Friday, September 19, 2014

French Fridays with Dorie - Tuna and Mango Ceviche

Today´s recipe for the French Fridays with Dorie group is „Tuna and Mango Ceviche“, a lovely fresh dish, inspired by the cuisine of Senegal.

Ceviche is, at its most basic, raw fish marinated in citrus juice and spices. The acid in the juice denatures the proteins in the meat in much the same way as cooking would. The flesh becomes opaque, the texture firmer and dryer, yet the flavors remain bright and fresh. It seems to be the perfect dish for a warm autumn day.

It goes without saying that any fish served raw should be spanking fresh, but, in general, there is no single species that is  particularly favored for ceviche. It makes sense to use the local „Catch of the Day“ and the species you use should change depending on availability. While Dorie´s recipe calls for sushi-grade tuna, the recipe works equally well with scallops or sea bass, for example. In theory, any white fish can be used, but many fragile fish can become rubbery or totally dissolve in the lime juice.

The cut is also important, and suggestions range from largeish chunks (Dorie´s recipe calls for 0.5 inch cubes) to slicing the fish as thinly as possible. It is often said that dicing, rather than slicing, will ensure a good distribution of raw fish and fish cooked on the outside.

The chief marinating ingredient is, of course, citrus juice. Lime is most commonly used, but lemons and even Seville oranges are sometimes used. It seems absolutely vital to use a generous amount of citrus – that way you get a good spoonful along with the fish. And as far as the addition of the onion is concerned, I think soaking it in iced water briefly before useing it seems to be an excellent idea – although the red onions are somewhat sweet by nature, they should not overtake the taste of the other ingredients.

Fresh and light, Dorie´s recipe also calls for diced sweet mango and creamy avocado, as well as minced fresh ginger, minced red chile pepper and some tabasco for heat, extra-virgin olive oil, white rum, salt and pepper.  All those ingredients taken together will certainly wake up your taste buds. You can make the ceviche  in advance, but no more than an hour or so. You could add fresh cilantro just before serving if you wish - I added fresh cress instead.

To see how much the other members of the French Fridays with Dorie group enjoyed this recipe, please go here.

For copyright reasons, we do not publish the recipes from the book. But you can find the recipe for the “Tuna and Mango Ceviche“ on pages 178-9 in Dorie Greenspan´s "Around my French Table".

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Farmers´ Market & Pasta with Rapini and ground Pork (Rübstiel Pasta mit Hack und Parmesan)

We are in the middle of September and around here there are quite a few Farmers´ Markets meriting a visit. One particularly nice one is in the town of Burscheid, a mere 25 kilometers from Cologne. We have been faithful visitors for a few years now.

Burscheid is a small town in North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany, with less than twenty thousand inhabitants. It is near to the major cultural centers of Cologne and Dusseldorf.

The quaint little town is known for its beautiful town center with its marketplace and churches and the beautiful slate houses. The settlement was first mentioned  in a historic document in 1175 and was granted town privileges in 1856.

So when the late summer sun was shining on Sunday, we paid a visit to the market (now in ist 18th year) to shop for some wonderful local vegetables and regional products, such as the wonderful rapini („Rübstiel“) – recipe will follow below - kohlrabi ("Kohlrabi") and lots of carrots ("Möhren").

These big light-orange pumpkins ("Speisekürbis") caught everyone´s attention.

And we admired the huge, loosely layered, crisp, curling leaves of the so-called butter cabbage („Butterkohl“). This cabbage is a type of savoy cabbage („Wirsing“).

It is a light-green fall cabbage with attractive, crinkled leaves, a mild flavor and a rather robust texture. It is exceptionally good for use in cooked dishes. It is almost impossible to find anywhere these days – unfortunately, due to a certain lack of consumer demand, farmers do not really plant it anymore.

Who can resist buying way too many of these summer squash ("gelbe Zucchinis") and courgettes ("grüne Zucchinis") of many different sizes and colors. And wonderful Hokkaido squash ("Hokkaido Kürbis") - later in the week,  I will enjoy making a velvety Hokkaido squash soup with a dash of Spanish smoked paprika.

Many different kinds of honey from a local beekeeper who also sells honey candy to soothe your throat and sweet mead ("Honigwein"). And will dispense with lots of helpful advice as to all the different uses of honey.

You could taste the different varieties of honey to your heart´s content - the offerings included light yellow runny honeys, dark brown forest honey ("Waldhonig"), and light-yellow, thick rapeseed honey ("Rapshonig").

And so many lovely flowers to choose from, such as these white and purple perrenial pansies ("Stiefmütterchen").

