Speculoos cookie butter

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Dutch people have a sweet tooth. Some of us have a whole set of sweet dentures. We love sweets so much we put it on our bread for breakfast. Or for lunch. Some of the typical Dutch sandwiches include chocolate sprinkles, coconut and just plain sugar. Some people even go as far as putting cookies on their sandwiches. To facilitate those people some genius came up with a way to turn our beloved speculaas (spiced cookies) into a spread.

Speculaas is eaten in The Netherlands and Belgium and is spiced up with cloves, cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, cardamom and white pepper. This gives it its distinct flavor that I’ve come to love so much. On my last trip back home I picked up a jar of the gooey stuff and put it on a piece of toast. It tastes exactly the same as the real deal, only it doesn’t crumble all over you. I’m not the biggest fan of putting sweets on my bread though, so perhaps I’ll use some in a dessert.

Fear Factor – 0 / Taste Test – 7

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Cold borscht with kefir

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Poland is one of a few countries where kefir is popular, and that’s where I tried it before. Kefir is a fermented milk that looks and tastes slightly curdled and tingles your mouth. In Poland they also use it as a base for a special kind of borscht. Chlodnik is a cold beetroot and kefir soup with boiled egg. There is definitely more than a few drops of kefir, as the soup is bright pink.

I had a bowl of chlodnik in Warsaw at a school cafeteria style restaurant called a “milk bar”. My first taste of kefir wasn’t great, so I wasn’t sure if I was going to like this soup. I didn’t like it. I loved it. The soup was so refreshing on a hot summer’s day. Not only because it was cold, but also because it was slightly sour. The creaminess and acidity combined made think that I was drinking pure salad cream. Believe me, there are worse things to drink.

Fear Factor – 4 / Taste Test – 9

Rose & pistachio Magnum

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A little while back I wrote about a Magnum I tried in Florence with salt, pretzel and chili. Just recently I went back to Florence and revisited the same Magnum shop. I didn’t want to repeat my mistake of adding too much chili, and so I went for something sweeter.

I asked the waiter to coat my Magnum in white chocolate and then sprinkle it with pistachios, rose petals and meringues. Although in Holland we don’t use rose to eat, in many Middle Eastern countries rose and pistachio is a tried and tested combination.

The Magnum ice-cream was as wonderful as ever, and the chocolate beautifully crisp, but I couldn’t really taste the pistachios or the rose. Then what’s the point of creating your own Magnum? Luckily the small dots of meringue did add a nice crunchy texture.

Fear Factor – 0 / Taste Test – 7

Pesto chips

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Travelling is my other big passion besides food. Of course a combination of the two is the ultimate pleasure. I love going to local markets and trying out some street food, or going to a fancy restaurant for a more luxury experience, but sometimes I just can’t be bothered and simply walk into the nearest supermarket for a quick snack.

In Italy I picked up a bag of pesto flavored potato chips, something I never saw anywhere else. I always have a jar of pesto lying about in case I want to make a quick pasta. I guess it would taste nice on some fried potatoes too, but I didn’t get that from these chips. The chips themselves were really nice, made from real sliced potatoes, but there was no taste of pesto. I could see some specks of green scattered on the chips, but that was just a visual impulse as it didn’t translate to an added flavor.

Fear Factor – 0 / Taste Test – 5

Ox tail stuffed zucchini flowers

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When in Rome, do as the Romans. One of the most iconic Roman vegetables is the zucchini flower. It is often stuffed with a creamy cheese or deep fried in a batter. When I tried them last July they were also battered, but stuffed with another traditional Roman dish, stewed ox tail, which I tasted at a different restaurant before.

When the dish came out I didn’t think they were our zucchini flowers, as there was no shape to it but a big lump. They must have used a lot of batter, because it looked nothing like what I know from TV. On biting into one I was immediately underwhelmed by the batter. It was soft and soggy, not what I was expecting at all. The stuffing was very nice though. There were plenty of pieces of tender tasty ox tail enveloped in its own gravy.

