Food, Stories

Spiced Plum & Chocolate Yogurt Cake

A while ago, the Ninja Turtle decided to make the most of her countryside life by dragging GodzillaPin blackberry harvesting with her. Not long after, while out on another one of her countryside strolls, she chanced upon a fallen damson plum tree in the next village, Bethelainville. The weather in France has been very bizarre this summer, and in this part of Lorraine, most of August had been dreary, with cloudy mornings, storms and high winds, and lots of rain.

Any chance of wearing summer clothes and getting a tan were out of the question, and even the local flora succumbed to the wild weather, hence the poor fallen tree. Of course, the Ninja Turtle isn’t one to pass up any chance of sampling what Mother Nature has to offer, and since the tree was already done for, she figured it’d be a real shame to leave those luscious fruits to perish in the elements.

Walking the 2 hilly miles home with her pockets loaded with as many plums as she could possibly stuff in them was cumbersome, to say the least. Trying not to squish them made the job even harder, but her heart was bursting with excitement at the thought of what she could do with those.

quetsche

Gorgeous damson plums boasting a deep, rich, luscious shade of violet, bursting with flavour and flavonoids.

What’s most peculiar to the Ninja Turtle was that Lorraine is generally known for another variety of plum, a small yellow spherical ball of sweet juiciness known as the mirabelle. In fact, the mirabelle is so popular here that in Metz, there is an annual festival in Metz known as the Fête de la Mirabelle, where the fruit is celebrated to the fullest for 2 whole weeks, with concerts, food and wine tastings, exhibitions, activities for the children, a parade, fireworks, and even a beauty pageant that finishes with the crowning of a Queen Mirabelle!

The Damson plum, in comparison, seems to silently fade into the background.

So the Ninja Turtle decided to do it some justice, and celebrate it in her own way – by turning it into a cake, with a recipe which has proven to be wildly popular among friends and family this summer. Enter: the lazy baker’s guide to making scrumptious desserts with minimal washing up.

gateaux en moules

In fact, these cakes are so popular that she has resorted to making double batches each time because they get devoured in a couple of days.

The Ninja Turtle has received a few requests for the recipe, so without further ado…

Ingredients for basic cake

4 pots (125g) plain yogurt of choice (works with Greek, soy, goat’s milk, sheep’s milk, normal milk, low-fat, non-fat… but this one was with soy yogurt)
4 pots sugar
4 eggs
2 pots olive oil
6 pots flour of choice (this version was a mix of rice flour and buckwheat flour)
3 teaspoons baking soda
1 sachet (11g) baking powder

For this spiced plum and chocolate cake, add:

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground cloves
200g dark chocolate, chopped in large chunks
300g Damson plums, chopped in chunks

Instructions

  1. Empty the yogurt into a giant mixing bowl. Use one of the pots to measure out all the rest of your ingredients. Mix in the oil, sugar and eggs. Stir vigorously.
  2. Add in the next three ingredients of the basic cake mix – the flour, the baking soda and baking powder. Most recipes will warn against over-mixing the flour if you want to avoid dense cakes because over-mixing wheat flour creates gluten, but the Ninja Turtle has figured out TWO key points – gluten-free flours don’t have this problem, and this is a very moist cake batter, so you can mix to your heart’s content without worrying. Even if you use normal wheat flour, the quantity of baking powder and baking soda ensures a beautiful rise so you’ll end up with a soft, fluffy, moist and light cake.
  3. For this version of cake, add in all the rest of the ingredients and give it a good stir.
  4. Pour into your cake or muffin moulds, about 3/4 full.
  5. Pop them in the oven at 180°C (350°F). The Ninja Turtle used deep loaf cake moulds, and these cakes took an hour to be done. However, if you’re using a shallower cake mould, about 40 to 45 minutes will do. If you’re making muffins, adjust to about 20 to 25 minutes. If in doubt, stick a skewer in the largest part of your cake and see if it comes out clean.

The Ninja Turtle has played with various versions of yogurt cake, using those aforementioned blackberries in one, making a chocolate buckwheat streusel in another (that one was a crowd favourite), and even experimenting with a bottle of dark beer in another. The cakes never last, so she’s concluded it’s a recipe worth keeping (and sharing!)

