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Happy, Happy and A Big Thank You!

cheese cake for birthday

It has been exactly one year since Happy Stomachs was born. And what a year! I have met interesting people and made new friends, discovered a few things and changed some others, come up with more ideas and exciting projects – and enjoyed every single step along the way. Thanks to you, my friends in food, who read and support, enjoy and get inspired by, share and comment on my beloved little blog.

You might not be surprised that my cake is a savory rather than a sweet one. To be exact: It is one made of cheeses. I couldn’t help… But I believe that, once you have read the simple instructions, you might be happy to have this ridiculously easy and flexible idea up your sleeve. Use it in the case you have barely any time, need something different – or simply want to change up the usual cheese platter. Or the traditional birthday cake, for that matter.

So here we go: Choose your cheeses depending your and your guests taste buds as well as the number of people the selection should feed. Keep in mind that soft and semi hard cheeses will allow you to cut the cake into wedges, while you will have to disassemble your oeuvre if  you incorporate hard cheeses (like Manchego, Gruyère, Cheddar, etc.) before you can enjoy them. Also, the subtler and runnier a cheese, the higher up on the tower it should be placed (in order to have as less as possible other weight on top of it). Pick your accompaniments according the season, your mood, a color or taste pattern or to match the cheeses flavor profiles.

My little cake is built of a French goat Brie (Chèvre des Crèmiers), Munster, Pico (another, smaller and looser goat Brie) and a hunk of an Australian Feta. The accoûtrements are red raspberries, toasted pumpkin seeds and Nasturtiums, a widely available, edible flower with a nice peppery after taste. – A rich, creamy and rather lush affair. But hey, it’s my baby’s birthday after all!

cheese cake for birthday

The (other) Forbidden Fruit

eggplant toast with mediterranean flavors

I feel bad for the eggplant. While I adore her – and her versatility – nobody else in my house loves eggplant. It gets worse: Not only do my men, all five of them, not like her, they despise her. So passionately, that they have her on the radar. It is impossible for me to sneak her into any dish. My troupe will detect the finest slice, the most subtle paste, the tiniest dollop of pureed eggplant wherever I try to hide it. So most of the time, our kitchen functions eggplant free.

But every now and then I protest in my very own way, by preparing an eggplant meal just for myself. Celebrating, highlighting and respecting this – in my house, anyways – forbidden fruit, brings my mind at least a little peace. And after having enjoyed my meal, I always feel happy and serene. Thank you, my beloved eggplant, you tolerant and humble, dark beauty!

aubergines before baking

Continue reading “The (other) Forbidden Fruit” »

Carpe Diem #6 – On a (Black) Mission

Fresh figs

When nature gives you abundance, take it. Use the product – that for a limited time is seemingly everywhere -, enjoy it, mix it up, play with it. And just before you get tired, preserve it. – I did this with lemons, tomatoes, cucumbers, strawberries, mangoes, beans, peppers, peaches and several herbs so far this year. And now with Black Mission Figs.

This small, dark and very versatile variety is my personal favorite one, and recently it came in bounty and striking beauty. We ate the fruit straight out of the crate, cut in half and topped with a dollop of fresh goat cheese, or with a sliver of a good blue cheese. We added it to leafy salads. We put a generous amount of goat cheese between two halfs of a fig, wrapped the whole thing with some thinly sliced jamón (or Italian prosciutto, for those who prefer) and let it get crisp under the broiler. We smuggled slices of figs onto pizzas, hidden under speck and arugula (an adaption of a flat bread we once ate at one of Todd English’s restaurants). We pounded pork tenderloin as flat as possible, smeared enough St.Agour – an über creamy blue cheese from southern France – on it and added quarters of little Black Missions. We rolled the beast up, using toothpicks to keep its shape intact, while it was first browned in the pan and then finished in the oven. We did not prepare but talk about the possibility of serving pork chops accompanied by a rich, thick Aceto Balsamico & fig sauce. We also did not bake the fig tart we had made last year.

