2017 – My Favourite Eats Near and Far

January is here. And even before it was here, it seemed we were already being bombarded with diet tips, articles on ‘veganuary’ or ‘dry january’ and tips on ‘how to get back on track’ after the excesses of the holidays. I find all of that rather depressing. Not only because it seems to perpetuate the idea that we should feel guilty for how we ate during the holidays. But also, that the only real remedy is to eat boring ‘guilt-free’ food. And as much as I dislike the idea that any food is ‘full of guilt’ or ‘guilt-free’, I also strongly disagree with the notion that food that qualifies as ‘guilt-free’ is inherently boring.

With that, I decided I wanted to celebrate food in all its glory, by reminiscing over my favorite eats of 2017, both in my own kitchen but also elsewhere.

Kicking off 2017 with 24 courses of exquisite Thai food at Kiin Kiin in Copenhagen

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2017 started off with quite a bang celebrating the start of the New Year in Copenhagen with my friends Laura, Steven (both residents of the Danish capital) and Verena (it turns out the Danes like their fireworks plentiful and very loud). In a break from the New Nordic cuisine, we had booked dinner at Kiin Kiin, the only Michelin-starred Thai restaurant in the world, for dinner on 1 January.

While we didn’t fall head over heels with every single dish (frozen nuggets of Thai red curry may well make sense in tropical Bangkok, but on a cold January evening in Denmark we would have preferred the hot original version), almost all of the dishes were delicious, beautifully presented and playful. While we enjoyed some cocktails in the lounge, one of the bar snacks was a mix of nuts that came in an edible seethrough wrapper. There was also a Thai cucumber salad for which the sugar for the dressing came in the form of a cloud of cotton candy, only to be dissolved by pouring the remaining ingredients for the dressing over the cotton candy.

And to finish this glorious meal we had what may well go down in history as the most decadent ‘café gourmand’ ever: after having already consumed 24 courses, as soon as the table had been cleared, it was covered almost entirely in various different bowls and containers, all full of different little bites – white chocolates made to look like chili peppers (and hidden in a bowl of red chillies), Thai whiskey-flavored truffles made to look like pebbles, all hidden in a bowl of pebbles, cinnamon dusted chocolates shaped like cinnamon sticks and, you guessed it, hidden in a bowl of cinnamon sticks, and various other concoctions, including their twists on the Danish marshmallow fluff concoction Flødbollar. If you find yourself headed to Copenhagen and you are looking for something a little different for a special night, and maybe it is not your first trip to the city either, then I can highly recommend Kiin Kiin.

Piping hot Tiropita in Athens and Patras

From Copenhagen I flew to Greece for a week of sightseeing around Athens and Patras with a friend. Given the hard winter, I was somewhat shortchanged on the sunshine front (I pictured myself spending the week sitting outside sipping one Cappuccino Freddo after another, alas this was not to be). But then again, seeing the steam rise from the water surface as the snow hit the Aegean sea is a sight I won’t forget that quickly either.

Needs must so I temporarily ‘forgot’ about my slight lactose intolerance and indulged in one piping hot Tiropita (cheese pie) after another. Be it coiled sesame dusted versions alongside a piping hot cup of Greek coffee and a glass of freshly squeezed pomegranate juice in one of Athens hipster cafes or a pie-shaped wedge of Tiropita large enough to feed an entire family at a non-descript petrol station café between Athens and Patras, every single Tiropita I tried was glorious in its own right. The trip also taught me that, at least if you are Greek, if there is not enough feta to cover half your plate (be it in Tiropita form or not), your meal is not complete.

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While Greek cuisine is not to everyone’s liking, the trip opened my eyes to a cuisine I had so far largely overlooked. And thanks to getting my hands on Vefa Alexiadou’s Greek cooking bible, I am looking forward to replicating many of the dishes I tried in Athens and Patras in my own kitchen this year.

Discovering DC as a foodie destination

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Umeboshi plum ice cream at Dolcezza

DC had never been on my list of places to visit. Plus, as a competition lawyer I assumed that one way or another I would eventually find myself there on a work trip. But somehow that work trip has not yet materialized. Instead, I spent Easter in DC this year as my friend Laura was spending some time there working for the IMF. And a girly trip with our mutual friend Verena to visit her just seemed like a good idea.

