Grape and walnut bread

Between the grapes

I was breathing heavily and feeling sweaty when I finally made it up to the top of the hill. It was a warm day, and even though the cover of smoke from the bush fires dampened the hardness of the rays of the sun, it also made it difficult to breathe. It made me wonder for a moment why I had decided to cycle through the steep hills of Kelowna.

But after yet another hill I found the winery I was heading to. And fortunately the efforts were worth it. The location of the estate was well chosen, on top of a hill with a view over the vineyards and the Okanagan lake. I have to admit that unfortunately it was almost impossible to see the lake, since the thick smoke covered everything. But from what I could see it seemed like a beautiful location. And the wine tasting certainly was amazing. Here in Canada I have usually been drinking beer. It tends to be the cheaper option, and in fact Canadians are extremely enthusiastic about local breweries and craft beers. So I have tried many interesting and good beers, including with hibiscus and coffee flavours. But to be honest, my favourite drink will always be a good glass of wine. And to my surprise, the wine I tasted in Kelowna was the first really good Canadian wine I tried. Telling this to a lady who worked in one of the wineries I visited, she just laughed and told me they drink the majority of the wine they produce in that area themselves. So apparently that´s why I hadn´t had any good Canadian wine so far.

After having visited four estates and done tastings in three of them, I felt like I started to get a good impression of this wine region. Clearly a lot has changed since the wine production in the Okanagan valley started with the production of sacramental wines in the mid-19th century. The most interesting thing I tried was a red icewine, powerful and not too sweet, which is apparently mainly produced in Canada. But I´ve had both good red and good white ones. It didn´t make cycling back to the hostel particularly easier, but at least I could cycle back with a happy and fulfilled feeling. But maybe next time a ¨gravity assisted¨ wine tour, where you only have to cycle downhill?

It is not only the wine itself that I like in wine regions though. I always think vineyards are absolutely beautiful. And fortunately I could still see the vineyards well, despite the smoke that was hiding the view on the lake. The vineyards and their grapes, not yet mature but some already getting colour, made me decide to bake this bread with fresh grapes. It is a good snack with a glass of wine. The best is to enjoy it while still warm. Preferably with some butter, good olive oil, or a nice cheese.

Grape and walnut bread

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Ingredients (for 1 small bread)

  • Flour – 250 grams
  • Dried yeast – 1 sachet, around 2 teaspoons
  • Lukewarm water – approximately 150-200 ml
  • Walnuts – shelled, 50 grams
  • Seedless red grapes – small bunch
  • Rosemary – small bunch
  • Anise seeds – 1 heaped teaspoon
  • Salt – 1 teaspoon
  • Sugar – 1 teaspoon
  • Olive oil

First of all, take the rosemary needles off their sprigs and chop them into small pieces. Chop the shelled walnuts as well.

Combine the flour with a good teaspoon of salt, the rosemary, and the walnuts in a large bowl. Make a well in the middle and place the yeast and a teaspoon of sugar in the well. Add a little bit of lukewarm water, and leave this for a few minutes until the yeast starts to react and makes the water foamy. Start adding the water bit by bit while kneading the dough. Continue adding water and kneading until you have an elastic, soft dough. Take the dough out of the bowl and knead it on a clean, flat surface for a few minutes, until everything is fully combined. The exact amount of water will depend on factors like the flour you use and the humidity of your kitchen, so it can differ. When the dough is too sticky, you can always add a bit of extra flour. Once the dough has been kneaded well, grease a bowl with a bit of olive oil and place the dough in the bowl, covered by a damp cloth or some plastic wrap. Leave the dough in a warm place to rise for about an hour and a half.

Meanwhile, slice the grapes in half and combine them with the anise seeds.

When the dough has rested, take it out off the bowl and place on a clean surface. Knead the dough again, and then carefully fold the grapes through. You can basically stretch out the dough, place some of the grapes on one side and fold the other side over. Repeat this until you have as many grapes as you like in the dough. Knead carefully until the grapes are scattered throughout the dough. Grease a baking tray with a bit more olive oil. Shape the dough into a round bread shape, and place on the baking tray. Leave this to rise for another half an hour.

In the meantime, preheat the oven to 220°C. Bake the bread for around 25 minutes, until golden brown. Take the bread out of the oven and let it cool down slightly.

 

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Watermelon salad

In the centre of Canada

The sky seems to be endless. And underneath the blue sky, which is broken up by ribbons of clouds, the wheat and canola fields are stretching out as far as the eye can see, seemingly going on till infinity. This is the centre of Canada.

I am on my way from the east to the west coast. I decided to travel over land, to get a good feeling of how big this country actually is. And to get to know what is in between the two, much more famous, coastal areas.

