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Posts from the ‘Mainland Europe’ Category

Gateau Breton aux Pommes

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This time last year, I was frolicking (OK, well, no – I don’t actually frolic) around Brussels with a great group of girls. We took off for a weekend of rest, frivolity, food and shopping. I actually had the best time, even though I was pregnant, sick with a horrendous chest infection and couldn’t imbibe in Brussels’ famous beers. I swore I would go back, and I will – probably with my husband – sometime in the next few years.

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Even though I couldn’t drink with the rest of my friends (save for one, who was as pregnant as I was at the time), bon vivant I am,  I still over-indulged. Friends, being pregnant in Brussels isn’t so bad. Sure, you can’t drink the beer, but you’re surrounded ON ALL SIDES by waffles and chocolate. And, my personal favourite, speculoos!

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I packed so much eating into those two days, I’m amazed they didn’t roll me off the plane when we got back to Dublin. Waffles three times a day were a must.

“Just plain, no toppings, please! I’ll take six to go.” Hot and fresh off the iron, biting into a doughy Liege waffle was like taking a bite into heaven. I never wanted to be far from those angelic delicacies.

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Belgian frites were a must, at least twice a day. Triple fried in beef fat with a side of truffle mayo? Why not. I’M ON VACATION.

Moules-frites, fricadelle, chocolate (MOUNTAINS OF CHOCOLATE), nougat, pain au chocolat – I even over-indulged in some Turkish cheese pastries I found on our final morning. Everything was delicious. Drunk food and pregnant food are basically the same thing, and Belgians are really good at both drinking and creating drunk food.

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Can I let you in on a secret? The absolute, VERY BEST THING I ate while in Brussels wasn’t Belgian; it was French – from Normandy, to be exact. It was a caramelized apple pancake at Chez Leon, an old-school restaurant best known for their moules-frites. I didn’t enjoy my moules-frites very much, but I would return to this restaurant just for the desserts.

It was perfect. Sweet, but not too sweet, cooked table-side by our very entertaining waiter, served hot with a dollop of vanilla ice cream melting over the top – it was just what I needed after a highly anticipated, then disappointing dinner. My friends ordered other desserts but nearly everyone ended up taking a bite (or two) of my pancake; it was just so scrummy.

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Now, a year on, I’m just after turning 33. For my birthday I really wanted to replicate these flavours – my favourite flavours. I’m lucky to have an October birthday in Ireland – it’s peak apple season. Using tart cooking apples (like Bramleys) in this Gâteau Breton aux Pommes is a must, but equally important is the salted caramel sauce to drizzle over top.

This cake uses A LOT of butter and eggs, but no milk. The consistency post-bake is nearly custard-like, or that of a baked pudding. Your fork slides through the layers of sponge and apple with ease and the caramel adds the perfect amount of sweetness. I think this will be my birthday cake for years to come.

Recipe via Bon Appetit

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Bacon & Cabbage with Parsley Cream Sauce

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Ah, Paddy’s Day.

Those Facebook memories that keep popping up remind me that St. Patrick’s Day isn’t just a fun family holiday. Things just seem to happen for me around this time of year – good things.

Luck of the Irish? Perhaps. Or maybe we’re all just in better moods because the sun tends to come out in March. The trees start to bud, my garden starts to grow, the end of calving season (and; therefore, around-the-clock cow monitoring) is in sight and the air feels significantly warmer.

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Patrick with some Irish fans in Yogyakarta – our most booze-free Paddy’s Day

This time eight years ago, Patrick and I were embarking on a three-month-long backpacking trip around Southeast Asia. Facebook tells me we were in Java, Indonesia. We just climbed Gunung Bromo, a small active volcano, and were en route to Yogyakarta – a city we absolutely loved.

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Paddy’s Day Parade in Seoul, South Korea, 2008 (strange, no?)

This time four years ago, we were getting ready to leave Toronto for good. I was very excited and a little bit worried. After all, I was nearly six months pregnant and we were both leaving good jobs behind, with no work prospects in Ireland. I loved my work in Toronto but didn’t love living in the city. I couldn’t deal with the prospect of raising my kids so far away from family. Moving to Ireland, as you may have guessed, has worked out brilliantly. We are happy and thriving (and working!).

