Tag Archives: dairy

Sinful Chocolate Truffles

7 Aug

What could possibly be wrong with a sumptuous mouthful of cream, chocolate and butter? If your genetic profile is anything like mine, there’s a lot wrong with these delicious truffles. As a matter of fact, I might as well bypass my digestive system completely and stick these directly onto my hips and thighs, since I’m incapable of eating just one. Who can, really?

Belgium’s love affair with chocolate ‘pralines’ & truffles traditionally unfolds at various quaint country tables, adorned with one’s best china and grandma’s hand-embroidered floral table cloth. Neighbors and friends eagerly gather around to catch up on the latest small town gossip, and to reconcile important town data such as who is getting married to whom and what was it that Marie overheard whilst standing in line at the butcher’s? To facilitate these impromptu social gatherings, a pot of freshly brewed coffee is there to loosen the tongues and the sugary sweetness of truffles is presented to melt away the bitter shock of hearing that the elderly pastor now has a pretty new housekeeper… and why is she so young? Not proper, I say.

Coffee is consumed by the liter in rural Flanders & beyond. You can’t ring someone’s doorbell without being beckoned to sit down at the kitchen table and have an unsolicited cup of joe appear under your nose within the first 5 minutes of entering, usually followed by an invitation to grab something from a box of sweets that permanently lives in the middle of the table. To my mom’s generation, a knock on the door holds the promise of an exciting bit of town gossip and one must be prepared for this kind of opportunity 24/7. No Belgian household is without coffee or chocolate. It’s just not proper.

When I first moved to the USA, glitzy Los Angeles of all, I remember that random people I had never seen before would wave at me enthusiastically on the street or greet me with a smile during my visits back to small town Belgium. It later dawned on me that my move to ‘Aahhhh-merica’ must have been the topic of conversation during many such coffee-orgies, undoubtedly piquing the interest of people who did not know Cecilia’s brave and/or adventurous daughter yet. I’m sure the news of ‘Helga-sightings’ spread fast within the community, like I was some sort of rare caribou one had to look out for. My mother’s main agenda for my visit back home was to cram in as many coffee gatherings as a week would allow. The upside of this was homemade cookies & Leonidas truffles at each one…

The truffle recipe below is an old-fashioned, artisan recipe I found online years ago. I tweaked it for flavor & richness of texture, but it’s fairly authentic and you can proudly serve these in a bowl… on your granny’s hand-crocheted doily. For good measure.

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BASIC TRUFFLES
For the ganache:
– 8 oz of dark chocolate
– 4 oz of heavy whipping cream
– 2 oz of good quality unsalted butter

For the coating:
– 4 oz of dark chocolate, melted
– ½ cup of semi-sweet cocoa powder

In a bowl, break chocolate into bite-size pieces and set aside. In a small sauce pan, heat heavy whipping cream over a medium heat until very hot. Add butter and stir until butter is melted. Then pour hot cream mixture over chocolate pieces and stir until all chocolate is melted and you achieve a smooth mass. Place a piece of plastic wrap directly onto the surface of the chocolate mass, and refrigerate for a few hours until ganache is set.

When cold and stiff, take ganache out of the refrigerator. Using a double-boiler method, melt remaining chocolate for coating in a small saucepan. When melted and cool enough to handle, scoop small balls out of the ganache and gently coat them with the melted chocolate. Needless to say, coating the truffles is by far the messiest part of this recipe, but there’s no avoiding it so you might as well enjoy the mess. The best way to coat the truffles, is by gently rolling them around in the melted chocolate, using a chopstick or toothpick.

When coated, immediately take them out of the melted chocolate with a toothpick and roll them in a coating of your choice. Traditionally, semi-sweet cocoa powder is used, but you can also use chopped nuts, chocolate sprinkles, chocolate shavings, coconut flakes.. whatever you fancy, really.

Place the coated truffles on a parchment lined plate, and let harden in the fridge a little before serving.

ORANGE GRAND MARNIER TRUFFLES
Use basic truffle recipe above, and add the following in the ganache:
– 1-2 Tbsp of Grand Marnier or Cointreau liquor
– 2 Tbsp of freshly grated orange zest

Coat truffles with semi-sweet cocoa powder.

