Speculaas Chocolate Swirl Cream Cake

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The Dutch holiday season begins every November with the arrival of Sinterklaas (the Dutch version of Santa Claus). This bearded old guy arrives on a boat from Spain and hangs around the country for two weeks leaving small gifts in children’s shoes until the real celebration day (his alleged birthday) on December 5th when he leaves the big presents. After that, on December 6th he boards his boat back to Spain, making way for the rest of the celebrations, and just like in most other western countries the excitement continues to build to a frenzy culminating on December 31st. Part of the Dutch Sinterklaas tradition is baking with Speculaas. Speculaas is a mixture of pepper, cinnamon, ginger, cloves, cardamom and nutmeg and it is usually added to special nickel size cookies called Pepernoten (pepernuts) as well as larger size cookies, similar to gingerbread cookies which only appear during the Sinterklaas celebration. Speculaas has a wonderful smell and I can understand why any native would become very nostalgic for the magic of childhood just by walking down the street and smelling the aroma coming out of bakeries and supermarkets.

This year I decided to break with tradition and do something else: not bake! Well at least not just yet! The idea of adding Speculaas to something creamy seemed really, really appealing, and combining it with chocolate magical. This cake is sublime and super easy!

Crust

1/2 cup almonds
1/2 cup dates
a pinch of salt

Filling

2 1/2 cups of soaked cashews
1 2/3 cups of nut milk
1/4 cup coconut oil
1/2 cup maple syrup
vanilla
1/4 tsp salt
1-1 1/2 tsp speculaas spice (or all spice or cinnamon for the non Dutchies who can’t find this anywhere)
1/4 cup cacao powder

-process all the crust ingredients
-press crust in a cake form and even it out well

-put all the filling ingredients in the blender and blend except for the cacao
-blend very well at high speed until totally creamy
-pour 3/4 of the filling on the prepared crust
-put the cacao powder in the blender with what is rest of the filling and blend well
-pour cacao filling on top of the other filling creating a swirly shape
-shape further with a chopstick or a knife so that the chocolate cream penetrates the speculaas cream
-cover with plastic wrap and freeze for a couple of hours until well set
-sprinkle with cacao nibs

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Delightful Little Things (DLTs)

 

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In preparation for the opening of The Food Press I am trying to document and be good about keeping continuity, deciding on a certain menu and not deviating from it, writing down recipes and not only having fun creating things. But…. it’s not easy to not get carried away, since after all what can be more fun than constantly thinking, experimenting, tasting and trying out new things? And really, some things are so simple that it becomes almost embarrassing to write them down or even take them seriously at all. Today for example I was home learning how to use a new and fancier food processor that we are going to be using at The Food Press when all of a sudden I came up with a combination that made me jump with excitement in a foodie nerd sort of way. I was trying to figure out how the small bowl of the food processor worked and I decide to just throw some left over seeds and nuts I had around, one thing let to another and tah-taaaah these little delightful things emerged. Yes I have made nut balls or truffle like things before and I am sure you probably have too, but what made these little gems so enchanting was powdering them up. Rolling them up in spirulina, turmeric, maca and cacao gave them a distinguished lady like appearance. The taste was lovely as well, the strong taste of these powders was balanced beautifully by the ingredients of the truffles.

There is just one thing however, I don’t have quantities for this recipe since it was only a food processor try-out, so it’s up to you to go play with your food processor and decide.

P.S. I think that these will definitely be on our menu

Delightful Little Things (DLT)

pumpkin seeds
chia seeds
sunflower seeds
brazil nuts (use more or other seeds if you have a nut allergy)
cacao powder
peanut butter
raisins
raw honey

for dusting

turmeric powder
cacao powder
spirulina
maca

-process the 8 top ingredients in your food processor
-form small balls about the size of a walnut
-use a plate for each dusting powder and roll each ball on a different powder

Hummus

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Timothy van Poucke, photographer

And you are all thinking: Oh no, not another hummus recipe on a cooking blog!!!! I know, I know…..  No I am not posting this hummus recipe by default. Never mind that I have loads of papers to grade and couldn’t think of anything else to make for lunch that was quick and nutritious.  I am posting this recipe because this hummus is delicious and quickly made, has a light taste, it’s loaded with protein and makes a perfect sandwich, snack or part of a salad. Although I really like tahini in general this humus is tahiniless, since I don’t like the heaviness that it creates in this otherwise fresh summery dish. Chickpeas are creamy enough on their own, specially combined with olive oil.

