Category Archives: food

Rich milk chocolate date and almond gateau

So: here's the recipe, scroll further down for the blabla story that other blogs put before the repice. I personally prefer the reverse: tell me how to do it, then tell me why this dish matters to you. 己所不欲勿施於人 as Confucius said. (Do not do to others as you wouldn't have done to yourself.1 )

Grab a 25 cm/10inch sandwich tin (I use one with a removable bottom), and a few mixing bowls, then gather the following ingredients, and follow the instructions below:


  • 175g (6oz) unsalted butter
  • 250g (9oz) good quality milk chocolate. For my US-based friends: Trader Joe's Imported Belgian Chocolate is excellent, I personally vouch for it.
  • 3 whole eggs
  • 3 egg yolks
  • 125g (4oz) light brown sugar
  • 175g (6oz) ground almonds
  • 100g (3 1/2oz) whole almonds crushed
  • 150g (5oz) medjool dates (or poach ordinary dates in water and sugar for ± 3 mins), cut in small pieces


  1. Grease the sandwich tin, and line the base with a circle of grease-proof paper
  2. Preheat the oven to 170C (325F, gas mark 3)
  3. Melt butter and chocolate together au bain-marie or in microwave
  4. Beat the whole three eggs with egg yolks and sugar until the mixture is pale and thick.
  5. Add the ground almonds, the crushed almonds and the dates to that mixture, combine well
  6. Incorporate the butter and chocolate mixture
  7. Pour everything into the sandwich tin and bake for about 50 mins. (I needed to add another 15mins, but our oven is geriatric and temperamental)
  8. Leave to cool before turning out
  9. Decorate with an icing sugar pattern right before serving, if you fancy


Icing decoration optional, but tasty!

On Christmas day we had not prepared the quiche that was murmured about – that one had fallen by the wayside. Just as well, so there was a small pie-shaped hole still available for our guests to try out this gateau. (I know I called it a torte in that previous post but to err is human.) Everyone enjoyed it, after all the other delights we served – including a gorgeous Yule log. Just look at that picture!

Our reindeer decoration approves of the Yule Log.

Anyways: it's still as good as I remember, and it reminded me of a very thick brownie with added pizzazz: ever so slightly crunchy on top, moist and substantially chocolatey on the inside, and almond flavour everywhere. My cousin compared it to frangipane but with chocolate, and that's the almonds talking.

This thing was so delish we even saved the crumbs from my clumsy cutting effort for the next day. (Tip: use a sharp knife and a decisive cut.) The Belgian Army didn't show up, neither did the Navy, to help us out, so we hid the rest of the cake in the freezer, because there was serious temptation to eat all the leftovers in one go and that might not have ended well. We're now slowly munching our way through it one piece at a time. We're tempted by cake, not by new year's resolutions here!

This yummy piece of cake survived the freezer effortlessly.

  1. Analects 12:2

Feeding an army (chocolate torte edition)

I'm sure you know the situation: family members (3 people) have been invited for a holiday dinner, with the promise of "something simple, not like you folks do." Then you let it all go for a couple of days and next thing you know, you pick up murmurings of a quiche for opening nibble, and a brunoise has miraculously appeared in the kitchen ("That's the soup. I'm not sure yet there will be a starter but I might do something yet."), and there is some coordination to pick up the guinea fowl and then somebody (not me) is hunting through recipe books to find the right sauce to go with the veggies. At least, I comfort myself, we have the cakes covered: picking up a Yule log from the local baker's is a safe bet. He makes great cakes, we like 'em. Ganache-covered option for us, of course, we're Belgian.

That was until I bumped about four days ago into a dead link on the newspaper website, for an Almond Chocolate Cake and I said "Oh well, I do have a good recipe for that anyway."
"Oh? You do?" piped up my housemate. Yeah, I do. Somewhere...

Next thing I know, I'm digging in the garage amid the piles of boxes with my stuff from the US, for my handwritten recipe notebook; we're strategising about the egg yolks that are left over from the brunoise; and somehow milk chocolate and dates have appeared in the pantry so resistance is futile: all ingredients are in the house. The almond-chocolate cake torte (as the recipe calls it) shall exist.

