December 29, 2010

Pumpkin Thai Soup

pumpkin thai soup
above: pumpkin-Thai soup with portobello mushrooms

above: pumpkin

dudley and pumpkin
above: Duds checking out the pumpkin

onze keuken
Khavanu Kitchen

This pumpkin Thai-style soup can be served alone or served along with rice. To complete the meal, I topped the soup bowls with slices of grilled portobello mushrooms.  We have a Thai grocery store which sells ready-made curry pastes, but any of the grocery store varietals will work.  Panang flavors are usually served with dry stir-fries as opposed to being stirred into coconut milk. The flavors blend very well with the sweet pumpkin, and is not spicy, instead lending the soup just a little bit of heat.  

You could use butternut squash, or another kind of winter squash, even cubed carrots could work. The pumpkin that is grown and available in Belgium is the culinary variety; if using pumpkin, buy one that is meant for cooking, it will hold it’s shape better, and tastes delicious.

Before getting started, wipe down the mushrooms (if using) and get the rice cooking first.  Make the dressing for the portobellos while the soup is cooking.  It looks like a long list with many directions, but read it through before beginning - it comes together very fast.

Serves: 4
1 cup long-grain rice, cooked according to package directions
4 small portobellos (2-3 inches in diameter), wiped clean and stem removed if too bulky
1 small-medium pumpkin, or about 2 cups cubed pumpkin (1-inch chunks)
2 cups water, used to pre-cook pumpkin cubes
1 tsp peanut oil
1 tbsp fresh ginger, chopped fine
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 green bell pepper, diced into 1-inch chunks
1 small red onion, sliced
1 vegetarian bouillon cube, dissolved in 1 cup of hot water
½ tsp salt
2 tsp Panang curry paste (you can adjust this amount, it may need more or less)
1 can coconut milk
2 cups water, divided.
2 tbsp chopped chives or cilantro

Dressing for portobello’s:
1 tbsp rice vinegar
1 tbsp soy sauce
small pinch red chili flakes

  1. Prepare rice according to package directions. The water to rice ratio for long-grain rice is usually 2 cups water : 1 cup rice - although my way of cooking rice is measuring the water with my ring finger (obviously not package directions). The water plus rice should come up half-way on your ring finger. It’s my mom’s method, and it works everytime.
  2. Wipe down mushrooms, and trim off stems.
  3. In a large soup stockpot, heat up water until a low simmer, and then add pumpkin chunks. Simmer for 10 minutes. Remove all of it to a large bowl.
  4. In the same soup stockpot, heat 1 tsp peanut oil over medium-high heat. Once hot, add in ginger and garlic, saute a few minutes until fragrant. Add in bell pepper chunks, onions, and cooked pumpkin along with reserved water.  Stir to combine.
  5. Add in vegetarian bouillon along with with water/broth it was dissolved in. Add 1 cup water to the pot. Leave 1 cup on the side for now. You can see if it your soup needs it once the coconut milk is added.
  6. Mix the coconut milk and panang curry together. Add this to the soup pot. Stir well to combine.
  7. Bring to a simmer, adjust taste for salt, and add in the extra 1 cup water if the soup is too dense. Do not boil, leave it at a rolling simmer while you prepare the mushrooms.
  8. Heat up a wide skillet over medium-high heat. Spray with cooking spray, and add mushrooms. Cook on each side about 2 minutes. Mushrooms are done in about 8 minutes. Prepare the dressing while they cook, by combining the rice vinegar, soy sauce, and red chili flakes in a small bowl.
  9. Take mushrooms off heat, slice mushrooms and toss them with the dressing. 
  10. To serve, fill bowls with ½ cup cooked rice, top with 1 and ½ cups soup, and top with 1 portobello mushroom. Garnish with chives or chopped cilantro.
We served this with a strong Belgian dark ale, Westvleteren 12, a beer with notes of cinnamon and spicy sweetness clears the palette with this soup. A St. Bernardus Abt would pair the same way. Living in Belgium does have it's perks =)
westvleteren 12

December 27, 2010

Aigle, Switzerland

I recently figured out how to download the pictures off of my cell phone, (the most straightforward ways of using Bluetooth were not working) and was pleasantly surprised to see some hilarious pictures, along with pictures taken in absence of a real camera.
Earlier this summer, Karl and I, traveled to Geneva for a conference that Karl was attending.  On one of his off days we headed for a drive around the southern part of Lake Geneva, and decided to visit Aigle. We stopped in Evian for a picnic, and reached Aigle in the early afternoon. I had read about the beautiful town through a tourist guide booklet (online: Aigle and Map), and knew that it featured a long enough walk/hike to satisfy our cravings to sightsee.  In the tourist booklet, the walk was called “Round the Fountains” (a loop of 5.2 km) and highlighted seeing the Aigle Castle (a museum devoted to vines, wines, and labels) as well as promised that Aigle’s vineyards were the among the finest in Switzerland.
Aigle was gorgeous, it was probably one of the most picturesque towns I have ever visited. It is nestled at the mouth of a canyon, and the day we visited storm clouds clung to the mountains giving the mountain ranges a misty, mythical, appearance.  After picking up the “Round the Fountains” trailmap from the local tourist office, we headed out on a numbered walk which takes you directly up through the low-lying foothills where you are walking through vineyards and private homes. It’s central point is the Aigle Castle, which is also surrounded by vineyards.  The numbers for the hike includes the 27 gorgeous fountains which are creatively placed all around the small city.

