Easter Torta Pasqualina with Spinach & Samphire

It’s hard to believe I was in Greece a year ago, lamenting over the fact that their Orthodox calendar meant Easter celebrations wouldn’t coincide with the length of my stay. It was still able to experience the Cretan springtime, though, and made up for lack of tsoureki by consuming enough χόρτα (“horta”: wild leafy greens) to grow a hortopita jungle in my stomach.

Torta Pasqualina

Crust girl ’til the end, I was craving something like hortopita with a more substantial pastry and luckily this pie with a multi-layered crust exists. As the newly-arisen Christ would have it, torta pasqualina happens to be an Easter tradition in Italy (the name itself translates to “Easter cake”, after all). There are many elements of quiche in this torta, particularly the prominence of eggs.

Torta Pasqualina

Eggs are universally associated with this holiday, which is why they appear baked into this Italian pie, braided into the aforementioned Greek tsoureki, and as the hidden candy-filled orbs of my childhood; Ancient Egyptians and Romans were decorating Easter eggs even before the Pantone craze. Like well-designed international airport signage transcends most cultural differences and language barriers, the very definition of an egg explains why they’re symbolically linked with the concept of life—and therefore the Easter celebration of resurrection.

Historically, they were also considered a mealtime luxury along with most the dairy, meat, and sugar that was abstained from during the pre-Easter period of Lent (which called for this decadent crepe cake 40 days ago), so the bold and rather ostentatious amount used in this savoury cake can be considered the equivalent of icing on a sweet one. Plus, they make for a killer slice cross-section.

Torta Pasqualina

Torta Pasqualina

Semiotics aside, the spinach and samphire are not to be overshadowed! Along with the spring onions that become my go-to Allium come March, fresh spinach is a lovely way to celebrate springtime’s greenery… and with the summery sea breeze inching closer each week, I couldn’t resist a bit of samphire. Different from a leafy green, samphire is another one of those UK-prominent gems that I only discovered upon uprooting from Florida. Referring here to the species Salicornia europaea growing in coastal marshes, “samphire” has a geographically revealing etymology—having linguistically deteriorated from “Saint Pierre” into “sampiere” and finally “samphire/sampha/sampkin”, it was originally named for Saint Peter, the patron saint of fishermen. Its pronounced saltiness is due to proximity to the sea and estuaries allows you to get away with adding less salt in the dish, and its crisp texture is a nice contrast to the spinach when cooked.

Torta Pasqualina

Torta Pasqualina

Samphire’s been used in England for ages, from glassmaking to salad-tossing—Shakespeare (happy 450th birthday to that brilliant man!) mentions it in King Lear, for crying out loud. It’s is a lovely English substitute in an Italian pie, so I figured I’d fully embrace the local and use English cheese in the place of traditional parmesan and ricotta. Red Leicester packs a sharp punch of flavour and, although diet fads and bad marketing have sadly tarnished its reputation, I’m still a firm believer that the decadence of quality (fresh, organic, full-fat) cottage cheese is a force to be reckoned with.

Torta Pasqualina

Torta Pasqualina

Torta Pasqualina w/ Spinach & Samphire

  • 350g whole wheat flour
  • ½ t sea salt
  • 3 T olive oil
  • ~170ml (~¾ cup) warm water
  • 1 T olive oil
  • 2 spring onions, chopped
  • 500g spring greens (spinach, samphire, etc.)
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • pinch of marjoram
  • pinch of sea salt*
  • 150g full-fat, organic cottage cheese (or ricotta)
  • 60g (2oz) red leicester cheese (or parmesan), grated
  • 5 eggs
  • sea salt, freshly ground black pepper

Stir together water, olive oil, and salt before pouring over flour in a large mixing bowl. near until dough comes together and becomes smooth after a few minutes, adding more water or flour as necessary to avoid dough becoming too dry or too sticky. Divide dough into 6 balls, making one larger than the others to form the base. Wrap and set aside at room temperature for about an hour to rest.

Prep the greens by washing thoroughly and chopping roughly. Heat oil in a large pan and add spring onions, stirring for a few minutes before adding the greens along with a sprinkle of pepper and marjoram. If you’re using samphire, you may not need to season with salt at all.* When sufficiently wilted, squeeze dry and transfer to a bowl.
Once cooled slightly, mix in the cottage cheese, grated red leicester, and 1 egg (reserving the other 4 for later).

Heat oven to 375ºF/190ºC.
Oil the sides of your baking tin (regardless of size or shape). Begin rolling out the biggest ball of dough very thinly, lining the bottom of your tin so that the edges are overhanging. Brush some olive oil and roll out the next ball of dough to gently layer over this first sheet. Brush again with some oil before repeating with a third ball of dough.
Transfer the filling carefully into the dough-lined tin. With a utensil, create 4 wells in the mixture and break an egg into each indentation, keeping yolk intact. Dress each egg with some olive oil, sea salt, freshly ground black pepper, and a sprinkle of grated red leicester.
Roll out the fourth sheet of dough, gently covering the filling. Brush the surface and repeat with remaining two balls of dough. Finally, fold over the overhang of the first bottom layer of dough, sealing the pie’s edges. Prick some holes over the top with a fork, taking care to avoid breaking the egg yolks. Brush with a final coating of olive oil and bake for between 45 minutes and 1 hour in the oven, or until crisp and golden brown on top. Allow to cool a bit before slicing and serving.