The first observation is simple: the distances are gigantic. The trip from Montréal to Vancouver is over 4500 kilometers, but it is interesting to experience the enormity of this country. Crossing Ontario takes a long time, it feels like this province will never end. Parts of the landscape are beautiful, with wetlands and small lakes surrounded by rocks and plenty of trees. Other parts of the road are just lined with trees, and that´s all there is. When finally driving into Manitoba, one of the prairie provinces, the landscape changes. It is flat, there are still some lakes, but also lots of grassland filled with cattle and agriculture. This type of landscape continues into Saskatchewan and Alberta. The cities in the region are quiet and maybe not particularly spectacular, but seem friendly and relaxed. And there are some surprises, like a tiny but amazing Mexican restaurant in Regina and a lively (maybe a bit too aggressive at the end) nightlife in Winnipeg. As is usually the case, meeting people is a large part of the experience. The fact that there are not that many other tourists always seems to help. Not only because you continue bumping into the same people in hostels so that there is some time to get to know each other better, but it also seems easier to get in touch with locals. Like the friendly Mexican chef in Regina who was very interested in seeing Europeans in town. Or the time in Thunder Bay that the owner of the guesthouse was celebrating the birthday of her sister with a barbecue, and the other person in the guesthouse and me were invited as well. It was cool to have a barbecue party with those ladies, with a fire in the backyard after.

Arriving in the province of Alberta I could stay for a weekend with a girl I know from back in the days, from elementary school. It is always great to see old friends, and it was nice to stay in a small village and get a bit of a taste of the life there. Together we went to two nature parks that were more than amazing. It is an almost surreal sight to see the mountains suddenly rising up in the middle of all those flat, agricultural plains. The splendours of nature…
I´m excited to see what will happen once I go even more westwards.

Traveling towards the west not only the landscape has changed. Over time it has also gotten warmer. Where I still had rain and twelve degrees in Thunder Bay, it is over the thirty degrees now. And especially on the days that I´m traveling long distances by bus I have cravings for something that is refreshing, light, and healthy. This salad is definitely perfect for warm summer days. I love it because of the combination of the fresh and sweet watermelon with salty ingredients like the cheese and the olives, and the acidity of the lime. Of course, it is great when having a barbecue or a picnic. But I also used to take it to work for lunch sometimes when I lived in Barcelona.

Watermelon salad

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Ingredients (for about 4 portions as a side dish, or 2 as main meal)

  • Watermelon – a piece of around 1500 grams
  • Red onion – a small one, or half if it´s a large one
  • Black olives – a good handful
  • A crumbly goats cheese – around 100 grams
  • Olive oil – preferably a good extra virgin one
  • 1 Lime
  • Small bunch of fresh basil or mint
  • Salt and black pepper

This is a very simple recipe, with not much work involved. Start by taking the rind of the watermelon and chopping the fruit in small cubes, about the size of a dice. If it has a lot of the black seeds, try to remove some of them. Peel the onion, cut it in half and slice into very thin half rings. When you are using black olives with the stone in, squeeze them with the flat side of a knife and take out the stone. When you use the pitted ones, slice them in half. Roughly chop the fresh herbs and squeeze the juice out of the lime.

Mix the watermelon, the onion, and the olives together. Add a small pinch of salt and black pepper, and toss most of the fresh herbs through the salad. Dress with about two tablespoons of olive oil, and the juice of the lime. Make sure to taste, in order to see if it has the right amount of sweetness, saltiness, and acidity. Finally, crumble the cheese over the salad, and top off with the rest of the fresh herbs. Serve with some good bread, and enjoy the freshness!

In case you want to take this salad somewhere on a picnic, or take it for lunch to work like I used to do, it is better not to add the lime juice yet. Just take the lime separately and squeeze it over when you are ready to eat.

Golden beet and carrot salad

Time flies

When I settle down somewhere and start working, it seems like the time suddenly passes by very fast. The past two months in the working rhythm in Montréal have honestly flown by. It seems to be a contrast to the two months before, traveling around Canada without a fixed schedule and having so many new experiences every day. I think the unpredictability of those traveling days makes you experience the time in a different way, with a bit more awareness, than the structured working life. But having said that, I certainly enjoy living in Montréal and seeing what life is really like here. The area in which I live has an exciting combination of beautiful architecture, cool street art, and nice bars and restaurants. When the sun is out, everybody seems to be hanging around in the parks, making music or just having some drinks or a picnic with friends. And close to my room is Mont Royal, a hill with an amazing view over the city that is a very nice place to go for a walk or to go running and where, during summer, the Tam-Tams take place every Sunday. The Tam-Tam is basically an informal festival that is based around a jam session with drums. When you arrive at the location it is quite a funny sight. There is such a random mixture of people, from the curious tourists to complete hippies and everything in between. The drummers are gathered around an old monument and are also people from all walks of life, just coming together to make music and enjoy the vibes. In the grass around the drummers friends gather, the atmosphere is very relaxed and public drinking and even marijuana are tolerated. The perfect place to just enjoy life.

