dish sums up what summer is all about: fresh ingredients, fresh flavours, fresh you!

The pure flavour of the steamed asparagus is brought to unseen levels of deliciousness with a zingy and spicy tomato salsa. And on top of that, this vegetarian va va voom meal is an explosion of different temperatures. The lukewarm asparagus are doing the cha-cha with hotter than hot halloumi and are dancing the merengue with cold and fresh salsa and couscous. Va va voom indeed!

Since I’m in such a happy mood (“ ♫ like a room without a roof ♪ ”), I think I will shut up and return to my bottle of rosé.

Enjoy!

Ingredients (serves 3):

For the tabbouleh:

  • 250gr couscous
  • 5 dried apricots
  • 1 orange pepper, finely chopped
  • 3 tbsp fresh mint
  • 4 tbsp fresh coriander
  • 3 tbsp white wine vinegar
  • ½ tsp ground cumin
  • 3 tbsp olive oil
  • ¼ tsp sumac

For the asparagus:

  • 10-15 white asparagus
  • 10-15 green asparagus
  • 400gr halloumi cheese, cut into slices
  • 4 San Marzano tomatoes
  • 1 red onion, finely chopped
  • 1 tsp harissa
  • 4 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 tbsp white wine vinegar
  • 2 tbsp fresh coriander

Method:

  1. Cook the couscous according to the instructions on the package. Let it cool completely before adding the other ingredients.
  2. Once cooled, stir in the chopped pepper and chopped apricot. Add the vinegar and olive oil. Stir well.
  3. Season with salt and pepper and add the cumin and sumac. Stir in the fresh herbs.
  4. Taste! (Add extra olive oil, vinegar or seasoning if necessary)
  5. Meanwhile, clean the asparagus and steam them until al dente. Let them cool slightly before serving.
  6. Deseed the tomatoes and cut them into fine chunks. Transfer to a large bowl together with the chopped onion. Stir in the harissa, the olive oil and vinegar and season with salt and finally, stir in some fresh coriander.
  7. Fry the halloumi slices on a hot hot hot (!) griddle.
  8. Serve!
  9. Don’t forget that glass of wine!

 

 

Summertime Sweetness: Mango and Lime Coconut Cake With a Gin Syrup

Published April 26, 2014 by The Feminist

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I think I am going through a coconut phase. I simply can’t seem to get enough of it. Whether it is coconut milk, cream or oil, I somehow end up throwing it in practically all of my dishes, from savory curries to sugary desserts.

Oh yes, I am going coconuts. (Pardon the silly word play.)

One of the reasons for my coconut phase is my desire for hot and sunny weather. I even think this droopy winter has made me a bit bonkers in the head, because I honestly keep having day dreams about bounty white beaches, waving palm trees and hot dudes stepping out of the sea in tight speedo shorts…

Mmmm….

Wait, where was I?

Oh yeah, coconut.

This time I decided to use desiccated coconut in a lusciously exotic cake that is totally reminiscent of summer, hot and steamy weather and cocktail parties. The coconut gives this cake a sweet aroma but is not too overpowering and works wonders in combination with the zingy lime. The virgin white sponge is dotted with bright spots of gorgeously juicy mango and last but not least, there is a gin syrup to transport you to one of those sunny Caribbean beaches.

Summer may still be a couple of months away, but at least I have this cake to keep me warm until it arrives.

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Ingredients:

  • 170gr self-rising flour
  • 55gr desiccated coconut
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 egg
  • Zest of half a lime
  • Juice of one lime
  • 80gr caster sugar
  • 30gr soy spread
  • 165gr Greek Yoghurt
  • 2 tbsp soy milk
  • ¾ mango, diced

For the gin syrup:

  • 1 tbsp caster sugar
  • 2 tbsp Gin (I used Bombay Sapphire Gin East)

Method:

  1. Preheat the oven to 180°C and line a cake tin with baking parchment.
  2. Mix the dry ingredients together in one bowl and make a well in the middle.
  3. Lightly mix together the soy spread (or butter), yoghurt, egg and milk and pour into the well.
  4. Mix vigorously using all the arm muscles you’ve got but don’t beat the mixture for too long, otherwise you will get a tough dough.
  5. Stir in the juice and zest of lime and the diced mango.
  6. Pour the mixture into your baking tin and bake in the oven for 35 to 40 minutes.
  7. Once your cake comes out of the oven, quickly heat the gin with sugar until the sugar has dissolved. Now pour the syrup over the hot cake and let it soak up all the delicious booziness.