Torta Pasqualina

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Posted in Baked Goods, Italy, Main | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Springtime Sprouting Broccoli Pita

Purple Sprouting Broccoli Pita

Here it is, as promised: a way to use those pickled turnips of yesterpost, along with some purple sprouting broccoli beauties, a springtime delicacy I first sampled during my first bright-eyed year in London. Too enamoured to disfigure my new discovery, I stir-fried them Chinese-style to preserve the colour. This year I’ve gotten a bit bolder but no less reverent; my favourite way to prepare them is a simple but effective oven-roasting. I can only imagine (sob) the grill would be wonderful, too.

Purple Sprouting Broccoli Pita

Purple Sprouting Broccoli Pita

Pita is generally a Middle Eastern, Balkan, and Mediterranean thing, but as popular as they’ve become throughout Europe and the Western world, I’d assume that nobody reading this post requires an explanation. In the light of that fact and this looming 3000-word essay that I have yet to begin writing, I’ll save all that for the pita-making post.

Purple Sprouting Broccoli Pita

Consider this the pita-assembly minipost. In the aforementioned regions (countries like Lebanon, Syria, Egypt, Greece, Iraq), they’re paired with anything from vegetarian spreads and breakfast omelettes to greasy meat. The discs of dough puff up during baking to leave a miraculous little pocket that practically begs to be stuffed, but there’s not really a wrong way to do it—stuff, scoop, spread, sandwich, etc (it doesn’t even have to begin with an ‘s’).

The ingredients list is just as flexible, which is the beauty of a pita sandwich. The fermented tang of the pickled turnips, earthy mung bean hummus, and creamy punch of garlic yogurt will balance the fresh herbs and tender roasted greens quite well, but just create flavour and texture combinations with whatever you can grab at the market, which should be overflowing with local springtime goodies wherever you are.

Purple Sprouting Broccoli Pita

Purple Sprouting Broccoli Pita

Springtime Sprouting Broccoli Pitas

  • 5 stalks purple sprouting broccoli
  • ¼ cup cherry tomatoes, quartered
  • ½ red onion
  • olive oil
  • sea salt
  • black pepper
  • 100g plain yogurt
  • 1 clove garlic, crushed
  • few sprigs of parsley, chopped

Preheat oven to 200ºC/400ºF.
Wash and chop stalks of purple sprouting broccoli into bite-sized segments. Combine on a baking tray with quartered cherry tomatoes, sliced red onion, olive oil, and seasonings before roasting until tender (20-30 minutes). Better yet, pop them onto a grill if you’re lucky enough to have one handy!
Meanwhile, mix yogurt with freshly crushed clove of garlic and chopped parsley.
When vegetables are done roasting, assemble with toasted pita pockets, the yogurt mixture, these wonderful pickled turnips, and some homemade hummus.

Purple Sprouting Broccoli Pita

Purple Sprouting Broccoli Pita

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Posted in Arabic, Egypt, Finger Food, Greece, Israel, Lebanon, Levant, Main, Sauce, Side, Syria, Turkey | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Lebanese Pickled Turnips (Kabees El Lift)

The term “fermentation” (first observed by Pasteur as la vie sans air: life without air) carries a lot of baggage with it—historical, cultural, psychological. It’s responsible for some of my favourite things in the world: yogurt, miso, coffee, sauerkraut, stinky tofu, and leavened bread to name just a handful. The process of tiny living bacterias and yeasts eating up carbohydrates and spitting out alcohols and CO2 might sound off-putting, but the next time you associate fermentation with “rotting” edibles, just remember how blissful a slice of good cheese tastes.

Lebanese Pickled Turnips Kabees El Lift

It’s a method of food preservation dating back to the Neolithic age and has been getting humans drunk since circa 7000 BCE. Pickling is a type of anaerobic fermentation, and the resulting sour taste is thanks to more than just vinegar (which is also a product of fermentation!) present in the brine—lactic acid bacteria come into play. Unlike basic canning, pickling encourages the activity of beneficial microorganisms that end up defining the distinct flavours of each batch. It can all get very nerdy very quickly, so I’ll leave it at that before I get too hyped up.

Lebanese Pickled Turnips Kabees El Lift

On another note, wonderful novelist Tom Robbins once made the astute observation that Sunday afternoons are carved out of boiled turnips. It’s universally acknowledged that Sunday late afternoons are subject to a very particular and peculiar lack of robustness… for me, they conjure up memories of wading through the post-church slump with leftover homework assignments backed with a sleepy murmur of tumbling laundry machines and golf tournaments on TV.

Turnips, for one reason or another, seem to be cut out of that same drab material. In colloquial terms, they’re the ultimate derps of the root veg kingdom; they’re crayon nubs in the art supplies world. Feeling a bit sad for this last bowl of end-of-season turnips and about to leave the kitchen for two weeks’ holiday, I figured some sprucing up was in order…and when dealing with inconvenient quantities of vegetables, fermentation and pickling save the day. Pickles throughout the Middle East are known variably by region as kabees, mkhallal, torshi. In go some colourless matchsticks of an arguably unremarkable root, and out come these tangy magenta slivers ready to provide some counterbalance in a rich meat shawarma or add punch to a falafel platter.

