From Ladyfingers to a Tiramisu

Everytime I get asked if I want coffee or alcohol, I give the same answer: "No, thank you, that's for grown ups". Now that I'm in my 30's, I feel like I should enjoy those things, but no, my tastes buds do not seem to cooperate.
Though I like the smell of hot coffee, I just find it too bitter for my taste. I'm a tea kinda girl (not even the strong ones) which is supposed to be an old person drink, or on rare occasions, I'll enjoy a hot coco, which is mostly for kids. As often in my life, I don't manage to get the right middle, even when it comes to hot beverages.

So when I choose to make a tiramisu for this week end, I decided to make it my own way and skip the coffee part. Not that there's anything highly original in this version, pears and chocolate are always a winning combination, but it's also why I like tiramisu, like any good recipe, it can be adapted.
You are going to be surprised, as this dessert is actually made for real grown ups, it includes alcohol (thank you mum and dad for lending me the bottle) that you can skip if you prefer.

I wouldn't be writting a food blog if I wasn't slightly crazy about food, so guess who got up at 7:00AM to bake her own ladyfinger? Yes, yours truly. Why? Well it's a long story, it includes a broken internet connection, a garage and a portuguese grammatical exercise... Go figure ;)
It is easy doing them on your own, though it makes the recipe a little more time consuming. I prefer to do everything a day ahead, so the tiramisu can wait in the fridge and infuse it's flavors overnight.


makes about 50

5 Eggs
125gr Sugar
125gr Flour
50gr Icing Sugar

Preheat the oven to 180°C. Line your baking tray with parchement paper.

Separate the egg yolks and white. Whisk the egg yolk with 90gr of sugar for about 5 minutes, preferably with and an electric hand or standmixer. When it's well combined, add the sieved flour and keep whisking for a few minutes.

Add the pinch of salt to the egg white, and whisk them to a soft peak, half way thru add 35gr of sugar. Add just a spoonfull of the egg white to the egg yolk mixture to soften it a little. Than add the rest of the egg white and combine carefully.

Using a piping bag with a big opening, lay down the lady finger on the tray, about 8cm long, leave some space in between, they will rise while cooking.

Put in the oven for 15 minutes. Let them cool on a rack.

Pear and Chocolate Tiramisu

Serves 6 to 8

3 Eggs
100gr of Brown Sugar
1 Tablespoon of Vanilla Sugar
250gr of Mascarpone
about 25 Ladyfingers
1 Big Tin of Pears
3 Tablespoons of Pear Schnapps
25gr of Cocoa Powder
1 Teaspoon of Ground Cloves

Open the pear tin, pour everything into a larger bowl, add the pear schnapps and let them macerate for a few hours. Then, take the pears out but keep the liquid. Cut the pears into little cubes.

Separate the egg yolks and whites, whisk the yolks with both sugars until well combined. Add the mascarpone and keep whisking for a while.
Beat the egg whites to a soft peak and combine them carefully with the egg yolk mixture.

Plung each ladyfinger into the pear pin sirop with the schnapps and make one layer of them, placed tightly on the bottom of the service dish.
Using half the pears you've cutted into cubes, make one layer of them on top of the lady finger, try to spread them evenly.
Now pour half of the macarpone cream on top and make an even surface using a spatula.
Make the same thing one more time: one layer of ladyfinger, one of pears and than pour the rest of the mascarpone cream on top.

Mix the cocoa powder with the ground cloves, and using a sieve, sprinkle it on top of the tiramisu.
Cover it with cling film and leave it in the fridge at least 6 hours, but preferably overnight.


The sense of belonging, at least in food...

My sense of belonging isn't really what it's supposed to be. As I may have mentionned before, whatever is written on my passport, isn't necessarily how I feel. I do have a mix and match background, with a few question marks on the family tree, in a region which has it's share of going back and forth from one country to an other.
To me, those are not weaknesses, I see it more like a rich diversity, the opportunity to share different cultures and point of views. It doesn't mean we have to agree on everything, but at least respecting each other.

I know, I might be a little too optimistical or naive at a time almost every country try to play on the "national pride" theme. I just don't see it as a way out of the mess we are in, more like a way to create barriers again, where we tried so hard to break them down.
Obviously, my recent trip to Lisbon didn't help me to figure out where's my place on the map. The little pinch I have in my heart everytime I leave, means just as much as any official paper I could ever get.