Just one small thing I had forgotten in the 13 or so years since I last made this thing: it's rather dense and even with its innocent measure of a 25cm sandwich tin it will feed the entire Belgian army (if we cut small slices, part of the navy too). How on earth five of us will manage to tackle this thing after an extended dinner and a Yule log is beyond me, but: I was requested to contribute this torte, and I have complied.

On Monday we'll get to try it out, and if it passes muster, I'll share the recipe. Hold on tight!

Stitch pulling a very airy chocolate cake that has risen to fill the entire inside of the oven, out of the oven.
Nope, it's not that fluffy...

Kung Fu Panda LARPing*?

* LARP: "Live-action role play"


Just killed a 7M run-walk-run, the first in the new training plan towards a half-marathon. Adjust your training to what works – I have zero interest in exercise-induced migraines or over-use injuries, but Jeff Galloway's training regime works for me for summer time heat. It wasn't fast, but that's ok. I feel great 😀

Still a lot of work to get to full Kung Fu Panda, though. My kungfu kicks need some extra attention because it's been a while, and I'll have to work on this cool move on one side only rather than alternating between both arms as Panda and Shifu do here.

Shifu and Kung Fu Panda face each other and do alternating single-hand push ups, supported by only one finger.
Clearly neither of these two is recovering from shoulder surgery

No regular planks or push-ups for a good while I reckon, as part of post-shoulder-surgery recovery. Those makes me reach for the nearest jar of Aleve within three hours, and for the next three days. But hey, my single-right-handed plank/push-up should be awesome if I really dedicate myself to this! I also have a long-standing relationship with stairs as a form of exercise. Not quite my enemy though.

Kung Fu Panda out of breath at the top of the stairs - text says "Ugh, stairs"
How to spot the difference between me and Kung Fu Panda: our attitude towards stairs (even if we look exactly the same at the top)

The secret ingredient

I finally got round to making for the very first time a family classic and family favourite: Aalsterse vlaaien (no links in English to be found, that's how local it is!). It has been so long since I last ate it, I didn't even remember what it was supposed to taste like! When I tested the spice mix in the batter before it went in the oven it took a few seconds 😱 before it clicked but phew I remembered.

I was very worried about getting it just right, because I wanted to share it with one of our freshly graduated Mules, who had seen this in Belgium but couldn't fit a taste of it in her brief visit. And... I did not have the secret ingredient, mastellen.

Mr Ping, the Duck and father of Kung Fu Panda is about to reveal the secret ingredient in his famous noodle soup broth.
Feeling there is some truth to Mr Ping's statement here...

These are bone-hard, dried little breads seasoned with spices. They're specific for making vlaaien and even locally in and around Aalst increasingly hard to find, and bakers seem to be sworn to secrecy because we cannot find a recipe anywhere. (The ones we have found online are a different kind, not suitable for our purposes.) Mum suggested rusks, or ships biscuits might do the trick, but I couldn't find those either, so I replaced all of that with... white bread, dried in the oven.

It worked beautifully. Fresh jars of Mace, and Organic Vietnamese Cinnamon probably helped, as well as the original brown sugar and sugar syrup imported from Belgium. A taste of home, recreated here on the other side of the Pond.

And now I know the secret ingredient (à la Mr. Ping), I also know I have ingredients for 3 more pans of this deliciousness. Perfect:

Kung Fu Panda stuffing his face with baozi


Uhm. Ok. So these things...

Box of Brown Sugar Cinnamon pop tarts, one of the packets still in silver foil lies in front of the box, unopened.
Brown Sugar Cinnamon Pop Tart. "Try them!" they said. "Your life will never be the same!" they said...

Back in March, I confessed for the second time on twitter that I'd never had a pop tart. I don't even quite know how to describe them to those of us who didn't grow up with them. They're "toaster pastries"? So you stick them in the toaster and they come out all nice and toasted and ready to eat? Really? This being America, I have to admit to being very (very) cautious about anything that is produced en masse and available all over the country in uniform flavours, shapes and sizes. And so I steered clear of them successfully for most of the 8 years I've lived here now.

That is, until my friend Jacki and her husband were kind enough to do my groceries when my shoulder had healed enough to do my own cooking, but I could not yet drive. So one fine morning, she showed up and plonked down, in addition to my healthful veggies and raw hazelnuts and whatnots from my shopping list, this package of Poptarts. "Little present for you from me, to try!" Oh. Ok, thanks! Great!

