30 October 2009

Home again...

Home again, home again, jiggety-jog.

We're home, jet-lagged, and still amazed at the wonders we experienced on this trip. We visited friends we hadn't seen for 12 years, we went to a village festival, we wore kimono, we saw a volcano erupt, we participated in a tea ceremony. We ate some of the most beautiful food I've ever seen. We were greeted by dolphins and Mt. Fuji.

And now we're home and it's all a memory. I took 996 photos, and it will take me some time to sort them out. Meanwhile, here are a few:

27 October 2009


In French, a ‘bouchée’ is a little mouthful. These are very tasty little mouthfuls! When I saw this recipe, I knew that I had to try it. I found it in a little book of recipes called “Petits Dîners”, published by Albums Larousse. I had to change it, of course. Not only because I always change recipes, but also because this one had the wrong proportions for polenta. It would have made corn-flavored cement.

There was a period of about 10 years where I couldn’t eat anything made with wheat. At first, I was devastated. No bagels? No pasta? No cakes? No bread? Nope. Not even gravy. No bechamel. No croissants. No biscuits.

Gradually I began to see the bright side. It was during this period that I discovered some of my favorite foods: risotto and polenta. They gave me the opportunity to eat something hearty and filling with no wheat.

Nowadays, my wheat problem has disappeared, but I’m still aware of gluten and wheat in the things I cook. I’ve recently gone back and re-labeled my posts to reflect those that are gluten free.

With things like these bouchées, though, there’s absolutely no need to feel deprived!

Bouchees of Polenta

3 heaping Tablespoons dried tomato pesto

75 g / 1/4 cup + 2 TSP polenta

150 ml / 1/2 cup milk

100 ml / 1/4 cup water

50 g / 1/2 cup freshly grated parmesan



Parmesan shavings

Preheat oven to 200 C / 400 F

  • Put the milk and the water in a small saucepan and bring to the boil. Stir the liquid while slowly pouring in the polenta. Keep stirring for about 3-4 minutes, until it’s thick and difficult to stir. Add salt, pepper, and the parmesan.

  • At this point you have to work fast. Spread half of the polenta in a flat-bottomed dish. I used a rectangular plastic refrigerator container that measured approximately 12 x 18 cm / 5 x 7 inches. Spread the dried tomato pesto over the polenta, and spread the rest of the polenta over the pesto.

  • Chill for at least 2 hours.

  • Turn out on a work surface and cut into shapes. I used a fluted round cutter approximately 2.5 cm / 1 inch in diameter. Place the bouchées carefully on a baking sheet. I used a silpat under them.

  • Top the bouchées with a bit of shaved parmesan and bake approximately 12 minutes, till starting to brown around the edges. Grind some pepper on top and serve immediately.

Makes 16 bites. Serves 4 if they like it and... well... 16 if they don’t.


  • You can put anything in the center of this--basil pesto, ground chicken, spicy sausage.

  • You can cut it into any shape you wish, or just slice it into squares or ‘finger’ shapes.


The proportions of polenta to liquid can vary a little bit on either side. If in doubt, it’s better to add more liquid, as you can cook it longer to absorb the extra. Check the directions on your polenta to make sure it’s in this range. If not, adjust the liquid to fit your polenta.

After I cut out the bouchées, there were scraps of polenta and pesto left. I put them in a skillet with a little olive oil, scrambled them, and threw some grated parmesan on top. YUM!

22 October 2009

Lunch in Cologne

Blame it on Thanksgiving. Not the Canadian one, which is already past, but the American one, which is in November. Not that it’s celebrated much in Belgium. This year, we’ve invited some Belgian friends for Thanksgiving dinner. I’m doing my best to prepare a traditional one, in a country where you can’t find fresh corn and mincemeat is unheard of.

In Cologne, there’s a shop that sells English food. They don’t have corn, but they have Mincemeat. I needed some. Cologne is only 90 minutes from here, and it’s an easy and cheap train ride. So Dan and I decided to go to Cologne to see if we could get some mincemeat for Thanksgiving dinner. And for lunch.

