adventures in food: a very special dinner

"Sanne, have you ever eaten offal?"

I responded that apart from your regular pate or duck liver as an extravagant top-up I had never eaten any cow's or duck's internal essentials. I did tell my friend that according to my sister and her boyfriend it's really not too miss and can make for a fantastic dinner. Recommending the Gebr. Hartering in Amsterdam along the way. Gesiers de canard, supposedly is really something special.

"I would really like to eat all that, you know! Maybe we can arrange something with a chef I know. He might be into that!"

So my friend went on and organised this special dinner for ten daredevils that were up for it.

"Would you maybe like to do the wine for the evening?"

Sure I would like to do that! Nice try-out for me and wine pairing.

He cleverly didn't share the menu with the attendants as to not to scare them in advance. I could have a peak, because of the wine. I glanced over the menu, got slightly disgusted, but picked myself up and started browsing the interwebz for possible wines to go with the menu. The internet wasn't really much help, most of the pairings it proposed were either Beaujolais or very specific combinations that I wouldn't be able to get my hands on. So, in this case, we went along with the wine shop guy's recommendations. Which was also quite a challenge for him because we couldn't provide him with in depth info about the way the dishes would be prepared. We only had it on paper. And in the end the menu even changed!

The evening started with a celebratory prosecco and a tiny glass of pumpkin soup with bone marrow. Drinking quite enthusiastically because we were all a little frightened of what might come.
The first course was an easy one, a nice autumnal salad with creamy slices of duck liver, some crispy bits, and some sweat pears. The crispy bits turned out to be deep-fried veal ball, which was not as disgusting as it sounds!
The salad was paired with a Pinot Grigio Ramato, The wine was chosen because the original salad was supposed to have a raspberry dressing. The pairing wasn't off, but the combo could have been more balanced.
Next up was a very terrifying dish, brains. Crispy brain with pomodori, sage and homemade pasta. The homemade pasta makes it sound so easy and delicious. But in all honesty, brains are a ridiculous eat. They're wet and soggy, cream-like. It's just plain weird. After the brain dish I wasn't scared anymore of what was to come. This course was paired with an Italian white: falanghina, a native grape with hints of ripe apple and peaches. I drank it quite quickly to wash away the texture of the brains..
The third course was a fairly classic combination of baked liver with apple, bacon, onion and blood sausage. Paired with a fruity Pinot Noir from the Pays d'Oc.
Fourth up: Veal kidney with baked chicory, vitelotte and mustard sauce. Paired with a nice and herby Chianti. A subtle combination.
For our last savoury course we enjoyed sweetbread with wild spinach and bearnaise. Paired with the strongest wine of the lot: a rich and oaky Bordeaux. 


a few words on wine books

Wine drinking can be such an adventure. Excuse me if I sound a little sobby over this. I'm just really into wine at the moment. I'm not too sure about the how and why it happened. But some time ago, it hit me, wine hit me. The talk, the stories, the origin, histories. Everything. I'm light years away from being knowledgeable on the subject: still not able to distinguish a Chardonnay from a Pinot Grigio. But you can't blame me for trying. Right now it's all about trying to discover for myself what I like, and getting to know a bit more about the background of the wine. Trying a lot of different varieties from different areas. And also very important for me, how best to combine it with food. But like I said, I'm light years away: I don't know half as much as I would like to know, and not half of what I know is more than what the next person might know.

Anyway, about the adventure, what I'm trying to say is that when you open a bottle of something you've never tasted before it's such fun to try and discover all the different flavours that can be smelled and tasted in a glass. Distinguishing between the obvious red fruit flavours and try and describe what else can be sensed.

This whole wine thing needs a bit of guidance, it's easy to just indulge yourself and drink and drink and drink. Not very healthy and quite expensive. So I bought a bunch of books over the past few months, different styles and subjects, all good fun.

So here we are, these are five books I've been enjoying on wine!