Surely, an important reason for me to be living in Montréal for a while is earning some money to continue my trip through Canada. But besides that, I am also trying to get a feel of real life in Canada and to get to know as much of the city of Montréal as possible. One of my favourite places to go to, besides Mont Royal and its Tam-Tams, is a large fresh food market in Little Italy. It is a partially covered, lively market space that is open all year long. There are so many market stalls with fresh fruits and vegetables, most of them grown regionally. The amount of colours and textures is overwhelming and inspiring. Many of the stalls have samples of their products. And a lot of the people working there whom I spoke with are happy to help you find the best produce and share some ideas about cooking. Around the markets there are other shops with good produce as well. This includes a good bakery, which you can´t always find in North America in my opinion. I really enjoy the inspiration this place gives me, and strolling over the market is a good way for me to calm down after a busy day at work.

Because of their beautiful colours, the golden beets and heirloom carrots were begging to be bought during the past few weeks. So I could not resist them, and paired them into this simple warm salad with the sweet and juicy clementines I found as well.

Golden beet and carrot salad

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This salad can be eaten as a side dish or a lunch, but also as a full main dish if you just feel like some vegetables and good bread.

Ingredients (for 2)

  • 8 small golden beets – or one of the really large ones
  • 8 – 10 small carrots – preferably the heirloom carrots in different colours
  • Black olives with stone – a good handful
  • Garlic – 1 small clove
  • 4 clementines
  • 2 tablespoons of honey
  • Butter
  • Salt and pepper
  • Bread, for serving

Start by prepping the beets and carrots. Peel the beets and chop in quarters. Sometimes you can only find large beets. In this case, peel them and chop them in bite size pieces. When you have found very small carrots, just take the upper part off and wash them. In case the peel of the carrots doesn´t look good, scrape it off. Chop the carrots lengthwise in half, or in quarters for the larger ones. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the carrots and the beets to the boiling water and parboil them for five minutes.

Meanwhile, take the stones out of the olives and half them. The easiest way for me is just to squeeze them with the flat side of a knife, and use your hands to take out the stone. Of course, you can use the ones where the stone has been taken out already. But I prefer this little bit of work, since I think the olives that still have the stone usually taste better. Next, peel the garlic and slice into very thin slices.
Cut the clementines in half and press the juice out of them. Add the honey to the clementine juice and mix it through well before seasoning with a good pinch of salt and black pepper to taste.

When the vegetables are parboiled, take them off the stove and drain. Heat a frying pan over a medium fire and add a good knob of butter. Once the bubbles in the butter start to disappear, add the beets and carrots. Fry the vegetables until they are starting to turn golden brown and to soften up. Then, add the clementine juice mixture to the pan. Toss the vegetables through the sauce to coat evenly. Leave this over high heat, and keep stirring until the mandarin and honey mixture starts to thicken up and caramelize. When the sauce is almost thickened up, add the garlic slices and the black olives. Fry until the sauce has caramelized and the vegetables look shiny and are still firm but soft inside. Make sure to check the seasoning in the end, you will probably need an additional pinch of salt.

Serve the vegetables with some good bread, and enjoy!

Sweet potato pancakes

Autumn comfort

It´s this time of year again that the clock has been turned back an hour, that it is dark when I am going home from work and that it starts being cold in my apartment without heating. But these are also the days that it is still surprisingly warm in the sun, that the trees look beautiful with their coloured leaves, and that lovely comfort foods like pumpkin, mushrooms, chestnuts, and sweet potatoes are fully available again. On the markets the stalls with mushrooms that come straight from the forest show off the diversity of nature. And in the streets of Barcelona little wooden stands pop up where people sell both roasted chestnuts and roasted sweet potatoes that you can smell from a distance.

The sweet potato is in Catalunya not just sold on the streets. It is also a traditional part of the meal on All Saints´ Day. This festival is called “la Castanyada” here, after the chestnuts. On this day families typically eat roasted sweet potatoes and chestnuts, in combination with sweet wine. Whereas the chestnuts have been available in Europe since ancient times, this is not the case for sweet potatoes. The first Europeans to try sweet potatoes were most likely the members of Christopher Columbus´ journey in 1492. Because like the “normal” potatoes, sweet potatoes are native to the Americas. There they have been cultivated for centuries, since long before Christ. Sweet potatoes are supposedly even one of the oldest vegetables known to human beings, based on the evidence from pottery. The discoverers took the sweet potatoes, just like other crops as potatoes and corn, back to Europe. The sweet potato was first introduced in Spain, and from there in Italy and the rest of Europe. Nowadays there are still a lot of them being grown in the south of Spain, which is a suitable place since the crops cannot tolerate frost. Surprisingly, regardless of their name, the sweet potato is actually not closely related to the normal potato. It is a root vegetable that is considered to be very healthy, being rich in fibers and other nutrients. And that is of course always a good thing!

