October 15, 2012

the 'hay'-box and sizing down (not that they are connected as such)

hello there, it s been a while...

summer, or whatever we should call that rainy july and superhot august, has once again made way for autumn, which, with a few exceptional showers, has been wonderfully crisp and fresh.

meanwhile, Sam and i have gone on cycling trips, like we have been doing the past few years, but with new foldable bikes... so we were able to explore further and see more than we had before... our other bicycles only allowed us to start from home, cycle 30-35 kms at the most and then we had to make the return trip in order to get home and feed the cat!

but now, we were able to load up our new bikes in the car, drive to the seaside, or to Zeeland, to Gent, Leuven...

Belgium is such a small country and it s so easy to travel around by car, but i can definitely say that there is some beautiful countryside out there that most of us city-people just miss... mainly because it s nothing to go from point A to point B on the myriads of highways we have here.

one thing tho, cycling is tough when you re too heavy.

the past ten years my weight has gone steadily up and up and up... and getting more and more interested in food and cooking and eating and blogging hasn t helped at all. yikes!

sure, i was feeling all good, even had a check-up in the beginning of the year, and my liver is working as it should, my sugar-levels are normal, my cholesterol is perfect (the doc even seemed a bit surprised... i think he expected me to have loads of problems)...

but the cycling; i knew i shouldn t be getting so tired, not out of breath exactly, but just tired, so we stopped often, usually my excuse would be that i had to take loads of pics.

then we watched 'The Hairy Bikers Dieters' (we ve been huge fans of these guys since they first started out) and both Sam and i knew we had to change our eating habits as well.
anybody who follows some great tv-chefs and programmes on the BBC must also have noticed that our fave wine expert Olly Smith and diva-cook Nigella Lawson have shed quite a few kilos too?

so, we started, not by following a fad diet, not cutting out on anything (well, some things like too much sugar and fats and alcohol had to go), but eating everything, just in smaller portions (god, the portions we used to have!).

that s what we ve been doing the past few weeks.

i have banned Coca-Cola, i quit putting sugar in my coffee and tea, i use maybe about two-thirds less fat when cooking, we make spritzers of our wine, have one cookie instead of five, upped our veggie intake even more (we do love our veg), more than halved our consumption of meats...
and instead of having a baguette with an omelet in the morning, i make myself a smoothie with a half a cup of frozen raspberries, a cup each of frozen mango and frozen pineapple, a cup of water and half a cup of apple juice (i hate bananas...). i don t drink this in all in one go... but have a little all thru the morning, and then not even every day, but usually on a friday, which i call my special treats day. and on top of that, i ve quit grazing... my true downfall.
Sam s secret apparently is having porridge during the day... but he eats everything i make for dinner.

Sam also made us a hay-box inspired by something we saw on Wartime Farm...
believe me, this box is a wonder! whenever i m making a one-pot meal now, i just prepare all the ingredients, start it on our cooker, and once it has been boiling for about 5-10 minutes, i put my pot into the box, and leave it for a mininum of two to three hours to cook. and yes, i mean cook, the pot comes out of the box piping hot, and the food is cooked to a tee! since Sam and i both have busy evenings, knowing that we ll have a hot dinner without too much hassle when we can finally sit down to eat, is great, and i hope that a lower gas bill will soon also be a bonus.

yesterday, i didn t use my hay-box since what i had planned was simplicity itself, again inspired by another of my favorite chefs: Mr. Nigel Slater.

he has a new show on and i just couldn t resist making one of his recipes my own (and perhaps a tiny bit healthier? sorry Mr. Slater)

MAGRET DE CANARD (or duck breast) with BEANS and VEGGIES:


1 duck breast of about 300 gr
1 can of cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
1 can of borlotti beans, drained and rinsed
3 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
4 spring onions, sliced
about 20 cherry tomatoes, halved (did you know 1 cherry tomato is about 1 calorie?... woah!)
1 tablespoon dried sariette (or winter savory)
sea-salt and black pepper