So where do we belong? Where we were born? Where our family is? Where we feel right? Where we build our life? Is there only one place like this, or do we have multiple options? Of course, I don't have any of these answers, otherwise I wouldn't be asking myself these questions.
So instead I cook. This dish is just what I needed coming back from Lisbon, something that felt portuguese, even if it might not be. Bay leaves, potatoes and onions are the base of many dishes. Some food shopping has been done and put to use in this dish. It's not very "pretty", like most dishes that cook for a while, but it took me back for a short while to one of the places I know I belong to.

Octopus Casserole

Serves 2

200gr of Octopus (mine came from a tin)
2 Big Potatoes
1 Big Onion
3 Bay Leaves
50gr of Chouriço
2 Tablespoons of Tomato Paste
250ml of Vegetable Broth
Olive Oil
Salt, Pepper
Parsley, to sprinkle

Peal and cut the onion into thin half moon shape, do the same with the potatoes. In a big pan, on a medium flame, heat up some olive oil and add both into it with the bay leaves. Salt a little, and keep stirring so it won't attach.

Cook it like that for about 7-8 minutes, you want just a light coloring. Now add the broth and the tomato paste, stir to combine well before adding the (cooked) octopus cutted in small pieces, aswell as the chouriço cut into thin slices.

Lower the heat, and let most of the liquid bubble away, this should take about 45 minutes. Stir every now and than, and check if you potatoes are cooked, if there's no liquid anymore and the potatoes are not done yet, add a bit more broth.

Check for seasoning, add salt and/or pepper to your taste and sprinkle with some freshly chopped parsley when you serve it.


Passion Fruit Entremet for a little bit of sun

I wish the temperatures would rise a little now, I wish I could get my point across more often, I wish my family stays healthy, I wish my job to be a little less stressfull sometimes, I wish my plane will be able to take off next week, for me to experience above zero weather and a good concert.
I think it's human nature to want what you don't have, but also to wish for the best, even if it's the worse that awaits us around the corner. And then I guess it takes wisdom, to make the best out of what is happening, no matter how bad it is.

There's so many things that are out of our control, that handling the ones we can is really our only option. Unfortunately there's nothing I can do about the freezing temperatures, but I can try to bring a little sunshine to the sunday family lunch.
I'm in charge of desserts around here (I wonder how that happened...), so to have the illusion of white sand beaches, palm trees and a blue ocean, tropical fruits seemed like the only way to go.

Like it happens sometimes, with very different results, this recipe is not from a book. I'm not saying it's very original or that it hasn't been done before, but it's just what I imagined with what I had at hand. After so many years of baking, sometimes I feel confident enough to try.
This turned out to be very appreciated at the family table, which reminded me that sometimes I can do things right.

Passion Fruit Entremet

for the sponge cake
130gr of Sugar
6 Small Eggs (4 if they are big)
2 Tablespoons of Hot Water
140gr of Flour
1 Pinch of Salt
Butter (to grease)

for the passion fruit mousse
500gr of Fromage Frais (or Philadelphia)
7 Passion Fruits
100ml of Water
75gr of Brown Sugar
25cl of Cream
4gr of Agar Agar

for topping
1 Mango
2 Tablespoons of Coconut Flakes

Preheat the oven to 200°C.

Separate the egg yolks and whites. Whip the egg yolks with the sugar and the 2 spoons of hot water, it has to get paler and you have to incorporate a lot of air. Pass the flour thru a sieve and whip it in.
Whisk the egg whites with the pinch of salt to a soft peak, combine with the egg yolks mixture very carefully, using a spatula.
Grease your baking tray with butter (20x30cm in this case), pour the dough and even the surface with the spatula.
Place in the oven for 10-11 minutes. It should be a nice golden color, leave it to cool in the tray.

Cut the passion fruit open and pass the flesh thru a sieve, I've used my pestle to get as much out of it. I had about 100ml of passion fruit juice.
In a sauce pan, heat up the passion fruit juice with water and the sugar. Using a whisk, add the agar agar, and whisk until it starts to bubble, set aside to cool a little.