For me, the first time I prepared sweet potatoes was in the USA. Since we decided to cook a traditional Thanksgiving dinner, I did some research on the side dishes that usually go with the stuffed turkey. And sweet potatoes turned out to be one of the quintessential side dishes on “Turkey Day”. Although I really liked them then, I forgot about the sweet potato until I moved to Brussels, where they were sold a lot in my supermarket. So this is where I really came to enjoy them and started cooking a lot with them. Brussels is also the place where I created this recipe, since I was looking for ways of using the sweet potato other than just fried or mashed.

Those sweet potato pancakes are a great side dish. You can combine them for example with a range of mushrooms for a vegetarian lunch or dinner. Or use them as a side dish with any type of meat.


Sweet potato pancakes (for 6 pancakes)

  • Sweet potatoes – 500 grams
  • 1 red onion
  • Pine nuts – a handful (optional)
  • Flour – 4 tablespoons
  • Baking powder – 2 teaspoons
  • 1 egg
  • Thyme – a bunch of fresh leaves or 2 heaped teaspoons of dried thyme
  • Honey – 2 tablespoons
  • Butter
  • Salt and black pepper

Start by finely chopping the red onion. Place a small pot with a good knob of butter over a low fire. Add the onion and the thyme and season with salt and black pepper. Fry the onion for around 10 minutes, until transparent and soft. Add the honey and put the fire as low as possible, so that the mixture is just bubbling. Leave the onion to caramelize for another 10 minutes approximately. Then taste for seasoning. Just be careful not to burn your mouth, since caramelized sugars become very hot.

At the same time, peel the sweet potatoes and chop in rough pieces. Bring a large pot of salted water to the boil. Boil the potatoes for approximately 10 to 15 minutes, until soft.
When you are using the pine nuts, fry them in a dry frying pan until they are golden brown. Be careful here, since it goes quite fast and it´s easy to burn them.

Once the potatoes are boiled and a bit cooled down, mash them with a fork or, even better, a proper mashing device. Stir the caramelized onions and the pine nuts through the potato mash. Then taste to see if you need any additional salt, pepper, or honey. When the flavour is to your liking, add the egg and the baking powder to the mixture and stir well using a fork. After this, start adding the flour by the spoonful. The mixture should become a sticky batter that is easy to shape using two spoons.

Heat a frying pan, or pancake pan if you happen to have one, on a medium fire. Add a small knob of butter. Now use two spoons to add the batter to the pan and form disks in the size of American pancakes. Fry the pancakes for about 3-5 minutes on each side, until they are golden brown on both sides. If you feel the sides of the pancakes, they shouldn´t feel sticky anymore. Repeat this until you have used all the batter.
Enjoy!

Almond rolls with ricotta, smoked paprika and honey

The Poble Sec neighbourhood – inspiration from close to home

Whether I´m walking home after work, going to do my groceries, or go out of the door for another reason, I nearly always pass by the most famous street of my area. This street, Calle Blai, is always buzzing with life. During the annual festival of the neighbourhood you can find the Castelleres here, traditional Catalan human towers defying gravity while they are surpassing the height of the trees. In the evening it´s packed with people listening to live music while drinking beers from plastic cups that are sold in pop-up bars on the street.


But also during the normal days there is a lot going on. In the morning the tables outside are occupied by people enjoying their morning coffee. During the afternoon and evening friends meet up to have a local vermouth or beer, accompanied by pinchos. Those little tapas are originally from the Basque country, but for some reason this street has become famous for them and all restaurants serve pinchos. They are basically pieces of baguette that can be topped with anything, from a simple slice of chorizo or manchego cheese to intricate combinations of flavours and textures. Some restaurants have taken the concept further and use little pancakes or wraps as basis for their creations. In any case, you can always find a large selection standing on the bar. So you just get a plate and pick the ones you like. What they all have in common is that the bites are held together by a little toothpick, the pincho. When you leave, the price is decided by counting the amount of sticks on your plate. It is a great sight, all those plates of food that are standing readily at the bar, waiting for you to select the most beautiful ones and to dive in. All in all, this buzz always makes me feel happy, even when I´m just on the way home from work.


This little dish here is inspired by one of the pinchos they sell in a restaurant in this street. Realizing that my dad cannot eat this, or any other pincho for that matter, since he needs to eat gluten-free, I wanted to adapt it for him. The original version is made with sobrasada, a soft and spreadable sausage from Mallorca. Although I love sobrasada, it is not very common outside of Spain. Therefore I decided to replace it and make the dish vegetarian at the same time by changing the sobrasada for homemade ricotta flavoured with smoked paprika powder.

