Italian Summer B'day Bash

September is the busiest month for us. All the work related travels, the upcoming family holidays and of course THE birthday party for our son.
We have thrown crazy kids parties, but this year we did not have to much time for preparations.
The weather was supposed to be good and we wanted to have a last summer party.
I think we came up with some very funny ideas that were actually not to much work.
Instead of several cakes I decided to make popsicles.  I wanted something that is fun for the kids, something they can eat plenty without going to wild on sugar and formost something I could prepare in advance.
Popsicles can be so easy, different sorts of sirup are already perfect! Mango lassie or chocolate drink from the supermarket work perfect too. Don't invest your time in the ingredients instead come up with fun ways to freeze and decorate them.
If, like me , you one have one popsicle mould you have to start a few weeks in advance, but it's really not much work and you can only take them out of the freezer on the day and voila!



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With the popsicles ready in the freezer I had time to come up with some other fun thing for the feast.
Food wise I think this was our most successful b'day party, the kids just loved it.

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Of course we had a cake too :-)

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May the force be with you


Today was the day ! Why not? It's November, foggy and we had these cookie cutters in the drawer since august.
I discovered these when we were planning the star wars birthday party but was to late with ordering, they arrived the day after the party...
In case you are interested I bought them here - and yes they are expensive… But aren't they just great?

We had so much fun doing these , it took us almost all afternoon as you can see in the changing of "Monsieurs" clothing ;-)
Everything had to be measured first from kitchen utilities to his favorite toy.

I guess you can do any cookie you fancy with these cutters - we did some basic sugar cookies.

We had another cookies project going along next to the star wars ones too but they need 36 hours in the fridge so we have to wait a bit before we can tell you about them here.

This is only the start of out icing experiments. We have more planned. We used royal icing, which I have never used before.
It's got a nice texture, ours was maybe a bit to thin and we could do with an even thinner piping bag but I'm quite happy with the first try.

You'll need:

  • 1/4 cups confectioners sugar
  • 2 eggs at room temperature
  • 1 tsp lemon juice

Mix everything together in a electric mixer on medium speed.
Cover with cling film until you use it.

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Teaching my son: How to make Spätzli

By now you might have guessed that we have a new concept here at coeur de sel, instead of making my son eating things I rather make him cook things.
Something like if he won't eat with me he can at least cook with me ;-)
Just joking, it's just that it's  getting dark outside rally early now and our little man can't play football till 7.30 pm anymore. The only other thing that comes to his mind is doing headstands on the sofa, the ultimate sign of boredom - my chance to lure him into the kitchen!
Who knows maybe this helps make him more curious towards food … then again… I should probably just stop trying.

Anyway Spätzli are fun to make and way better than the ready made ones. Also you always end up with to many of them. Good thing they store well in the fridge and give you an easy second dinner . One can also freez them .

You'll need:

  • 500gr flour preferably a mixture of plain flour and durum semolina
  • 3 eggs
  • 2 tbs or more salt
  • A good bit of freshly ground nutmeg
  • 2 dl Milk
  • 1 dl water

Mix all the ingredients and let the mixture rest for an hour.
Meanwhile bring bit pot of salted water to boil.

If you want to make Spätzli you need a Spätzli strainer ( like the one on the picture). Now all you have to do, is press the mixture through the strainer into the boiling water. I always do one Soup serving spoon after an other. When, when the Spätzli come to the surface you can skim them and quickly quench them in cold water and drain. Then continue with the next spoon.

If you don't want to invest in a Spätzli strainer you can do Knöpfli ( basically a bigger less round version). For this moisten a small wooden plank. Put a good dollop of the mixture on it and start scraping small bits go the mixture into the boiling water. Use a big knife for this. This is a bit trickier because one tends to make to big Knöpflis. Skim, quench and drain like before.

We like our Knöpflis/Spätzlis fried in butter till golden brown. As you can see some like them with plenty of Maggi. I prefer them with red cabbage, Brussels sprouts and mushrooms - very traditional.

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Italian Basics N°3 - Risotto

Pesca di Spada con Risotto and Fava

Not that my son son would suddenly eat fish but risotto is on of his favorites and sometimes he even likes fave beans.
Risotto is a dish that my son always likes to help because stirring is the only thing he has to do - perfect for the lazy cook.
The only problem is that one has to be careful not to get hit by splashes of the bubbling risotto, they can really burn your hands.

I always make my Risotto like THIS.

We used red onions for this risotto which gave it a really funny rose color which my son loved.

It's the first time I actually made Pesca di Spada and we were quite happy. I just had it cut really thinly at the fishmonger then marinated it with salt and pepper.
Then it went into the very hot  grid pan for less 1 minute on each side.  Then drizzled with some lemon.

I fell in love with the fishmongers wrapping paper.

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Teaching my son italian basics n° 2 - Pasta

Pasta is the one thing our son actually likes. Ricotta - Spinach Tortellini in particularly.
Perfect for an other holiday cookery action: How to make pasta.

