Archive for October, 2011

October 27, 2011

Birthday cake: pear mousse, walnut biscuit, chocolate icing, praline

60 Birthday cake

I hope you’ll bear with me. I have no camera, or rather, I brought my point and shoot, but of course, since I neglected it so badly after the arrival of my wonderful DSLR, the point and shoot is stubbornly refusing to work now. The picture of the cake I took with my phone is nothing short of awful,  however this cake is so good it makes up for an ugly picture; in real life, it was also very pretty, almost professional looking.

I don’t want to forget about this cake. The primary purpose of this blog is for my own reference. I like to have all my favourite recipes here, tried and tested, and go back to it when I need them. Besides, not only is this cake fantastic as is, it contains no less than four distinct elements that turned out perfect, useful building blocks for future dessert projects.

It gives me great pleasure to have all the special things I cook gathered here, a sort of diary: I do now and again remember that awesome something I did on that occasion before I started with this blog, and of course I don’t recall the recipe details. Being with my parents when they turned sixty is definitely a moment I want here. I also want to celebrate the exciting news about one of my closest friends being pregnant – I can’t be with her chatting and spoiling her with cake, but she’s in my mind so much these days.

The recipe itself comes from an idea of Laduree’s book, a chestnut and chocolate delight called duchesse. I changed the recipe completely, using it as a starting point, because of two reasons: I did not have the equipment to try the original meringues (and the guts! meringues have always been my biggest kitchen failures), and the recipe called for four different chestnut based components without explaining what they were supposed to be, and what ratio chestnut to sugar they were supposed to have. That was so annoying, I decided to ditch chestnuts in favour of another autumn treat, pears; I replaced the meringues with chopped praline on the sides of the cake. The result was a beautiful layered mousse cake that was rich and festive without being overwhelming, a rewarding project easy to adapt to a busy schedule, since it is made of several steps, but none of them takes very long. A make-ahead dream.

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October 19, 2011


Herbs at the market

September was an orgy of a month: for a change, we did not miss the Italian sun. It feels weird to have such a hot sun for so many days outside Italy and other equally blessed countries. To get that feeling when you go out at night – that you want to stay outside for hours and hours because you are not cold at all, and you are just enjoying being outside, a feeling that to me is the trademark of la dolce vita and makes the holidays I take in Italy always special, even in winter.

Germany felt almost like another place with that weather, giving more solidity to the theory – shared by all Mediterranean expats I have met so far – of the huge impact climate has on each population’s attitude and the development of its economy. I went out with friends, ate food, tried new places, walked the streets of Cologne and Düsseldorf one more time. And now it is time to go. Time to make one last trip to the market, where everyone recognizes me. Remembering early day conversations, going there with the cold and ice, a German I could barely express myself in. Now I’m more confident, or maybe just less scared, I know how these people have been nice to me,  the guy who sells yoghurt whose wife is half Italian, and the guy who sells dried fruit from Morocco and has the best almonds this side of the Alps, the vegetable seller who taught me half of the vegetables’ names, and the poultry man who’d always recommend I say hallo to my partner when he does not come along.

Remembering other sellers, my butcher in Wales, who was always intrigued when I showed up with some weird request (the boy would literally run to the back of the shop as soon as I showed up); the Sicilian woman selling purple and white aubergines in Milan, eight months pregnant; the noisy, rose cheeked and beautiful ladies selling filled breads in a little shop in Trieste; the knowledgeable but approachable cheese seller at the Marché d’Aligre in Paris… I tend to feel quite strongly for my food suppliers. I’ll never really be happy with supermarkets or online orders, although they do make some sense.

Anyway. This was it, for Germany. I’ve just been a few days in Plymouth and I already love my new home. I woke up loving every bit of it, a big smile on my face every moment. Happiness is such an unexpected gift, and so difficult to explain. The next weeks I will be in Italy, with my parents: my cats cannot enter the UK yet and I’m staying behind with them. I will see the most amazing views of the lake every morning, and I already know I’ll be spoiled with the very best cheese and wine. It is not something I would have done freely, but I do rejoyce the opportunity of spending time with my parents. I’ve always been fiercely independent. I could not wait to go out and live on my own when I was a teenager. Now I am probably old enough to come to terms with it, it will do me good. I also need to come to term with the possibility of doing very little for a while. I’ll have time to think and read and very limited possibility of ‘doing’, which goes totally against my inclination, but will probably also do me good.

The black and white picture takes part to Black and White Wednesday, the popular event launched by Susan of the Well Seasoned Cook.

October 11, 2011

Tagliatelle al basilico

Tagliatelle al basilico

Sunday evening. We’ve been packing all weekend, and then fixing the last few things in the house: filling holes in the wall with plaster and painting them (my plastering skills are something I am so proud of, one of the few things for which I am apparently a natural). Then a tour of the apartment, to double check what is left for packing.  I went through the kitchen cupboard and realized I had not packed my pasta machine yet.

Of course there is a box where it could sit. It should.

Well. I’ve always wanted to try a twist on pasta, and there is some basil sitting on the fridge so.. . so here I am making home-made pasta in the middle of a removal. And you know what? I totally recommend it.

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