Hummus

1 can of chickpeas (2 cups cooked chickpeas)
1/4 cup olive oil
2 cloves of garlic
juice of 1 lemon
salt to taste

1/2 cup roasted pine nuts
1 tbs. cumin seeds
2 tbs. olive oil extra
1/2 chili pepper finely chopped
cilantro
black olives
paprika powder
extra olive oil

-purée the chick peas, olive oil, lemon juice, one clove of garlic chopped and salt with a hand blender until creamy, stir in the chopped black olives and some of the chopped cilantro leaves
-in a heavy frying pan heat the  2 tbs. olive oil and add the cumin, chili pepper and other piece of garlic chopped.
-stir for a couple of minutes until fragrant
-place the chickpea purée in a serving bowl and drizzle with the olive oil cumin mixture
-sprinkle the hummus generously with powdered paprika
-sprinkle the roasted pine nuts on top
-drizzle with a bit more olive oil and possibly a bit more lemon juice
-garnish with cilantro, parsley or chives (I didn’t have any today)

 

Peas!

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Photography: Tim van Poucke

 

Don’t you just love the feeling of being able to whip-up some elegant looking dish in less than 10 minutes and wow everyone around you and most of all yourself? Well, this Green Pea Tapenade will do that for you!
It has been a long and wonderfully hot weekend filled with activities. This hot weekend has really lent itself to light food with minimal cooking time and fresh tastes and colors. Stuff that you can just eat in the garden while drinking a glass of wine with friends or finishing that book which you only have time to read on the weekends. In our family’s case that would be food which lends itself to being made while major busyness is taking place around the house, like painting the house, helping out with homework, making summer plans, talking to your BFF for hours on the phone, grading papers etc….At about 11 today I thought of making this tapenade. I realized that I had almost finished a bag of raw fresh peas all on my own, since every time I passed by the refrigerator I would stick my hands in a bag filled with peas which I would greedily eat while doing something else. That is, eat the ones that wouldn’t fall on the floor to be eaten by the dog in the process of me putting them in my mouth while multi tasking and doing god knows what at the same time.  I figured I’d better think of something to do with the rest of the peas to avoid getting extremely bloated by eating an excess of raw peas as well as to prepare something to eat that others beside myself could appreciate and enjoy. This recipe is very easy and can be eaten in a much more elegant way than I ate those raw peas while roaming around the house. It can be used as a tapenade, on a sandwich, pizza or as a part of a salad platter and please accompany it with a glass of sparkling white wine! Feel free to use frozen peas if you don’t have fresh ones, although in that case you may get less of the nutty crispy taste and a more of a humus like texture.

Green Pea Tapenade

2 cups of fresh (or frozen) green peas
sea salt
olive oil
2 tbs lemon juice
black pepper
finely sliced spring onions

-blanch the peas in boiling water for about 2 minutes
-drain the peas and put them in a bowl
-drizzle with good quality olive oil and sprinkle with sea salt to taste
-blend with the hand blender (it doesn’t need to be totally puree)
-drizzle with lemon juice
-stir in the chopped spring onions
-adjust the salt and sprinkle with pepper if you like

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Photography: Tim van Poucke

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Anna enjoying her Green Pea Tapenade/ Photography: Tim van Poucke

 

Home Made Pasta and Semolina Cake

Pasta
IMG_2387If I told you that making pasta is easy, that it takes very little time and ingredients and that you don’t need a single machine to make it would you believe me? Well you don’t have to. Here is the deal, you take flour, salt and water and you make a dough that sticks together and is easy to knead. You form a ball, and wrap it in plastic or put it under an upside down bowl. Let it rest for an hour or less if you don’t have that much time and then roll it out using a rolling pin. Cut it in the shape you would like and set it on a clean and dry kitchen towel to dry. You can also hang it on a wooden stick. After you are done rolling and cutting you can either let it dry a bit or cook it right away in a large pan of boiling water with a pinch of salt and a tablespoon of olive oil until al dente. Make sure that the sauce is already done so that your pasta doesn’t have to wait for the sauce.