Almond rolls with homemade ricotta, smoked paprika and honey

Ingredients (for around 6-8 pieces)

  • 1 egg white
  • Almond flour – 4 tablespoons (you can just ground almonds in a blender if needed
  • Butter – 30 grams
  • 500 ml of fresh full fat milk
  • 160 ml of cream
  • 1 lemon
  • 2 sprigs of rosemary
  • 2 large cloves of garlic
  • Pimentón, smoked paprika powder – 2 teaspoons, preferably a mix of the sweet one and the spicy one
  • Honey – 3 tablespoons
  • Almonds – a handful
  • Olive oil
  • Sugar
  • Salt and black pepper

As a start, you´ll have to make the ricotta. This is a full milk ricotta, so not a traditional one. The traditional ones are made from the whey of making cheese, but I think this is a bit faster and very tasty. Heat the milk and cream in a small pot over a medium fire until the liquid is almost boiling. Press the juice out of the lemon. Take the milk off the fire and add a pinch of salt and 2 tablespoons of lemon juice. Stir the liquid a few times and then let it rest for some 10 minutes. You will see the curds forming in the milk. Take a colander and place it over a bowl. Cover the colander with cheesecloth. Or, if like me, you don´t have this, just use a clean tea towel. Pour the milk through the cheesecloth and let this stand for about half an hour to 45 minutes. You will be left with a soft ricotta, that will become firmer when you keep it in the fridge. If you want, you could use the whey that is left in the bowl for other purposes.

Now it is time to create the little almond rolls. Preheat the oven to 180°C. Cover a baking tray with baking paper. Beat the egg white with half a tablespoon of sugar until you have soft peaks. Add the almond flour and a good pinch of salt and fold this through carefully. Melt the butter and fold this through as well. Now carefully spread the mixture in rectangles on the baking paper. Use the back of a spoon to make sure your rectangles are nice and thin. Place them in the oven for around 5 minutes, until lightly brown around the edges. Meanwhile, find a rolling pin with thin handles or any other tool that you can use to shape the rolls. Now you have to work very quickly. Take the tray out of the oven and place on the oven door to keep it warm. Carefully lift the rectangles with a spatula and wrap them around the handles of the rolling pin or other tool you use in order to create a little roll. You have to work fast, because they will break when they are cooled down. Let the baking tray cool down and cover with clean baking paper. Repeat the process until all the batter has finished.

To continue the filling, peel the cloves of garlic. Place them in a small pot with a sprig of rosemary and cover with olive oil. Place this over a very low fire and leave it for around 20 minutes, until the garlic is soft and the rosemary crispy. Take the garlic and rosemary out of the oil. You can keep the oil and just use it when making other dishes. Mash the garlic with a fork, crumble the rosemary and combine the two. Mix this with the paprika powder. Then add the ricotta and combine it well. Add some salt, black pepper, and if you like a little lemon juice to taste. It should really have the smokey paprika flavour and a bit of spiciness.

Lastly, make the honey syrup. Roughly chop the almonds and roast them. Finely chop the rosemary you have left and add this to the almonds. When the almonds are golden brown, add the honey, a tablespoon of water, half a tablespoon of lemon juice, and some black pepper. Let this thicken on a low fire. Taste to make sure you don´t need any more honey or lemon.

Then it is time to serve! Fill the rolls with the ricotta using a piping bag or a spoon. Drizzle the honey syrup over the rolls. You can serve it as a lunch or starter with some roasted capsicums or a salad, or just serve the rolls as a part of a tapas meal.

Whiskey Prawns

Bordeaux and the whiskey prawns

There are those places in the world where you just feel at home. For me, France is one of them. I like the food, the landscapes, the architecture, the language, and yes, also the people. So when I got the chance to study in Paris, I immediately took it and moved there. While I lived there I went several times to one of my other favourite French cities: Bordeaux. The location of this city is amazing. It is surrounded by rolling hills planted with neat long rows of grapevines. As an extra plus, it is close to the coast. But not only is the city located in a beautiful area, it is also a place with a very positive and romantic vibe. The buildings are unmistakably French, very elegant. The centre is relatively small but full of life. And the delicious wines from the area are clearly present. Of course, Bordeaux has the world´s biggest wine fair and the wine is very important for the local economy, but more importantly there are plenty of places in the city where you can try everything the region has to offer. We went into one special wine bar where you could taste small glasses of some of the most prestigious wines. I have to admit, they were certainly special and incredibly tasty.

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But, wine is not the only delicious thing you can find in Bordeaux. Food is very important as well. Along the river Garonne that flows through the city there is a large market. Although you can buy a lot of good produce there, the seafood is something I really remember. There were many people sitting along the river enjoying fresh oysters and a glass of white wine. But one day we saw something we were even more interested in. There was a small stand on the market in the shape of a red motor boat. Behind the boat was an older couple. This boat was not used to go on to the water anymore, instead there was a large metal plate on which the man was grilling prawns. The couple didn´t just serve the prawns plain, which would already have been delicious, but flamed them with whiskey. Then the lady wrapped them in a paper cone. Sitting in the sun, close to the Garonne, we slowly peeled and enjoyed those flamed prawns. A great and relaxed experience and a magical memory.

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This recipe for a prawn soup (or bisque, whichever name you prefer) with flamed whiskey prawns and deep-fried leek is inspired by that memory. Because the flavours are quite deep, you could have a light red wine with it.