Or you could plant these dark, velvety, purple pansies in your autumn garden. It is not too late for planting these yet.

Sunflowers ("Sonnenblumen") look particularly nice in the late autumn sun. They seem to have a golden glow and will certainly look beautiful in one of those big vases at home.

Fruit brandies and liqueurs such as apple or pear liqueur („Apfelbrand, Birnenbrand“) and strawberry, currant, raspberry, apple and pear brandies („Erdbeer-Likör, Johannisbeer-Likör, Himbeer-Likör, Apfel-und Birnen-Likör“).

And a lot of lovely fruit juices ("Obstsäfte") – apple, rhubarb, or sour cherry, to name but a few.

Fresh berries from a local blueberry farm ("Blaubeeren").

Jams ("Marmeladen") and jellies ("Gelees") and fruit molasses ("Apfel- und Birnenkraut").

Freshly-picked late season blackberries ("Brombeeren") - I bought two packages. Since my lemon verbena is still producing many fragrant leaves, I baked a Blackberry-Bundt with Lemon Verbena ("Brombeer-Gugelhupf mit Zitronenverbene") with these (recipe can be found here).

And those wonderful Italian plums („Zwetschen“) - perfect for baking my beloved fruit-ladden, old-fashioned Plum Torte ("Pflaumenkuchen") with a hint of cinnamon and vanilla (the recipe can be found here).

From the looks of it, all visitors to the market seemed to be enjoying themselves.

The bell tower of the local church providing a very pretty backdrop for the event.


Now that you brought your farmers´ market loot home, it is time to get cooking with some of the produce, such as the slightly bitter rapini ("Rübstiel"). This autumn rapini does not keep very long, maybe a day, but only if you wrap it well and store it in a cool place. It is definitely at its best the day it was harvested.

Creste di Gallo with Rapini and Ground Pork - Rübstiel Pasta mit Hack und Parmesan
(serves about four)

Ingredients for the Pasta and Sauce
  • sea salt (for boiling the pasta and the rapini)
  • 2 bunches autumn rapini (about 500 grams each), cleaned and roughly chopped
  • about 1⁄3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 500 grams freshly ground pork
  • 4 spring onions, cleaned and sliced
  • 4 cloves garlic, sliced very thinly
  • 1 tbsp. dried oregano (preferably Italian)
  • 400 grams pasta (such as "Creste di Gallo", you can use any smallish type of pasta that will suit this type of sauce)
  • some freshly grated lemon zest (organic, please)
  • some shaved parmigiano reggiano (or other hard cheese)
  • fine sea salt and freshly ground black peper to taste

Preparation of the Pasta
  1. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add rapini and boil until crisp-tender, about 4 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer rapini to a large bowl of ice water and chill. Drain rapini, pat dry, and set aside.
  2. Heat oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add ground pork. Cook over high heat to color the meat, breaking up any lumps with the back of a fork. Drain the pork, discard any fat. Wipe skillet clean.
  3. Heat more olive oil in the skillet over medium heat again. Add spring onions and garlic and cook, stirring occasionally, until golden, about 3 minutes. Add oregano (run it through your fingers while adding, to release the essential oils)  and cook, stirring frequently, for 30 seconds. Add rapini, toss. Add browned meat, toss again and remove pan from heat; set aside.
  4. Meanwhile, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add pasta and cook until al dente, about 8 minutes, or according to package instructions. 5. Drain pasta (keep a good cup of the pasta water for thinning out the sauce)and transfer pasta to a colander. Drain.
  5. Toss the pasta with the sauce to combine, add some of the pasta water to the sauce to let all the ingredients come together to make a lovely sauce.
  6. Grate some lemon zest over, garnish with a few shavings of parmigiano reggiano and season with salt and pepper to taste.
  7. Divide pasta between bowls/plates and serve immediately.

The slightly bitter rapini marries well with hearty ground pork, the oregano and the wonderfully salty parmigiano reggiano in this dish. If you are looking for another layer of flavor to add to this dish, why not infuse a bit of godd-quality olive oil with herby from your garden, some garlic and lemon and drizzle a bit over the finished pasta - heavenly.

Shopping at a farmers' market is a great way to meet local farmers and get fresh, flavorful produce and feel good about the food you are preparing.

Friday, September 12, 2014

French Fridays with Dorie - French Lentils

Today´s recipe for the French Fridays with Dorie group is „French Lentils: a basic recipe“. Lentils are versatile, nutritious, and very tasty, and there are many different ways to serve them. Unlike dried beans they do not need soaking and they cook relativley quickly. Before I started making this „basic recipe“ for lentils, I decided to use Dorie´s recipe as a basis for a fresh, late summer salad, a Lentil Salad with fresh Figs, Goat´s Cheese, Rocket and Honey.