One of the nice things about arriving in Cologne by train is that the incredible cathedral is right outside the train station. As soon as you step out of the station, you risk whiplash--you can’t help looking at this incredible building.

But we’ll save that for another time. I’m thinking that I’ll take you on a tour of Cologne around the time of the Christmas markets. So no Cathedral today.

Instead, we’ll head down the Hohe Strasse, and turn onto Brückenstraße, where we’ll find our favorite lunch place in Cologne. This is the Eigel Cafe and Konditorei. TIP: any time you’re in Germany or Austria or Swizerland and you see the word Konditorei, check the place out. Konditorei are pastry shops, they have some amazing stuff.

This one also serves lunch. Quiches, sandwiches, salads. But I never eat those, because they have wonderful soups. This day it was cold and drizzling, perfect soup weather. I ordered the same thing I always order, tomato soup. I don’t know how they do it, but their tomato soup is some of the best I’ve ever had. It makes my stomach smile. It makes me warm through and through. It’s served with cream. What else is there?

Dan had lentil soup, which came full of veggies and with some bits of ham in it as well. Hearty, stick-to-your-ribs lentil soup.

This was a wonderful lunch.

Then came dessert. Heh, heh. In this konditorei, you go to a counter and pick your poison.

They give you a little ticket to put on your table while they prepare the goodies.

The kellner comes to the table with your order takes the little ticket and adds it to your bill. I had cherry tart. NOBODY does cherries like the Germans. This one is worth the trip to Cologne, it’s so packed full of cherry wonderfulness. Dan had a chocolate torte. Full of chocolate goodness, with lots of whipped cream--I gave him mine so as to not dilute the cherry-ness of my tart.

Then there was nothing left but memories and some photos...

I ate that last cherry.

17 October 2009


I found a recipe for lemon cream pots, and I knew I had to try it. I kept trying to imagine how it would taste. I also wanted to find a lemon cream recipe that I could use as a base for other flavors. I’ve been thinking for a while about some flavor combinations I’d like, and here was my chance.

Here’s the basic recipe *:

Here are the flavor combinations I’ve been wanting to try:

Lemon and Basil. This is the current darling flavor mix here with the pastry and chocolate makers here. I wanted to try to replicate it.

Lemon and Lavender. I don’t think I’ve ever had this combination. Maybe there’s a reason? In any case, I wanted to try it.

Lemon and Cardamom. I love cardamom, and I love lemon. Would they go together?

So, to begin, I had to infuse the cream base in the recipe with the non-lemon flavors. For each one, I used 1/2 cup / 125 ml heavy cream.

  • For the cardamom, I added the seeds from 6 cardamom pods, crushed. I heated the cream to the point where it was just starting to steam, and then set it aside to cool. When it was cool, I strained out the cardamom seeds. I had planned to leave them in overnight, but the flavor was already pretty strong, so I strained them out. I chilled the cream overnight.

  • For the lavender, I added 1 tsp dried lavender flowers to the cream, and heated it to the point where it was just starting to steam, then set it aside to cool. When it was cool, I strained the flowers out, again because the flavor was already pretty strong, and chilled it overnight.

  • For the basil, I didn’t want to heat the basil leaves, so I chopped them fine, added them to the cream, and chilled them overnight. I used 10 of the tiny new leaves at the top of the plant. I strained the basil leaves out the next day before heating the cream. The flavor of the basil wasn’t as strong as I thought it should be. If this turns out well, I will use more leaves the next time.

The next day, I took each of these three mixtures as well as some plain cream and did the same thing to each of them:

  • In a small pot, I added 1 Tablespoon of sugar to the cream, then heated it to boiling. I boiled it, stirring, for three minutes. Then I removed it from the heat and added 1.5-2 tablespoons of fresh squeezed lemon juice to it, adjusting the amount according to taste. For the mixture made with the plain cream, I added about a half teaspoon of lemon zest.