Not so derpy after all. Stay tuned to see these little guys in use, peeping out amongst all sorts of contextual goodness.

Lebanese Pickled Turnips Kabees El Lift

Lebanese Pickled Turnips (Kabees El Lift)
(yields approx. twice the amount pictured)

  • 5 small turnips
  • 1 small beet
  • 4 cloves garlic, sliced
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 250ml (1 cup) distilled white vinegar
  • 750ml (3 cups) water
  • 3 T sea salt

Clean and sterilise a couple glass jars in boiled water. Peel and slice the turnips and beet into matchsticks.
In a large bowl, combine water, vinegar, and salt.
Add garlic to the jars, then layer beets and turnips until full. The beets are mostly there for dyeing the pickles a lovely pink hue, so as long as there are a couple of slices in each jar, it will suffice.
Fill the jars to their brim with the vinegar solution and shake gently before storing in a dark spot in the kitchen for about 10 days to ferment before storing in the refrigerator.

Lebanese Pickled Turnips Kabees El Lift

Lebanese Pickled Turnips Kabees El Lift

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Posted in Arabic, Basics, Egypt, Israel, Kitchen Science, Lebanon, Levant, Side, Syria | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment

Paris in a Day (feat. Fromage Blanc)

A self-proclaimed Londoner at heart, my guard was up even as I dashed across the English Channel immediately after uni let out for Easter holidays, accompanied by a friend visiting from overseas. What happens when a diehard Londoner and New Yorker have a single day to tackle Paris, arguably the third star of a trifecta?

Wandercrush in Paris

Wandercrush in Paris

Wandercrush in Paris

When there’s such limited time to soak up an endlessly sprawling city, there is only one viable option: wander with eyes wide open, eating everything in sight. And wandercrush we did. Like the boroughs of London or neighbourhoods of NYC, arrondissements grouped the city into areas of social, historical, economic, cultural niches. We were lucky enough to run into a Brooklyn native who scoped us out and warned us with an (admittedly accurate) assuming smile, “You’re in the Paris equivalent of the Upper West Side right now. Hop on the Métro Line 11 if you want to explore what you’d recognise as the Lower East Side.”

Wandercrush in Paris

Wandercrush in Paris

Wandercrush in Paris

Every arterial street of Manhattan pulses with energy and purposeful bustling; London and Paris are a bit more meander-friendly, the latter even seeming deliberately slow-paced. At even the most packed cafés spilling out on to the sidewalk, reclined people-watchers are perched quietly with their towering croque madames. The baguettes are chewier, the butter is richer, and everything tells you to savour smaller quantities over longer amounts of time.

Wandercrush in Paris

Wandercrush in Paris

Wandercrush in Paris

Denizens of major international city centres tend to get a bad rap, but in my experience it’s largely undeserved. New Yorkers can be rough around the edges as a result of delighting in the charming grime of their city streets, but in almost every case, they’ll go out of their way to lend a hand or strike up unnecessary conversation. Londoners may seem awkward shuffling through their daily commute on the Tube within carefully maintained bubbles of personal space, but approach anyone for help and see if it isn’t instantly received with a jolly Cockney twang; just walk into a local pub. Likewise, Parisians are as lovely as good-natured human beings generally are anywhere in the world—don’t be thrown off by the intimidating nasal vowels.

Wandercrush in Paris

Wandercrush in Paris

Wandercrush in Paris

And oh, the architecture is strikingly grand. Postcard-worthy landmarks and nondescriptly winding alleyways are equally and undeniably pretty; I can finally see how a whole city is categorised as “romantic”, which is an adjective I’d only ever associated with cheesy Valentines and 18th century oil paintings. Flowers are more flamboyantly fragrant and balconies are twisted into wrought-iron intricacies. I wonder if it’s just a bit too untouchably chic for a girl like me…even the stunning pink radish piles Marché d’Aligre and Marché Bastille had more class packed into one bulb.

Wandercrush in Paris

Wandercrush in Paris

Wandercrush in Paris

With a happy stomach full of good soft cheese, I will readily gaze upon the intricate little cakes lining each patisserie window and the groomed river Seine in the City of Light that so rightfully earned its name… even so, I’m giddy to spend the rest of my holiday back home across the Channel, where the murky Thames has a fraction of the twinkle but all the bankside charm and ado of London on the cusp of early summer.

Wandercrush in Paris

Wandercrush in Paris

Wandercrush in Paris

Fromage Blanc with Ginger Rhubarb Compote

  • ½ kg rhubarb stalks, chopped
  • 3cm fresh ginger, grated
  • ½ cup honey
  • ½ lemon, juice of
  • 500g fromage blanc (can substitute quark or greek yogurt)

To make compote, combine all ingredients in a saucepan and heat over medium until the honey thins out and the rhubarb softens. Lower heat and simmer for 5-10 minutes, stirring occasionally until thickened.
Refrigerate for a few hours to chill thoroughly before serving over fromage blanc.