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Beautiful Porto. Take me back!

This time three years ago we were in Portugal on our first-ever family holiday with Maeve. She was seven months old and we had a wonderful time in Lisbon, Porto and Aveiro. The weather was warm and sunny (but not too hot) and we visited with friends I hadn’t seen in years.

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Maeve and her cousins, eating green pancakes.

And this year? One of my best friends is coming to stay with her 10-month-old baby boy. When they go home, Patrick and I are going to Galway for a few nights to eat, drink and relax sans children. So yeah, March brings good things, and St. Patrick’s Day is just one of them.

I remember Paddy’s Days of the past. In university, in Korea, in (yes!) Yogyakarta and, of course, here in Ireland, I’ve had some crazy times. These days our Paddy’s Day tends to be quieter and more kid-focused. Coffee at a friend’s house, taking the kids to the parade, making green pancakes for breakfast – all of these things are quickly replacing the pub breakfasts and day-long drinking sessions of the past.

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Bacon and cabbage is becoming tradition, too. While North Americans gorge themselves on corned beef, the Irish will generally sit down to a family meal of just about anything (Chinese takeaway? I wouldn’t say no). At our house, I usually make a big feed of bacon and cabbage for us and any other family members milling around the farm.

The parsley sauce is entirely optional, but I like it. A lot of people eat their bacon and cabbage with a schmear of English mustard or the ubiquitous brown sauce, but I think it’s more of a complete meal with the parsley sauce (also, it will impress your friends if you want to make this for a Paddy’s Day dinner party). It tastes fancy but is so easy to make.

The dish is called Bacon & Cabbage, but it wouldn’t be the same kind of bacon you have with your scrambled eggs. Here, a loin of ham is called a joint of bacon. You can get them smoked or unsmoked. Just ask your butcher, or, when in doubt, get some uncooked ham. It’s basically the same thing. Bacon and cabbage is usually served with mashed potatoes, but I love boiling new potatoes with the skin-on this time of year.

Whatever you end up doing for Paddy’s Day, I hope it’s great and full of delicious food, drink and loved ones. Sláinte mhath!

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Bacon & Cabbage with Parsley Cream Sauce

Ingredients:

Bacon & Cabbage:

1-2 kg ham/bacon joint (cured and uncooked, ask your local butcher!)

1-2 large head savoy or green cabbage

4L chicken stock

1-2 bay leaves

2-3 sprigs fresh thyme

Parsley Sauce:

½ cup butter

1 clove garlic, minced

¾ glass dry white wine

1 cup heavy cream

1 tsp Dijon mustard

1 bunch fresh parsley, finely chopped

Salt and Pepper, to taste

Directions:

  • In a large pot, bring the ham, stock, bay leaves and thyme to a simmer. Simmer the ham/bacon for about 1 hour – or until the ham is cooked through.
  • While the ham is cooking, prep your cabbage: using a large knife, cut out the core and slice the head of cabbage into large wedges. Leave the wedges whole and set aside while the ham cooks.
  • When the ham is cooked, remove the ham, bay leaves and thyme from the pot. Add the cabbage to the remaining broth and cook until tender, about 10 minutes.
  • Make the parsley sauce: in a hot saucepan, add the butter and garlic. Cook for 30 seconds – don’t let the garlic brown. Add the wine and reduce by half, then add the cream. Let the cream boil and thicken for a few minutes – you want the sauce to coat the back of a spoon.
  • When the cream is thickened, add the chopped parsley and season with Dijon, salt and pepper.
  • Slice the ham and add it back into the broth with the cabbage wedges, just to heat through.
  • Depending on the size of your bacon (I usually buy a 1kg joint), this will feed 4-6 people. Serve hot with boiled or mashed potatoes.

48 Hours in Brussels

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Ah, Bruxelles. I fell in love with that charming city over a dreary, cold weekend in November and I’m only now able to tell you about it! Happy new year, dear readers. 2016 was really great for me in lots of ways (like that time my second daughter was born) and really bad in other ways (like that time Donald Trump…).