This is a very easy, not very messy and it tastes a zillion times better than anything store bought.
Try mixing different sorts of flours. For the pasta in the picture I used white spelt and semolina. Don’t be concerned with measurements, for more pasta use more flour and water and for less pasta less. It works!
Besides creating delicious pasta this is a beautifully artistic activity, and just like with bread it connects you with your food in a very basic way.

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Yesterday I was going to make Baklava, but I didn’t have filo. My husband volunteered to go to the store and buy some, but in the time he was gone I made this Semolina Almond Orange Cake with the ingredients I had at home. It came out really well, but it was even better today, when the orange syrup had been absorbed into the cake and the tastes had blended.

Semolina Almond Orange Cake

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Semolina Almond Orange Cake
3/4 c. almond flour
1 c. semolina
1 c. white flour
3 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 c. olive oil
1/2 rice syrup
8 tbs. sucanat
the rasp of one orange
1/4 soy yogurt
1/2 c. soy milk

Syrup

3/4 c. rice syrup or honey
the juice of one orange
a handful of peeled pistachios
a handful of walnuts
a handful of raisins
1 tbs. rose water

-mix the dry ingredients in a bowl
-mix the wet ingredients in another bowl
-add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients
-pour batter in a round cake pan, in which the bottom has been covered with wax paper and the sides have been oiled
-bake for about 30 minutes at 175* centigrades
-in the mean time put all the syrup ingredients in a small pan and bring them to a boil.
-after the cake is done make tiny wholes tooth pick or sate stick and pour the syrup with the nuts and raisins
-let it cool completely

 

Quick Noodles

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Yesterday was one of those Sundays when there are not real meal times. We started our Sunday with a late breakfast and at about 4.00 o’clock I began to hear voices emerge from behind screens claiming starvation. I had been preparing lessons for Monday and therefore also had to separate myself from my screen to think of how to solve this starvation situation. The solution it had to be a quick one since I wasn’t done preparing my lessons, so I opened a package of tofu I found in the fridge and decided not to allow myself to get flustered by the starvation taking place around me and by not yet having finished my school work and go ahead, try to make the best out the ingredients I had at hand and enjoy a cooking moment. What came out was quite attractive, tasty and very agreeable to the fuzzy starving eaters.Noodles with Tofu Coated with Chia Seeds

Quick Noodles with Tofu dusted with Chia Seeds 

Tofu
1 package of tofu cut in medium size cubes
3 Tbs. corn flour or tapioca flour
2 Tbs. chia seeds
a dusting of oregano
a pinch of sea salt
a dusting of smoked pimiento
oil for shallow frying

Noodles
1 package of udon noodles
broccoli cut in small florets
1/2 cucumber cut in small cubes
1 medium carrot grated

Dressing
3 Tbs.shoyu or tamari
1 Tbs. balsamico
2 tbs. olive oil
1 clove of garlic minced

1 red bell pepper cut in fine cubes
1 nori leaf per person

-in a wide bowl mix the corn flour, chia, oregano, salt and pimiento
-add the tofu cubes, cover the bowl and shake it to cover all the tofu cubes with the mixture
-in a wide frying pan heat the frying oil and fry the tofu cubes until golden brown

-boil the noodle as you normally would.
-towards the end of the cooking time throw in the broccoli and cook for another 2 minutes or until the broccoli turns bright green
-rinse the noodles and broccoli with cold water and put in a nice serving bowl
-grate the carrots directly into the bowl and add the cut cucumber
-give it a good stir
-in a glass mix the dressing ingredients
-pour dressing on top of the noodles
-mix in the fried tofu with the noodles
-mix in the dressing
-sprinkle with the red peppers
-adjust seasoning by drizzling with a little extra olive oil or shoyu or tamari if desired
-serve sprinkled with finely cut pieces of nori and minced parsley or fresh coriander

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Pearl Couscous

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I am really into one dish meals lately, which I think must have to do with my very, very busy life at the moment. For this year’s new years resolution I am committing to not abandoning the things that I really enjoy doing because of being caught in the routine of daily life. Cooking is one of those things I really enjoy doing, but in order to do that I can’t always expect myself to be making fancy dinners requiring lots of time. So yes, I am excited about rediscovering the beauty in the simplicity of simple meals. Pilafs and one pan meals which include grains, beans and veggies are great at doing this job. They are not only nutritious, uncomplicated and delicious but also beautiful to look at.