Of the widely available types of lentil, Dorie´s recipe calls for „Puy Lentils“ or „lentilles vertes de Puy“, a small slate-green lentil with a delicate blue marbling. Puy lentils are considered by many to be the best lentil because of their distinctive earthy flavor and incomparable nutty texture and the fact they hold their shape during cooking. They are the only lentil to be identified by area of cultivation (Appellation d'Origine Protégée) – grown in Puy-en-Velay,  France. Puy lentils can be served hot or cold as a salad starter or as an accompaniment to poultry, meat or fish dishes, or can be used in soups or casseroles.

The first step in this recipe is the cooking of the lentils. Before you get started, give them a good wash, to get rid of any starchy dust. To infuse these lovely jewels with a lot of flavor, the lentils need to be cooked twice, once only briefly in water, the second time with garlic, onion, carrot, celery stalk, a clove and a bay leaf – all in a homemade chicken broth. The Puy lentils only needed to cook for 25 minutes and ended up having a lovely texture and holding their shape really well, even after mixing them carefully with the optional vinaigrette, the second step for this recipe.

The vinaigrette consisted of Dijon mustard, apple cider vinegar, walnut oil (which goes so well with earthy lentils), extra-virgin olive oil, sea salt, freshly ground black pepper and a bit of local runny honey. Once the lentils are cooked and drained and while still warm, it is also the right time to add the rather well-seasoned dressing – your lentils will soak up the flavors beautifully. Now let the dressed lentils sit for a while, then toss with fresh rocket and finish with quartered figs, goats´cheese and a drizzle of honey.

This is a good recipe to be using that lovely local, runny honey that you bought at the farmers´ market - once a bit in the vinaigrette, then to drizzle a bit over the figs and the goat´s cheese to finish the salad. And as far as the goat´s cheese is concerned, goat's cheese is, of course, a very varied product. For this recipe, try to get a fresh, unpasteurised cheese that is light and soft, which tastes lovely tossed together with the rocket. Or, if you prefer, get a goat´s cheese that crumbles like feta.

Overall,we absolutely adored the Lentil Salad with fresh Figs, Goat´s Cheese, Rocket and Honey. Dorie´s  basic French lentil recipe is a fabulous, flavorful basis for this wonderful salad that combines the earthyness of the Puy lentils, the peppery taste of the rocket, the creaminess of the goat´s cheese, and the sweetness of the lovely fresh figs and honey – absolute delight on a plate – could not ask for more on a late summer´s day.

To see how much the other members of the French Fridays with Dorie group enjoyed this recipe, please go here.

For copyright reasons, we do not publish the recipes from the book. But you can find the recipe for the “French Lentils: a basic recipe“ on pages 367-8 in Dorie Greenspan´s "Around my French Table".

Monday, September 8, 2014

A Visit to Antwerp (Belgium) - Part III - Antwerpse Handjes & Philip´s Biscuits

The City of Antwerp, Belgium has got many nicknames and I was told that one of them is "Koekenstad" or "la Ville des biscuits", literally meaning "Cookietown".

There is an excellent artisanal bakery in Antwerp, called "Philip´s Biscuits". The bakery calls itself "De Koekebakker van de Sint" (Cookie Baker for Saint Nicolas). Saint Nicolas, or Sinterklaas, of course, is the Dutch equivalent of Santa Claus. On December 6th, he delivers toys, chocolate, cookies, and fruits to all children who were "good, polite and helpful" the last year.

The bakery carries many cookies such as Amandelspeculaas (Speculoos cookies with pepper, cinnamon, ginger, cloves, cardamom and nutmeg topped with almonds), Moriaantjes (tiny, crunchy and sweet),  or Pain à la grecque (sweetened bread, coated with a layer of pearl sugar and brushed with simple sugar syrup), Gevulde Speculaas (layers of spice cake with a marzipan filling) and Palmiers (puff pastry cookies). But there is also homemade Marzipan (which you buy as a roll) and different types of Honey-Spice Breakfast Cakes, to name but a few. 

Philip De Corte (hence the name of the bakery), founded the bakery in 1995. It is located on a busy street where many shoppers pass by. Along the walls of the tiny bakery, you will see quite a few vintage wooden speculoos molds, some rather large, some smaller and with more intricate detailing. Upon entering the bakery, you will immediately notice the distinct smell of freshly baked cookies and spices. It is indeed a bit magical - a world away from the hustle and bustle on the busy streets of the city. While you wait in line (which can be rather long), you will be able to taste some of the fresh cookies, as there are always small plates atop the sales counter - inviting you to take a taste or two.  Isabell Theunissen, the wife of Philip is also the manager of the bakery. Most of the cookies and baked goods are still made by hand and the recipes are rather traditional. 