 

Just Beet It: Red Wine and Beetroot cake with orange and cinnamon cream cheese frosting

Published August 25, 2013 by The Feminist

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Technically it may still be summer, but when I was looking outside my kitchen window this morning, there were absolutely no signs indicating that these months are supposed to be the hottest of the year. All I could see were grey clouds, and although such droopy whether would usually make me feel rather depressed, this morning I couldn’t help but feel a sense of excitement about the prospect of cooler weather.

Sipping hot chocolate in front of the fireplace, going for a walk in the woods with your favourite scarf tied on tight, listening to Michael Bublé whilst taking a long, hot bath,… Suddenly I couldn’t wait for autumn to arrive!

So inspired by this autumn vibe, I decided to start the fall a little bit early this year and conjured up something truly wonderful: a red wine and beetroot cake with an orange and cinnamon cream cheese frosting. Or as I like to call it: the Glühwein cake.

For those of you who don’t own a copy of “Famous Alcoholic Beverages for Dummies”, Glühwein is a mulled wine and is incredibly popular in Germany (where it originated), other German- speaking countries and with us Belgians ( because we know a good drink when we see one!). It is a heavenly aromatic warm red wine, spiced with cinnamon, cloves, star anise and orange and his this remarkable capacity to make you forget all your troubles (and manners, sometimes) and to fill you with warmth and joy. It’s like an electric blanket… but with alcohol. It’s awesome!

So all these flavours inspired me to make this cake. Cinnamon, red wine and mixed spice went into the cake batter, and orange and cinnamon were blended in with the honeyed cream cheese frosting… Sigh. I really do have very good ideas from time to time.

A second key ingredients in this cake is beetroot. You can’t bake an autumn-inspired cake without using any root vegetables. You just can’t. That would be sacrilege. Carrots, parsnips, even turnips! When the weather gets cold, you simply have to use them in a cake! It’s a rule.

I love the earthy sweetness of the beetroot and its majestic red colour so I made the humble beetroot my root vegetable of choice this time. The red beetroot is a match made in heaven with the red wine!

Although the raw batter looked burgundy red, the cooked cake more resembled a chocolate cake, rather than a deep red velvet cake. I didn’t mind. I’d much rather prefer a cake that looks homemade than something that seems to have come straight out of a chemistry lab. If you want to enhance the redness of the cake, you could add food colouring but, like I said, I really don’t think it would do this cake justice.

PS: You may have noticed that this is my second beetroot recipe in a row. Now before you start assuming that I may have some sort of beetroot addiction: I don’t. I just had a lot of beetroot lying around in my kitchen and I didn’t want anything to go to waste! How ecologically sound of me!

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Red wine and beetroot cake with a cinnamon and orange cream cheese frosting

Ingredients

For the cake:
• 2 eggs
• 80gr butter
• 250gr cooked beetroot
• 60ml red wine
• 180gr light brown sugar
• 170gr plain flour
• 1 tsp baking powder
• ½ tsp bicarbonate of soda
• ½ tsp cinnamon
• ½ tsp mixed spice
• ¼ tsp salt

For the frosting
• 100gr cream cheese
• 1 tbsp honey
• Zest of half an orange
• ¼ tsp cinnamon

Method:
1. Preheat the oven to 170°C.
2. Puree the cooked beetroot in a blender together with the red wine until you get a smooth paste.
3. Mix together the red wine and beetroot puree with the eggs, sugar and butter until combined. (At this stage the mixture will look slightly curdled, don’t worry, it will all work out in the end 😉 )
4. Sift in the dry ingredients and mix well.
5. Pour the batter into a prepared cake tin and bake for approximately 35-40 minutes.
6. Allow the cake to cool completely before frosting.
7. For the frosting, whisk together all the ingredients and spoon the frosting onto the cake. Spread out evenly with a palette knife.