Best of all? Aside from a teaspoon, you’re only using that one little yogurt pot to do all your measuring. How easy is that?

dessert

The Ninja Turtle ate her cake tonight for dessert with a dollop of yogurt and some blueberries.

How do you make the most of summer fruits?

What’s your favourite easy dessert recipe?

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Food, Running

Chocolate As Running Motivation

Like the Ninja Turtle, some of you runners may have come across the article titled Would Chocolate Motivate You To Run? published a few days ago on Runnersworld online.

Now, unless you have an allergy to chocolate (in which case, our deepest sympathies), it’s probably fair to say that you, like the Ninja Turtle, are raising an eyebrow, wondering “Is rain wet? Is the surface of the sun hot? Is there anything one will NOT do for chocolate?”

Most importantly, has science really run out of important questions to ask, problems to solve, or creative expressions to… express, that they’ve resorted to asking self-evident questions like that? News flash: most runners are indiscriminate garbage disposal units, especially after a long run – anything that is not nailed down onto the table will likely find its way into our mouths. So asking if chocolate, just about the world’s favouritest food, would motivate people to run is inane, and conducting a scientific study on that is bad science because hello? Confirmation bias.

OK, now the Ninja Turtle’s vented on the premise of the study, she’s actually pretty excited about the study’s actual details. The participants of this RMIT University study weren’t just receiving plain old boring chocolate. No, the chocolate was to be 3D printed into fun shapes or names. Just look at that!

Better yet, according to the researcher himself, ““the more they exercise, the better the quality of chocolate will be printed out which they get to enjoy as a reflective reward of their physical activity’’.

Holy sh*t! Now the Ninja Turtle wants to know where she can sign up to be a test subject for studies like this. Getting 3D printed chocolate smileys for racking up the miles is cool enough for the Ninja Turtle to ignore the researcher’s almost-insulting question of whether using food as an incentive will encourage people to do more physical exercise (what the heck are we? lab rats?)

OK so fine, the Ninja Turtle thinks this is a pretty damn cool study, if only because 3D printed chocolates are involved, and she has only one modification to suggest: screw the quality and correlate the quantity of chocolate dispensed to the physical effort. It’s a scientific fact that runners fantasize about post-run meals while running, and the longer the run, the bigger, tastier and more elaborate the fantisized meal must be. Also, whoever heard of eating only 30g of chocolate? That’s just cruel.

Now, the Ninja Turtle is off to reward herself for this morning’s 10-miler with a nice block of Belgian chocolate she bought in Bruges last month.

To read the University’s press release on this research, click here.

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Arts and Culture, Food, Running, Travel

Exploring Bruges, “Venice of the North”

What a month it’s been! Every single weekend, the duo have found themselves somewhere new, and this last weekend, the Ninja Turtle and GodzillaPin went to catch up with an old friend in Bruges. The last time they saw Matt Damon was in Mulhouse last October, and a lot has happened since then, so it’s been one long gab-fest to catch up on news, and to make more plans for later this summer.

The Ninja Turtle had very little expectations of Bruges, to be honest. Aside from hearing the phrase “Venice of the north” again and again, there was little else to really look forward to, and frankly, if a city has a reputation of being a geographic equivalent of another more famous city… well, what prospects does it have of establishing itself as a legit destination in its own rights?

Turns out, Bruges has a LOT going for it.

Turns out, Bruges has a LOT going for it.

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There are also plenty of tea houses and snack bars serving waffles, ice cream parlours and every imaginable sweet treat.

Between the waffles, chocolate and ice cream, Belgium cities are the shortcut to diabetes.

And of course, the Belgian beers

There is a beer for everyone in Bruges. GodzillaPin found his beer.

There is a beer for everyone in Bruges. GodzillaPin found his beer.

There’s beer, and there is beer. Belgium’s beer brewing tradition goes back centuries, and is a craft refined by the monks in abbeys, which is why trappist beers are THE BEST. If you ever get a chance, try a blind taste test between a bottle-fermented beer, and any old industrially-produced beer. One of them will have  “living” taste.