Wandercrush in Paris

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Posted in America, Breakfast, England, France, Personal, Sauce, Sweets, Travel | Tagged , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Moules-Frites (Belgian Mussels & Parsnip Fries)

A couple Christmasses ago, I was a teenager spending the holidays a hemisphere away from her family for the first time. Cheap Megabus tickets offered great solace and the promise of dazzling Christmas markets galore, so my first destination was Belgium. This anecdote seems out of place in the early springtime, but I was transported back to my pint of Trappist beer and the Manneken Pis when I realised it was nearing the end of UK mussel season.

Moules-Frites Belgian Mussels with Parsnip Fries

Belgium Moules-Frites

While most think of waffles when they hear “Belgian cuisine”, I could dream of nothing but freshly steamed mussels waiting at the end of a long and cramped bus journey. These little asymmetrical bivalves are fascinating with their byssal thread beards, filaments secreted used to anchor themselves or provide defensive measure (these should be removed before cooking/eating, but are nonetheless fun to examine). They’re packed with all sorts of nutritional goodies, which makes sense when you consider that the whole of what’s required to run this fully-functional creature is condensed into one mouthful.

Moules-Frites Belgian Mussels with Parsnip Fries

Belgium Moules-Frites

Moules-frites seem like a fancy seafood indulgence in the context of wielding fancy French restaurant cutlery and swishing a glass of white wine, but it’s actually a combination of the cheapest and most abundant foodstuffs that were historically available to the Belgians: mussels from the Flemish coast and hardy potatoes that could be stored throughout the seasons.

Moules-Frites Belgian Mussels with Parsnip Fries

Belgium Moules-Frites

Along those demystifying lines, UK mussels are filling and satisfying enough to be a bargain even now, regardless of the fact that the weight is mostly shell. Moreover, they’re easy to prepare and, in fact, rather difficult to mess up. Like Chinese-style fish, mussels are a savoury seafood best experienced with a simple preparation and delicate steam. A few aromatic veg thrown in with some white wine, and the flavour will be as perfect as your mussels are fresh.

Moules-Frites Belgian Mussels with Parsnip Fries

Moules-Frites Belgian Mussels with Parsnip Fries

Thanks to the American terminology, frites are associated first with the country of France even though Belgium stubbornly claims to hold the gastronomic patent. Although moules-frites are traditionally served up with fried potatoes, I had a humongous parsnip hanging around from an end-of-winter CSA bag and decided to throw them in for the frites part. Chips, fries, call them what you like. When I posted them on Instagram, a friend commented astutely that “parsnips are the secret weapon of vegetables.” They’re impressively unassuming and humbler than their ostentatiously-coloured carrot cousins even though they’re even sweeter when cooked. I didn’t want to punch a hole in the delicate seafood with garlic, but I more than made up for it in the baked counterpart.

Belgium Moules-Frites

Moules-Frites Belgian Mussels with Parsnip Fries

Moules-Frites Belgian Mussels with Parsnip Fries

Moules-Frites (Belgian Mussels & Parsnip Fries)
(serves 2-3)

  • 1 kg fresh mussels
  • 1 leek, sliced
  • 1 rib celery, sliced
  • handful parsley
  • 2 T quality olive oil
  • 150ml (⅔ cup) dry white wine
  • 2 parsnips
  • 1 potato
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • olive oil
  • dried rosemary
  • cayenne pepper
  • sea salt
  • black pepper

Peel and cut the parsnips and potatoes into strips, roughly the shape and size of traditional potato fries.
Toss with garlic, olive oil, cayenne, salt, and pepper before spreading out evenly on a baking sheet. Bake at 230ºC / 450ºF for 15 minutes, then flip and roast for another 15 minutes until tender and crispy golden on the edges.

Discard of any dead mussels, which will be popped open and won’t respond by closing slowly when you tap it with a finger. Soak in some cold water for about 10 minutes, then scrub and rinse before transferring to a clean bowl. If the mussels are bearded, don’t yank off these stringy bits until right before cooking at the risk of killing them prematurely—if you do wish to remove them, pull towards the hinge instead of away.
In a large pot, heat up oil over medium flame. Add leeks and celery, stirring until soft and fragrant.
Add wine and bring to a boil before tipping in the mussels. Stir briefly before covering to steam for about 5 minutes. When the mussels pop open, they’re ready.
Remove from heat, stir in chopped parsley, season as necessary, and serve with fries.

Moules-Frites Belgian Mussels with Parsnip Fries

Belgium Moules-Frites

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Posted in Belgium, Fish & Game, France, Main, Side, Travel | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 14 Comments

Golden Beetroot & Celeriac Remoulade

This remoulade salad is beauty and the beast in a bowl.

Golden Beetroot Celeriac Remoulade

Golden Beetroot Celeriac Remoulade

Golden beetroot, an heirloom variety of Beta vulgaris, is anything but vulgar. The Latin vulgaris means “common”, but I was quite excited to find them peeking out of my weekly veg bag. They’re not quite as sweet as their magenta counterparts, but that works quite well in this salad. On the other hand, there’s the notoriously knobbly Apium graveolens rapaceum celeriac. It’s a close relative of familiar stalk celery, but is instead valued for its huge hypocotyl—to quote your highschool Biology textbook, that’s the part of a germinating seed between the root radicle and the cotyledon.