Ingredients (for 2 as lunch or starter)

  • Prawns – raw and unpeeled, 500 grams
  • Whiskey or brandy – 1 glass
  • 1 leek
  • 2 shallots
  • 2 sticks of celery
  • 1 tomato
  • 2 stalks of lemongrass
  • Garlic – 2 large cloves
  • 1 chilli pepper – red or green
  • Fresh thyme – a good bunch
  • Anise seeds – 1 teaspoon
  • Peppercorns – 1 teaspoon
  • Salt
  • Olive oil
  • Sunflower oil for deep-frying
  • Optional: cream

First of all, peel the prawns and just keep the tip of the tail on the meat. Also devein the prawns by making an incision in the back of each prawn and just pulling it out. It is a bit of work, but certainly worth the effort. Keep the prawn meat on one plate and the heads and shells on another.

When all the prawns are peeled, prepare the vegetables for the soup. Chop up the leek, but leave the two outer leaves whole. You will need them later for the deep-fried leek. Roughly chop the shallots, the celery, and the tomato. Trim the tops and ends off the lemon grass and chop it in pieces of around 2 centimeters long. Smash the lemon grass with the back of your knife, so that the fragrances can come out. For the same reason, also smash one of the cloves of garlic with your knife.

Now place a large pot with some olive oil over a medium fire. First add the shallot and leek and sauté them until they start to get some colour. Then add the celery, garlic, and peppercorns to the pot and leave for a few minutes before you add the prawn heads and shells. When the prawn shells become a pretty bright pink, add the tomato, half of the bunch of thyme, the anise seeds, the lemongrass, and a pinch of salt. Fry this for another two minutes and then pour in half of the glass of whiskey. Turn the fire up to high to make sure the alcohol evaporates. And don´t hang over the pot at this moment, it always makes me feel a bit drunk! Add 0.8 liter of water and bring this to a boil. When it has boiled for a few minutes, skim the foam that comes to the top and turn down the fire. Leave it to simmer for around 40 minutes.

Meanwhile, start prepping the rest of the ingredients. Finely chop the other clove of garlic and the chilli. Take the leaves off the other half of the bunch of thyme. Roll the outer leaves of the leek that you kept tightly in the way it naturally rolls. With a sharp knife, cut it in really thin ribbons. Place those slices in a bowl of ice-water.

Once the 40 minutes have passed use a stick blender to blend the soup. Next, pass the soup through a fine sieve into a clean pot. If you don´t have a stick blender, it is not a problem. You can skip this step, but it just makes it a bit more creamy and even more flavoursome when you have the chance to blend it. Make sure to press the prawn shells and vegetable mixture with a spoon to get as much flavour out as possible. Place the soup over a low heat and season it to taste. If you want to, add some cream to make the soup richer and creamier.

In a small pot, heat up a good layer of sunflower oil until it is around 180˚C and you see it starts bubbling. Take the slices of leek out of the ice-water and dry them well. Deep-fry them in the sunflower oil for a bit less than a minute, until they start to be golden brown and crisp. Place them on some kitchen paper and season them with salt.

Now finally, it is time to prepare the prawns. Place a frying pan with some olive oil over medium heat and add the chopped garlic and chilli. When those are fragrant, add the thyme and the prawns and fry them until the prawns are beautiful and pink on all sides. Add a good pinch of salt. Finally, take the pan off the heat. When you use an extractor fan, switch it off, just to be sure. Add the other half of the glass of whiskey to the pan. Tilt the pan over and light the whiskey. Keep turning the pan until all alcohol has burned and the flames are off.

Then, it is plating time. Divide the soup over two deep plates and top with the prawns and the fried leek. Enjoy!

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Chestnut and Rosemary Pancakes

Chestnut pancakes

Chestnuts

When the leaves change colour and start to fall again, it’s also time for the chestnuts to return. Since the beginning of October the shops in Barcelona have been selling them. And when you pass by the chestnut trees you can hear the plops of the nuts falling on the ground between the leaves. The third place where you can find them is in the small stalls that have popped up everywhere. Here you can buy roasted chestnuts and enjoy them on the street, straight from the fire.

chestnuts

The smell of those roasted chestnuts always takes me back to Paris, the first place where I remember seeing them. Of course, there are similar stalls to the ones in Barcelona. But what made the largest impression on me were the people that just had a shopping cart from a supermarket. They placed a metal drum in the shopping cart in which a little fire was burning. On top of the drum a metal tray where the chestnuts were roasting away. You would get your portion of those “marrons chauds” in a paper bag or a rolled up newspaper. Then you could immediately peel and eat them. A simple and delicious way to enjoy these treats and very useful for warming up on a cold day.