Vino Italiano: The Regional Wines of Italy by Joseph Bastianich & David Lynch

This book contains huge amounts of information about Italian wine. It's kind of like a reference book, but there's stories in there too. Stories of their visits to the different wine regions in Italy. The book is really quite comprehensive: each chapter starts with a story, thereafter an extensive description of the wines of the region (vini bianchi, vini rossi, vini spumante e dolci) talking through the soil, wine-making methods, wine-makers and histories. This all gets a factual conclusion where everything you might want to know about the region is neatly lined up.
And of course there are tasting notes (degustazioni) of the most famous wines home to the region.
The chapters end with a local recipe; a Friulian cheese tart, Sorrento-style gnocchi or Antipasti Emiliano-Romagnolo. Hungry yet?

It definitely has me motivated to pick up more Italian wine. Especially local grape varieties. This is harder than I thought, it's mostly Chianti, Montepulciano and Pinot Grigio's in the stores around here. I'll have to keep my eyes wide open for the interesting stuff!

The World Atlas of Wine by Hugh Johnson & Jancis Robinson

This definitely is a reference book. Written by two very famous wine writers: Hugh Johnson & Jancis Robinson. Not something you will read cover to cover, but definitely a good resource.

Because the world of wine is such a big and complex one, I decided to focus on one of the chapters at the time, and then try to dig for more information online. A little study if you wish to call it that. I started with Bordeaux and will work my way through the other French provinces, onto Italy, Spain, maybe go a few thousand miles east to Australia and New Zealand, returning to Europe for a bit about Austria and Germany. Etcetera.

My dad still has Hugh Johnson's wine documentary on tape (VHS that is) and it still works. I love the slow but in depth way of documentary making, nothing like the clean and fast way they would do it now. A recommendation within a recommendation.

Through a Sparkling Glass: An A-Z of the Wonderland of Wine by Andrea Frost

There's a few great chapters that handle quite technical stuff about wine, but they're written in a very approachable and witty way, making it a good read for wine lovers as well as newby wine lovers (like me).
I am not looking to read a book entirely made of tasting notes, that's hard stuff to read. This book is light, no pompous wine lingo. Good read!

The author has a blog as well, I admire her style and approach to the subject!


The Juice: Vinous Veritas by Jay McInerney

This was the first book on wine I've read. I must admit I was slightly disappointed  when I looked up the wines he mentions and I found out that they will forever be out of my reach. But his writing style is so vivid and compelling, it really does motivate to at least try the cheapest version of what he mentions.

A Hedonist in the Cellar: Adventures in Wine by Jay McInerney

Another book by mr McInerney. And again, his storytelling skills are good! Like it, love it. Stories about white Bordeaux, Alsatian Riesling, travels and restaurants.

Again the wines he writes about are not particularly in my reach. His favourite white, a Condrieu doesn't sell for less than €30. But I do very much want to try it, and it's not like I don't have 30 euros, and I will not do it every week. So, for the sake of wine education I will buy a bottle in the future. Hoping it will be like an angel peeing on my tongue, whatever that means.


birthday dinner

In the beginning, my idea was to host a big birthday party, fill a plastic swimming pool with Belgian ales and just in general have a good time with all the people that are close to me now. But then I started thinking... it doesn't really suit me to celebrate my 25th birthday like that. I decided to host a dinner party and invite a smaller group.

Did I actually understand what I was in for? Not really, no.

So many questions, decisions, dilemmas. First of all, I wanted to create a menu that was delicious and slightly different. Secondly it shouldn't be too expensive (that meant a lot of ingredients of the table right away). Thirdly I should be able to plate the dishes in a limited amount of time, warm.
But still...

Italian or French?

Meat or fish?

Buffet-style or everything on a plate?

Is Asian maybe a more refreshing choice?

Have I got enough pots & pans?

It was a bit of a struggle, but I got there.

We started with my friend's homemade bread. Seriously delicious, with olives and herbs, served with salty butter and a glass of Prosecco: for all the guests that came straight from work and were getting a bit agitated because of the hunger.

For starters we had three crostinis, each with a different topping. Simple, with just a little rub of garlic on the grilled ciabatta slices.

