Belgian Chocolate… Sigh

Just photos for you today, folks.  I’m not cooking up an original recipe, because frankly it would be impossible to improve upon this.  Let’s take a few minutes to marvel at the decadence of Belgian chocolate, shall we?  Enjoy!


Almost too pretty to eat!


Giant Chocolate Meringues


Meringues and Macaroons


White Chocolate Biscotti


Chocolate Bark


Making Meringues


Bite-Size Chocolate Cakes


Goodies Galore!


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Forget what your English professor told you – life stories are not written in college.

Madeleine LaBlange, Annie Anderson, and Audrey Navarro shared formative years as roommates at Chicago’s Catholic haven for women, the historic Abbott College. If only they could have predicted the collisions between their carefully crafted life plans and the realities they discover beyond campus…

Madeleine harbors dreams of becoming a concert pianist while Dr. Reynold Fenwick, her mercurial graduate school mentor, harbors fantasies of Madeleine. Will pursuing her dreams be worth the cost? Will an evening in Budapest change her life forever?

Annie plans to build a perfect family with her perfect husband in the cutthroat news media industry, until an abrupt tragedy shakes the foundations of her marriage. What happens when she feels pulled between the two men she loves most, her husband and her father?

Audrey leaves her religious, restrictive parents behind and aims for Chicago’s downtown skyline, dating recklessly and staring down each grueling workday one Chicago Dog at a time. Will an island respite lure her away from her corporate future? When she finds herself in the arms of an unexpected lover, will she have the courage to stand up for her own evolving sense of self?

Follow the journeys of these remarkable women, and cheer them on as they navigate life, love, and chocolate soufflé.

Includes over a dozen decadent new recipes from Crowded Earth Kitchen!

Cherry Harbor Series, Volume 1

276 pages

CEK Publishing

ISBN-10: 0692292101

ISBN-13: 978-0692292105

Trappist Breweries in Belgium


Beer flight at the Chimay visitor center and restaurant

What is a trappist brewery, you ask?  Trappist breweries are breweries which are tucked away in monasteries and produce high quality craft beers brewed by Trappists, also known as Cistercian monks.  Sales of these beers support the monasteries and missions of the monks who reside within them.  There are fewer than a dozen trappist breweries in the entire world, most of which (and the oldest of which) are in Belgium.


Westvleteren Abbey


Westvleteren Abbey

During our stay in Belgium, we had the pleasure of visiting trappist breweries in Chimay and Westvleteren.  You may be familiar with the Chimay label, as Chimay beers are widely exported and can be found in many US markets.  If you’ve never heard of Westvleteren, there’s a very good reason… the monks of Westvleteren do not sell their beer anywhere except at the monastery gates… it is one of the most rare and collectible beers in the world.


The monks of Westvleteren sell a few cases of beer every day. You need an appointment to make a purchase. Don’t bother arriving early – you will be asked to wait!

In addition to sampling delicious trappist beers, we were able to sample products made from beer.  The tasting menus at both Chimay and Westvleteren offered excellent cheeses for sampling and also for bulk purchase.  Both locations also offered beer-laced desserts including ice creams and pies.  As you can see from the photos below, we sampled many items.  Each was more delicious than the last!


Even if you don’t fancy yourself much of a beer aficionado, visiting at least one trappist brewery during a visit to Belgium is a must-do.  Enjoy this uniquely Belgian experience!

Belgian Waffles in Brussels


Waffles in Brussels… affordable and delicious!

On a narrow, cobbled street just off of Grand’Place in Brussels lives a crowded, casual diner called The Waffle Factory.  Touristy? Absolutely.  Worth a stop? Absolutely!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERADespite the fact that two out of every three people who arrive in Brussels by plane seem to make their way to this diner, The Waffle Factory is both affordable and delicious.  For just a few Euro, my travel companions and I indulged in waffles bedecked with Chantilly crème, Nutella, and strawberries.  Beat that, American fast food!

Belgian-style waffles are surprisingly easy to make.  They freeze remarkably well when allowed to cool completely before being wrapped in plastic wrap and stored in the freezer.  To reheat and enjoy, simply pop them in your toaster.  Delicious!  I try to keep a few frozen waffles on hand at all times, for quick breakfasts and late night snacks.

The trick to making fluffy Belgian waffles is very simple – separate your eggs and beat the egg whites really, really well.  A simple hand mixer can handle that task, and waffle irons are cheap… what are you waiting for?


