Tiramisu Redux

Tiramisu is one of my go-to desserts. It is definitely a crowd pleaser with its luscious layers of chocolate, espresso, and mascarpone cheese. In fact, it was the very first food post on this blog.

This time, I made it as a charlotte. The cake mold was lined with ladyfinger biscuits and then filled with the custard. This recipe made a filling that was firm enough to be free-standing when unmolded. This version of tiramisu makes a delicious and unexpected birthday cake.


Not Your Average Tuna Casserole: Spaghetti al Tonno

For me, canned tuna is one of those love-hate foods. All too often it brings back memories of smelly lunch box sandwiches and congealed noodle casseroles. While it is convenient and nutritious (in moderation, due to reportedly high mercury levels), it can also be very dry and rubbery.

At least, this was the case until I discovered oil packed tuna. High quality canned tuna is unlike the fishy, tough cat food that you find in many water packed cans. The meat comes in large, moist flakes and are completely pleasant straight from the can. A few recommended brands are Genova and Progresso, but I find oil packed tuna will taste better than their watery counterparts of any brand.

This is one of the most delicious and simple pastas you can make with pantry ingredients. The lemon and capers cut any residual fishiness from the tuna, as well as adding a salty, zesty freshness to the pasta. The flavours actually come from a classic Sicilian combination as fresh fish, citrus, and capers are native to the region.

The pangrattato on top is a crunchy play on the crisp top of a baked tuna noodle casserole.

If you are still haunted by fishy sandwiches of your childhood, give canned tuna another chance in this delicious pasta. You won't be disappointed.


Lazy, Hazy, Crazy Days of Summer: Black Forest Cake

Black Forest Cake (or Schwarzwalder Kirschtorte) is a South German dessert, usually prepared with sour cherries and kirsch (cherry brandy). Not all Black Forest Cakes are created equal, although they all contain some combination of cherries, chocolate and cream. The cake base in this version is an ethereally light chocolate chiffon sponge. Since it is prepared with oil rather than butter, it stays beautifully spongy and soft, even after a thorough chilling in the fridge. The cake is filled with canned dark cherries. (Yes, canned. I find them sweeter, juicier, and... cherry-er than fresh cherries. You also don't need to pit them!) I think it's the juicy tartness that cuts the mellow, rich flavour of cocoa, which can get boring in a plain chocolate cake. If time allows, let the assembled cake sit in the fridge for a few hours before you serve it; the flavours mingle and improve over time.

Unfortunately, I decided to make this at the height of a summer heat wave. Whipped cream gets unstable in the heat, and attempting to cover a cake with a mixture of milk and air gets tricky when the kitchen is over 25C. Things got a little precarious as the cream started sliding around, but here are a few quick tips for frosting with whipped cream:

-Keep things COLD. Whip the cream in a bowl and beaters that have been chilled in the freezer. Keep the bowl in a sink of ice water while you're working with it. Chill the cake as well before you ice it. Pop everything in the freezer for a few minutes if things start melting. I also cooled my hands in the ice water before handling the piping bag.

-Stabilize the cream. Many recipes call for whipping melted gelatin into the cream (1 teaspoon, bloomed and melted, to 1 cup of whipping cream), but this can be tricky. If the gelatin is too cold, it will form lumpy globs before it becomes uniformly mixed into the cream. If it's too hot, it will melt the cream, making it difficult to get peaks. Use the gelatin when it's on the warm side of room temperature.

-An alternative to gelatin is a starch stabilizer. The cream won't be as firm as if you used gelatin but the starch is much easier to use. Dr. Oetker's "Whip It" is a stabilizer that can be found in most well-stocked grocery stores. It doesn't change the flavour of the cream at all, but stops it from separating over time.

-Use a whipping cream with a high milk fat (% M.F.) content. Cream with a fat content higher than 30% qualifies as whipping cream. It can get as high as 40%, although this tends to be difficult to find. I used a 36% cream.

-Last but not least, avoid working with whipped cream on the hottest day of the year, if you can help it...


Pasta Carbonara, Deconstructed

While the ingredients that make up this pasta are deceptively simple, the flavours are anything but. It's not surprising that it all works together so harmoniously; the egg+cheese+bacon combination is classic, after all.

Here, the salty porkiness of the pancetta is brightened by aromatic garlic and gentle heat of chili flakes. Echoing another classic, asparagus spears served with a soft boiled egg for dipping, the pasta is dressed with a fried egg with a runny yolk. The silkiness of the egg yolk brings everything together so well that you don't even need to make a sauce!