fresh figs and blue cheese

But we did realize that it was time to move on to the preserving stage. And we knew exactly how we would turn our little friends into immortal, eternally tasty figs: By soaking them, very simply, in brandy. We had been gifted, two or three years ago, with a few jars of such drunken figs by a friend. We ate them with ice cream, with Crème Pâtissière and in delicate muffins (and, one here and there, just off the spoon). My favorite application though was in cheese: We cut a Buffalo Camembert in half horizontally (works best with when done with unscented floss), put the brandied fig slices on the bottom part, and put the top back on again. We let the cheese rest in the fridge overnight, in order to let the flavors mingle. One can do this with any kind of Brie (especially triple cream one), a regular cow Camembert or a fresh goat cheese. Any soft cheese, really. The experience was heavenly, and it could easily replace a sweet dessert.

cheese is filled with brandied figs

Preparing brandied figs is simple and quick: All one needs are cleaned, fresh figs*, a good quality brandy and Mason jars. If you want to preserve the figs whole, poke them with a fork all around. In case you prefer smaller pieces, slice the fruits. Fill a Mason jar with the fruits until about 2 inches from the top. Pack the figs tight, but don’t squish them. Pour the brandy in the jars so that all fruits are completely covered. Close the jar and turn upside down in order to get rid of any air pockets. Make sure the fruits still are completely covered. Let stand in the dark 4-6 weeks before enjoying.

(*Dry figs can be used if desired. They will result in a much sweeter flavor and more dense texture, especially around the edges.)

jars of figs in brandy

Past Supper #11 – Pizza

pizza without tomato or tomato sauce

Hand made dough, topped with red onion, red pepper, green olives, capers, boquerrones, Bucheron (goat cheese). Once baked, we took the pizza out of the oven, covered it completely with arugula and let the green get slightly warm and even more slightly wilted by putting a sheet of aluminum loosely over it. By the time we sat down and dug in we were so hungry and delighted that we forgot to take a picture. What you see here is what was left this morning. (We also realized that we had forgotten to spread a little tomato sauce onto the dough at very first. It didn’t matter. It was very delicious even without it!)

Sweet Beet

beet, potato and cheese stack

It must be the Virgo in me. Or my fascination with colors and what they can do to people. Perhaps also my motherly instinct that makes me want to protect who and what ever seems to be in a rather difficult situation. In any way: I am intrigued, absolutely intrigued, by beets.

I love its gnarly, anti uniform, rough look. The color, the flavor, the texture, the smell. I like its earthiness, which is kind of obvious, and I love its sweetness, which comes surprising. I love the gentle, versatile character that hides behind the beet’s stubborn facade. I love, love, love beets. Period.

bunches of red beet, plus greens

And while I try to pace myself – because not every one in my family is as fanatic as I am, to put it mildly – I could not resist to buy a few bunches of red beets yesterday at the market, when they smiled at me, crookedly as they do. So home we went, and while my mind was turning around some Gold Nugget tomatoes, all of a sudden I remembered those four sweet potatoes sitting somewhere in the dark for a while now. Rustic and robust just like the beets, but a total and bright contrast in every other aspect. They seemed like a perfect couple.

the beauty of a beet

And that’s how I came up with this savory Napoleon. The goat cheese is a classic pairing with beets; it is less common with sweet potatoes, but not less perfect, as it turned out. (I picked a small log of semi aged St.Maure, but any fresh goat cheese will work as well. As will other cheeses, like for instance a creamy blue or even a Raclette.) The idea to use the beet greens came naturally, while I was admiring the unusual yet stunning color combination of that dark, dark reddish purple, bright pink and vibrant green.

colorful beet stalks

I served the Napoleons baked, as an appetizer. They would also make a lovely side dish of any kind of protein though. And in the summer time I will try them unbaked, served at room temperature; simply drizzled with a bit of good oil, as an alternative to salad. There’s softness (in the veggies), crunch (in the greens) and creaminess (in the cheese). One gets earthiness, sweetness and tang. And all together finishes in a smooth, gooey harmony. – Even the non Virgos (four out of six at my table), the one color blind and those with no motherly instinct (all of my male family members) agreed that this was quite something and quite different. So home we will go together again, my sweet beets. Home, beet home. Continue reading “Sweet Beet” »