Waffle Display in Grand’Place, Brussels

Ingredients (Makes 12- 14 waffles)

3 1/2 cups flour

2 tablespoons baking powder

2 tablespoons sugar

1/2 teaspoon salt

2 whole eggs

3 1/2 cups milk

1/2 cup oil

1/2 cup applesauce (not chunky)

4 egg whites

2 teaspoons almond extract


Step 1) Combine flour, baking powder, and salt in a large bowl.

Step 2) Combine whole eggs, milk, oil, applesauce, and almond extract in a medium bowl.  Mix well, then add to large bowl with dry ingredients.  Whisk together until most of the lumps are gone, and batter is fairly smooth.

Step 3) In a scrupulously clean bowl, beat the 4 egg whites with an electric mixer until soft peaks form when you lift the beaters out of the bowl.  This could take up to 5 minutes – be WIN_20141022_174218patient.

Step 4) Gently fold egg whites, a little at a time, into the flour and milk mixture.  Do not over-stir!  The resulting batter will look very lumpy (as shown to the left).  Don’t worry, that’s normal.  The lumps are from air in the egg whites, which will make your waffles extra fluffy!

Step 5) Cook waffles as directed for your particular waffle iron.  Brush your waffle iron with oil (use a pastry brush or a napkin dipped in vegetable oil and held with tongs – not your fingers!) before cooking each waffle.  My waffle iron has a little circle that lights up when the temperature is hot enough to add 1/2 cup of batter, and then the light goes off when the waffle is cooked.  Easy peasy.

Step 6) I recommend serving your waffles with chocolate hazelnut spread or with softened butter and a sprinkle of Speculaas seasoning.  Delicious!


Homemade Belgian Waffles with Butter and Speculaas Seasoning


Chocolate Hazelnut Spread in Belgium


Chocolate Hazelnut Spread is delicious on crepes and waffles!

Switzerland was awesome (really, really awesome), but it’s time to move onward.  This week, we’re exploring delicious treats in Belgium.  You won’t be disappointed!

Venturing into Belgium, I expected to find excellent beers, delicious cheeses, waffles, frites, and mussels… and I did.  [Stay tuned!]  What surprised me was the apparent Belgian obsession with chocolate hazelnut spread, most commonly known by the brand name “Nutella.”  In the US, most markets will stock just a few jars of Nutella somewhere near the rows and rows of peanut butter jars.  In Belgium, this trend is reversed.  Here’s an example:


Those are full liter jars on the bottom shelf, folks! Belgians are SERIOUS about their Nutella!

I’m not at all embarrassed to admit that my travel companions and I developed something of a chocolate hazelnut “habit” while in Belgium.  It’s delicious, and pairs wonderfully with the ubiquitous Belgian Waffle (next post!).  Unfortunately, it’s pretty expensive back in the US.  Don’t worry… chocolate hazelnut spread is easy to make at home.  Here’s a simple recipe for you to try!

WIN_20141022_160629Ingredients (makes about 2 cups)

1 cup raw, shelled hazelnuts

12 oz bag of milk chocolate chips

1 oz dark chocolate (at least 60% cacao)

2 tablespoons coconut oil

WIN_20141022_1609152 tablespoons powdered sugar

1 teaspoon almond extract

1/2 teaspoon salt


Step 1) Toast hazelnuts in a dry pan over medium heat for 3-5 minutes, stirring or WIN_20141022_162218shaking the pan constantly.

Step 2) Remove brown skins from hazelnuts by placing toasted nuts on an old towel.  Fold the towel so that the towel is both above and below the nuts, and rub your hands vigorously on the top of the towel.  The brown skins will slip off easily.

WIN_20141022_162653Step 3) Grind hazelnuts in a blender or food processor until smooth, like peanut butter.  Add coconut oil, powdered sugar, almond extract, and salt.  Blend well.

Step 4) Melt milk chocolate and dark chocolate in the microwave.  Simply place chocolate in a glass bowl and microwave for 30 seconds.  Stir, and microwave an additional 30 seconds.  Repeat as needed until chocolate is just melted, but do not overheat.

Step 5) Combine nut mixture with melted chocolate, and Voila! You are ready to enjoy a popular European indulgence.  Store in a covered glass jar at room temperature for one week (as if it will be around that long!).  If chocolate hazelnut spread becomes too solid to spread, just microwave it for a few seconds and give it a stir.