After wondering around the biggest outdoor market in Amsterdam last Saturday, I came home with lots of treats which I can’t buy in my neighborhood market. One of these treats is Pearl Couscous, otherwise known as Israeli Couscous or Ptitim. For those who are not familiar with it, it’s made from wheat just like most couscous, but the grains are larger and chewier, something in between pasta and whole grain, which has a very appealing and light feel to it. It is quick and definitely an elegant addition to your repertoire.

Pearl Couscous Pilaf

2 3/4 cups vegetable broth(which I didn’t have) or water(I used water boiled with a couple of crushed garlic cloves, a 1/2 tsp of sea salt and a tsp. of olive oil)
2 1/4 cups pearl couscous
1 eggplant cut in small cubes, sparkled with salt
2 bell peppers cut in big pieces
1 or 2 carrots cut in smallish cubes
3 cups of cooked chickpeas (can use canned)
a handful of chopped kale
a handful of roasted pine nuts

-roast the eggplant, peppers and carrots in the oven at 230* C. until the veggies are done
-in the mean time cook the couscous in the boiling hot broth(or water), simmer for about 12 minutes until the grains are cooked but not overcooked(they shouldn’t stick to each other.
-when the couscous and the vegetable are done, mix it all in an attractive serving dish
-add the kale and chickpeas and stir in the dressing and serve.

Dressing:
the juice of 1/2 lemon
3 Tbs. shoyu
1 Tbs. olive oil
1/2 tsp. harissa(or to taste)
1/2 tsp. powder cumin

-stir everything together in a small cup or bowl

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Real Food

Buckwheat Pilaf

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I love when food looks like food, when it doesn’t pretend to be something else, when it is not ornamented with weird contraptions, when the end product is clearly traceable to its original source, when it smells like it was cooked by people, when the process is not hidden, when it is art not because it has “make-up” on but because it is so beautiful, natural, colorful, delicious, nourishing and satisfying that it fills me with a sense of wonder for the transformative power and imagination that we people have to keep ourselves alive with the wonderful and pure products that nature so abundantly provides us with.
Here are two very, very simple dishes I made this week, which I thought were so simple and attractive that there were worth sharing

Buckwheat Pilaf
2 cups of buckwheat rinsed
2 1/4 cups water
2 tbs. olive oil
1 onion cut in small cubes
2 or 3 garlic cloves minced
1 large carrot diced
1 cube of vegetable bouillon
1 tsp. turmeric powder
a pinch of saffron
a handful of currants
a handful of roasted pine nuts

-in a deep pan warm the olive oil
-add the garlic, stir and quickly after add the onion
-stir a bit at medium fire
-add the carrots, the vegetable bouillon cube(crumbled), the turmeric and the saffron
-saute a bit, then add the buckwheat
-saute a bit more and add the water and a pinch of salt
-bring to a boil, lower the heat and place a flame deflector under the pan
-cook covered for about 20 minutes until the liquid has been absorbed and the buckwheat is cooked
-turn off fire
-add the currants and pine nuts and mix gently with a fork
-garnish with lots of parsley and tomatoes chopped in small cubes
-serve with a salad and a nice glass of white wine

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Potato Mash with Mushroom Garnish

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Mashed Potatoes with Mushroom Garnish

a buch of potatoes
olive oil
sea salt
4 cups of sliced or chopped mushrooms
2 cloves of garlic minced
1/4 cup soy milk

-boil the potatoes until they are soft
-get rid of the cooking water and pure the potatoes with a hand blender, adding salt and a generous(reasonably generous) amount of olive oil and about a tsp. of salt to create a very smooth puree
-put puree in a baking form, make it flat and smooth and drizzle with a bit of olive oil, and soy milk
-sprinkle with black pepper
-bake at 200* c. for about 15 minutes or until it begins to get a nice toasty color on top
-take out of the oven and sprinkle the sautéed mushrooms on top

Mushrooms
-saute the mushrooms with the garlic and olive oil until the liquid has disappeared and they have become quite dry.