The bakery´s window is always lovingly decorated. The huge characters on display in that window change every two months and, incredible as it may seem, are made entirely of cookie dough. The huge mouse was carrying a tray full of cookies and small bottles of that famous liqueur Elixir d'Anvers - which has been distilled since 1863 (this very famous liqueur is prepared from "32 plants and herbs from the four corners of the world" to "impart it its unique taste").

This cookie display was created to honor the exhibits at the Red Star Line Museum. The museum is housed in the original buildings of the steamship company that brought more than 2 million emigrants to the United States. Antwerp was a crossroads of commerce and culture in Europe — had been for centuries. It is still the second-busiest port in Europe, after Rotterdam in the Netherlands. 

The ocean steamers of the Red Star Line are docked on the quay of Antwerp ready to depart for the New World - and offerings of beautiful Red Star Line cookie tins - perfect gifts or souvenirs.

You will probably recognize this famous character - nestled between even more delicious cookies and very pretty cookie tins.

There is a rather romantic story with respect to the origins of Antwerp's name, one involving a giant and a very brave Roman hero (we will get to that in a minute - just continue reading).

One fabulous vintage scale on display in the bakery´s window.

Another vintage scale - this one carries a plaque with the inscription "Philip´s Biscuits".

The scale is filled with an assortment of very tempting cookie treats such as Speculoos, Almond Cookies, Venkel Koekjes (Fennel Cookies - a buttery treat specked with fresh fennel seeds), Limoen Koekjes (Lemon Cookies), and Gember Koekjes (Ginger Cookies) to name but a few.

Speculoos, of course, are outstanding, but the thing we really loved were the Antwerpse Handjes (Antwerp Hands), which you can also find at other bakeries around town, but the best one were the ones from Philip´s Biscuits, of course. They are butter cookies topped with sliced almonds, in the shape of small hands. 

Beautiful vintage wooden cookie molds and more flowery, buttery treats.

Do not forget to buy one of the many pretty gift boxes filled with an assortment of the cookies available at the bakery. It is said that whenever you buy these cookies and give them as a souvenir to your family and friends, it is a symbol of true friendship. You better believe that.

The most wonderful cities in the world are founded upon a myth, and Antwerp is no exception. Legend has it that, to cross the Scheldt River, you first had to pay a toll to a fearsome giant, named Druoon Antigoon who lived on the banks of the river, or risk invoking his wrath. Whenever sailors on the Scheldt river refused to pay the toll to the giant, he punished them by cutting off their hand. A Roman soldier named Silvius Brabo slayed the giant, cut off its hand, and tossed it into the Scheldt river. Given that the Dutch for "hand thrown" is "hand werpen", the city's name was born. A nice legend. Nevertheless, the "hand" has become the symbol of Antwerp. There are hands in the town flag. There are also several sweets in the form of a hand (cookies and many different types oc chocolates) and because of this rather cruel story, Antwerp bakers make some excellent cookies in the shape of a hand. It is the symbol of the city. And it is looked upon like an official shield of Antwerp.

This story has also led to a white hand becoming a symbol to be found on many a crest in the city. And in the middle of the "Grote Markt"  (Town Square) stands the Brabo fountain. The statue was made by local sculptor Jef Lambeaux in 1887. The fountain which celebrated the freeing of the river was inaugurated amid great public interest. It was installed at the center of the Grote Markt, right in front of the city hall. It depicts Brabo throwing the giant's hand in the river. Brabo stands on a tall pedestal decorated with water spouting sea animals - a fish, a sea lion, a turtle and a dragon like monster. Mermaids support a castle, symbolizing the city. Giant Antigoon's head dangles just below Brabo's feet. Fabulous legend if you ask me.

Because of this legend, one of the most famous producs of the city of Antwerp, are its cookies or little chocolates, the Antwerpse Handjes, literally "Antwerp Hands". Usually made out of sanddough with almonds or milk chocolate, they symbolize Antwerp trademark and folklore. 

If anyone wants to sell the Antwerpse Handjes cookies, he needs to have an official license by the Antwerp cookie federation. Most of the bakeries are selling these tasty butter cookies. But the best place to get yourself these little biscuits is, of course, at Philip’s Biscuits.