Golden Beetroot Celeriac Remoulade

These two are versatile veg, often eaten and cooked (or not) in a variety of  ways. As Springtime and Term 2 deadlines are creeping up rapidly on this little island, I went down the fresh and lazy route of preparing them raw. It’d go wonderfully with a meaty main or well on its own with some crusty bread and a picnic.

Golden Beetroot Celeriac Remoulade

In France, celeriac is often eaten as a slaw with remoulade, a sauce often mayo-based and used like a tartar sauce with meats and fish dishes. When found in céleri rémoulade, it’s punctuated with mustard. Seeing as I’d already adulterated the classic version with grated beetroot, I also lightened the dressing with a lovely thick-set yogurt from London’s Neal’s Yard and spruced it up with a spattering of poppy and pistachios; poppy seeds bring out the brightness of lemon and pistachios the earthiness of beetroot… and for alliteration’s sake, if nothing else.

Golden Beetroot Celeriac Remoulade

Golden Beetroot & Celeriac Remoulade (with Pistachio & Poppy Seed)

  • 500g (½ large) celeriac
  • 300g (2 medium) golden beetroot
  • ½ lemon, juice and zest of
  • 200g full-fat organic yogurt
  • 2 T quality olive oil
  • 1 T dijon mustard
  • 5 sprigs fresh parsley, chopped finely
  • 40g pistachios, chopped roughly
  • 1 T poppy seeds
  • sea salt
  • freshly ground black pepper

Peel the celeriac thickly with a knife. Grate half of it, but julienne the other half for a variation in texture; these strands shouldn’t be much thicker than a matchstick. Quickly toss in some lemon juice to keep from discolouring. Peel and grate the beetroot, keeping a few thin round slices for garnish.
Whisk together yogurt and olive oil until very smooth. Season with salt and freshly grated black pepper, then mix in the lemon zest, poppy, pistachio, and parsley.
Toss the grated celeriac and beetroot in this dressing, then set aside for about an hour to develop and mellow the flavours. To serve, sprinkle with a few chopped pistachios and parsley leaves.

Golden Beetroot Celeriac Remoulade

Golden Beetroot Celeriac Remoulade

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Posted in France, Salad, Sauce, Side | Tagged , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Tiramisu Mille Crêpes a l’Orange & 1 Year of Wandercrushing

Mark Twain was born the day Halley’s Comet came around and died on the day of its next 75-year cycle appearance; both Thomas Jefferson and John Adams passed away on July 4th, exactly 50 years after they signed the Declaration of Independence; 2013 saw Thanksgivukkah; this past Tuesday, Wandercrush turned 1 year young on Pancake Day. Some call it freak coincidence, but I declare it kismet.

Tiramisu Mille Crepe Cake

Pancake Day (alternately known as Shrove Tuesday or Marti Gras) historically came about because everybody gorged like it was the last time they’d taste sugar, milk, and eggs for another 40 days—that 40 day period would be Lent. The word shrove is a form of “shrive”, which means to confess; Lent is a traditional Christian observance of moderation, repentance, and reflection during the days leading up to Easter Sunday and the celebration of Jesus’s sacrifice. Although regrettably nowadays moderation has figured out of the equation for many people, the pancake consumption seems to be going strong.

Tiramisu Mille Crepe Cake

Regardless of religious allegiances, most of the UK seems to participate in Pancake Day more fervently than the US, which surprised me because wait, how can America be outdone on a holiday celebrating over-indulgence? Special menus, pop-up stalls, and pancake flipping races were ubiquitous in the capital as every one of my friends had a pancake party penciled into their agenda. In the end, I decided against a pancake-eating competition (a stack of 12 in under 15 minutes, pah) and settled on a nice blog-birthday brunch at home.

Tiramisu Mille Crepe Cake

Tiramisu Mille Crepe Cake

Tiramisu Mille Crepe Cake

In true spirit of the blog, this multi-purpose celebratory cake is a lightened and whole-grainified mash-up of the coffee-infused Italian tiramisu (“pick me up”) dessert and the impressive French mille crêpes (“a thousand crepes”), accented with the season’s last blood oranges. If you’re more of a fluffy pancake person, as I usually am, there’s always this wonderful mango-millet fallback.

Tiramisu Mille Crepe Cake

When I started Wandercrush, I told myself it wouldn’t be the type of blog that prattled on about dishes reminding me of Grandma’s cosy house or the way winter weather makes me want to eat soup for eternity. A year later, I’m pretty sure I’ve mentioned both these cheesy things and more. I wanted to keep this encyclopaedic, prettily detached—an informative public archive of kitchen experiments and the orphaned photos I was already taking anyway. I’m not sure when or why the personal perspective sneakily nudged its way through, but it has certainly been gratifying to document my travels and miscellaneous food-and-design-led thoughts in a verbal as well as pictorial manner… I can’t really blame anyone who skims through for the food pornography, and anyway at this point writing it down is more important than ensuring it’s read.