Bruges is a very beautiful city.

Is this the best photobomb ever?

Is this the best photobomb ever?

And this is how it earned its reputation as Venice of the North.

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Seeing the fine weather forecasted for Sunday morning, the trio popped over to Oostende, a coastal town which was a 20-minute drive from Bruges. The sun was shining gloriously but the North Sea wind was still cold. The Ninja Turtle went off for a quick 5K run along the promenade while the boys headed straight for the sand.

Matt Damon soaking in the rays.

Matt Damon soaking in the rays.

Matt Damon thought it was funny to secretly tail the Ninja Turtle for a few minutes, and to scare the daylights out of her as she approached their meeting point. It was a close race back to GodzillaPin.

Matt Damon thought it was funny to secretly tail the Ninja Turtle for a few minutes, and to scare the daylights out of her as she approached their meeting point. It was a close race back to GodzillaPin.

Visit Bruges. It’s kind of like Venice, but with beer, chocolate, fries and waffles, which makes it a thousand times better.

A French, a Singaporean and a Swiss walked into a bar... and they drank to the awesome city of Bruges.

A French, a Singaporean and a Swiss walked into a bar… and they drank to the awesome city of Bruges.

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Arts and Culture, Food, Travel

A Visit to the annual Salon du Chocolat

Last weekend, the Ninja Turtle and GodzillaPin spent a day suffering from sugar overload. It’s that time of the year again, when the Salon du Chocolat comes to the Metz Exposition, and the duo went armed with 2 credit cards and plenty of shopping bags.

There were 60+ exhibitors at the Salon du Chocolat this year. Of course, as the name suggests, it’s a world of chocolate.

Each year, there is also a chocolate sculpture competition, as well as a fashion parade, where the models wear creations made with/of chocolate. The theme this year was Asia.

 

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Of course, it wasn’t ALL just chocolate. There were other types of confectionery on offer too.

One of the reasons for visiting a chocolate exposition, aside from tasting and buying chocolate of course, was that they got to speak with the experts. Two years ago, the duo had a nice chat with Mikael Azouz, who has won multiple international awards. This time, the duo chose to chin-wag with another chocolate master – Fabrice Dumay, the best chocolatier in Moselle.

M. Dumay was incredibly friendly, and knowledgeable. He explained to them how lecithin was used as an emulsifier, and consequently confectioners also cost-cut with this ingredient (by increasing lecithin by 1%, you can reduce cocoa butter by 10% in your recipe). He went into great detail explaining the various single origins, from Madagascar, to Sao Tome, to Venezuela, and the latest up-and-coming chocolate region in the world: Vietnam! Cocoa was first planted there 10 years ago, and harvest from the first 5 years were terrible, but they are slowly seeing improvements. The production, situated not far from the Mekong Delta, is currently very small-scale, and apparently 100% fair trade. M. Dumay also quickly briefed them on the crop to bean to bar process, and shared his favourite wine to pair with chocolate (if you must know, it’s the Modérato Nectar d’Automne Muscat from Casablanca).

 

All up, it was a fantastic excursion, and look at the bounty they lugged home that evening:

Just don't ask how much they spent on this (it's an eye-watering sum).

Just don’t ask how much they spent on this (it’s an eye-watering sum).

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Food, Travel

Tasty Tuesday: Liège Review

First of all, it is impossible to visit every single cafe, restaurant and brasserie in Liège. The whole city is simply dotted with dining options that offer continuous service (for us who live in France, it is inconceivable that restaurants do not close between lunch and dinner service). It is doubly impossible (can you multiply zero by anything for added emphasis? – we digress…) to visit them all in the three short days we were there, so instead, bear in mind these are not the best dining places, but rather, simply ones we have visited and rather enjoyed.

First off, in Liège, everything comes served with fries. OK, not the pizzas, but I’m sure if you asked, they would throw some in.

GodzillaPin and the Ninja Turtle do this little trick of finding two dishes on the menu they want to try, and then swapping plates mid-meal.

Turkey with baked apples in cream sauce? Or rabbit and prunes in Liegeoise sauce?