Whisk the fromage frais a little, add the passion fruit sirop and combine well. Pour the cold cream in a bowl, and using an electric whisk make some whipped cream.
Now using a spatula, combine the whipped cream to the fromage. Set aside.

Tip the sponge cake on your worksurface, using a cake ring, cut the sponge cake to the desired size (in this case 18cm diameter).
Place it on the service dish and cercle the cake ring around it tightly. Pour the passion fruit mixture in it, and even the top. Place in the fridge over night.

The next day, sprinkle over the coconut. With a long sharp knife, run around the cake ring before opening it to release the entremet. Cut the mango into slices and place them on top of the entremet, keep it in the fridge until you serve it.


Coral Lentils Patties with Spice Carrot Salad

Have you noticed how sometimes things seem to be following you, a little like droopy's dark cloud floating over his head. It can be a song that keeps playing everytime you switch on the radio, an odd word that shows up in the paper or a random conversation, and in my case, an ingredient that appears in different books and magazines in a short period of time.

That ingredient is lentil. But as I'm a food ingredient enthousiast, and I don't want to bother you with the exact same ingredient, I'm going for a different kind for this recipe: the coral lentil. A red kind where an extra skin has been removed, therefor they cook much faster, are easier to digest but have a little less taste, which is not a problem if you accomodate them with the right spices.

I've also been brave, or maybe it's all the flue medicine that got me floopy (as Phoebe would say), because I've decide to actually deep fry the patties for a change. In a pan with high side, and carefully using my strainers, I've made it with no noticable burns! YAY for me!
As for the Falafels I've made already, I think a white yogurt sauce would also be a great match for this recipe, as soon as cucumber are back in season. A little something exotic on a cold winter day.

Coral Lentils Patty with Spicy Carrot Salad

Serves 2

For the Lentils Patties:
100gr of Coral Lentils
1 Red Onion
2 Tablespoons of Fresh Coriander
2 Tablespoons of Parsley
1 Teaspoon of Cumin
1/2 Teaspoon of Chili Flakes
Zest of 1/2 a Lemon
1 Tablespoon of Lemon Juice
2 Tablespoons of Corn Flour
Salt, Pepper
Oil to Fry

For the Spicy Carrot Salad:
2 Yellow Carrots
1 Tablespoon of Sunflower Oil
1 Tablespoon of Cider Vinegar
1 Tablespoon of Parsley
1 Teaspoon of Cumin
1 Teaspoon of Ras-El-Hanout
1/2 Teaspoon of Chili Flakes

The day before, place the coral lentils in a bowl with twice their volume of water. They should be in the water for at least 12 hours.
Drain them and place them in the bowl of the mixer, roughly chop up the onion and add them aswell. Mix them together to form a paste. Now add the coriander, the parsley, the cumin, the chili flakes, the zest and lemon juice, give it a quick mix.
Tip the preparing in a bowl, season it and add the corn flour in order to be able to form little balls (about 15 of them).
Heat up some oil, cook the patties in 4 or 5 batches, place them carefully in the hot oil and let them cook for about 3 minutes, turning them around half way thru. Place them on a paper towel before serving.

Clean, peel and grate the carrots and place them in a bowl. Add the oil and the vinegar, chop the parsley and add all the spices, combine well. Check for seasoning and add salt if needed.


Not so sweet cookies

You know the expression: "when hell freezes over"? Isn't it the feeling everybody is having these days? It's of course all relative, I've been reading the news from different countries, they all refer to the weather as "polar", but for some it's -5°C, for some it's -15°C and for some others it's -30°C.
Although I like winter, I have to admit that wearing 2 pairs of socks and 3 layers of clothes (under my coat) isn't my favorit thing to do. I just want to stay inside and watch the pretty snow from my comfy couch.

Being cold most of the time in "normal" temperatures, I do have a hard time these days not to shiver constantly. So any way to heat up my place a little is a good option, like for instance using the oven! And what better way to use the oven than to bake cookies. After the christmas cookies haze, I did a break from the cookie dough and cutters.