I’d be the first to admit that food blogging can be overdone, overrun, and romanticised. Even so, I couldn’t have predicted the huge investment of time and energy in—or the emotional payback from—a nebulous interwebtastic network of bloggers and a silent but loyal readership. I set out to learn and share more about the untravelled world through local food, and I daresay I’ve done that. What I didn’t expect was the childish glee of stumbling upon my own recipe on a buzzfeed article or the petty disappointment when I couldn’t find the right type of pepper at the market. There were times I frowned upon my absurd priorities as I munched on a box of crackers after postponing dinner in order to photograph the perfect bowl in tomorrow’s natural light…but there are also the redeeming, simple, unexpected joys of meeting up with fellow bloggers over lunch when travelling through their city or receiving a transatlantic snapchat of the meal a friend made following last week’s recipe post. So this is a sincere thanks to each one of you, whether you’ve habitually left lovely comments, quietly read via RSS feed, or humour me patiently in “real life” as I rush around the kitchen wielding spatula and camera. Aaaaaaand before I start gushing about Grandmas and winter soups, I’ll leave it at that until the 2-year mark.

Tiramisu Mille Crepe Cake

Tiramisu Mille Crepe Cake

Tiramisu Mille Crêpes à l’Orange
(inspired by and adapted from this recipe)

For crepes:

  • 1 cup whole wheat pastry flour
  • ¼ t sea salt
  • 1 cup oat milk
  • 1/2 cup freshly brewed hot coffee
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 T honey
  • 1 t vanilla essence
  • 1 T oil

For cream:

  • ¼ cup unrefined sugar
  • ¼-½ (60-120ml) cup freshly brewed hot coffee
  • 200g mascarpone
  • 200g quality, full-fat cottage cheese
  • ½ blood orange, juice and zest of
  • ¼ cup unsweetened cocoa powder

Whisk together wet and dry ingredients separately, then mix well together until lumps are gone. Cover and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes to minimise bubbles that may tear the crepes during cooking.
Rub a non-stick pan with oil or butter and heat over medium flame. Pour some batter in the centre of the pan and swirl quickly distribute evenly over the bottom of the pan, pushing down any messy edges with a spatula to keep the shape mostly consistent. The amount of batter you need per crepe will depend on the diameter of your pan, so judge the best you can and practice on the first couple of crepes—I used about 3 tablespoons for mine. Each should be thin enough to brown on the bottom after one minute. Flip carefully and cook another 30 seconds on the other side before setting aside in a stack.
Repeat with the remaining batter and refrigerate the stack of crepes to hasten the cooling process and mix the cream while waiting.

Dissolve sugar in 60ml (¼ cup) freshly brewed hot coffee. Along with two cheeses and blood orange juice/zest, blend until smooth. Add up to 60ml more coffee if it’s too thick, but be careful not to add so much that the cream becomes too thin; it will need to stay thick enough to hold the crepes together without slipping and sliding around.

When crepes are completely cooled, begin assembly. Spread a thin layer of cream between each pancake, sprinkling a dusting of cocoa powder about every 3 layers. Portion your filling well; I used about 1 tablespoon per layer, but this may vary. When you reach the end, thin out any leftover cream and pour over the very top crepe. Finish with a final dusting of cocoa powder and garnish with a slice of blood orange. If the crepe cake is feeling unstable, refrigerate for a couple of hours to firm up the cream before slicing with a sharp knife to serve.

Tiramisu Mille Crepe Cake

Tiramisu Mille Crepe Cake

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Posted in America, Breakfast, England, France, Italy, Personal, Scotland, Sweets | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 19 Comments

Alegría (Amaranth Candy) & Courage in Dorset

I find myself prattling on about etymology and language here as much as I do about food and travel, but perhaps the most relevant association to date is this one: alegría in Spanish means “joy”—and that’s exactly what the process of making this Mexican candy evokes.

alegría amaranth candy

These gluten-free Aztec grains are actually a pseudocereal like quinoa and buckwheat, meaning that they’re the seeds of non-grasses but culinarily treated as classic cereals (think rice, wheat, millet, oats). The flowers of the amaranth plant are stubbornly beautiful (“amaranth” is derived from the greek ἀμάραντος/amarantos meaning “unfading”) and I associate its edible spinachy greens with Chinese cooking. The seeds are a bit gummy when cooked as a porridge, but discovering the popped variety revolutionised my amaranth breakfasts; the sound of the popping alone guarantees the start of a good day.

dorset alegría amaranth candy

alegría amaranth candy

I donned this mindset when I woke at the crack of dawn to catch a last-minute train to Lulworth Cove in Dorset (as you may have gleaned from Instagram), a spot on the Southern coast of England. A week-long uni brief simply entitled “Courage” was a roundabout way to test our skills in idea generation, mass communication, and outcome presentation. Selecting a task that succinctly portrays (and rises victorious over) the emotion of fear with both universal relatability and personal resonance is not as easy a task as it may seem… and that’s the shorthand of how I ended up stark naked on a February day, facing waters of a moody English Channel.