But simply roasted is not the only way in which chestnuts are being eaten in France. A famous dish with chestnuts is the “crêpe aux marrons”, the typical French pancake with a sweet chestnut cream. Delicious and very filling. And of course, those crêpes can be found everywhere in Paris as well. When I was a student in Paris I often had a crêpe on the corner of the street when I was out in the city alone, meanwhile observing the Parisians and tourists who were passing by. Cheap and tasty food, so perfect for students in an expensive city. I used to have the savoury ones, with cheese, ham and an egg, and thoroughly enjoyed them.

So why not combine both memories of Paris, and make a savoury pancake with chestnuts during this time that chestnuts can be found everywhere?

Ingredients (for 2 as lunch)

For the pancakes:

  • 60 grams of flour
  • 1 egg
  • 140 ml milk
  • Sugar – heaped teaspoon
  • Pinch of salt
  • Rosemary – 3 or 4 sprigs
  • Butter

For the filling:

  • Chestnuts – two good handfuls, around 200 grams
  • Bacon – 8 slices
  • 1 small onion
  • 1 garlic clove
  • 1 red chilli
  • Sage – small bunch
  • Brandy or cognac
  • Butter
  • Lemon
  • 2 eggs
  • Salt and black pepper

The first step is to prepare your own roasted chestnuts. Turn the oven on at around 200 ˚C. Pour some hot water in a little bowl. Take the first chestnut and carefully carve a cross in its skin. Place the chestnut in the bowl with water. Repeat this with all chestnuts. When you are done, place the chestnuts in one single layer on a piece of aluminium foil and fold the edges of the foil a bit up to form a sort of little basket. Add some drops of the water so that the chestnuts will not only roast but also steam. Place them on a tray in the oven and roast them for around 30 minutes until the skin cracks open and the insides are soft.

Meanwhile, continue with the rest of the preparations. Make the pancake batter by mixing the flour, egg, and milk in a bowl. Keep mixing with a whisk until there are no lumps of flour left. Add the sugar and a pinch of salt. Chop the rosemary really fine and whisk in as well.

Chop the onion, the garlic, and the bacon each in small pieces. Deseed the chilli, unless you prefer it really spicy of course, and finely slice it. Finely chop the sage as well. Grate the zest of the lemon.

After all these preparations, the chestnuts should be roasted and ready. Carefully take them out of the oven and wrap them in a cloth. Use your hands to massage them and crack the skin. When they are cooled down enough so that you can handle them, peel the chestnuts. The skin comes off easier when they are still hot. So the hotter you can handle, the better! Break the chestnuts in rough pieces and set them aside.

Now it’s time to make the pancakes. Heat a little knob of butter in a non-stick frying pan on medium heat. When the butter has melted, add a thin layer of the pancake batter while swirling the pan around so that it is covered. Fry until the pancake comes off the bottom easily and is golden brown. Then flip it over and fry on the other side. Real experienced pancake makers don’t use any utensils, but just flip it in the air… Repeat this until all batter has finished, every time adding a bit of butter between the pancakes. I get three pancakes out of this amount of batter, but it depends on their thickness and the size of your pan. Keep the pancakes warm under some aluminium foil or in the oven.

In another frying pan, fry the bacon with a little knob of butter till the fat starts to come out. Then add the onion and some black pepper. Fry for about 5 minutes, until the onion starts to soften up. Add the garlic, chilli, and sage and fry over low heat for another 5 minutes. Once the onion is soft, add the chestnuts. Now, when you are using the extractor fan, please switch it off to avoid accidents. Add a good splash of brandy to the chestnut mixture. Twist the pan a bit and carefully light the liquor with a long match. Keep the pan away from you and swirl. You will see all the alcohol burning out of the brandy. A pretty exciting sight, especially when you’ve switched the lights off. Beautiful blue flames.

Once the fire is completely out, place the pan back on the stove. Add a good knob of butter and the lemon zest. Taste the mixture and add a bit of lemon juice, salt, and black pepper as needed.

Create two little holes in the middle of the mixture. Crack the eggs in those holes, but do it carefully so that the yolks don’t break. Sprinkle a bit of salt over the eggs. Turn the fire down and cover the pan with aluminium foil or a lid. Cook this for around 6 minutes, or until the eggs are to your liking.

Finally, take out two plates and put a pancake on each. Carefully transfer an egg to the middle of each of the pancakes and spread the rest of the chestnut mixture around this. Wrap the edges of the pancake over the filling and garnish with some extra chilli. Bon appétit!

(And if you have some pancakes left, spread some honey on top for a delicious breakfast.)

Chestnut and rosemary pancakes

Chestnut and rosemary pancakes

Zwiebelkuchen

Memories of the Mosel

Federweisser & Zwiebelkuchen, this ultimate autumn combination alone is already a great reason to visit the wine areas of Germany around this time of year. One of these wine areas is the Mosel region, located along the river Mosel between Koblenz and Trier. Like most wine regions it is beautiful all year round. There are small villages with pretty timbered houses, cute squares and many family-owned wineries. But the region is extra special in autumn when the grapes are being picked. During the harvest period you can feel the life and activity everywhere in the villages and in the vineyards. All family members of the smaller wineries help with the harvest, seven days a week. Little tractors come and go, carrying the grapes that have just been picked or the skins that remain after pressing them. The air is filled with the smell of freshly pressed grapes. A beautiful time to hike through the vineyards that stretch all over the hills and try a few of the grapes that are still on the vines.