IRISH TRUFFLES
Use basic truffle recipe above, and add the following to the ganache
– 1-2 Tbsp of good quality Whiskey
– 2 Tbsp of very strong coffee

Roll truffles in white chocolate shavings.

WHITE CHOCOLATE TRUFFLES WITH HONEY & SAFFRON
Use basic truffle recipe above, but replace dark chocolate with white chocolate. Add the following to the ganache:
– a pinch of saffron
– 1 Tbsp of honey
– a splash of white rum

For the coating, use melted white chocolate and roll truffles in powdered sugar, unsweetened coconut flakes or very finely chopped almonds

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Belgian Rice Pudding with Saffron

5 Aug

‘Rijstpap’ or rice pudding is a much celebrated treat in Belgium, and it’s no coincidence why this rice dessert became a traditional regional dish in the Province of Brabant, encompassing the central heart of Belgium.

Every year in Flanders, from small rural towns to larger cities, this creamy dessert makes a star appearance during the annual ‘Brueghel Feesten’. These medieval-type festivities compare to the American renaissance fairs, but traditionally focus around food & drink whilst celebrating Flemish cultural heritage and the world-renowned artwork by ‘Master Painter’ Pieter Brueghel. During the 16th Century, Breughel’s work was highly sought after by the wealthy elite of the richer cities, and the humble ‘peasant’ painter was warmly embraced & respected in the high society circles of thriving medieval Brussels. His works mostly featured magnificent landscapes and bustling farm village life, often painted with a comical yet honest approach and illustrating the abundant food & drink at the festive farmers’ table in great detail. Since then, the often 2-day long ‘Breughel Feesten’, for which people dress up in traditional 16th Century peasant grab, are synonymous to copious amounts of free-flowing ‘tap’ beer, fantastic food and… plate after plate of creamy golden ‘rijstpap’.

Rijstpap made an appearance early on in Flemish history, and quickly became associated with rural life and heavenly simplicity. After all, as per an old Flemish folkloric saying, heaven welcomes you with bottomless bowls of rijstpap and golden spoons. I can’t testify to the veracity of this tale, but I’m on board!

This sweet, milk-based porridge bears somewhat of a resemblance to American rice pudding, but not entirely. For starters, a traditional Belgian rice pudding is spiced with saffron & cinnamon, and not just vanilla. Secondly, the texture is more porridge-like (‘rijst’ meaning rice, and ‘pap’ meaning porridge) and not quite as sweet or sugary as a pudding. And lastly, the dessert is classically eaten with a hefty dusting of dark brown sugar, that slowly melts into a molasses-type syrup when it blends with the milky rice. It’s ridiculously good and it brings back many happy childhood memories of the ‘Brueghel Feesten’ for me…

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Belgian Rice Pudding
(As per a childhood recipe)
– 1 liter of whole milk (or approx. 32 fl oz)
– 4 oz of long grain, white rice (dry)
– 1 vanilla bean
– 1 stick of cinnamon
– 1-2 hefty pinch(es) of saffron (if you like the flavor & color of saffron, use 2. If not, use 1)
– 5 Tbsp of sugar

Add the milk, rice, and sugar in a heavy pot and bring to a simmer over medium heat, stirring occasionally with a wooden spoon to separate the grains. Add the cinnamon stick, vanilla bean and saffron threads, cover and simmer over very low heat for 30 minutes or more, until the rice is tender and has absorbed the milk. Do not stir the rice during this part of cooking.

Stir with a wooden spoon when rice is tender, to spread the saffron color evenly.

Discard the cinnamon and vanilla, scoop the rice pudding into small bowls and allow to cool completely. Sprinkle with dark brown sugar before serving.

Mama’s Tiramisu

3 Aug

In my post about lasagna, I’ve hinted before that mom was mystifyingly Italian, for a Belgian. While she not only was is a passionate believer in enhancing verbal communication with dramatic facial expressions and/or hand gestures, she also prepared certain Italian staples like a real ‘Mama Gina’, with ‘passione’ and the prerequisite matriarchal dominance of the kitchen quarters.

As a child, I recall there were many times I’d be perched on the kitchen counters, intrigued by the tantalizing smells and mom’s busy activity, but there were an equal number of times where our mere presence in the kitchen would catapult her into a peppered tizzy and we instinctively knew to keep our distance. On ‘tiramisu-days’, we’d be lucky if we were even allowed to stand in the doorframe and watch… And even then, the sight of us would often result in an annoyed hand gesture and a quick dismissal, as though tiramisu was top secret and you needed special Governmental clearance before you could watch.