You might ask your self why on earth we have the equipment to make pasta in italy? Well … the other day I was trying out a new locatelli recipe which involved fresh ravioli. As usually I thought I buy the dough in the supermarket but there was none. Seems logical that they don't sell that in italian supermarkets now, but back then it didn't cross my mind ;-)  It was already late and all the pasta shops were closed, luckily we discovered a halved prized pasta machine in one corner of the supermarket and my son got totally enthusiastic about it, so we bought it.

Making your on pasta is really easy, the only thing you need is a bit of time, and the result is great! So much better than the dough you buy in supermarkets.

You'll need:

  • 500gr flour
  • 3 large eggs plus 2 extra (large) egg yolks all at room temperature
  • a pinch of salt

Making the dough:

I recommend making the pasta dough by hand, it easy and you get better feeling when it's done. Pasta dough shouldn't be knead to much.
Have a bowl of water by the side when you start , so you can wet your hands to bring the dought together if needed.

Make a heap with the flour sprinkle over the salt and add the eggs in the middle ( like on the picture). To begin break the yolks with with the fingertips and begin to move your fingers in circles, gradually incorporating the flour. Then bring it together to a ball and start pushing it with the heel of your hand, then fold it back and turn it. Do this for 10 minutes . The dough will still feel rather difficult to work. Don't worry about this. Make two balls and let them sit under a damp cloth for an hour and then they will be perfect.

Rolling your pasta:

Roll the first ball with a rolling pin until it's 1 cm thick. It should go through the machine comfortably and not squeeze it to much this is important.
Now gradually go through all the settings of your machine, turning with one hand and holding the dough with the other. This is a bit tricky as your dough get's longer and longer.
Next fold the the strip of the pasta back on itself and start the whole procedure again ( starting on setting one).

Now cut your strip into have and cover one of them with the damp cloth. Fold the length of the other one into three, bringing one end in and the other over the top of that, so that pasta is the same width as the machine. Roll it with the replying pin so it is no more that 5 mm thick, then put it pack in the machine on setting one and feed it through the machine. This time widthwise not lengthwise. This makes it more elastic. Keep feeding it through this way taking it down two or three settings as you go.

Finally, fold it back on itself, put the machine back on one 1 and take it through the settings until it's about 1.5 mm thick. It should be nice and shiny.

Filling your pasta:

Once you have your dough almost as thin paper you can cut it into smaller pieces. Put the filling in little heaps on the dough. You gonna cover it with more dough, but before you do that brush on some egg white on it  so the two layers of dough really stick together . When you stick them together try to get all the air out, this is important otherwise hot water comes in when you cook them and you can really burn the mouth when eating. Cut them with one of these pasta cutters and thats about it.

I do think that I will invest in the ravioli extension that you can buy extra for our machine though.

You can fill you pasta with everything. We did the the classic "ricotta - spinach" but we have to keep working on that one . Ours had to much spinach in it and little men didn't really like it…  An other not very successful cookery class I would say, then again we had loads of fun…
Next time we try noodles.

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Spooky dinner

We finally found time to cook again my son and me. It's been a long time and we both missed it. But since he is going to kindergarten everything got a bit more complicated.

Inspiration came as usually from the brilliant " je sais cuisiner pour mes doudous"
Dinner was little black spiders and skulls. Shane did all the cooking by himself. I was only allowed to cut some sculls .

You'll need:

  • Black noodle or pasta
  • Black olives
  • 1 carrot
  • Puff pastry
  • Tangerine for decoration

Cut little orange eyes from red cheese or carrots or...
Decorate black olives with the eyes.
Boil black noodles or spaghetti in plenty of salt water.
Cut out some dangerous things ( with a knife ) from puff pastry and bake in the oven for some minutes ( on 170° )
Drain the noodles and make little spiders ( with 8 legs ;-) ) with the olives and the pasta.
Decorate the table and invite some friends.

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Culinary travels: cote d'ivoire and west africa

Culinary travels finally took us to west africa. Shane was longing since long time to go there but my deficient knowledge of the african kitchen detained me.
Internet research tough me that fufu is the thing one eats in west africa.
For a start we went shopping to the local african food store timezone. Timezone was a nice discovery for me too, I have passed that shop plenty of times but it looks like a hair extension shop from the outside, I the back hidden from the street is a food corner with several huge fridges filled with fresh smoked fish. The smell in the shop is incredibly ( fishy ) definitely nothing for wimps. Next to some root vegetables and plantains they have also a huge selection of dried fish and shrimps :-)

We had a good look at everything bought some plantains, fufu flour, palm juice for kevin and plantain chips. Before leaving we asked the african lady to explain us how to cook fufu, and of we went.

Back home we did some more research:

Our menu we agreed on would be fufu with peanut soup ( recipe from the internet ), and fried plantains.

We all had no clue what to expect and were really pleased with the result - I think it's not the last time we had fufu and next time we gonna do it the real way!