Aigle is certainly worth a visit if you are touring the Lake Geneva region - don’t forget your camera!

Vineyards view

Round the Fountains

Aigle Castle

Aigle, Switzerland

December 20, 2010

Christmas Markets

I love the Christmas markets around here. They are big open-air markets with little decorated shacks, that remind me of being in a Harry Potter novel (at least the ones in Koln did). These markets are held in various city plazas all over the city center. They are really beautiful. I find myself enjoying the holiday spirit here because the celebrating is done in communal spaces and is a gathering place for people to come and celebrate, or visit, or drink a few gluhweins (a steamy spiced wine-based hot beverage).

Melissa, if you are reading this, these pics are dedicated to you! Thanks for the gentle reminders to share some of these pics after selfish boasting.

My favorite parts of the market are the regional foods and drinks. So far I have visited the Belgian Christmas markets in Brussels, Leuven, and Liege, and the German Christmas markets in Cologne. The Belgian markets all have oyster and champagne bars, and huge temporary indoor brasseries. There are no festivals in Belgium that do not include at least these items: champagne bars and Belgian beers.

Brussels has the highest number of cheesey market vendors. Some of them are often selling tourist stuff, but they have an overabundance of hot gluhwein at almost every other stall. Many tents are set up to mimic bars, and I found this sort of boring. The lights are really beautiful, and they seemed to have a lot of kids stuff (an ice monster, ice rink, ferris wheel, and many merry-go-rounds).  All-in-all something for everyone. The market extends out of the the Grand Place area and ends into the St. Catherine area, you are bombarded by delightful smells since the food vendors are congregated close together.  Lots of tartiflette, large cast-iron pans filled with sauteing mushrooms, hot waffles, crepes with nutella, steaming gluhwein. Yum.
Brussels Grand Place

Christmas Market Brussels

Leuven’s market is cozy, smaller in scale, and well, gezellig. Although it is awkwardly fenced in, once inside, it feels much larger and spacious.  The tents and vendors are similar to the Brussels market, but it feels like there are more handmade crafts. This is a wonderful market to hang out with friends and family, as we had done with Hans and Linda during our Leuven day. We tried to warm up at the fire pits in the market. There is a temporary stylish brasserie set up in front of the KU-Leuven library. I was happy sampling churros and warming up with gluhwein.
Leuven Kerstmarkt

Leuven Kerstmarkt


Cologne’s various markets surpass the Belgian ones. Karl and his friend, Tom, had organized a surprise Cologne visit over the weekend for their significant others (Aida and myself, woohoo!) The markets are really done up and are located all over the city. The small shacks make you feel like you are in a winter wonderland. Their is so much great food everywhere. One can simply eat their way through the market.  You can have raclette cheese, which is heated over flames, and scraped onto toasted garlic-bread, roasted hot chestnuts, potato pancakes with apple sauce (called reibekuchen mit apfelmus), Hungarian fried pita-like breads that are topped with sour cream and parsley. Then when you are cold and tired, you can duck into a brauhaus for a nice Kolsch.  Cologne’s markets were rich, entertaining, and very fun to explore.

Weihnachtsmarkt Koln


Finally, Sara, this one is for you, where we brought them back for a Kolsch tasting:
German Kolsch

I am forgetting to mention that it was snowing the entire weekend. Huge 1” flakes fell upon us and it transformed the historical centers into gorgeous areas. This is especially true for Liege - where we drove to after leaving Cologne. I have heard that Liege has a less than beautiful city center, although with the Christmas markets placed strategically throughout the town, it really made the city feel quite cozy. The Liege market was filled with vendors selling hot fondue pots, steaming pans of tartiflette, more roasted chestnuts (an easy favorite), Belgian chocolates and beer, and vendors selling tropical cocktails.  After perusing the market, we headed up the 400-step stairway called the Montagne de Bueren that leads up to a gorgeous outlook, where a massive snowball fight unfolded (and where, fortunately, we left the camera behind). It’s too bad we didn’t have more pics from Liege, because the market was beautiful and so were the city areas that we explored. It snowed all day in Liege and presented the police with a difficult task of getting people out of the city. The return drive took almost 2 hours, but we arrived home safely.