1. score the fatty skin of the duck breast diagonally
2. lay the breast skin-side down in a frying pan and fry on a gentle heat, you ll see the fat come out (like crazy, there s so much, but it s one of the healthiest fats around, very good for your heart and cholesterol... seriously) and while the skin becomes crispy, just tilt the excess fat into a small bowl (keep it for roast potatoes or something!)
3. when the skin is golden and crispy, turn the breast and brown the other side
4. give it about 5 minutes, again, a gentle heat, and when the breast is about rare to medium done, take it out and leave it to rest
5. meanwhile, leave about a small tablespoon of fat in the pan, and fry the chopped garlic, taking care not to brown them, add the tomatoes and the chopped spring onion and gently fry until softened, then add the beans and winter savory (this is an almost forgotten herb, but a wonder with beans - helps keep that horrible windiness, yes you know what i mean, away) with a bit of water (Mr. Slater uses marsala wine, which i thought might jeopardize the diet) and warm thru.
6. slice the duck breast, warm thru with the beans and serve...

seriously, seriously delish... as i m sure the version with marsala wine would be too, but hey, a few sacrifices...

wish us luck, we hope to reach our target weight by next year! i did say... hope...

May 1, 2012

flapjacks etcetera

what s it been? thirty years or perhaps a little more when i first made these?


always thought it a funny name, because these cookies (if they are cookies) don t flap, and i can t imagine where the jack came from, but that s what they re called...

oats are not easy to find here, well, actually, if you look, ofcourse you ll find them, but most are prepared so as to make an easy and quick porridge and that s not what i needed. on a visit to Ghent though, in a very quirky store called Vits-Staelens, i found some good oats and immediately thought of making flapjacks.

sweet, buttery, chewy yet crunchy... hmmm. and i did have golden syrup in my pantry, and butter, so i got started:



125 gr softened unsalted butter
25 gr fine caster sugar
150 gr golden syrup
225 gr rolled oats pinch of salt


1. butter and line a 24x24 cm baking tin with baking parchment (please do line the tin, i didn t and had a little disaster getting the flapjacks out! but more on that later)
2. preheat the oven to 180°C
3. cream the butter and sugar together until fluffy, light and pale.
4. mix in the syrup, oats and salt
5. spread evenly into prepared tin
6. bake until deep golden (my recipe said 40 minutes, but that s far too long, just keep an eye on the color, don t let it get burnt)
7. while still warm, cut into 16 squares and leave to cool completely in the tin before lifting the baking paper up and out
8. these keep quite well in an airtight cookie jar

i mentioned that about lining the baking tin with parchment, didn t i? it s because just buttering the tin is definitely not enough! after cooling i could not get some flapjacks out in one piece, no matter how carefully i tried... so i had a flapjack crumble!

no way i was going to waste that... and this morning i baked us some apple muffins using my earlier recipe and sprinkling some flapjack crumble on the top before baking...

they came out pretty good, don t you think?

still have a little left over, maybe i can incorparate that into some cookies... with extra nuts and chocolate chips?

April 9, 2012

the easiest ever muffin recipe

do you have five minutes to spare? just to read this?

and perhaps 30 minutes extra? to whip up the easiest ever muffins?

okay, okay. i guess cupcakes are just that little bit more refined. but sometimes you just haven t got the time to beat butter and sugar together until fluffy in order to slowly mix in sieved flour etc...

a muffin can be just as sweet and satisfying as a cupcake, with a lot let hassle, and without the creamy frosting when sometimes that can just be a tad too much.

you don t even need a mixer, just a fork is fine, seriously.

here s my basic recipe:


250 gr self-raising flour
125 gr fine white (or unrefined) caster sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder, optional
1 pinch of salt


125 ml milk
1 large egg
50 ml sunflower of rapeseed oil
mixed together

preheat the oven to 180°C.
sieve the dry ingredients into a bowl.
add milk/egg/oil mixture and slowly mix with a fork until everything is pretty well incorporated but DO NOT OVERBEAT!