  • I then poured the mixture into small pots and let it cool, after which I put it in the fridge for 3-4 hours.

VOILA! Here they are!

Aren’t they pretty?

But now it’s time for the REAL question: how do they taste??

  • Lemon. the lemon cream was bitter. Very bitter. Inedible, in fact. I should have strained the lemon zest out of it--there was too much in there.

  • Lemon and Basil. This was bland. The basil flavor was lost, probably in the cooking. It wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t special.

  • Lemon and Lavender. This was good. It was a little bitter, but I think it was for two reasons: the lavender was too strong and my lavender is last year’s. With fresh lavender a little less strong it would be better.

  • Lemon and cardamom. I tasted this one with trepidation. You know how you always want people you like to like each other? Sometimes they do, and sometimes they don’t. In this case, they liked each other. This one was very good. I was very happy with this combination.

Overall, though, these were a disappointment. The flavors I was looking for were underlined by a strong flavor of sweetened condensed milk, which is frankly not something I like very much. If it's diluted with key lime juice and spread over a graham cracker crust, ok. In pots with lemon and lavender, not really. I probably shouldn’t have been surprised by that, given that I cooked sweetened cream to reduce it...

All-in-all, I’d consider this a partial success. The lavender and lemon has potential, the cardamom and lemon is good, and the lemon and basil still needs work. The base lemon cream wasn’t a hit in my opinion. I’ll try these flavor combinations with another base, though.

* Note: I am normally very careful to give credit for recipes, because I hope others will do the same when they use mine. In this case, however, because the end result wasn't a success, I have elected to not share the source of this recipe. The original source liked it very much, and I wouldn't want to rain on anyone's parade.

'Nother Note: I had the darndest time photographing these--all the photos turned out fuzzy. I changed the background, I changed the lighting, I changed the spoon. Even with the lemon zest and lavender seeds are sharp, the little pots seem fuzzy to me. And the spoons! They’re tiny curved mirrors. Can you see me in them? Any advice here would be greatly appreciated. Thanks!

14 October 2009

On the Road Again...

...can't believe that we're on the road again...

WHAT? AGAIN! Yep. We're off this morning for two weeks in Japan. I'm pretty sure that we won't have any internet access for those two weeks, but if I can I'll check in. I have some posts scheduled, and they should post while I'm gone. So check back, ok? (Heh, heh, some of you already know what they are!)

I'll be back with photos and stories and maybe even some recipes at the end of the month. See you then!

12 October 2009

Oh, WOW!

Oh, wow! Lizzie, at Lizzie goes Dutch has nominated me for a blog award. I’m thrilled! I’ve never had a blog award before. It’s my first one. Thank you, Lizzie!

This award comes with a very pretty badge:

...and some requirements:

1. Thank the person who nominated you for this award. (Check!)

2. Copy the logo and place it on your blog. (Check!)

3. Link to the person who nominated you for this award. (Check!)

4. Name 7 things about yourself that people might not know. (See below)

5. Nominate other Kreativ Bloggers. (See below)

6. Post links to the blogs you nominate. (Check!)

7. Leave a comment on each of the blogs letting them know that they have been nominated. (Off to do that now...)

Lemesee, 7 things you might not know about me.

  1. I currently teach English as a second language to adults. You might know that, but you probably don’t know that this is my fourth career. I’ve been a college professor, a banker, and a management consultant. Now I’m an English teacher. Variety is the spice of my life.
  2. I speak four languages: English, French, Italian and some German. I’ve also studied Irish Gaelic, but have no chance to practice it, and so have lost it.
  3. I hate the smell of chlorine.
  4. I never pack my suitcases until the last minute. If I pack earlier, I forget stuff.
  5. I once went to the US National championships in fencing. I lost in the first round.
  6. I used to drive a Fiat X-1/9. I used to race it in autocross races. I used to win. Specs on this car give the top speed as 110 mph. I can testify that it could go up to 130.
  7. In addition to cooking, I paint. My paintings can be found here.