Restaurants near Grand’Place, a breathtakingly beautiful square in Brussels, Belgium

Moitié – Moitié Fondue


Fondue at Restaurant des Antiquaires in Old Town Geneva

Ah,  you knew it was coming… the fondue post from Switzerland.  Going to Switzerland without recreating a fabulous fondue at home would be like, well, I don’t know – it simply isn’t done.


My Favorite Restaurant in Old Town Geneva


The Fondue Options at Restaurant des Antiquaires

Fondue options abound in Switzerland.  If you happen to find yourself in Old Town Geneva (lucky you!), don’t miss Restaurant des Antiquaires.  Their whole menu is fabulous (my travel companion and I visited more than once), and their fondue options are simply sublime.

Moité – moité means “half and half,” and refers to the blend of two cheeses found in many Swiss fondues.  Typically, the two cheeses are Gruyère and Vacherin Fribourgeois, although Emmentaler (a high quality version of the medium-hard, hole filled “Swiss” cheese) is sometimes paired with the  Gruyère instead.

A few notes on Swiss fondue.  First, cheese fondue is the only “traditional” Swiss fondue, and is served with cubed bread – only – for dipping.  If you find yourself in a Swiss restaurant which serves chocolate fondue, or offers all sorts of weird things to dip in cheese fondue, you have wandered into a tourist trap!  Second, fondue is traditionally served as the main course in Switzerland.  Don’t fill up on appetizers… fondue is a hearty dish!  Third, if you are looking for a quiet, serene dinner, a fondue restaurant may not be the place for you.  I enjoyed the rhythmic chopping of bread cubes and whistle of steamers cleaning fondue pots, but be aware that the ambiance is quite lively.

In the recipe I’ve created for you below, I am using Wisconsin cheeses.  I’m all for authentic ingredients, but truly, there are plenty of Wisconsin cheeses produced using Old World methods that can hold their own against cheeses shipped from Europe.  I am also including mushrooms, which compliment fondue beautifully.  If you don’t like mushrooms, just leave them out.

WIN_20141019_184227Ingredients (Serves 4)

1 garlic clove

6 crimini mushrooms, finely diced

1/2 pound of Wisconsin Baby Swiss cheese, grated

1/2 pound of Wisconsin Grand Cru Gruyère cheese, grated

1 triangle of “Laughing Cow” Creamy Swiss (it helps with with texture)

1 cup of California Sauvignon Blanc wine


WIN_20141019_190100Step 1) Cut garlic clove in half and rub bottom of sauté pan.  Discard garlic.

Step 2) Add diced mushrooms and 1 tablespoon of the wine.  Sauté for about 3 minutes, or until mushrooms give up their liquid.

Step 3) Add all three cheeses to the pan and melt over low-medium heat with constant stirring.  Add the wine, a little at a time, to keep the cheese mixture thin enough to stir without clumping together.

Step 4) Taste, adding a sprinkle of sea salt if necessary.

Step 5) When mixture has melted completely, transfer to a fondue pot.  Serve immediately with cubed French bread and long dipping forks.  Enjoy!


The Swiss Melting Pot… so much more than fondue!



Switzer-ly… Ital-erland… where am I?

In myriad schoolbooks and classroom lessons, the concept of the “American melting pot” was drilled into my head as a child.  The semantics have changed a bit since then – we hear the word “stew” more often than “melting pot” now, as a nod toward our (slow) move away from forced assimilation.  The general narrative, however, is still the same.  It’s pretty cool, living in a country chock full of dynamic immigrant groups, but is it really that unique?  Is the US unusual in it’s array of multicultural experiences?

Nothing could be further from the truth.

Switzerland is just one of many nations boasting an amazing ethnic stew.  One could safely argue that Switzerland embraces its diversity with more gusto than the US, given the fact that the Swiss recognize four national languages: German, French, Italian, and Romansh.  [Monolingual American visitors fit in comfortably, as English is a commonly spoken foreign language here.]  While Italian is only the 3rd most popular language in Switzerland, excellent Italian cuisine is at the fore in Geneva.  Considering how Italy and Switzerland share a 456 mile border, this shouldn’t be a surprise.

Below, you will find a medley of the Italian dishes we discovered.  The moral of the story is, fitting Geneva into your travel plans is an excellent idea!


Al fresco dining at Bains des Paquis




Spaghetti with fresh tomato sauce and basil


Shrimp Risotto


Pizza Napoletana


Pizza Carciofo


Penne with Boletes