I’m probably not the most green person on this planet. I drive a car to work every day, while a bike could easily overcome the 10 kilometers from my bed to my desk. I live in a city where they still have a garbage bag in which you’re allowed to throw everything in, so my empty cans of soda sit happily next to PET bottles and my kitchen leftovers. Although I must say that food leftovers hardly make it to the bin, I hate throwing out food.

In the knowledge that any effort, regardless how small, makes a difference – and thus may compensate for my lazy car addiction and dreadful recycling skills, I try to adapt our daily menu to the season’s availability. In-season veggies and fruit have plentiful of benefits. You can find good quality products with your local farmer or market, which means fresher products for you and less transit burden on the environment. Also they tend to be cheaper, so they are healthy on your wallet and at the same time you are supporting the local economy.

That’s basically the background of how the red beet ended up on my menu lately. You may think of this veggie as being a common ingredient, but for me it isn’t. For some reason my mom never used it in her cooking, at least not that I can remember, which could explain why it took me over 4 years of independent living before adding this sweety to my shopping list.

The sweetness of the red beet calls for a punchy and fresh flavor next to it. This recipe with watercress and a goat cheese side dish has been on my to-try list for a long time, so I was happy when along with the month of August the beet season arrived.

red beet tenderloin

red beet tenderloin 4 servings: 2-3 red beets (depending on the size), 800g beef tenderloin, 1 red onion, 2 garlic cloves, thyme, 100 ml red wine vinegar, 1 tsp mustard, 150g watercress

Wrap each beet in aluminium foil and place them in a pre-heated oven at 200°C for about 1 hour. Leave to cool, then cut into thick slices.

Melt butter in a pan and fry the meat on each side until brown. Slice the onion and the garlic cloves and cover the bottom of a roasting pan or Dutch oven with the onion, garlic and beets. Place the tenderloin on top and roast in the oven for about 30-45 minutes.

Remove from the roast from the oven and cover the meat with aluminium foil. Carefully put aside the slices of onion and beet, then mix the mustard and the vinegar with the meat juice that has remained in the pan.

Cut the meat into slices, then serve in layers of meat-onion-beet, finishing with some watercress. Serve with a goat cheese side dish and the sour meat juice.

roasted goat cheese potato, 4 servings: 4 large potatoes, 150g soft goat cheese, 60ml buttermilk, thyme, lemon zeste, 1 tsp lemon juice, parsley, some grated cheese.

Wash potatoes well, pinch a few holes with a fork and rub with olive oil. Place in a pre-heated oven at 200°C for about 45 minutes until you can easily stick them with a fork. Leave to cool.

Remove the inside and turn into a potato mash by adding the butter milk, goat cheese, lemon zest and lemon juice. Add flavor with thyme, parsley, salt and pepper.

Fill the empty potato skins with the potato mash, cover with grated cheese and place back into oven until the top cheese layer is crispy.

Recipe adapted from “Delicious. More Please”, 2011, ISBN 978 90 5956 400 8 (Dutch edition)

Two over ripe avocados were rescued from my fridge today. They had ended up in my shopping cart at the supermarket and were ready for consumption that same evening, but then I totally forgot about them. That was 10 days ago.

Luckily I have a bad habit of keeping all of my veggies in the fridge, even the ones that aren’t too fond of the cold. But in this case, it resulted in the perfect base for a deliciously fresh guacamole.

I have tried a few traditional recipes for guacamole in the past and basically they are all quite OK, but never really great. Today I was short on some of the usual base ingredients such as peppers and coriander, so I decided to throw in some other flavours at hand. A dash of soy sauce, a hanfdul of sesame seeds and some freshly grated parmezan cheese turned out to be a surprisingly good, if not a lot better alternative.

 

Sesame guacamole

Guacamole dip 4 persons: 2 ripe avocados (as opposed to me, you should keep your avocados outside the fridge at a temperature about 8°C), 1 garlic clove, juice of 1 lime, ripe cherry tomatoes (the riper, the sweeter they are, which I really like for guacamole), 2 tsp soy sauce,  pinch of seasalt, freshly milled pepper and grated parmezan cheese, white sesame seeds.

Cut the avocados into half and scoop out the avocado from its peel. Mash the avocado with a fork and add the lime juice, pepper and seasalt.

Cut the cherry tomatoes into quarters and remove seeds. Add to avocado mixture.

Add soy sauce to your likings and depending on how much sea salt you have used.

Finish with sesame seeds and parmezan cheese. I added quite some sesame seeds, but was careful on the parmezan cheese because it will easily dominate the delicate flavour of the avocado.

 

The other day I was in Bruges and discovered a cute bakery named Juliette’s Artisanale Koekenbakkerij. Brenda Keirsebilck, the owner, was once working a stressful job in the advertising business, but then switched career to become a baker. Her bakery is mainly inspired by French recipes from Bretagne, although her cupcakes and whoopie pies also give away some inspiration from the US and UK.

Being in the shop, my eye fell on a recipe book for ‘speculoos’, the famous Belgian spice biscuit which I absolutely adore in every shape and size. Just like I love to wear new clothes for a night out after a day of shopping, I usually hurry into my kitchen after buying a new cookbook. When I came home that night, I checked my kitchen cupboard to find which ingredients I had ready for trying out one of the recipes immediately. I was happy to find everything I needed for a speculoos risotto was available at hand. The recipe is very simple and I must also add that the result I got wasn’t mind-blowing, but definitely an original interpretation of the classic rice pudding.