Grilled peppers in three colours with the flavoursome olive taggiasca. A bit of an autumnal themed one with a button & porcini mushroom pesto with truffle oil, parmesan and walnut. And finally the proven combo of prosciutto, dried fig and mint. Wine-wise, we drank an Argentinian Chardonnay from the Tulum valley, I wouldn't call it the most deliberately chosen wine-food pairing. But it worked: the wine had lots of fruit, a little bit of nut, and all in all enough character to keep up with the quite intensely flavoured crostinis.

A not too fussy and good way to start the menu.

The main was a hearty pasta dish made from several components, not really an authentic Italian pasta. I simply called it ratatouille, but it was a lot more than that.
Homemade tomato sauce with lots of white wine, fennel seeds and other green herbs, ratatouille-rolls; a little chunk of grilled pepper wrapped in grilled aubergine and then wrapped in grilled courgette, kofta (Jamie Oliver-inspired) spiced with garam masala and rolled in honey and pistachios aaaand fresh (okay store-bought fresh) spaghetti covered in a basil and mint salsa verde or pesto. Pile of rocket on top, et voila! The main course.

A lot of flavour: mint, basil, parsley, garlic, garam masala...but it truly worked out nicely.
The main was paired with a strong flavoured Syrah from the Languedoc; lot of red fruit and spice finished with some peppery goodness.

And finally dessert,  we named it meringcons, it was kind of a failed attempt at macarons. The dessert was a bit of a last minute decision,  I should probably have chosen a more fool proof dish. But you know..it was tasty! Two meringcons with whipped cream, lime zest, raspberry coulis, blueberry coulis and a glass of limoncello to finish of all the strong herby flavours of the main course.

It was a great night! Maybe not the different menu I had hoped for,  and definitely not as cheap as I had planned, but worth everything because I love it so much to cook for people and  pick out the wine and have a good time with the people I care about. Can't wait to host another dinner party and use the food processor my friends got me :).


london, again!

Once upon a sunny Tuesday morning I was feeling slightly heavy-headed. 
It was the morning after my 25th birthday. 
Besides the meh-feeling I was extremely excited to hop on the bus to London once again. 
[Really, I have the intention to go other places, but haven't come around to that yet, and me and London are not nearly done]. 

This London-trip was going to be a little family reunion, my sister just moved there last month so I was really eager to see her again and see how things are going down here [yeah from where I live London is downwards]. 

The first night me and my sister spent at her cute and tiny studio, chatting, sipping beer and dipping bread in warm camembert. The days flew by, spent mostly on walking around town, seeing some pictures at the National Gallery, eating bitterballen [on request of my sister's bf, he was craving them already after one whole month in London, poor guy], a delicious lunch at York & Albany, a solo-visit to the Secret Comedy Club, two solo-visits to two wine bars [I was alone on a Friday night, and I couldn't think of a better way to spend it] and obviously lots of talks about why London is such a great city. 


a trip to london

Oh London...

You're my kind of city.

Both me and Onno are completely and utterly in love with London, so we were thrilled to visit the city once more a few weeks ago.

We took one of the most uncomfortable and non-relaxed travel methods that exists in the Western world: a nightbus. But, you know, without all the money in the world it does make it possible for us to go on a trip. So the hell with it, we were going to London, and we had more pocket money to spend (London is much nicer with more money, a part from going to museums, everything costs a lot more). 

Anyway! Welcome to this post! (mostly food and drink-pics)

One of the best walks in London is the one where you start at London Bridge and you just follow the river to the West, you immediately see St Pauls across the river, and slowly you start seeing all the proper touristy landmarky buildings: Tate Modern, Millenium Bridge, Southbank and Somerset House. 
The first day we crossed Waterloo Bridge and walked right into Covent Garden.  The real deal actually starts after Waterloo Bridge (the Houses of Parliament never fail to impress).

After the obligatory Thames walk we visited a James Bond exhibition, focussed on all the vehicles that were featured in one of the films. This was pretty awesome. We did the audio tour, which I must say was quite necessary, without it the tour would have been a bit boring. The audio tour had all kind of extra information and little stories about the cars and the production of the movies.

We saw a lot more, but I'm leaving it out of this post, because it's going to be gigantic already.

...A LOT.