Liege with snow

December 12, 2010

Tofu Smothered in Onion and Mustard

Earlier this year my friend, Holly, sent me a package that contained several cooking magazines. I always forget to mention to her how much I have enjoyed the cooking magazines.  Especially this next recipe.

This recipe comes out of Food and Wine magazine; since it came out of this magazine, we paired it with a sweet German Gewurztraminer. The original recipe calls for a pork tenderloin that is smothered in onion and mustard.  We used tofu instead, so I have adapted the recipe to include this version. You can use whatever you like.  Both versions are included below:
Serves: 4
1 block extra-firm tofu, patted dry, and cut into rectangles, (or two 12-ounce pork tenderloins, cut into 2-inch lengths and pounded 1 inch thick)
salt and fresh pepper to taste
2 tsp all-purpose flour, divided
1 tbsp butter (increase to 2 tbsp if cooking pork)
1 tbsp olive oil (increase to 2 tbsp if cooking pork)
1 large onion, very thinly sliced
1 tbsp grainy mustard
1 cup vegetable broth
1 tbsp dill

  1. Season the tofu with salt and pepper and dust with flour.
  2. Melt the butter and olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Once hot, add the tofu and cook over medium heat (cook over high heat if using pork). Turning until lightly browned, about 15-20 minutes (for pork, 3-5 minutes). Transfer the tofu to a plate.
  3. In the same skillet, add the onion and cook over medium heat, until softened. After 10 minutes, stir in the mustard and 1 tsp of flour and cook for 1 minute longer.
  4. Add in the vegetable broth and bring to a boil. Nestle the tofu in the onion sauce.
  5. Cover and simmer over medium heat for a 2 minutes (since the pork will not have been cooked, continue cooking for another 8-10 minutes.
  6. Stir the dill into the onion-mustard sauce, and serve the tofu over buttered noodles. Serve with braised cabbage wedges with dill. Adjust for salt and pepper.
Notes: If using tofu, you will pan-fry the tofu until golden brown (cook it over medium-high heat, and then flip after 4-5 minutes per side).  This tastes good served along buttered noodles and braised cabbage wedges with dill.

December 6, 2010


Duvel Cake
A cake that was iced to mimic a Duvel bottle. I know I lack crafty-artsiness. Ba-humbug.
yellow cake

This is the real thing. Last Friday, I made the first real frosting of my life. I managed to successfully make an ultimate French chocolate buttercream.  This kind of indulgence can/should only be enjoyed once a year because I am going to share this recipe, and after you read it, you might shit your pants.

I have an unbelievably dorky collection of recipes (really an old binder that has been filled with recipes). At the beginning of the year, I usually tear out all the recipes that I never managed to try the year before and allow the book, er, binder to collect new ones. Last year, before moving to Belgium, I modge-podged a bunch of recipes onto a page and shoved them in.  The buttercream one has been in my collection since 2006 or 2007 (I think it was a snipped from the Durham Herald Sun). As you can see, I was always hopeful that I may have the excuse and nutritional reasoning to make this.

Nutritional reasoning. Ha. This frosting calls for 8 egg yolks, 2 cups of sugar, and 1 POUND of butter. This frosting is a series of wonderful chemical reactions that must be carried out at lightning speed. Printed along with the recipe was a chef’s note telling the baker (me) to have everything ready to go as soon as you get started (including the room temperature eggs and butter).

This frosting was made for a friend’s 30th birthday cake. I, the ever-horrible baker, baked a yellow-layer raspberry cake which was then iced with the ultimate French chocolate buttercream.

Before you begin, read the entire recipe through. Have all the ingredients prepared and measured out (including the eggs and butter at room temperature). You will not have any time to measure or prep once you start. Buttercream icing stores well for several days in the fridge and freezes well.

The Ultimate French Chocolate Buttercream
Yield: ~2 cups or enough to frost one 8-or-9 inch two-layer cake
Ingredients: 8 large egg yolks ¼ cup water 2 cups sugar pinch of salt 6 ounces unsweetened chocolate, melted and cooled (mine was kept over a double-boiler and wasn’t cooled down, this allowed me to scrape out all the chocolate in the pot). Use the highest quality baking chocolate you can find. The original recipe suggests these: 99 percent Scharffen Berger, Durig Grand Caraque 99 percent, Michel Cluizel Amer 99 percent, or Lindt 99 percent Excellence, or Ghirardelli unsweetened. I used Cote D’Or baking chocolate. 2 tsp vanilla extract 1 generous tbsp instant espresso melted in 2 tbsp hot water (the small addition is meant to bring out the chocolate taste) 1 pound unsalted butter, softened at room temperature
Special tools: A stand mixer with a whip attachment (I got away with my hand-mixer). A candy thermometer that can read above 300º F (essential). Rubber spatulas to help keep the edges of the bowl clean. A pastry brush and a small bowl of water (to be creative, I used a new toothbrush). Patience.