Turkey with baked apples in cream sauce? Or rabbit and prunes in Liégeoise sauce? Why choose?

While walking around the city, GodzillaPin mentioned that Liège was famous for meatballs. The Ninja Turtle was confused – wasn’t that Sweden? Well, she was wrong – or rather, she was enlightened to the difference. It all lies in the sauce. The sauce Liégeoise is made with what they call sirop de Liège, which makes it very very sweet. Also, it’s known as sauce lapin, which made us raise some eyebrows as to the type of meat that went in… (most recipes state pork and beef, but ours had a suspiciously gamey smell to it.

Eating minced meat in Europe at the moment is really pushing one's luck, but we'll take our chances for a regional specialty

Eating minced meat in Europe at the moment is really pushing one’s luck, but we’ll take our chances for a regional specialty.

The same sauce goes into various dishes, such as the Liège burger ordered by the Ninja Turtle.

The quintessential meal

The quintessential meal.

Waffles aside, they are also known for a couple of good desserts in Liège, such as…

To our Australian friends: you know what you call iced coffee in South Australia? Well, here it's a Café Liègeois.

To our Australian friends: you know what you call iced coffee in South Australia? Well, here it’s a Café Liégeoise.

And of course, who can forget what Belgium is famous for?

Who says dessert can't be healthy?

Who says dessert can’t be healthy?

That fruit skewer contained grapes, strawberry, melon, apple, starfruit, banana, pineapple and kiwi. It was the best 4,50 euros we ever spent.

For visitors who are interested in a couple of good places to eat:

Wine Note: Place des carmes, 4, Liège

Les Princes Evêques: 43 Place de la République française, Liège

We were not paid to write this review. We just wanted to share good experiences.

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Food, Travel

Hello from Liège!

For the long weekend of All Saints’, GodzillaPin had a little surprise up his sleeve, and although the Ninja Turtle suspected a trip across the border, France has quite a few borders, depending on which direction one looked. GodzillaPin wasn’t only tight-lipped, he wore a knowing smile for two weeks and refused to spill the beans. This unsettled the Ninja Turtle. Early in their relationship, all it took was a small nudge along the lines of:

NT: Tell me.
GP: Nope.
NT: Tell me!
GP: OK then.

A few years on, not a chance. GodzillaPin says he’s not so eager to please anymore. Even as they got into the car, he sneakily programmed the GPS before she came in, and forbade her from fiddling with the buttons to find out. En route, the Ninja Turtle began to suspect Belgium, and knew she was on the right track when she got a strangled “maybe!” when she asked slyly. She narrowed it down to Namur or Liège but was hardly the wiser with road signs like these:

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It wasn’t until the GPS showed the highway turn off that the destination was revealed. Turns out they were going to Liège, although it hardly mattered where in Belgium they were going to, it’s Belgium! The land of this:

Waffles + Chocolate = Life Worth Living

Waffles + Chocolate = Life Worth Living

And this:

A beer in each hand makes GodzillaPin a happy man.

A beer in each hand makes GodzillaPin a happy man.

GodzillaPin had truly outdone himself this time. The Ninja Turtle is usually nervous when it comes to surprises – they are the results of good intentions but normally result in disastrous outcomes. This time round, though, everything was well planned. They have a decent place to spend the night (i.e. – there is hot water in the shower and they are not camping on rocky ground with stones the size of her fists under her sleeping bag) and everything is within walking distance. There was even the Financial Times in English at the front desk.

As it’s All Saints’ Day, everything in town was closed (except the brasseries and bars, of course) but a quick walk around the city found the duo at the annual October fair. It was one of the biggest fairs they have seen in the last few years (and they have seen a few, in Geneva, Romanshorn, etc). It was also in full swing even at 3.30pm in the afternoon.

The miserable weather is quickly forgotten.

The miserable weather is quickly forgotten.

So here we are, with the Ninja Turtle just as surprised as you are about it all, but very pleased indeed. It’s promising to be a fantastic weekend (sod the rain, it will NOT ruin out fun). We’ve already had some beer and chocolate and pizza, but it’s only the beginning!

Happy All Saints’ weekend!

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