Other creative bloggers. Oh, dear, there are so many. I’ve looked at my favorite blogs to see if 1) they accept awards and 2) they’ve already got this one or 3) already have tons of others. I hate to make lists like these, but here you are--some of my daily reads. You’ll like them!

Kate at A spoonful of Thyme

Grace at A Southern Grace

Monique at La Table de Nana

Bob at Cooking Stuff

The Gypsy Chef

Kristin at Dine and Dish

Jain at Once in a Blue Moon

Pay no attention...

"Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain."

If you've received notices of blog posts, only to come here and find the dreaded "page not found", please excuse me. I've been trying to put some posts in reserve, and I keep hitting the wrong button!



10 October 2009


I love cheese. Hard cheese, runny cheese, white cheese, yellow cheese, blue cheese, old cheese, young cheese--you name it. You might remember that I live in a cheese - producing region. You’d think that this would make me happy. Content. Not wanting to ask for another thing.

So you can imagine how thrilled I was when my friend Danielle brought me this lovely:

It’s farmhouse cheddar, from England by way of the South of France. Danielle and her husband have a house in the Dordogne, near some gorgeous markets. In one of those, Danielle found this cheddar. Oh, my. There’s 500 g of this white gold--just over a pound. It’s crumbly and lovely and nose-tickly.

After I nibbled it a couple of times and gave part of it to my friend Francoise (who loves cheddar as much as I do), I have about 250 g left. What should I do with it? I’d love to hear your ideas.

06 October 2009


Who says you can't play with your food?

I was roasting a chicken recently, and I wanted to roast some potatoes along with it. Normally I just cut them in pieces and parboil them about 5 minutes then just throw them in with the chicken. They’re always delicious!

The other day I thought I’d do something a little different. Something a little fancy.

I cut two large potatoes in slices and then cut out star shapes. I boiled them in salted water, wiped them with olive oil and put them in a roasting pan in the oven with the chicken for the last 30 minutes or so of cooking. The last time I basted the chicken I also basted the potato stars. Not too much, I didn’t want them swimming in the juice, but enough to moisten them and make them sizzle a little.

For a change, I timed it just right: the potatoes were done when the chicken was done. I sprinkled them with a little finishing salt and VOILA! They were wonderful--crisp on the outside and soft on the inside. The basting didn’t keep them from being crispy, it just added some of the chicken flavor to the potatoes.

YESSSSSS! I’d serve these to company!

Fancy Pants Potatoes

4-6 large potatoes

3-4 Tablespoons salt

approx. 2 Tablespoons Olive oil

Finishing salt

Cookie cutters in whatever shapes you like

Preheat oven to 200 C / 400 F. Wash the potatoes and cut them in slices about 1 cm / 1/2 in thick. Cut out shapes with the cookie cutters. Bring a large pot of water to boil and add the salt. Yes, all of it. Boil the potato pieces in the salted water for approximately 5 - 6 minutes. Drain and rub with the olive oil. Put in a single layer in a large, shallow oven pan, and bake for 30 minutes. Check them from time to time and shake them around a little. Turn them if necessary to brown all sides. Make sure that they’re in a single layer-don’t pile them on top of one another or they won’t brown properly. Sprinkle with finishing salt to serve.

Serves 4 if they like it and 10 if they don’t.

P.S. I put the potato pieces left over from cutting out the stars in the pan with the chicken. They were good too, just not very fancy. They could also be cooked separately and mashed.