Philip´s Biscuits also sells the city’s namesake cookie, naturally in the shape of a hand. But, as I mentioned above, there are many more cookies to chose from at Philip´s Biscuit, such as my other favorites, these crispy, spicy, thinly sliced, almond-studded, totally addictive cookies.

The Antwerpse Handjes are traditionally made from very simple ingredients and cut into little hand shapes, and then baked until they take on a light, golden color. There are also some chocolate variations. Apparently, there are rules about ensuring careful labelling so that customers can be sure they are getting the right cookies.

Now, the taste of these Hand Cookies is rather easy to describe - they are buttery, crunchy cookies with a vanilla and almond taste and maybe a hint of lemon. Their flavor is wonderfully old-fashioned, and reminds me of simple cut-out butter cookies.

Actually making the Antwerpse Handjes was fairly straightforward. I do not own a hand-shaped cookie cutter of the type they use in traditional Antwerp bakeries, but I did have a sharp knife and a I made a paper template instead. No matter how hard I tried, there was no way of finding a hand-shaped cookie cutter in Antwerp - I was told it has something to do with the cookies being a "regionally protected product". If you happen to know a source, by all means, do let me know. I would be ever so grateful and bake you some Hand Cookies, promise.

Following is a my personal version of these famous cookies - they were a bit time consuming (because that paper template of mine kept getting stuck to the buttery dough) to make but tasted wonderful and almost looked like the real ones.

Antwerpse Handjes 
(à la maison Kitchen Lioness)

Ingredients for the Cookies
  • 300 grams (2 1/2 cups) AP (plain) flour 
  • 1/2 tsp. fine sea salt 
  • 175 grams (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature 
  • 200 grams (1 cup) fine baking (caster) sugar 
  • 1 1/2 tsp. pure vanilla sugar
  • 1 egg (L), free range or organic
  • grated zest of an organic lemon

For decoration
  • eggwash
  • slithered almonds

Preparation of the Cookies 
  1. Sift together the flour and salt. Set aside. 
  2. In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat the butter on high speed until creamy, about 2 minutes. Reduce the speed to medium, slowly add the sugar and the vanilla sugar and beat until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes, stopping the mixer occasionally to scrape down the sides of the bowl. 
  3. Add the egg and lemon zest and beat for 1 minute, stopping the mixer once to scrape down the sides of the bowl. 
  4. Add half of the flour mixture. Beat on low speed until most of the flour has been absorbed, about 1 minute. Add the remaining flour and continue beating until all of the flour has been absorbed, 2 to 3 minutes. 
  5. Turn the dough out onto a work surface and divide into 2 equal balls. Shape each into a disk and wrap separately in plastic wrap. Refrigerate for at least 2 hours or up to 2 days. 
  6. Remove the dough from the refrigerator and let stand for 10 minutes. On a lightly floured surface, roll out the dough.
  7. Preheat your oven to 175 degress Celsius (350 degrees Fahrenheit).
  8. Line several baking sheets with parchment paper. 
  9. Cut out the little hands. Using a small offset spatula, transfer the cookies to the prepared baking sheets, spacing the cookies about 2.5 cm (1 inch) apart. 
  10. Reroll the scraps and cut out more cookies. 
  11. Brush with some eggwash and sprinkle with a few slithered almonds.
  12. Bake the cookies until golden brown around the edges, 8 to 10 minutes.
  13. Transfer the baking sheets to wire racks and let cool for 5 minutes, then transfer the cookies to the racks and let cool completely. 
  14. Store the cookies in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 3 days. 

Looking at the Hand Cookies, you must admit that they have got a certain old-fashioned charm. But they are also delicious, buttery cookies - a wonderful gift and a wonderful way to share some historic facts about the city of Antwerp - a truly delectable history lesson.

The old-fashioned biscuit bakery "Philip´s Biscuits" is certainly worth visiting especially for its sensational speculoos, macarons and gingerbreads sold in tins but also for its wonderful Antwerpse Handjes. Decide what you would like to buy and then double the amount. The first batch probably will not last long and disappear while you walk back to your car or hotel. But if you cannot make it to Antwerp in the near future, just bake a batch at home and while you munch on your freshly baked, warm cookies, plan your trip to breathtakingly beautiful Antwerp and a long stop at this charming bakery!

Philip’s Biscuits
Korte Gasthuisstraat
Antwerp (BE)
+ 32 (0) 32312660
Mon – Sat 10:00 – 18:00.

Part I of my mini series revolved around the breathtakingly beautiful City of Antwerp itself and can be found here. Part II focused on the Exotic Market in Antwerp and can be found herePart III is all about these lovely cookies in Antwerp and their history.