Speculoos risotto – 4 serves: 500ml whole milk, 150g speculoos biscuits (2/3 to use during cooking 1/3 for decoration), 1/8 tsp cinnamon, 30g butter, 100g risotto rice, 100g ‘blond cassonade’ sugar, 2-3 tbsp mascarpone.

Boil the milk and add 100g speculoos, broken into pieces. Stir in the cinnamon and put aside.

Melt the butter in a risotto pan (or any deep pan). Add the risotto rice and stir well until translucent. Add the speculoos milk little by little, and keep stirring. Continue until the rice is al dente. You might need to use a bit more milk than indicated above.

Add the sugar and the mascarpone to your liking and decorate with some speculoos biscuits for serving.

 

Recipe altered from Juliette’s Speculoos, ISBN 9789401400114, € 19.99

Juliette’s bakery is open daily from 10.30am to 6pm, Wollestraat 31a, 8000 Brugge.

After several weeks of inactivity on the experimental cooking front, I finally found the right occasion to get rid of all “not enough time”-excuses, to drop all other so-called priorities and to spend some time in my precious 4m² kitchen: My significant other celebrated his 30th birthday and I was determined to get some decent party food on the table.

A few weeks ago I had found a recipe for an impressive four-layer chocolate cake by Ron Ben-Israel, a  pastry maker famous for his wedding cakes, who started his career as a dancer but then traded in his ballet shoes for kitchen tools when he fell in love with a chocolatier. Quite a nice story indeed, but honestly, I hadn’t heard of the guy before I read the recipe article in Food Network Magazine’s latest Chocolate Issue. Alhtough usually I’m not a big fan of pretentious cakes, this recipe surely caught my attention. Armed with over 1kg of chocolate and an equal amount of sugar, I started what was going to be a baking project that was maybe a bit more ambitious than I had initially foreseen.

Along the way I faced a kitchen cupboard entirely covered in melted chocolate – though I must admit this was more because of my own stupidity than any challenge in the recipe itself. There is a picture capturing the glorious moment of me spilling a bucket worth of chocolate dough, but I prefer not to make that one public. I struggled a bit, but with the help of two lovely sisters, I succeeded in finishing my cake project before my birthday man arrived home from work that evening.

I altered a few details in the recipe, such as lowering the amount of coffee – because that is one of the very few things in life that I absolutely don’t like, as well as not adding the vanilla extract that the original recipe asked for – simply because I forgot to add it. Baking the cake was, well, a piece of cake. Creating the bark decorations on the side wasn’t too difficult neither. Compiling the tower of layers – I ended up with 6 instead of 4, was a bit tougher, but I would still recommend anyone willing to spend a few hours on this project to give it a try, you’ll be happily surprised with the result.

When The Cake was cut during the party the next day, not only was I happy to see that this calorie bomb could easily feed a small army, the crowd also unanimously agreed this was very decent party food.

The Cake - serves 10 to 12 according to the original recipe, but there was enough to serve 25 slices

 for the cake: 475g all purpose flour, 225ml hot coffee (original recipe called for 450ml), 200g unsweetened cocoa, 2 tsp salt, 1 tbp baking soda, 1 tbp baking powder, 540g sugar, 4 large eggs, 225ml vegetable oil (I used sunflower oil)

for the ganache: 675g chopped bittersweet (dark) chocolate, 850ml heavy cream

for the bark: 100g chopped white chocolate, 100g chopped milk chocolate, 200g chopped bittersweet (dark) chocolate

To make the batter, pour the coffee into a bowl and whisk in the cocoa powder. Put the flour, salt, baking soda, baking powder and sugar in another bowl and mix (preferably use a stand mixer) on low speed for about 1 minute. Add the eggs, vegetable oil and 450ml of water (and 4 tsp vanilla extract if you prefer not to forget them unlike me), then beat on medium speed for about 5 minutes. Reduce the speed to low and beat in the coffee-cocoa mixture in a slow stream until combined.

Pre-heat the oven to 180°C and bake the batter in a baking shape of about 25cm diameter. You will need to repeat this step to use all your batter. Baking time will be anything between 50 and 80 minutes, depending on the height of your baking tray. Check with a skewer to make sure the cake is all done, the skewer should come out clean when inserted and removed from the cake. Leave to cool.

To make the ganache, bring the cream close to cooking point, then add the chopped bittersweet chocolate and whisk until smooth. Chill, often stirring, until the ganache is cool but not stiff. This might take up to 30 minutes, depending how fast your cooling process goes.

The bark is surprisingly easy to make. All you need is a set of two plastic sheet protectors and a zip-top bag. Melt the white chocolate and insert into the zip-top bag, snipe a corner and pipe thin lines of white chocolate over the sheets in a pattern you like. Refrigerate the baking sheets until the white chocolate is set (this will take only about 15 minutes), then repeat the process with milk chocolate. Finally, add a full covering layer of melted bittersweet chocolate and refrigerate until hard. To finish, carefully peel the sheet protectors off the chocolate and break into random pieces.

Slice both of your chocolate cakes into two or three layers, depending on the height of your cakes. I used a cake saw for this job, which makes it very easy. Place one cake layer on a cake stand and spoon some whipped ganache on top. Make sure to smoothen the ganache to avoid your cake looking like the leaning Tower of Pisa. Repeat to sandwich all cake layers, then spread all of the remaining ganache over the top and sides of the cake. Finish the decoration by sticking chocolate bark pieces against the sides. Use some ganache leftovers to help the pieces stick, if necessary.

Enjoy!

 

(recipe altered from Food Network Magazine March 2012)