Tuesday, April 30, 2013

The World Is Round, But Not In Holland

Driving in Holland on a good day makes you doubt if the world is indeed round.  If you look farther you could probably see China from where you are.  No, really, the seemingly endless unobstructed horizon is just as amazing as seeing beautiful mountains anywhere else in the world.  Except for the occasional mounds or dunes, it is a uniquely flat country.

From Deventer we drove to Groningen to catch a ferry to one of the small islands up north:  Schiermonnikoog.  Let's try that again.  Schiermonnikoog.  With less than a thousand people residing there, it's the least densely populated part of Holland.

The ferry ride from Groningen is about 40 minutes but I was busy queuing up to buy snacks on board so it felt more like 15 minutes.  And there's wi-fi, too.

It's the fourth island north of Friesland. (map courtesy of EuropeETravel.com)

From the pier, there are buses to take you to the center (about 7 minutes).

And from the center, you pretty much have to walk to see the rest of the island.

....more walking....

....while others prefer biking....

.....to get to the beach.

Schiermonnikoog is a popular destination during summer so expect the island to be packed with sun worshippers, sharing the beach with seals.  But in winter when it's too cold to swim I guess there's this instead?

Time for a break and hot chocolate...

...to end a beautiful winter's day.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Blisters Never Looked This Good

I've always thought frying was the best method to use when making crispy pork belly; that cooking it in the oven would yield a skin where some parts, if not all, are tough and chewy.

I, of little faith.

Roasting it in the oven not only resulted in an evenly crispy, blistered skin but also a juicy, tender meat.  Plus, no oil was used so it's healthier than deep frying it by, um, about 2%.  It takes time to prepare this dish but totally worth it.

Crispy Pork Belly recipe (adapted from BBC Food Recipes):

3/4 kg - 1 kg boneless pork belly, with rind
2 Tbsp. coarse salt
1 Tbsp. ground Sichuan peppercorns
1 tsp. ground white pepper
1 Tbsp. five-spice powder
1 Tbsp. sugar

1.  Pierce the rind side of pork with a sharp knife until the skin is covered with fine holes.

2.  Bring a large pan of water to a boil and, using a large ladle, pour the hot water over the rind side of the pork several times.  This is best done placing the pork on a rack and tilting it above the sink.  Set pork belly aside.

3.  Heat a pan until it is hot, then add the salt, both peppers, five spice powder and sugar and stir-fry the mixture for three minutes.  Allow mixture to cool slightly.

4.  When the mixture is cool enough to handle, rub it into the flesh side of the pork.  Place the meat on a wire rack set about a roasting pan and allow it to dry uncovered for eight hours or overnight in a cool place (refrigerator or in front of a fan.)

5.  Preheat the oven to 200C/400F.  Place pork on a wire rack, rind side up, over a deep roasting pan filled about 1/3 with water and roast for 20 minutes.

6.  Reduce the heat to 180C/350F and continue to roast for 2 hours.  Turn the oven back up to 230C/450C and cook for another 15 to 20 minutes, until skin is blistered and crispy.  Remove from the oven and allow the pork to cool.

Egg Fried Rice recipe (BBC Food Recipes):

2 cups cooked leftover rice
2 eggs, beaten
2 tsp. sesame oil
salt and pepper to taste
2 Tbsp. vegetable or canola oil
2 Tbsp spring onions, thinly sliced

1.  Mix the eggs, sesame oil and a pinch of salt in a small bowl and set aside.

2.  Heat large frying pan over high heat until it is hot.  Add the vegetable or canola oil and when it is very hot and slightly smoking add the cooked rice and stir-fry for 3 minutes or until it is thoroughly warmed through.

3.  Drizzle the egg mixture over the rice and continue to stir-fry until the eggs have set and the mixture is dried.  Season with salt and pepper to taste, then toss in the spring onions.

Chocolate Cake

Moist and rich, but not too rich.  Soft and dense, but not too dense.  Ina Garten's recipe for chocolate cake is the one to make when you're craving for a good chocolate cake.

The original recipe calls for a cup of buttermilk, but I used sour cream for this recipe.  It still turned out fabulous.

Chocolate Layer cake (recipe adapted from Ina Garten via Food and Wine):

1 3/4 cup flour
2 cups sugar
3/4 cup good cocoa powder
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup buttermilk, shaken (I used a cup of sour cream)
1/2 cup vegetable oil
2 eggs, at room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup freshly brewed hot coffee

Preheat the oven to 350F.  Butter two 8 inch round cake pans (make sure cake pans are at least 2 inches tall). Line with parchment paper, then butter and flour the pans.

Sift the flour, sugar, cocoa, baking soda, baking powder and salt into the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment and mix on low speed until combined. In another bowl, combine the buttermilk (or sour cream), oil, eggs and vanilla. With the mixer on low speed, slowly add the wet ingredients to the dry. With the mixer still on low, add the coffee and stir just to combine, scraping the bottom of the bowl with a rubber spatula. Pour the batter into the prepared pans and bake for 35-40 minutes, until a cake tester comes out clean.

Cool in the pans for 30 minutes, then turn them out onto a cooling rack and cool completely, removing parchment paper.

Chocolate frosting recipe:

6 oz. good quality semisweet chocolate
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 egg yolk, at room temperature (I omitted the egg yolk;  I just didn't like the thought of eating chocolate frosting with raw egg in it)
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 1/4 cups sifted powdered sugar

Chop the chocolate and place it in a heat-proof bowl set over a pan of simmering water. Stir until just melted and set aside until cooled to room temperature.

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat the butter on medium-high speed until light yellow and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add the egg yolk and vanilla and continue beating for 3 minutes. Turn the mixer to low, gradually add the powdered sugar, then beat at medium speed, scraping down the bowl as necessary, until smooth and creamy.

On low speed, add the chocolate to the butter mixture and mix until blended. Do not whip. Spread immediately on the cooled cake.