I asked advice from various quarters: How do you eat them? "Put them in the toaster. But really low, and keep an eye on them, because your toaster may catch fire and burn otherwise." Wait what? Why would you willingly risk setting your house on fire for a pre-fab sugar junk food snack?!? Debates ensued: "You can also stick them in the microwave." "Nah, they'll go soft." "Just not that long!" "No no, eat them straight from the package!" Gasp! You mean I'm to eat them RAW???

Foil with two brown sugar cinnamon poptarts revealed.
Yaaa- really appetizing to eat them straight from the package, right?

Since each foil package contains two "tarts", I decided to risk it in the toaster with one, put most of another in the microwave in 15" increments, and nibble on a raw corner.

But because I value the services of my $5 second-hand brave little toaster, I decided to protect it from sugar-melt-fire:

Toaster with two slots, in the left slot is a poptart with a piece of baking foil wrapped around it, the baking foil sticks out.
Baking foil to the rescue! Protecting my Brave Little Toaster (which needs a scrub, but that was hard to do with one crummy arm in March.)

The verdict of the experiment? If I were really, really hungry and there wasn't anything in the house, I'd risk my toaster. The pastry casing is "flat" in taste even if a bit more crunchy after toasting, the sugar/cinnamon is not very exciting. The microwave didn't do anything for me, and straight out of the package would be only useful in case of prolongued zombie-attacks or other acts of deities making it impossible to forage outside for wild berries.

Sorry friends, I know I just failed my citizenship test. I think it's one of these things you need to grow up with, and clearly I didn't! But if any of you want some Brown Sugar Cinnamon poptarts, I have a box with another 10 of them (5 packs of 2 each) to hand out, just drop me a line! You're also welcome to have them here with a lovely cup of tea or coffee!

Yi yeol chi yeol (Yi yŏl ch’i yŏl) – not just for Korean dishes!

When I was in Korea, I learned that there was a good reason I loved hot food in the summer: it was curing like with like. Pyongyang nengmyeon (cold noodles) in the middle of winter? Makes sense! 1 Flaming hot ... well, so much of Korean food is red, hot, and spicy, that you can pick your favourite dish and it will fit the bill for beating the summer heat by sweating it out.

Today for lunch, I improvised a bibimbap with some below-par jalapeños in a failed attempt to up the spice-level. (What's wrong with peppers in Pennsylvania?). A good dollop of Gochujang came to the rescue, mixed with a hint of sesame oil and soy sauce. Veggies were chopped up cucumber, sweet pepper, lettuce, and sprinkling of spring onion, over a few scoops of cold rice (too lazy to microwave) and I put a little fried egg on top. I forgot all about the toasted sea weed I have in the cupboard 😭

No photographic evidence of my lunch, too tasty to stop for a photo!
"비빔밥 - Bibimbap" by jamiefrater is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

But it was dinner when I surprised myself. I still had a nice little savoy cabbage hiding in the fridge, and it sure wasn't going to get better by just staying there. Yet I associated this particular vegetable with winter stews and hearty, warming dishes. Would I dare...?

Apparently, yi yeol chi yeol also works for Flemish winter dishes: I boiled the cabbage leaves for ±10 mins, then rinsed what I would eat in cold water, and chopped them in smaller pieces. (Oh, take the big midrib (is that what you call it?) out before boiling). Then I fried up some uncured bacon pancetta cubes, added the savoy cabbage and seasoned with "pezo" (family abbreviation for pepper and salt, or peper en zout) and copious amounts of nutmeg. Finishing touch was to throw a nice chunk of real butter in there for the final minute or so. None of that plastic margarine stuff for me, thankyouverymuch.

A big white plate with a blue circle edge, piled with fried savoy cabbage speckled with tiny pink pancetta cubes, and on the righthand side a few baby potatoes in the skin
Savoy cabbage with pancetta.

Served with cute little baby potatoes, that little winter dish hit the spot on a day the temperature officially hit for the first time this year 91F/33C. I scoffed down this little mountain of cabbage and taters without any trouble. For somebody who spontaneously combusts as soon as the temperatures hit 80F/26C, that's pretty good evidence that "heat cures heat". Now if only I could find some jalapeños with some real fire in them in this Commonwealth I might survive this summer... Suggestions in the comments, please!

  1. Incidentally, the only times I've had digestive issues with cold noodles was in summer!