  • Sprinkle potatoes with crushed rosemary before roasting.
  • Use flavored olive oil: garlic, hot pepper, herb
  • You can also do these on the stove top in a non-stick pan. Boil them about 10 minutes in salted water (to cook them through) and drain them. Heat some olive oil in a non-stick skillet and put the potatoes in the pan over medium high heat. Let them brown on one side and then turn them to brown the other side. This should take about 15 minutes total. Sprinkle with finishing salt and serve. I’d probably add some freshly chopped rosemary to the olive oil before I added the potatoes. (Of course, the sides won’t be browned with this method)

04 October 2009

RISOTTO ALLA MILANESE ...and a little bit about saffron

Saffron threads are the dried stigmas of a crocus flower, "Crocus Sativus Linneaus". Each flower has three stigmas, which are picked carefully by hand. Around 250,000 stigmas are needed to produce a pound of Saffron. THAT’S why it’s so expensive! Luckily for us, a little tiny bit goes a long way. Saffron is the distinctive flavoring and coloring agent in Spanish Paella. It’s also the main flavor/color in the Italian specialty Risotto a la Milanese (recipe below).

Saffron is produced in warm climates. In Europe, most of it comes from Spain or Italy or Greece or Iran. I usually buy it when I’m in Spain or Italy, and it’s (a little bit) cheaper that way.

You can buy saffron in two forms: threads or powder.

If you buy threads, be sure that they’re a dark red/orange color, and that they’re dry and brittle. If there are some lighter orange or yellow or beige threads in there, it’s a lower quality and won’t have the strength of good saffron--you’ll need more for the same effect, and in the end it’s more expensive. When you use the threads, they should be soaked for at least 10-15 minutes in a little warm water to release the flavors (but the longer you soak them the stronger the flavor). The resulting ‘tea’ can be mixed into whatever you’re making, along with the threads. I like to see the little threads in finished dishes. You can also steep the threads in warm milk or broth or whatever liquid you’re using if you don’t want the water to dilute the dish. Or you can steep them in room temperature wine or lemon juice.

If you buy powder, it should have the same dark red/orange color. It’s important to be sure that you buy from a reputable source, because it’s not all THAT hard to adulterate the powder. I use powder when I don’t want to have the little red threads in the finished dish, or when I want stronger color overall. You don’t have to soak the powder, you just add it to the dish near the end of cooking.

Whatever form you use it in, it should always be added near the end of cooking. Here’s one of my favorite ways to use it:

Risotto alla Milanese

1/2 liter / 2 cups chicken or vegetable stock

6 tablespoons olive oil

1 onion or 2-3 shallots

7 oz / 200 g Arborio or Carnaroli rice

6 ‘portions’ saffron

75 / 1/4 cup ml white wine

100 / 4 oz g fresh parmesan, freshly grated

1. Finely chop the onion or shallots. Put the stock on to heat. It should be simmering.

2. In a wide, shallow pan, heat the olive oil and add the onion. Cook gently, till it starts to brown. Add the rice, and stir till the rice becomes translucent. It should look like this:

3. Add the wine, and stir till it’s gone. Add 1-2 ladles full of hot stock, and stir. Cook on medium low heat till the stock is absorbed by the rice, and then add some more. Stir the rice often to make sure it doesn’t stick. Continue doing this till the rice is done, about 25 minutes (if you run out of stock, you can use hot water).

4. Check the rice starting at about 20 minutes. It’s done when it has a creamy sauce all around it and there is no longer a hard center. You don’t want it soft, but it shouldn’t be crunchy.

5. When you add the last ladles full of stock, add the saffron and stir it in well. When the rice is done, you want it to be a little runny, because then you’ll add the grated parmesan. Stir it well, add salt and pepper and serve.

Serves 4 if they like it and 10 if they don’t.


  • You can use any rice that’s meant for risotto--this is short grained rice. Don’t use rice that’s meant to be steamed, because it won’t have the starchy exterior that it needs to make the sauce.
  • If you don’t have stock, you can use hot water. If you want to make this vegetarian, use vegetable stock.

  • There are two ways to serve risotto in Italy: creamy and not too liquid, or very runny. The runny style is called “alla onda”, and is the way Jamie Oliver says it should always be served. Pooh. I prefer it creamy and less runny.