The proof of the Pudding is in the Basil… Basil and white peach cupcakes with a honey-mascarpone frosting

Published August 13, 2013 by The Feminist

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I know, the title doesn’t make any sense at all, but it certainly got your attention, right? I mean, the fact that you’re reading this could indicate that

a) You like cupcakes. (who doesn’t?)
b) You like basil. (Again, who doesn’t?)
c) You like weird flavour combos. (only me, I presume)

My guess is that it is probably (or should I say hopefully?) a combination of the three. So whatever your reason may be for visiting this post , welcome and be prepared to witness something truly spectacular!

Basil cupcakes!

self five

Let me say that again: basil cupcakes!

high five

Basil is often considered the King of Herbs when it comes to savory dishes. So much so that I truly believe our love for Italian cuisine is solely derived from Italy’s multitude of basil-flavoured dishes; pesto being the crown jewel of Italian cuisine.

However, because we all love basil in savory dishes so much, we tend to overlook how brilliant it tastes in sweet dishes.

Yes, sweet dishes! Whether it’s ice- cream, crème brulée, brownies or a dainty tart, the fragrant freshness of basil can lift all of these already lovely desserts up to a whole other level!

So forget about pesto or salad caprese! Give your basil the spotlight it truly deserves and for once use the leaves in a very summery dessert!
Like this one, for instance. I got my inspiration from one of my favourite summer salads: a fresh peach, mozzarella and basil salad sprinkled with toasted pine nuts. So in a wave of culinary brilliance I thought to myself: “Wouldn’t it be totally awesome if I could make a sweet version of this salad?”

And this is what I came up with: a basil and white peach cupcake!

wow

At this point I still wanted to find a way to include pine nuts and any Italian cheese( let’s be honest: mozzarella in a sweet cupcake would have been too weird) and after some mindboggling brain activity, I had the most wonderful epiphany: a mascarpone cream, sweetened with honey and topped with crunchy pine nuts!

Eureka! Don’t they just look delicious? They tasted delicious as well, I might add. The basil is truly the star of this dessert and its herby freshness blends so well with the juicy sweetness of the peach. Add to that the smooth and comforting mascarpone cream, the delicious hint of honey in the back of your mouth and that lovely bit of bite from the pine nuts, and what you have is the most deliciously sweet taste of summer imaginable! Even Roman Gods would descend from their clouds and make their way to my tiny Belgian kitchen to taste one of my God-almighty cupcakes!

So if you’re ready to let the sunshine in, here is the recipe

Ingredients (makes 10 cupcakes)

• 120gr plain flour
• 140gr caster sugar
• 1 ½ tsp baking powder
• Pinch of salt
• 40gr unsalted butter
• 120ml whole milk
• 1 egg
• 6 tbsp fresh basil leaves, finely chopped
• 2-3 white peaches

For the mascarpone frosting
• 250gr mascarpone
• 4 tbsp honey
• Toasted pine nuts to decorate

Method:

1. Preheat the oven to 170°C.
2. Put the flour, sugar, baking powder, salt and butter in a bowl and mix on low speed until you get a sandy consistency.
3. Whisk together the egg, milk and basil and gradually pour the mixture into the flour mixture. Continue beating until well incorporated.
4. Spoon the mixture into the prepared cupcake tin and cut the peaches into moon- shaped wedges.
5. Layer each cupcake with 4 wedges . Try to create some kind of flower pattern. If this doesn’t really work, no biggy, just put the wedges on top any way you like.
6. Bake in the oven for about 20-25 minutes. A skewer inserted in the centre should come out clean.
7. Leave the cupcakes to cool slightly in the tin before turning out onto a wire cooling rack.
8. Meanwhile, whisk together the honey and mascarpone for the frosting. Once the cupcakes are cold, spoon a quenelle of mascarpone cream on top of each cupcake and finish with a sprinkling of toasted pine nuts .
9. Optional: decorate the cupcakes with sugared basil leaves. Brush some basil leaves with a thin coating of egg white and sprinkle with caster sugar. Shake off any excess. Let them dry for at least one hour, this will make the leaves stiffen.

The Art of Homemade pasta: making fresh orecchiette like a Boss!

Published August 11, 2013 by The Feminist

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Making your own pasta from scratch is a very therapeutic thing to do: that rhythmic kneading of the dough, the gentle rolling of pasta ribbons, flour in practically every corner of your kitchen( because let’s face it: if your kitchen doesn’t look like a damp Italian bakery, you’re doing it wrong) …

Making fresh pasta becomes even more therapeutic when you’re not using any kitchen utensils. Forget about that pasta machine! If you really want to become an all-Italian mamma, you have to do it by hand!