It now seems hard to imagine this whole premise was initially about the courage required to skinny-dip in freezing water, which was the very least of my concerns by the end of it; everything took a backseat to the precarious route-picking down a steeper-than-imagined cliff. The icy force of the second wave snapped me into adrenaline-fueled action and I primitively (a ripe combination of tangled wet hair, mud streaks, chattering teeth, bleeding knees, and unabashed nakedness) climbed back upwards on all fours as though the wave was still chasing behind. Propelling me forward was the familiar yet novel hyper-awareness of being utterly vulnerable and dwarfed by natural forces as I scampered over crumbly sharp rocks, slippery clay sediment, and areas where the mud sucked my whole leg up to the knee. It’s incredible how much of a physical rush adrenaline can provide, which explains how I felt stupidly immune to so many debilitating factors at once. The seagulls were laughing at me, but I didn’t care. Far more prominent than fear or embarrassment was pure alegría in the recklessness and liberation of it all.

dorset alegría amaranth candy

alegría amaranth candy

I ended up piecing together a film of the experience, which I have substituted here with some PG-versioned stills and a GIF that won’t make you lose your appetite for the amaranth candy that tricked you into clicking through to this post in the first place.

Very smoothly transitioning back to the kitchen from my bare and bizarre anecdote… Alegría is Rice Krispies-esque, brought south of the border with a slight tang of lime. It’s traditionally made with a brown cane sugar called piloncillo/panela, but I’ve been in a malty mood lately with the likes of Ovaltine and Maltesers all around. Malt extract is naturally sweet, economical, delightfully treacly, and packed with vitamins and minerals (you see where my loyalties lie) but it also makes this gluten-free so you can substitute other sweet syrups like molasses, honey, maple syrup, or agave. Although currants and sesame seeds were a combination that made sense after scouring the contents of my own pantry, substitute any variety of nuts, seeds, and dried fruits as you would a homemade granola recipe. The only non-negotiable part is popping your own amaranth and basking in the resulting alegría; it’s an easier route to take than wild winter swimming in rough seas.

dorset alegría amaranth candy

alegría amaranth candy

Alegría (Amaranth Candy)

  • ½ cup amaranth
  • ¼ cup currants
  • 2 T sesame seeds
  • 1 T malt extract syrup
  • ½ cup demerara sugar
  • 1 T lime juice

Heat up a wide-bottomed pan or wok over medium-high. Spoon in just 1 tablespoon of amaranth at a time, covering with a lid and swirling the bottom of the pan gently over the flame so that nothing burns. The popping should start instantly upon contact with the hot pan, and keep swirling until the pops dwindle to a few per second.
Repeat this process with remaining amaranth, transferring popped seeds to a clean bowl each time. Mix in sesame seeds and currants.
Heat up a small saucepan over medium-low, adding the sugar, malt syrup, and lime juice until the sugar crystals have all melted. Stir constantly to prevent burning and sticking, because the sugar will caramelise easily.
Pour hot syrup into the bowl of popped amaranth, mixing quickly together with hands and pressing into a baking pan lined with parchment paper. After letting this sit until fully cooled, it should be breakable/sliceable.

alegría amaranth candy

alegría amaranth candy

dorset alegría amaranth candy

alegría amaranth candy

 

 

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Posted in Finger Food, Mexico, Personal, Sweets, Travel, Type | Tagged , , , , , | 9 Comments

Portobello & Kale Stout Pie with Sweet Potato Mash Crust

The cult of the savoury pie is an established tradition in many parts of the world, but perhaps maintained with extra gusto in England and Ireland. Sometimes meaty, often accompanied by mash, and always comforting.

Portobello Kale Stout Pie with Sweet Potato Mash Crust

I’m a crust girl through and through, notorious for cherishing baguette butts and stealing nibbled pizza edges from friends’ plates. Imagine my astonishment upon learning that the crusts of medieval meat pies (referred to as “coffins”) kept fillings moist during baking, only to be discarded or tossed to servants after cooking…blasphemous.

Portobello Kale Stout Pie with Sweet Potato Mash Crust

Nowadays the crust is variable, usually consisting of either puff pastry or flaky shortbread. Facing the absence of both lard and the ambition to roll thin layers of puff pastry from scratch, I merged the mashed potato that’s usually served alongside pie as “pie & mash” and the carbohydrate envelope that compliments and contains the stewy goodness inside. The result was a sweet potato mash top “crust” with the consistency of an American drop-biscuit or perhaps a savoury scone. This technically makes it more of a pot pie lacking full crusted enclosure, but hey. Ambitious laziness necessitates creativity…this is possibly the story of my life as a nerd doubling as art kid.

Portobello Kale Stout Pie with Sweet Potato Mash Crust

Portobello Kale Stout Pie with Sweet Potato Mash Crust

The term “pie” is thought to have come from the magpie, a bird that collects things (mostly shiny things, in the hopes to attract a mate)—and was often the main ingredient in meat pies of olden times. There are now many variations in savoury pie filling, a favourite being British steak & ale or the Irish version, steak & guinness. There were two massive portobello heads in my veg bag last week (which are really just the fully matured version of “boring” button mushrooms), so I made them the star of this pie, umami-fied even further with a dash of soy sauce and some olives from my friend’s hometown in Crete.

Portobello Kale Stout Pie with Sweet Potato Mash Crust

Though the stout and kale bring an element of bitterness, the dates and sweet potato give it a sweet edge as well. Navigating along the same bittersweet route as recent marmalade and chili, this might be my favourite kitchen ad-lib outcome of late; it wouldn’t be completely tongue-in-cheek of me to recommend you take a page from the magpie’s book and make this in hopes of attracting a mate. Yep, I’ve even ventured into dangerous gif territory to capture the sublime moment of steam escaping upon first fragrant spoonful.