Fear Factor – 2 / Taste Test – 7

Limburger cheese

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I was born and raised in the province of Limburg in The Netherlands. Around the world people know the word Limburg as a nickname for Rommedoux cheese, Limburger. Limburger became famous as the smelliest cheese in the world and even made it to some classic movies such as Charlie Chaplin’s. Nowadays this cheese is made in the neighboring Belgian province of Limburg, but that didn’t stop me from having a try.

To be honest, I didn’t think the cheese was all that smelly. Sure, it had an intense smell, but only if you came really close to it. Besides I have encountered cheese much smellier than this. The taste was not as strong as I expected. It was like a ripe brie, soft and creamy with a hint of sharpness. I rather enjoyed this piece of cheese as I found it strong enough to give some decent flavor, yet not too strong to make your eyes water.

Fear Factor – 5 / Taste Test – 9

 

Cherry & beer ice-cream

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At Fatamorgana, the modernist gelato shop in Rome a cherry and beer ice-cream caught my eye. Now I’m not the biggest beer drinker, but I do like a nice Kriek cherry beer in the summer, so I thought the combination would work.

On my first bite I could definitely tell there was beer in there, but after that the flavor of the beer just went away. Fortunately I was left with a beautiful cherry ice-cream. It was silky smooth and tasted of real cherries. I’m positive these guys make everything in-house with only the freshest ingredients and no additives. They don’t need to worry about preservation anyway as they’re bound to sell out.

Fear Factor – 1 / Taste Test – 7

Bottarga

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I remember when I first saw bottarga on Masterchef a couple of years ago. I was as taken aback as the contestants as I couldn’t figure out what it was, or how to use it. The hosts then explained that it was the dried egg sack of a fish which I believe was a tuna. In Sicily it has been used for ages and is often grated over a fresh bowl of pasta.

That’s exactly how it was served to me at Franceschetta 58 in Modena. This restaurant is chef Massimo Bottura’s second restaurant that is much more affordable than his three starred Osteria Franceschana which was voted best restaurant in the world.

I had ordered a bowl of orecchiette, ear shaped pasta with cherry tomatoes and bottarga with breadcrumbs. Bottarga must be an expensive produce because it was used quite sparingly. On this picture it’s the yellow flecks, not the black which are the breadcrumbs. I tried some on their own and they tasted mildly fishy and were a little chewy like orange rind. I didn’t get the flavor bomb I was expecting though. Perhaps they should have been a bit more generous with the serving.

Fear Factor – 5 / Taste Test – 6

Cannoli lollipop

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I’ve been watching Cake Boss with Buddy Valastro for as long as I can remember. I guess that’s the foodie in me. On a recent trip to Florence I went into a shop to buy some drinks and spotted a display of Chupa Chups lollipops bearing Buddy’s image. It contained five different cake flavored lollipops including red velvet and strawberry macaroon. As I was in Italy and Buddy is Italian I picked up a cannoli flavored one.

One immediate setback was the size. It was just so big that it was difficult to eat, much bigger than normal lollipops. Although in that aspect you do get bang for your buck. Besides that I didn’t get a single hint of cannoli from it. Neither the pastry nor the filling were well represented. I did enjoy the lollipop as a gimmick.

Fear Factor – 0 / Taste Test 4

Kefir

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I’d heard of kefir before as being a sour tasting fermented milk, though I never had a chance to try it. Recently I travelled to Poland where I stayed with one of my friends who lives in Warsaw. She had bought a bottle of it for me to try. Whether or not she had seen my blog, I never asked.

Kefir is indeed a fermented milk, made with so-called kefir grains, a kind of yeast. To me kefir seems more like yogurt than milk. It’s as thick as yogurt, and tastes sour. Interestingly it gives a slight tingling sensation on your tongue when you drink it. It doesn’t taste off though, which is what I was expecting. On opening it looked curdled, but after shaking it turned into an almost smooth mixture. It was just a little too sour for me. Perhaps with some sugar I would be more inclined to finish it.

Fear Factor – 3 / Taste Test – 6