  1. Put the yolks in a large mixer bowl. Fit the mixer with the whip attachment.
  2. Pour the water, then the sugar and salt into a small saucepan.
  3. Clip the candy thermometer to the side of the pan so the sensor is immersed in the sugar. Have a cup of water and heatproof brush handy.
  4. Set the saucepan over medium-high heat. Start beating the yolks at medium speed. As the sugar heats up, it will become clear. Do not stir the syrup at any time. Every so often, use the water dampened brush to wash down any crystals on the side of the pan. This heating mixture will look like you are boiling Sprite, and should take between 8-10 minutes to reach temperature.
  5. By the time the syrup reaches 245º F, the yolks should be about three times their original volume. Flip the beater speed up to medium-high.
  6. When the syrup’s between 248º and 250º F, immediately remove the thermometer and pour the syrup into the beating yolks along the inside of the bowl. Turn the speed to high, and beat 5 minutes. Turn speed down to medium, add the vanilla and beat until close to room temperature.
  7. Now add the melted chocolate and espresso, beating until blended. Finally beat in the butter, a generous tablespoon at a time. Beat until smooth. If the frosting seems too soft, refrigerate 20 minutes. When you are ready to frost the cake, bring the buttercream to room temperature so it will be fluffy and silken.

December 3, 2010

Tartiflette for Vegetarians

I have a backlog of blog posts, which means more recipes will be up in the next few days/weeks.  We ate a tartiflette this week. It seemed logical since it has been snowing all week and has been absolutely freezing.

I first tried this dish and my friend, Nico, clued me into what it was. Tartiflette is supposed to be a French dish from the Savoie region, and can be enjoyed after a day of skiing, as Nico has enjoyed on many occasions. I read somewhere that the tartiflette dish was a marketing ploy to increase the sales of reblochon cheese.

I used Raclette cheese (a Swiss cheese), omitted the lardons or bacon, and added spinach. Because I incorrectly recalled the name of the cheese at the cheese shop, I came away with Raclette instead of Reblochon. Simple, but delicious, mistake.

The recipe for this tartiflette came from the French Cooking for Dummies blog, with the substitutions I mention above.

Lightly boiled potatoes are cut up. I leave the skin on the potatoes.

Making layers.

Sauteed onions get topped above a layer of potatoes. Spinach is a nice addition.

Almost ready to hit the oven.

Raclette cheese

Tartiflette ready to go into the oven, topped with green onions and the cream-wine sauce.

Tartiflette out of the oven.

Here is what I did, although I followed the original instructions pretty closely, I did find myself altering it  and have made my adjustments below. Because the bacon would make the dish saltier, you can add in more salt, or pass the salt at the table. I added less cheese, and found it to be tasty enough.

Tartiflette for vegetarians
Yield: 6-8 servings, huge ladleful.

8-10 small to medium potatoes, scrubbed and washed clean, leave them whole as they will be easier to cut into slices once partially cooked.
1 tbsp butter
1 onion, diced
1 tsp or more smoked paprika, or hot paprika
1 cup fresh cream (creme fraiche)
1 cup dry white wine
3 tbsp green onions with chives, chopped
2 cups washed fresh spinach leaves
salt and pepper to taste
1 Reblochon wheel, see below

Now for the cheese, if you find a reblochon wheel, you can slice it in half and put each half (cheese side down) on top of the potatoes once the dish has been layered. Since I had raclette (which is an easily meltable cheese, I cut it into chucks and covered the top). If you cannot find any of these cheeses, I would use a 2 cups of shredded gruyere cheese, because it will also be delicious, although not authentic. Seriously, who cares? You will have an awesome dish either way.

  1. Preheat oven to 400 F, and lightly grease a casserole dish.  
  2. Boil water in a large pot for the potatoes. Add the potatoes whole and cook until they are soft (about 20-30 minutes). Once cooked, take off the heat and drain. 
  3. Meanwhile, heat butter in a skillet over medium-high heat. Once hot, add in onions and saute for 5-7 minutes. Stir in paprika and turn off heat. 
  4. In a medium bowl combine, cream, green onions, wine and salt and pepper. Stir to combine. 
  5. Once potatoes are cool enough to handle, slice them into rounds 1/4" thick. 
  6. In a greased casserole dish, layer potatoes, onions and spinach, finishing with potatoes or onions. Pour the cream mixture on top, and sprinkle with coarse sea salt. 
  7. Place the cheese on top and bake in the oven for 20-30 minutes, or until golden. 
  8. Serve with a salad, and pass extra salt and pepper at the table.