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Slow Food in a Flash

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What to do when you have to do a million things at once and one of them is make lunch for your teenage ballet dancer son, who needs to leave on time?
This was what I was faced with this morning, and it is what I am faced with every time I am working at home rather than at school. On the days of the week when I am home we usually spend the morning catching up on some homeschooling stuff, either on the administration part of it or planning, or we get caught in some interesting discussion. Today it was the meaning of democracy! By the time we got to the point when we were faced with the idea of the “dictatorship of the majority” it was time to make a nutritious lunch, which of course had to be tasty, not too heavy so that it doesn’t cause cramps while dancing, varied(not the same as yesterday, or the day before and possibly not even the day before that..), and definitely it ready exactly on time so that this particular dancer has time to take out the dog and catch the right train!
Well, in preparation for lunch, while trying to figure out why North Korea is called The Democratic People’s Republic of North Korea I made a quick right eye scan of the stuff we had in our kitchen(we basically do everything in the kitchen, also homeschooling), while my left eye and a part of my brain was occupied with North Korea, Athens and democracy in general. I saw a whole pumpkin, tomatoes, red onions, a half of a red bell pepper and arugula(we have a glass refrigerator door, which is convenient for this sort of inadvertend scanning).  With these ingredients I figure I could put my cooking mind to rest for a couple of more minutes and give some more thought to the relationship between a democracy and a republic and ponder on how the democratic process killed Socrates, oh God!!!! I really got myself in trouble in this discussion, but my lunch deadline will save me and bring me back to the reality of my home world, which as was pointed out to me is not at all pure democracy. Never mind!

With the basic ingredients I saw on my counter and fridge, plus the the staples I had around I managed to think of this dish which integrates well with this autumnal day. It gives you the illusion of “slow food” while in reality it was pretty much made in a flash; between 12.30 and 13.00 o’clock to be precise!

Slow Food in a Flash
Pasta with Roasted Vegetables and Rucola Pesto with Chipotle

1 bag of spelt pasta cooked

1/2 of a medium kabocha squash(or any pumpkin)
the tomatoes that you have around(I had 5 medium ones) cut in chunks
1 large red onion cut in medium size wedges
1/2 or 1 red bell pepper cut in medium size pieces
3 cloves of garlic chopped
a bit of olive oil to mix with veggies before baking
sea salt
black pepper

pine nuts roasted

– put all the veggies with the oil and the salt and pepper in an oven dish and bake for about 15 minutes at 200* until the squash is cooked.
– after the veggies are baked turn on the grill and grill for 2-5 minutes
-sprinkle with pine nuts

Pesto
a handful of arugula
2 tbs. olive oil
1 clove garlic minced
about 15 cashews
sea salt
1/2 tsp chipotle in adobe

-put everything in a mortar and pound until you get a pesto consistency. Keep it a bit rough.
-mix the pesto with the roasted vegetables and and add the cooked pasta.
-stir gently and serve.

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The Winter Pear

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The Winter Pear
by William Allingham

Is always Age severe?
Is never Youth austere?
Spring-fruits are sour to eat;
Autumn’s the mellow time.
Nay, very late in the year.
Short day and frosty rime.
Thought, like a winter pear,
Stone-cold in summer’s prime,
May turn from harsh to sweet.

These pears are truly wonderful and no work at all.

ingredients

large pears cut in half
1 tsp coconut oil
3 tbs. rice syrup
dusting of cinnamon

-spread the coconut oil over the bottom of an oven dish
-drizzle with about 1 tsp of rice syrup and place the pears cut side down on top.
-drizzle the pears with the rest of the syrup and dust with cinnamon
-place dish with pears in oven under the grill for about 15 minutes until the pears caramelize
-serve with roasted crushed hazelnuts and coconut cream.

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