In my head, DC was not much a foodie destination – but boy was I wrong. I tried some of my most interesting dishes and flavor combinations this year during that trip. Be it a coffee with toasted sesame milk alongside a pineapple cake and a love cake from Pineapple and Pearl to start a day of sight-seeing, a scoop of umeboshi icecream from Dolcezza as a mid-afternoon pick-me-up, a green mango and bay leaf soda while perusing the menu at Bad Saint (a welcome thirst quencher after an afternoon of waiting in line to get a table) or, my absolute favorite, a pasta dish from Tail Up Goat, fittingly given the restaurant name, a goat ragu with green olives and preserved lemon. A flavor combination so good I have recreated it multiple times in my own kitchen (and while goat meat is hard to come by where I live, the addition of olives and preserved lemon to a simple tuna sauce works brilliantly as an alternative).
IMG_0809The cake offering at Pineapple and Pearls

IMG_0799Green mango and bay leaf soda at Bad Saint

Eating my way around Paris, multiple times

Despite its proximity to Brussels, I generally don’t find myself in Paris nearly as often as I would like. And yet I found myself in Paris no less than 4 times in 2017. A friend of mine was interviewing for a job there in January and we used that as an excuse to go bakery hopping around Paris for a weekend. And then there were bridesmaid’s duties for my friend Millen, which meant another trip to Paris to see her try on her wedding dress and meet some of her now French husband Philippe’s family. And then the trip to the wedding itself, which took us through Paris once again and, finally, a work trip later that year. A few highlights from those trips were:

The black sesame snail from Boulangerie Utopie (also, their black sesame éclair is a thing of beauty):

IMG_0939Au Passage – especially their lamb shoulder with this beautifully light, fresh and zingy mint vinegar sauce, a real alternative to English mint sauce:

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A French toast/Almond croissant hybrid from Boulangerie Liberte:

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Munching on cardamom buns from Petrus in StockholmIMG_1014

A work trip briefly took me to Stockholm in May, the first time I was back in the city after almost 20 years. A half-day does not make for serious exploring (so Fotografiska will have to wait until my next trip). But it was enough time for a walk in glorious sunshine through Södermalm and feast on what was the most glorious Cardamombullar (Cardamom Bun) I have ever eaten at Petrus Bageri.

Jess Koslow Turmeric Millet ‘Nola

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Brussels is not particularly known for having great weather (it is after all one of the rainiest places in Europe), but admittedly we experienced a glorious Indian Summer this year. And what better way to spend the last few days of T-shirt weather than whiling away your weekends with your friends in one of Brussels many parks, armed with a stack of newspapers, books and something to munch on. And there is nothing better suited to that than Jessica Koslow’s Turmeric Millet ‘Nola (or ‘crack’ as I like to call it), pure sugary (and crunchy and highly addictive) delight – just ask my friend Marc.

I had to adapt the recipe slightly, based on what I had in my own kitchen already and was able to source in Brussels organic supermarkets, here is my version.

Showing friends around Brussels and eating clams with celeriac cream and smoked butter at Gramm in BrusselsIMG_1953

A few weeks ago, my friends Millen and Philippe hopped on the Eurostar from London to visit me in Brussels. One of the absolute highlights from that weekend was our dinner at Gramm, a place that had been on my list of restaurants to try for quite some time already, especially the clam dish: atop a light celeriac root cream, there were some beautifully cooked clams, all doused in smoked butter. Delicious and a wonderful reminder of how good seafood and root vegetables go together.

Going through Za’atar in industrial quantities and eating all the Manoush

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2017 was the year I started going through industrial quantities of Za’atar (as I write this I have already filled an empty marmalade glass with Za’atar from my mum’s embarrassingly large supply of za’atar to take back with me to Brussels). As much as I adore ripe avocado smashed on toasted sourdough bread (topped with some sea salt and a sprinkle of Aleppo pepper, piment d’espelette or Shishimi Togarashi), a few too many avocado duds had me looking for alternatives. So I started making labneh and discovered that a slice of toasted sourdough bread with a thick layer of labneh and a blanketing of za’tar and a sprinkle of sea salt is a very good thing indeed (and a fine alternative to avocado toast).

And then I took my za’atar love one step further and started making manoush. Flat disks of dough that are slathered in za’atar saturated olive oil just before baking and that are glorious eaten on their own, but even better rolled around some tomato and cucumber wedges and some torn mint, maybe even some crumbled feta, olives and a hardboiled egg. Never one to hog a good recipe when I find it, here is the link to the recipe I posted on my blog.