I’m not even sure where mom got the recipe below from, but if you’ve ever had the opportunity to savor the ‘real thing’ from a sun-drenched patio in Napoli, you’d instantly recognize that mom was on to something with this recipe. It’s so creamy and velvety, that the first bite of this deliciousness sends you straight to a cobblestone piazza somewhere in Rome. Furthermore, tiramisu is so easy to make, it should be a mortal sin, really.

While it takes some advance planning since tiramisu needs 8-10 hours in the refrigerator, it’s a ‘no bake’, foolproof dessert that is a real show-stopper. Heck, even your teenage daughter may briefly forget about your ‘lameness’ and kiss you on the cheek for this one. And wouldn’t that be worth it???

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MAMA’S TIRAMISU
(As per my mom’s top secret instructions… Sshhh!!!)
– 10.5 oz of ladyfinger cookies (*)
– 9 oz of mascarpone
– 3 eggs, yolks & whites separated
– 3.5 oz Amaretto liquor
– 7 oz of very strong cold coffee (coffee that is so strong, you can’t drink it!)
– 2 Tbsp of golden brown sugar
– 1/3 cup of sweetened cocoa powder (Nesquick works great!)
(*) The trick to a great tiramisu is using ‘real’ ladyfinger cookies like they sell in most of Europe. They are crunchy and light, and dusted with a bit of crystal sugar on the outside. The American ladyfinger cookies are too ‘cakey’ and not crunchy at all. If you can’t find Italian ladyfinger cookies or ‘savoiarde’, use Nilla wafers instead.If you don’t know what ladyfinger cookies look like, you can see some of them in the picture of my chocolate mousse post.

Beat egg yolks, mascarpone and sugar into a smooth consistency with your electric, handheld mixer.
In a clean, oil free bowl, beat egg whites into stiff peaks and gently fold into the egg/mascarpone mixture by hand.

Combine coffee and Amaretto liquor.

Take a 9×13 oven dish (or similar in size). No need to butter or flour, because this is a no-bake dessert!

Dip ladyfinger cookies quickly in coffee mixture one-by-one, and place in a single layer on the bottom of the pan. Don’t make the mistake I made once and drop your entire package of cookies all at once in the coffee, as you will not have enough time to take them out and they’ll disintegrate into a sloppy coffee mess before your thy very eyes. You need to really do this one by one, and dunk ’em, don’t let them ‘sit’ for too long in the liquid, as they will start to fall apart.

When you’ve completed a layer of coffee-dunked cookies, spread a 1/4 thick layer of the mascarpone mixture over the top with a spatula. Place another layer of coffee-dipped cookies on the top, and repeat this process until you reach the top of your pan. Finish with a layer of the mascarpone mixture.

Dust the top layer of the mascarpone mixture liberally with the powdered cocoa, cover and refrigerate overnight or for at least 8-10 hours. This will allow the cookies to soften and absorb the creaminess of the mascarpone. In the morning, the cocoa on the top will have melted into a shimmering layer of chocolatey goodness. If you like, you can sprinkle some shaved milk chocolate over the top right before serving.

Now go and make this. Do it now. Really, your family will love you.

Soledad Goat Cheese

16 Jul

I have a confession to make. I just ate lemon-lavender goat cheese for dessert. Straight from the jar. What kind of goat cheese can conceivably be conceptualized as a dessert by taste buds? This kind.

At $6.00 a tub, I used to think Soledad goat cheese was way too expensive, until they roped me in with a sample one day. Ever since that moment, I’ve had pear-walnut-honey goat cheese on raisin toast for breakfast, onion-cucumber goat cheese on rye for lunch, roasted sweet pepper goat cheese stuffed in figs for a snack, regular goat cheese on beet salads, lemon-lavender goat cheese as dessert… Oh dear Lord, help me.

I’m sorry if you live out of Los Angeles County lines, because that means you will likely not be able to drift off into goat cheese nirvana until your next vacation. However, next time you plan a visit, make sure to pencil in a stop at any of our local farmers markets and pick up a tub of their goat cheese.

Apart from making great cheese, the folks at Soledad Goat Farms love their goats. Loved goats give great milk. It’s a happy place.

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