Here's the recipe from the congocookbook:

Peanut Soup

Various peanut soups are common throughout Africa. Some are very simple, others more elaborate. They are often eaten as a main course along with Rice, or one of the Fufu-like staples: Baton de Manioc, Fufu, or Ugali.

What you need

two or three cups chicken broth or chicken stock
one small onion, minced
one small sweet green pepper (or bell pepper), minced
one clove of garlic, crushed (optional)
salt, black pepper, cayenne pepper or red pepper (to taste)
one hot chile pepper, minced (optional)
one carrot, chopped fine or one sweet potato or yams, boiled and mashed (optional)
one or two tomatoes, chopped or canned tomatoes (optional)
one cup natural unsweetened peanut butter (or make your own peanut paste, see the simple peanut soup recipe below)
What you do

If using homemade peanut paste, simmer it with the broth for fifteen minutes, then add all other ingredients and simmer over low heat until everything is thoroughly cooked. Stir often. Soup should be thick and smooth.
If using peanut butter: Combine all ingredients except the peanut butter and simmer over medium heat until everything is tender. Reduce heat, add the peanut butter and simmer for a few minutes more. Stir often. Soup should be thick and smooth.

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Je sais cuisiner pour mes doudous

"Je sais cuisiner pour mes doudous" is the name of the book that brought peace and hope back into our kitchen, and this only one week after the total food crisis. Last week my son made me completely loose my temper. I told him I would never again cook for him, that he would have to cook his dinner by himself and so on. What happened ? Nothing particularly dramatic just sometimes I just can't bear his fussiness anymore. He said something like he can't eat the carrot because it has globule in it and I totally freaked out.
In Paris I came across this book and I thought it might be a good idea to get him his own cookbook. The book is about cooking for your toys. Packed with seasonal recipes kids can easily cook. Heres how our kitchen looked the day after I came back from Paris.

We celebrated little monkeys birthday with little burgers filled with quail eggs, parmesan cheese, parsley and mayonnaise.

and for pudding we had milkshake!

one of little monkeys friends ate so much he fell asleep at the table!

Buy the book it's great (  and french ;-) ) HERE

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Miracles can happen

Mister super fussy did help his dad with cooking yesterday ( something he likes ) just before he had to go to bed. He stirred the soy sauce into the fried onions and shiitake mushrooms and I could se his face when the beautiful smell filled the kitchen - surprise!

While putting on pijamas he told me that he wold love to eat dinner with us - that it smelled so nice and the poached egg looked so yummy. No question, for eating, I let my boy stay up till midnight ;-) of course he added that he would not eat mushrooms and avocado. And so he sat with us and happily snacked from our rice dinner. Mean as I am sneaked in some tiny avocado bits. Funny thing is he really likes cilantro - always did.

For lunch he wanted the same again . Rice with soy sauce, cucumber, poached egg and lot's of cilantro. Oh and because he's not stupid he said if we would have had avocado he would only have eaten it cut into tiny bits.

The friends did like it to0.

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Fussy kids - a good read by Alex Renton

For a long time I wanted to share this with you. When every I fell totally guilty again for our boys eating habits I read it.

It's just from A-Z how our culinary life with our son is like. Only for Alex Rentons son it's not the pasta but the cheese.

I strongly recommend you read this extremly funny article from Alex Renton in the food monthly June 2006 ( when I read this first I did not know what was waiting for me).

"What do you give the boy who doesn't like anything - except cheese?
Even the children of foodies need to be coaxed into trying something new, but how do you whet young appetites? Alex Renton takes seven-year-old Adam to the supermarket with his own basket and the pick of the aisles"

read the full article here

or if your to busy here are my 3 favorite quotes:

"But when Adam and I first sat down with a plate of boiled lobster that we'd caught and cooked together, he said 'Yuk!' without even trying it. I thought I might cry. If he'd come home with Black Sabbath tattoos, newly baptised into the Church of Beelzebub, it could hardly have been worse."

"While we were there, though, I managed to lose his trust in me, forever, as far as food is concerned. One day at a Thai restaurant table, when he was four or five, I offered him money if he'd just try something Thai and tasty. He remembers the event well - 'the day you made me drink the fish sauce'. Stupid Dad. His reaction was spectacular - he threw up all over the table. Who wouldn't? Now, if I offer him an olive or an anchovy, a macadamia nut or a piece of 70 per cent cocoa chocolate, and tell him it's just delicious, he'll go: 'Oh, no, I don't think so! Nice try, Dad.' I'm not catching him out again. "

"Or, as happened last winter, when the narrow list of foodstuffs he will eat with enthusiasm actually contracts. That was a bad time. Fish fingers, chicken breast and scrambled eggs all departed the menu in the space of a few weeks, and the only meat or fish protein left was little Piglet-pink Richmond sausages. But we bounced back, with Marks & Spencer's breaded chicken goujons (that's posh nuggets), boiled eggs (yolks only) and canned tuna. You keep trying, you don't give up, you're positive, encouraging and you offer variety without pressure. You keep your temper, you try to get off his case. But how we miss those fish fingers - and I never thought I'd find myself saying that."

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