I think 2017 is going to be really great. Especially for my family, because we’re expanding yet again! Ciara will be 18 months when our third child is born this coming Spring so our two latest babies will be just shy of official “Irish Twin” status, but that won’t make our lives any less hectic. I’m just gonna embrace the craziness and be as kind to myself as possible.

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With that said, why wouldn’t I jump at the chance of a weekend away in one of Europe’s coolest cities? A few girlfriends and I bought cheap Ryanair tickets (€40 return) and rented an apartment for the weekend (which also worked out to about €40 per person). We were as close to the downtown core as you can possibly get, so our accommodation was a steal (and very clean, and very charming – here’s the link to the Airbnb).

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Our group was split between girls who wanted to party and girls who wanted to sleep (aka the pregnant ladies with kids at home). We all wanted to shop and eat. The location suited everyone’s tastes – just steps away from the Grand Place, the pedestrian shopping streets and the bar district. Artisan chocolate shops, French patisseries, waffle kiosks and proper Belgian friteries were absolutely everywhere. A real food heaven.

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On Saturday morning we gathered with other poor backpackers for a free walking tour of the city. Our guide (Oriane from Viva Brussels Walking Tours) was absolutely brilliant. I don’t normally like guided tours – it’s difficult to escape if the tour is really boring – but Oriane was funny, knew her history and gave good tips on where and what to eat/drink in the city. It was a cold, clear day but we were dressed warmly and enjoyed the exercise.

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I spent a lot of time buying chocolate and eating waffles. I must have averaged three waffles per day. The best thing about a true Liège waffle (the term “Belgian” waffle is incorrect since there are two types of waffle in Belgium – the Brussels waffle and the Liège, which is the one we tend to associate with Belgium) is that you can eat it on the go. Most shops will offer all kinds of sweet toppings, but DON’T – it’s just overkill. A proper Liège waffle is already sweet. Wrap it in a napkin and eat while you take in the sights.

As mentioned, there is no shortage of great quality Belgian chocolate on offer in the pedestrian areas off Grand Place. Your biggest problem will be deciding what to buy and from which shop. I bought several types of chocolate from different places and even bought some generic Belgian chocolate at the supermarket – all delicious.

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Other food and drink options worth exploring in Brussels include the famed Speculoos biscuits (my faves came from Maison Dandoy), traditional double-fried frites and, of course, Belgian beer. I know I’m pregnant, but I still bought a small bottle of Gueuze – an old-style Lambic beer which is fermented by particles in the air found only around Brussels. It had a sour, cidery taste. Really nice.

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And the frites? Oh my GAWD the frites. Our apartment was just around the corner from one of Brussels’ best friteries – Friterie du Café Georgette. The frites are triple-fried in beef fat, giving them an addictive flavour and perfect texture. They put Irish chips to shame. With a bit of mayo on the side, these frites made a good, cheap meal for us on more than one occasion.

I wasn’t so crazy about our final meal. Our tour guide had mentioned that Chez Lèon – an old-school Belgian restaurant – served great moules frites. Since the restaurant wasn’t far from our apartment we thought it would be a good place to go for dinner. The ambiance was wonderful. We had an older waitor with flawless tableside service. He was also a shameless flirt and a born entertainer. Unfortunately, my mussels weren’t nearly as vibrant; both moules and frites were disappointingly bland.

Dessert was a different affair (probably since most of the cooking was done tableside). I had a Normandy-style pancake. It might be the best dessert I’ve ever had (a hefty claim, but it was just that good – done simply, served hot – delicious).

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I’d love to go back to Brussels, or explore some of Belguim’s other cities, with my husband someday – preferably when I can drink beer again. The flight is an easy 1.5 hours from Dublin and the city is breathtaking. Don’t get hung up on terrorist threats; just don’t. Life is too short, and Brussels is too beautiful and fun to miss.

And those frites…

*This is not a sponsored post; no freebies were had. Just good times with friends.

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