Pancetta is salt cured and spiced pork belly. It's like an Italian bacon. I prefer its flavour over the smokier streaky bacon for this use, but whatever you have on hand is fine.

This is perfect as a lunch you can whip up from ingredients you keep in the pantry. Ten minutes is all that's needed for deliciously satisfying "fast food."


Where to Eat: Amsterdam (Savoury Edition)

If you have been a regular reader of this blog, you would know that one of my absolute favourite restaurants in Vancouver is the Dutch Wooden Shoe Café. It would come as no surprise, then, that one of the top reasons for my recent visit to Amsterdam was to sample Dutch specialties. And oh my, was I more than satisfied.

Indonesian Cuisine

Historically, Indonesia was a Dutch colony. And wonderfully, the spices and the cuisine itself were incorporated from the Far East into the Dutch diet. Today, Amsterdam remains as one of the best places to get Indonesian cuisine outside of Indonesia itself.

The rijsttafel, or rice table, is one of the most famous dining experiences in a Dutch Indonesian restaurant. A Dutch invention, the grand meal consists of rice, along with dozens of small dishes. Many restaurants in Amsterdam offer the rijsttafel, and although it usually is the most expensive option on the menu, it is a great way of sampling many different traditional dishes.
There is a large range of great restaurants to choose from, from casual takeout hole-in-the-wall type joints, to white table cloth-ed fine dining establishments. I chose Tujuh Maret which was somewhere in the middle of the scale. The food was delicious and affordable.

Since I was on a tight budget, I forwent the rijsttafel and ordered some simpler dishes instead. I had had other versions of these dishes before, and it was interesting to compare. I ordered a nasi goreng (fried rice), bami goreng (fried noodles), and chicken satay (skewers). While I was used to the rice and noodle dishes having meat and vegetables in them, here they were purely side dishes. They had the perfect level of spiciness to accompany the chicken. The chicken was covered in an unbelievably richly flavoured peanut sauce, and topped with fragrant, crispy fried garlic.

If I had had more time in the city, I would have happily returned for another meal and some more unique dishes, but my dinner at Tujuh Maret was satisfying nonetheless.

Patates frites

French fries, chips, frites, patates, whatever you call them, crispy fried potato strips are quintessential street food common to many cities in Europe. Of course, every city puts its own twist on its version as well. Vleminckx has long been known for the best patates in Amsterdam. Conveniently located in the city centre, it dishes out fresh Flemish style (twice-fried) potatoes in traditional paper cones to tourists and locals every day. Unlike the frites I had in Brussels, patates in Amsterdam tend to be salted. I love curry, and decided to try the curry ketchup this time around. The sauce was nicely spicy and tangy, and went well with the potatoes. (It is also much more figure-friendly than the usual generous glob of mayonnaise.) While I think the frites from Maison Antoine had a better crispy, crunchy, fluffy texture, Vleminckx came in at a close second.
Another Dutch twist on patates and its Indonesian food heritage is patat oorlog or “war fries.” Crispy hot frites are topped with mayonnaise, peanut satay sauce, and sometimes ketchup or, in my case, onions. I knew I had to hunt it down after Lonely Planet named it one of the most delicious street foods in the world. I happily ran across a stand selling patat oorlog at the Waterlooplein market, just around the corner from the Rembrandthuis. While it sounds a little strange, I highly recommend giving it a try. It is now one of my favourite frites versions.

Haring-Raw HerringI sampled this traditional Amsterdam snack at the famous Albert Cuypmarkt in the name of foodie research. And in all honesty, it was not the most delicious item I had on my trip. The texture is smooth and a little chewy, much like sashimi, only fishier. You could get them in a sandwich form (a broodje), or alone with pickles and raw onion (thank goodness for chewing gum...) The bread may make it a little more palatable, and it really is not as unpleasant as it sounds. I just thought there were plenty of other wonderfully delicious things to eat. If you're feeling adventurous though, do give it a try!
Stay tuned for the sweet edition, including Dutch pancakes, apple pie, and more!

Where to Eat:

Tujuh Maret
Utrechtsestraat 73
1017 VJ Amsterdam, Nederland

Tempo Doeloe (also great Indonesian, fine dining setting, next door to Tujuh Maret)
Utrechtsestraat 75
1017 VJ Amsterdam, Nederland

Voetboogsteeg 33, 1012 XN Amsterdam

Albert Cuypmarkt
Albert Cuypstraat 67 HS
1072 CN Amsterdam, Nederland

Waterlooplein square

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