Sourdough bread at Tartine in San Francisco

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As someone who has been trying to get the hang of baking delicious sourdough bread at home for longer than she would like to admit, Tartine was high on my list of places to visit when I went to San Francisco in November. And their bread was as glorious as I had expected: light, fluffy, chewy with a beautiful thin yet crunchy crust. If I want to up my sourdough game further, I clearly have my work cut out for me!

Never knowingly ordering familiar dishes and discovering Tepache in San Francisco

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Many times during my trip to San Francisco I was faced with what the food industry matter-of-factly calls the ‘fixed stomach problem’, i.e. you can only eat so much. And it all started on my first day in San Francisco. I made the rookie mistake of having two breakfasts (first, a spicey sausage and provolone Danish at Jane on Larkin followed by a Bostock at The Mill). And then, and despite an early dinner booking at Kin Khao, when I walked past a half-empty Nopalito, I could not resist sitting down for an early lunch (what can I say, good Mexican food is hard to come by in Brussels), even though I was likely hours away from feeling anything akin the tiniest hunger pang.

I tried to limit the damage by applying one of my favourite eating out rules: only ever order something you have not yet tried. And being smart enough to order a half portion whenever that option exists. So a bowl of Posole and a Tepache it was. Never mind that the half portion of posole was still bigger than a standard European sized main course … But the real star of that lunch was the Tepache – a fermented pineapple drink with piloncillo sugar and star anise. Refreshing, not overly sweet, somewhat funky and reminiscent of ketchup, but in a good way. And so delicious 2018 may be the year I start playing around with fermented pineapple – be it to drink Tepache or to make a type of pineapple ketchup for grilled fish or chicken.

Dreaming of travelling to Sri Lanka and Rosie Birkett’s Coconut Dal in the Guardian

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Sri Lanka has been on my list of places to visit for quite some time. I am hoping 2018 might be the year that I finally make my way there. Until then, I will travel there vicariously by cooking Sri Lankan dishes. Weligama is a cookbook most definitely on my wish-list but I also love Rosie Birkett’s recipes inspired by her honeymoon there, especially the recipe for the Sri Lankan Tomato and Coconut Dal she published in the Guardian, a dal so delicious it has, at least temporarily, my favourite dal recipe from Tara O’Brady’s gorgeous first book.

Gibassier: discovering a new pastry crush (and secretly wishing a Provencal family would invite me to their Christmas dinner)

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Gibassier had been on my radar for some time already before I finally gave them a go in my own kitchen. The reason I love gibassiers so much is that they combine some of my favourite flavours: candied orange, anise seeds and orange blossom water. And while brioche and other enriched breads are typically made with butter, most French recipes I have seen for gibassiers call for olive oil (or a mix of butter and olive oil). And olive oil is a brilliant substitution for butter in brioche. There is something about its cleaner flavour (less rich but not less interesting than butter) that really lets citrus flavours shine. So it’s the perfect complement to the candied orange in these gibassiers.

Also, while the recipe calls for a pre-ferment (nothing tricky, just means you need to plan a bit), it is no more difficult than making other enriched sweet buns like hot cross buns for example. And as delicious as they are, I have already made multiple batches of these gibassiers, including for breakfast the day after Christmas Day. If you want to try making them yourself, here is a link to the recipe.

With that, I wish you all a Happy New Year and that 2018 brings us all more happiness and less stomach-turning newspaper headlines. On a personal note, I am looking forward to another year of experimenting in my kitchen (and sharing my results with you on this blog) and travelling as much as I can to try local culinary delights from places near and far.

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PS: If you have read this far, congratulations! Also, in case you are curious (I certainly was) to know what the 10 most popular recipes on the blog were last year, here is the full list:
A primer on glazes
Hot Cross Buns with Chinese 5 Spice Powder
(Nigella) Seed Cake
French Toast with Miso Sugar and Umeboshi Plum Compote
Kaiserschmarrn
Tahini Chocolate Chip Cookies
Lentil Kofte with Preserved Lemon Yoghurt, Coriander and Pomegranate Arils
Masa Harina Madeleines with a Whiskey Glaze
Monti Buns – a Roman Twist on Chelse Buns
An Apple Tarte inspired by one from El Pan de la Chola in Peru

Plenty of food (excuse the pun) for thought as I plan next year’s blog posts!

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