But a recent trip to IKEA provided me with new cookie cutters, in the shape of animals, that I had to try out. A nice recipe in "ELLE à table" magazine, based on spices sounded apropriated for that. They turn out to be really good, not too sweet, I believe if you leave out the sugar completly you'll have a nice cracker aswell. And my snail cookie cutter is my new favorit one!

Poppy Seeds and Spices Cookies (based on ELLE à Table N°80)

For 30-40 Cookies (depending on the size)

250gr of Flour
2 Teaspoon of Baking Powder
90gr of Light Brown Sugar
1 Tablespoon of Vanilla Sugar
125gr of Butter
1 Egg
3 Tablespoons of Poppy Seeds
1/2 a Teaspoon of Nutmeg
1 Teaspoon of Ground Ginger
1/2 a Teaspoon of Salt
1/2 a Teaspoon of Bicarb

Cut the butter into small cubes and leave it out of the fridge while you prepare the rest, so it softens a little.
In a bowl, combine the flour, the baking powder, the salt, the bicarb, both sugars, the poppy seeds, the nutmeg and the ginger. Mix, so all the powders are well combined.

Add the butter, and a little like a crumble, try to combine it into the flour mixture. You can do this with your hands, I used my beloved kitchenaid with the flat beater attachement, at a very low speed for a few minutes.
Now you can add the egg, if the egg is big, the yolk might be sufficient, I had to add the white aswell.

When it forms a ball of dough, cover it with cling film and leave it to rest at least an hour (overnight is even better).

Preheat the oven to 150°C

Roll the dough out on a floured worksurface, it should be pretty thin (about 3 millimeters). Cut the cookies out with your cutters, and place on an oven tray lined with baking paper.
Cook them in the oven for about 15 minutes, the egdes should get a nice golden color. Leave them to cool on a rack and place them in an air tight jar.


Celebrating the Year of the Dragon

Let me set the scene: an early monday morning, up at 6:30 to go to work. I was the biggest of girly cliché, lying down on my bed to manage to close one of my "good day" jeans. Now this isn't the perfect start into the week, is it?
I know you must be thinking, why didn't I change into an other pair of jeans? Well, because the only other option in my closet was a "very good day" jeans, and yes maybe I was also a little behind in my laundry.

The end of the year festivities, have apparently left more traces on my hips than I thought, or the pants shrunk in the laundry (that's an option I like much more, but let's stay realistic). So before things get out of hand, let's be wise for a little while... Says the women who has a brioche cooking in her oven as she writes this blog post...
But I really believe it's not about starving yourself of forbidding something, just finding the right balance, and working out a little bit.

There has been an other new year celebration last week, with the year of the Dragon starting for the chinese. Which means lots of chinese products available at the supermarket, that gave me some ideas. Chinese food being quite healthy in general, it can't do me any harm.
I read one of Nigella's recipe for Teriyaki chicken, so when I found some Teriyaki sauce, I thought I should give it a try, but with tofu. And let's hope the wise chineses are right, may the year of the dragon be a lucky one, because so far, 2012 didn't rock my world.

Teriyaki Tofu with Somen Noodles

Serves 2

100gr of Somen Noodles
200gr of Tofu
2 Tablespoons of Teriyaki Sauce
4 Spring Onions
1 Piece of Fresh Ginger (the size of a thumb)
8 Dried Black Chinese Mushrooms
1/2 a Cup of Peas (frozen)
2 Tablespoon of Oil (sunflower for instance)
1 Teaspoon of Soy Sauce
Fresh Cilantro

Cut the tofu into cubes or sticks, and pour over the Teriyaki sauce, let it marinate while you prepare the rest. Rehydrate the mushrooms in a bowl with hot water.
Heat up a pan with water, and when it's boiling, cook the somen noodles with the frozen peas for 3 minutes. Drain and set aside.

In a non-sticky frying pan, or a wok if you have one, heat up the oil, add the spring onions that you have choped and the fresh ginger (diced or grated), let them cook for about 2 to 3 minutes. When the tofu has absorbed most of the sauce, add it in the pan and pour in the rest of the sauce too.

Take the mushroom out of the water, and cut them in strips, before adding them to the pan. Now add the noodles with the peas and season with the soy sauce, let everything cook for a couple of minutes, stir to combine the flavours. Serve immediatly and sprinkle some fresh cilantro on top.