Le Pain Quotidien - BREAKFAST
- Southwark - 
Organic foods, breakfast lunch or dinner. Chain. Relaxed atmosphere.

- Covent Garden - 
Very close to Covent Garden. Always busy and crowded. Very reasonably priced. Loaaads of Belgian beers (yeah Leffe Blond yeah). Menu consists of Belgian dishes, and they have a selection of roast chickens. To conclude: comfort food (not the best, but certainly not bad considering location & price).

- Mayfair - 
We went to Sketch (located right off Regent Street) on a recommendation. Its pricey, but looks spectacular. I googled the restaurant after we visited, and it's a proper high end restaurant, didn't know that at the time! Funny toilets. Pretty menu. Waiting staff was a bit..mweh.. Maybe visit it again with a bag of money, to get the most out of the experience. 

One of the best things about London is that all the museums are free! We had visited the Victoria & Albert Museum before, but we just wanted a quick sniff around, because it's such a gorgeous building and museum. Since it was extremely sunny outside we decided to drink a cup of coffee and have some pastries in the courtyard. Amazing atmosphere!

I'm always having a hard time finding a proper place to eat in the Covent Garden area. There's so many little restaurants, but I don't want fall for any tourist trap. This pub was a very nice exception, just around the corner of Covent Garden. Pretty venue, very light and clean, they  pub serve pub classics and have a nice selection of wines.

I really wanted to have a really good dinner while in London. A Gordon Ramsay restaurant seemed like a good choice. He has several restaurants all over London, we chose the 'cheapest' one haha. We had a cocktail in their downstairs bar first. The restaurant is located in Southwark, a short walk from Borough Market. It has a very industrial interior, very light and not overly decadent or anything. We ordered a bottle of Montepulciano. My starter was a delicious combination of green asparagus, culatello di zibello (Italian ham) & pecorino.  And my main course was monk fish, parma ham, carrots, peas and mint. Equally really tasty! All in all the food was really good, we just found the service a little disappointing; we were served by 5 different people, quite hastily and not very enthusiastic about the product they were serving. I might be a bit harsh. But I just find it so odd that there's so many people working in restaurants and bars that act like they don't want to be there. But I do recommend it, it's affordable, the food is delicious and a good atmosphere
We poured our own wine, which we weren't suppose to given the looks we got from the wine-lady..

My main: monkfish. 

The restaurant through my glass, felt very arty after the cocktail and the bottle of wine. 

- Camden -
We knew a few of their beers already, so we decided it would be cool to visit their Camden bar. It was quite empty (it being 4 in the afternoon on a Monday might have something to do with that), but cool to visit nonetheless. Almost all their beers on draught, and a very enthusiastic bartender telling all about the beers. I always like a knowledgeable and enthusiastic bartender,  we need more of those! We chose a 5 a.m. Saint; a dark red ale with the distinctive Brewdog flavour and a Dogma; a sweet dark ale.

- Camden -
We walked through Camden for a bit and ended our North-London trip with a pint of Stella at the World's End, supposedly the pub where Edgar Wright found inspiration. This pub was seriously huge, and kind of disgusting (talking about the toilets... and I'm not faint-hearted). But the beer was nice, look at all the bubbles!
- Covent Garden -
Kind of a tourist trap as it's expensive and not ridiculously nice or anything. Good for one glass and people watching. 
- Borough Market -
We drank a glass of wine here, next time we should probably try their oysters..
- Borough Market (area)-
Drinks with a view.
- Southwark -
Pre-dinner cocktails! I'm not really into cocktails, but these were seriously good. I had one with gin and mint. Onno made the better choice and had a cocktail with cucumber, gin, raspberries and egg white. 

Although we've been to London several times before, we're still learning how to deal with big city stuff. We made mental notes:
- By all means... avoid the tube during rush hour. 
- Wine is really expensive, bottles are cheaper in comparison. 
- Do some research into where you want to have dinner, to avoid tourist traps or general disappointment. 

Hopefully we will visit London again soon, so we can put all our newly obtained big city skills to the test... Back for more adventures in the food & drinks department, exploring areas we've never been to, visit Tate, Greenwich.. Oh the list is endless.. Can't wait to be there again!