On that note, Happy belated Valentine’s Day.

Portobello Kale Stout Pie with Sweet Potato Mash Crust

Portobello Kale Stout Pie with Sweet Potato Mash Crust

Portobello & Kale Stout Pie with Sweet Potato Mash Crust

(serves 4)
  • 2 T neutral oil
  • 1 leek, sliced into rounds
  • 1 red onion, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 portobello mushrooms, chopped
  • 150g kale, roughly chopped
  • 1 T dried sage
  • 1 T masa harina (or other flour)
  • 250ml dark stout beer
  • 1 T soy sauce
  • 1 T balsamic vinegar
  • 1 T tomato paste
  • ¼ cup Cretan olives, pitted and chopped
  • 3 medjool dates, pitted and chopped
  • 2 sprigs fresh thyme, chopped
  • freshly ground black pepper & sea salt, to taste
  • ¾ cup spelt flour
  • 1 T baking powder
  • ¾ t salt
  • 1 small sweet potato, cooked and mashed
  • 2 T olive oil
  • ¼ cup cold water

Heat up oil in a medium saucepan and sauté leek and onion until softened. Add garlic for another minute, stirring until fragrant.
Add mushrooms, kale, fresh herbs, and cook for 5-10 minutes until mushrooms have released their liquid and kale is fully wilted. Cover loosely to speed along the wilting and add a splash of water if necessary.
Sprinkle masa flour into the pot, stirring for a short minute before pouring in the stout, vinegar, soy, and tomato paste. Bring to a boil, then lower to simmer for 5 minutes until liquid has thickened and reduced a bit.
Remove from heat, season to taste, and mix in the olives and dates.
Transfer to a baking dish and preheat oven to 250ºC / 425ºF.

For the biscuits, first combine dry and wet ingredients separately. Gradually incorporate into a dough, kneading until smooth. Depending on the size of your sweet potato, you may need to adjust the amount of flour and water used, but these biscuits are pretty fool-proof and flexible.
Form individual shapes roughly in the size of a serving, arranging within the baking dish atop the mushroom filling.

Bake for about 20 minutes until the biscuit is golden-encrusted and the stew is bubbling thickly. Garnish with parsley and serve hot.

Portobello Kale Stout Pie with Sweet Potato Mash Crust

Portobello Kale Stout Pie with Sweet Potato Mash Crust

 

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Posted in Baked Goods, England, Ireland, Main | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 11 Comments

Root Vegetable Rösti

Root vegetables have been overflowing from orifices of our kitchen, infiltrating my long-suffering flatmates’ refrigerator shelves and spilling over the countertops.

Root Vegetable Rosti

True to yuppie East Dulwich form, I joined the weekly produce pickup system to make it easier for myself to support local farmers and eat seasonally in a big city full of temptingly convenient Tescos. Week by week, urgency to consume the more ephemeral leafy greens has resulted in a buildup of sturdier, dirtier root vegetables of all shapes and sizes.

Root Vegetable Rosti

Solution: massive rösti, naturally.

Root Vegetable Rosti

Swiss rösti (röschti) are typically made with grated potatoes and not much else—think a cake of American hash browns, a giant Jewish latke, a shredded Spanish tortilla de patatas.

Like a lot of the world’s best foods, rösti gained prominence as a cheap and hearty breakfast for farmers. There is some debate over the use of parboiled or raw potato, but it seems as though the latter is more isolated to the Zurich region—and anyway, parboiled and chilled pre-grating gives the inside a creamier texture, more like a bubble & squeak with leftover mash.

Root Vegetable Rosti

Aside from the grating and waiting, it’s an extremely straight-forward recipe. Today’s a brief post because of impending deadline doom, so with that I leave you with this very earthy, beet-dyed fry-up and a general air of academic panic.

Root Vegetable Rösti

  • 2 potatoes
  • 3 turnips
  • 1 beetroot
  • 1 parsnip
  • 1 T dried rosemary
  • freshly ground pepper & sea salt, to taste
  • 2 T olive oil / butter

Wash vegetables well and parboil the potatoes, beetroot, and parsnip in water until just tender but still firm. Once cooled you can peel them if preferred, but boiling with skins on will keep a lot of the flavour and nutrients from seeping into the cooking water.
Chill for at least an hour before grating roughly.
Heat up fat source of choice in a wide pan, adding the grated root vegetables. Toss to coat with fat, sautéing with seasonings and rosemary for a couple minutes.
Shape into a rounded cake, compacting lightly with the back of a wooden spoon. Cook on medium-low heat for about 10 minutes, then carefully invert onto a plate by clamping it down over the pan and flipping. Add more oil if necessary, then slide the rösti back into the pan, cooked side up, frying another 10 minutes until both sides are golden and crispy.
Alternatively, this can be separated into smaller portions, which will be easier to handle when it comes to flipping; in the absence of binding agents, the key to keeping the rösti together is a very crispy bottom, so be patient.
Put a fried egg on top! These make great breakfast food, but are also nice as sides of veg for a big lunch or dinner.

Root Vegetable Rosti

Root Vegetable Rosti

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Posted in Breakfast, Side, Switzerland | Tagged , , , , | 6 Comments