divide into prepared muffin/cupcake tin (this recipe makes just enough for 12 muffins) and bake for about 20 minutes.


then play around.

like i did today: instead of 125 ml milk, i used half coconut milk and half plain milk. i also added 1 tablespoon of freeze-dried yuzu flakes to the flour mixture. and to top it all off, i added 125 gr of fresh blueberries.

just half an hour, a bowl, and a fork...

oh, yes, there is that little bit of washing up to do... but that s fine when you can have a cup of tea with a warm muffin afterwards, don t you agree?

March 11, 2012

with a little nod to autumn... while spring is almost here

it s that time of year again, spring is nearly here...

and i m still into my cookie-making mode, although i ve been kept busy with my other endeavors, i just can t help needing to make a batch regularly.

my son had recently asked me to make him a bracelet with some wooden beads and leather. which i did. then posted on FB and apparently the son of one of my friends (who lives in Canada) liked the look of it, so i made him one too... and sent it over.

so my friend asked me whether i would like something from there, and i jumped at the chance (who wouldn t?) of asking her whether she could find me some maple leaf cookie cutters...

she did!

and i received them yesterday! YAY!

ofcourse i couldn t not make maple syrup cookies. even tho i should be baking cherry-blossom flavored ones or more 'spring'-like thingies... oh well, still have time for that!

i had never made these before, but i found a smashing recipe on the Smitten Kitchen blog and this really worked a treat (click on recipe and you will be linked to the post where you ll find all details).

i m just going to show you how delectable they are!

oh, yes, i used grade C maple syrup here, just because i didn t have anything else, and i think it really tastes best of all...

thank you Y! big maply hug!

February 9, 2012

arigatou! na-go-mi!

after so many years back in Belgium, i have finally, finally found the courage to drive around in Brussels and look for that Japanese store i always knew was there (believe me, for driving around in, Brussels is a crazy city, sorry if i m offending anyone, but secretly, you agree with me).

to be fair, the past few years have seen a remarkable rise in Japanese and Korean produce being sold here in the Chinese supermarkets, but it s not quite the same.

i mean, where was i going to find kinako? i had never ever seen it here. sure, soy sauce, nori, gari, sushi-vinegar... what with the upcoming trend for making sushi at home now, but something so typical and mostly used in a Japanese dessert? nah...

so imagine my delight when i found that, and so many other flavors of my childhood at Nagomi Superstore...

and they had kinako!

and loads more, among which another of my favorite flavorings; yuzu!

guess which is the odd one out...*

and OMG, yuuuumm! (oh, to be 10 again!)(this Peko-chan box contains little balls of milky sweetness for those not in the know)

now, once home, i just had to make some warabimochi (mochi rolled in sweetened kinako), but since i had a birthday coming up and it s traditional to treat friends and colleagues to something, i thought i might make some kinako-cookies.

here s how i did it:



170 gr all-purpose flour
40 gr kinako
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
pinch of salt
115 gr butter, softened
60 gr fine white sugar
55 gr soft brown sugar
1 egg
1 tablespoon milk
drop of vanilla extract


1. sieve the flour, the kinako, baking powder, salt together into a bowl
2. beat the softened butter and the sugars together until light and fluffy
3. mix the egg, milk and vanilla into the butter/sugar mixture
4. slowly add the dry ingredients until quite a soft dough
5. wrap in cling-film and leave in the fridge to set (about an hour)
6. meanwhile, pre-heat the oven to 190°C and line some cookie trays with baking paper
7. roll out the dough on a floured surface to about 3 mm thick and cut out shapes with your favorite cookie cutter
8. bake for about 8-10 minutes until just browned, be careful not to crowd the baking sheet, as they do spread a little
9. leave to cool completely before tucking in...