The Mosel                 Grapes

Zwiebelkuchen

But back to the Federweisser and Zwiebelkuchen. Federweisser is a light and refreshing drink, made of freshly pressed, fermented grape juice. It is only available during the harvest period, from September until the end of October, because you cannot keep it long. But during this time you can find it everywhere in the Mosel area. You can get it in the stores, in restaurants, and of course directly from the wine producers. It is low on alcohol, a bit sweet, and lightly sparkling; perfect after a walk through the vineyards. The traditional dish to go with it is Zwiebelkuchen (onion cake). This savoury pastry is different everywhere you order it, but obviously it always has onions as its main element. A delicious combination with the Federweisser, both on the cold and on the sunny autumn days!

Zwiebelkuchen in Germany Zwiebelkuchen in Germany
Zwiebelkuchen and Federweisser in Germany

Although I don’t have any Federweisser here, I still created my own version of Zwiebelkuchen. Not traditional, but it keeps the autumn spirit and memories of the Mosel alive and goes well with a good glass of white wine.

Ingredients (8 good pieces)

For the dough:

  • 350 grams of flour
  • Sachet of dried yeast – 7 grams, or 25 grams fresh yeast
  • 200 ml milk
  • 60 grams of butter
  • 1 egg
  • Pinch of sugar
  • Good pinch of salt

For the filling:

  • 2 large sweet potatoes – a bit less than a kilo
  • 200 grams of walnuts
  • 4 large onions – a bit over 1 kg
  • 2 eggs
  • 200 ml of cream
  • Butter
  • Honey – 3 teaspoons
  • Garam Masala – 2 heaped teaspoons
  • Turmeric – 1 heaped teaspoons
  • Cumin – 2 heaped teaspoons
  • Salt and black pepper

Preparation:

Start by turning the oven on at around 220˚C. Wrap each sweet potato in aluminium foil and place them on a tray. Roast the potatoes in the oven for around 30 to 45 minutes. Roasting the potatoes really brings out their sweet flavour. The cooking time depends on the size of the potato, so just open the packages after 30 minutes and check with a knife if they are soft all the way through already. Be careful, because it will be properly hot. When they are done, turn off the oven and leave the potatoes in there to cool down slowly and develop their flavour.

In the mean time, start on the dough. Warm up the milk until it is lukewarm. Add the yeast, a pinch of sugar, and around 20 grams of the flour. Stir it and then leave the mixture for about 10 minutes until the yeast wakes up. Mix the other ingredients for the dough in a bowl and add the milk and yeast mixture. Knead well, until you have a soft dough that doesn’t stick to your hands anymore. Add more flour if it is too sticky, or a splash of milk if it is too dry. Try a little bit to see if you added enough salt. Then leave the dough in the bowl and cover it. Leave it in a warm spot to let it rise.

Next, roast the walnuts in a dry frying pan for around 5 minutes over a medium heat. Keep a few of them whole as garnish. Roughly chop the rest and set them aside. In the same pan, you can fry the garam masala and turmeric for around 2 minutes over high heat until they are fragrant. The heat will wake up the flavours, just stay close so that the spices don’t burn. Set the spices aside as well.

Peel the onions and chop them in half rings. Wipe out the frying pan you used before. Heat a knob of butter in the pan and add the onions, a pinch of salt, black pepper, and the cumin. Fry this for around 10 minutes over medium heat, until the onions start to soften up. Try the onions to see if you have seasoned them enough. Meanwhile, mix the two eggs and 150 ml of the cream in a bowl. Season with salt and pepper and also set this mixture aside.

The sweet potatoes should be cooked and cooled down by now. Peel them and cut them in pieces. Mash them with a proper potato masher, a beer bottle, or a fork when really nothing else is available. Add a knob of butter and the other 50 ml of cream. Then stir in the honey, garam masala and turmeric, a pinch of salt, and some black pepper. Try the sweet potato mash and season to taste.

Finally, preheat the oven till 200˚C. Lightly grease a tin with a removable bottom of around 26 cm. Knead the dough one more time and roll it out thinly. Place the dough into the tin and remove any excess dough that comes over the edge of the tin. Add the sweet potato mash as a first layer. Spread a thin layer of the onions over the mash, then add the roasted walnuts. Finally, mix the remaining onions with the eggs and cream mixture. Spread this out on top. Then bake it in the oven for around 45 minutes, until the Zwiebelkuchen is golden brown. Decorate with the walnuts you have kept aside.

Let it cool down a bit and enjoy with some white wine. Or of course, if you live somewhere where you can get it, with a glass of Federweisser so you can imagine being surrounded by the vineyards.

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