So in a state of true tranquility and utter zen-like spirit, I thought I would give homemade –and handmade!- orecchiette a go. No pasta machine. Not even a rolling pin. Just my hands. And it was fun!

The only thing that seemed to be missing was an actual Italian setting. ( a small Belgian kitchen is not really how I imagine my idyllic pasta-making surroundings. ) I poured myself a large glass of delicious Hugo to get into an Italian mood and –well- because I was hoping the alcohol would help me to see a Tuscan sun, rather than a Belgian cloud.

(Side note: A Hugo is a typically North-Italian drink made with prosecco, elderflower cordial, lime juice and lots of mint leaves. It’s like a slightly less alcoholic version of a mojito but with the additional sensational flavour of elderflower! What I’m trying to say is: Forget Aperol Spritz! It’s so 2012. Give the humble but delicious Hugo a go! You can thank me later 😉 )

hugo

So back to the pasta. This orecchiette dough is very easy to make since it doesn’t require eggs. It’s just flour, salt and water. For this recipe I used 300gr of semolina flour, ½ tablespoon of salt and… water. Most of the recipes (online or in books) list an exact amount of water, but previous experiences have taught me not to trust those and I just add water a little bit at a time. It will be different every time you make pasta, so don’t bother measuring it. Trust your instinct. It will guide you… Or trust me.

So pile the flour on your kitchen surface and create a well in the centre. Pour a little splash of water in the well and gradually incorporate the water in the flour using your fingers. Meanwhile add the salt as well. Once all the water is absorbed, continue adding water, 1 tablespoon at a time, until the mixture begins to form a dough. The dough should be soft, not wet!

Now start kneading. Kneading is not very difficult, just really labour intensive. Anybody can do it, the only thing you need is good arm muscles. If you still have no idea how to start kneading, here’s some guidance from Jamie Oliver: “There’s no secret to kneading. You just have to bash the dough about a bit with your hands, squashing it into the table, reshaping it, pulling it, stretching it, squashing it again. It’s quite hard work, and after a few minutes it’s easy to see why the average Italian grandmother has arms like Frank Bruno!”

Amen to that! After your daily dose of physical exercise, wrap your dough in cling-film and let it rest for half an hour. The official method of making orecchiette is rather straight-forward: roll your dough into snake-like strips and cut them into 0,5 cm pieces. Now it’s time to get your thumbs ready. Press your thumb into each piece of dough and pull it towards you. This will make the dough roll and flip over. This movement is supposed to create a slight cap into the dough, which makes it look like a little ear.

Easy huh? In reality, however, the pieces of dough are more likely to look like maggots or unidentifiable cavy little objects, rather than resemble little ears, but that’s the beauty of pasta-making: It’s homemade! It’s not supposed to look perfect! Just as long as it has some kind of cave in it, because this will make it easier for the pasta sauce to cling to the pasta.

Orecchiette finished? Let’s start with the other major part of this recipe: the super duper delicious sauce!

Orecchiette with mushrooms, asparagus, radish shoots and a creamy pecorino sauce

Ingredients (serves 3-4)

• Fresh orecchiette (see instructions above)
• 400gr of mushrooms, choose at least three varieties of mushrooms to make the dish more exciting
• 200gr green baby asparagus
• 100gr radish shoots
• 200ml soy cream
• 100gr grated pecorino
• 1 tbsp thyme
• 1 tsp fennel seeds
• 1 red onion, finely sliced
• 2 cloves of garlic

Method:

1. Blanche the asparagus in some salted boiling water for 2 minutes.
2. Heat a tablespoon of olive oil in a large frying pan. Add the onion, garlic, fennel seeds and thyme and stir for a few minutes.
3. Add the mushrooms and let them fry until they are golden brown. Add the soy cream and season with salt and pepper. Let the sauce simmer for 10 minutes on a low heat.
4. Meanwhile, cook your fresh pasta. This will only take a couple of minutes.
5. Cut the blanched asparagus into pieces and add to the mushroom sauce. Stir in the grated pecorino.
6. Stir the cooked orecchiette in the pasta sauce and season if necessary.
7. Finally stir through the radish shoots.
8. Buon appetito!