unless you can t wait ofcourse

*odd one out is a jar of umeboshi (which i just love with some white rice)

January 9, 2012

masala chai cake my way

yesterday there was that little disaster with the oven temperature while baking that buttermilk apple cake with cardamom...

today i was determined to make good that dumb mistake.

and here it is, my masala chai cake (also with a hint of cardamom ofcourse)

already looks so much better, doesn t it?

and even though that apple cake tasted quite alright, it was a bit on the stodgy side to be honest.

so i adapted and tweaked and here s my own recipe:



180 gr unsalted butter
200 gr fine white caster sugar
3 whole eggs
220 gr plain flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
pinch of salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground cardamom seeds
3 teabags masala chai
60 ml boiling water
100 ml buttermilk
drop of vanilla extract


1. preheat the oven to 175°C and prepare a cake tin
2. pour the boiling water on the teabags and leave to infuse for 30 minutes or until cold
3. heat the butter in the microwave for about 20 seconds until slightly melted and then beat in the sugar (to my surprise this actually makes it so much easier to get that light pale fluffy creaminess they always talk about in recipe books)
4. add the eggs one by one and beat in well
5. sieve the flour, baking powder, baking soda and ground cardamom in stages into the butter/sugar/egg mixture and mix in well
6. add the buttermilk, masala chai concentrate (the infused tea), and a drop of vanilla extract, beat in well
7. pour into the prepared cake tin and bake for about 50 minutes until golden and springy to the touch or until a wooden skewer inserted in the middle comes out clean
8. leave to cool in the tin for about 10 minutes before taking it out to cool completely

now that s what i call a perfect cake; light, not too sweet, and just moist enough. good on it s own, but probably even better with a little bit of whipped cream, and definitely best with a cup of steaming hot masala chai on a winter afternoon.

well... at least i got it right this time... phew!

January 8, 2012

there s chocolate, and then there s cardamom

for Christmas, i received the Hummingbird Bakery Cake Days cookery, well baking actually, book from my son. as you can imagine, i was over the moon and decided to make their malted chocolate cupcakes as a dessert for New Year s Eve dinner.

they so worked a treat, and although i sometimes find that instructions in cookery books can be faulty, this one delivered!


and then i caught a cold... and have been sniffling for the past week. and Sam caught it too. so we ve been sniffling together.

the stormy weather didn t help either.

yesterday though, we were so tired of being cooped up inside, that we went on a day-trip to Zeeland, hoping to get our colds driven out by the stiff breeze of the Oosterschelde.

it worked... well, a little.

this morning i woke up determined to make a cake from the first Hummingbird Bakery book (because of course i couldn t wait for my next birthday to come along so i could get that as a gift again... and i d went and bought this one, he he he...)

thinking i might as well use up the buttermilk i d used in the cupcakes, i wanted to make a simple buttermilk cake.

nothing easier than a simple cake, right?


there was nothing wrong with the recipe. nothing at all. it made for a lighter batter, and even said that i could add fruits or nuts and it would work. i had some apples left so i thought i might add those, and i have something with cardamom these days.

however, i guess my cold was still influencing my judgment, and it was still pretty early this morning (as if that s an excuse) but i pre-heated the oven to 130°C instead of 170°C!?!

stupid, stupid, stupid...

it was only after 50 minutes, way over the time suggested in the book, that i realized the cake was not rising properly, and then i noticed the temperature knob of the oven was turned too low!


could i rescue this one?

not quite, as you can see here

sunk quite a bit, huh?

but it tastes great, and i m thinking it s the cardamom. there s something about cardamom that saves the day anytime. that little bit of the exotic, that little hint of something elusive, i love it.

and it works in this cake, even though it doesn t quite look the part (it actually really looks like a cake i would ve baked way back when, ha ha)

(adapted from the Hummingbird Bakery Cookbook)


120 gr butter, softened
330 gr fine white caster sugar
3 whole eggs
200 gr plain flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
120 ml buttermilk
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 large apple, cut into smallish pieces
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground cardamom seeds
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon


1. preheat the oven to 170°C (NOT 130°C!!!) and prepare a loaf tin of 13x23cm by either lining with baking parchment or buttering and flouring
2. beat the butter and sugar together until light and pale
3. add the eggs one by one and beat in well
4. sieve the flour together with the baking soda, salt, cardamom and cinnamon
5. add the flour mixture to the butter/sugar/egg mixture alternating with the buttermilk
6. mix in well
7. flour the apple pieces and fold into the batter
8. pour the cake mixture into your tin and bake for about 35-40 minutes or until the center is springy to the touch. for extra certainty you might want to insert a wooden skewer in the middle and if that comes out clean, your cake is done
9. leave to cool in the tin for about ten minutes and then turn out to cool completely on a rack

next time, i promise, this one will come out PURR-fect!

January 2, 2012

Oba-chan no o-zoni (or Happy New Year)

here we are again, another year has begun.


year of the dragon.

every new year, my Oba-chan (Japanese grandmother) would make us a special soup called o-zoni, which usually contained a grilled rice-cake or two, some vegetables, mainly daikon and carrots in miso... there is also a typical new year tradition of making o-sechi ryouri but since we were such difficult eaters, Oji-chan and Oba-chan had that mostly for themselves, and only in later years did my brother and i learn to appreciate this.

we were huge fans, however, of o-zoni, which in our house was made with miso (hence the latter half of this blog s name) and is apparently more traditional in western parts of Japan, whereas the clear soup; suimono, is more the norm in eastern Japanese households. in both cases though, the chewy rice cake or mochi, either grilled or just plain, is added to the soup.

we would have been making the mochi at my great-aunt s house and there was always too much, but it was so much fun hitting the steamed glutinous rice in a huge stone mortar with enormous wooden hammers and trying not to hit the hands of the person who had to fold the mass and add some water to keep the whole thing from sticking.

recently i found some pictures from way back when of us doing just that.

here s my brother

and me

boy, that does bring back memories.

and memories were exactly what prompted me to make that o-zoni yesterday morning to ring in the new year.

i must admit i haven t made miso-shiru (miso-soup) at home in a very very long time. but i do always have the ingredients in my cupboard, so i really can t say what kept me.

a few weeks ago, i had also been lucky enough to find dried rice cakes at the Chinese supermarket. i guess this was the trigger for me to try and make the o-zoni my Oba-chan used to make.

i wanted to recapture those moments, and especially the taste, and the textures...

OBA-CHAN no O-ZONI (Grandma s o-zoni)

10 cm piece of daikon or white retich
1 fairly thick carrot (although mine was a bit thin)
a few rice-cakes, either grilled or not
a few mangetout peas
1 liter water
1 tablespoon dashi stock granules
2 tablespoons white miso paste

Oba-chan used to just slice the daikon and the carrot into thick matchsticks, but i wanted to make those pretty flowers, and after having used a cookie cutter i realized mine had 6 petals instead of the more auspicious 5... but hey, they were cute enough ;-)

boil the root vegetables in the water with the dashi stock granules until soft. if not grilled, add the dried ricecakes and cook until pliable, then add the mangetout and cook until al dente. if the rice-cakes have been grilled, add them with the mangetout. turn off the heat and mix the miso paste with some of the stock until blended, then add into the rest of the stock. do not boil anymore, just heat through.

arrange the vegetables in a miso-bowl, and finish with some mitsuba leaves, which i did not have, so i used coriander. some people like to add some shichimi (seven-spice) and/or some yuzu at the end for extra flavor.

this one though, tasted exactly like my Oba-chan s... and that s good enough for me.

Oba-chan passed away in 1993, but Oji-chan is still going strong at 102. i hope he s enjoying some o-zoni as well and remembering...

New Year 1970... Oji-chan, Oba-chan and moi

Happy New Year everyone!