A Belgian Journey: Part II – Bruges

And we continue…

Saturday morning we hopped on another train headed northwest to Bruges. (English spelling – Bruges, Everyone else – Brugge). In the completely typic cliche, I have been wanting to go to Bruges ever since seeing In Bruges almost 4 years ago now with a friend back in Raleigh. Now, as much as the film might have inspired the trip, Bruges is an amazing town that is in fact listed in the UNESCO World Heritage registrar and because of its many canals is sometimes said to be the “Venice of the North.”

Now about those canals…Lets just say I’m going to have to go back to Bruges in the spring or summer one day as the canals this past weekend were frozen over. So frozen that people were actually walking on them. Although my friends wanted to go down and try to walk on it, I was not feeling that adventurous and preferred my watching others risk their lives from the sidelines.

Another thing that we missed out on was climbing the Belfry tower, which was closed for renovation. If you have seen In Bruges, you know what tower I’m talking about. Despite the frozen canals and the closed Belfry, Bruges was still amazing.

We stayed in a the most wonderful three story house that was a 5 minute walk from the main plaza. Saturday we really just spent walking around. Although freezing, it was beautifully sunny and we were able to take in all the sights with some amazing light. After realizing that the Belfry was closed, our next stop was the choclate shop Chocolate Line that prides themselves on having chocolate paint. Yes, chocolate paint. I didn’t purchase any paint but I was almost tempted to buy some chocolate lipstick. 

One interesting fact about Bruges is that they have there very own Michaleangle sculpture, called Madonna and Child, at the Church of our Lady. We paid a paltry 1 euro to see it. How awesome is that? One thing I loved about Bruges was being able to tell where we were just by looking up. From almost any point in town, you could see the Beflry, the Church of our Lady, or Saint Salvatores Cathedral. I of course loved this as I am a bit obsessive compulsive when it comes to knowing directions and orientation. The cobblestone streets and little alleyways lend themselves to perfect walking channels and more often than not, one had to be on the lookout for horse-drawn carriages (all tourists now) rather than cars themselves.

Of course, the afternoon continued with a stop for waffles and frites. Could one have a more perfect meal? I think not. After lunch, the cold constantly being a our preferred topic of conversation we popped into another cafe for some hot chocolate to warm out hands. I don’t know how they do it, but between the waffles and the chocolate, Belgium certainly knows their sweets. Instead of premixed hot chocolate, we were given warm milk and a chocolate square on a stick to mix in. This is how hot chocolate is served at Aroma in Israel and I’m sure at some other cafes, but I have never seen such a huge chunk of chocolate on a stick like this. It was the perfect internal heater for our bodies and our cold fingers. 

As a birthday present from my uncle, we got to experience some fine dining Saturday night at the Park Restaurant. Now I don’t know if the manager was expecting us or was just outside taking a smoke break, but as we walked up to the door he said “you must be Maya,” and welcomed us inside. Door service in the middle of Bruges? Pretty cool. I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves, but I can say it was definitely up there in my top ten list of meals I have had in my life 🙂 First course: Foie gras with fresh fig Second course: vegetable soup Main Course: beef tenderloin with potatoes à gratinBirthday tarte tatine! 

Our following and last day in Bruges was rather overcast and snowy. We ventured to the other side of town to a quaint little crepe restaurant and then went to a chocolate museum. The museum itself was a little haphazardly put together and some of the English translations were questionable, but being the baker that I am, it was very fun to see the whole process of how chocolate is made and why chocolate has become so popular in France. At the end, they had a nifty little demonstration showing how to make chocolate pralines. New mission in life – learn how to make chocolate truffles! 

All in all, I’d say it was a pretty spectacular weekend. I would have wished for warmer weather, but then again, one can’t always travel when it’s warm! The idea of not knowing the language or my way around it still a new concept that I’ve been taking in stride as I do more travel in France but it has also reminded me that in the technology souped up world we live in, travel is in fact, so easy. In away, I almost wished I had left my iPhone at home to cut me off from the world completely, although not knowing that Whitney Houston died until 24 hours after the fact was certainly disturbing 😉 I think now my nerves have been calmed at the prospect of doing future travels in even more foreign lands and I am now ready to conquer Europe! Croatia anybody??

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February Daring Bakers’ Challenge: Panna Cotta & Florentine Cookies

Pomegranate is my new “it” food. I’ve always loved the bloody red fruit, but within the past year, this love has intensified to an all out infatuation. As expensive as they can be, I try and get my hands on one as often as possible, especially pomegranate juice, which, with a splash of seltzer, is a perfect refreshing drink.

When I saw the challenge for this month, I knew that I was going to be able to sneak my new fruit obsession into this dessert quite perfectly. The February 2011 Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Mallory from A Sofa in the Kitchen. She chose to challenge everyone to make Panna Cotta from a Giada De Laurentiis recipe and Nestle Florentine Cookies.

Now I have never made Panna Cotta before, nor can I say I’ve eaten myself many time either. I was excited for a new challenge for something that sounded delicious, moderately easy to make, and would allow me to add some of my own variations on. I made the basic vanilla Panna Cotta recipe, but added a pomegranate jelly over the top with some sprinkled on fresh pomegranate seeds. The result was the perfect mixture of vanilla sweetness with a hint of tangy fruit. I’m now a fan of Panna Cotta, as it’s a fairly easy dessert to make that can be made to seem super fancy when put in little cups and set out on table of desserts.

Florentine cookies are pretty to look at, but in my opinion not that all exciting to eat. They are definitely a hit of sweetness that are complemented well with some drizzled on chocolate, but I can’t say that they really go all that well with the Panna Cotta. In the future, I would stick to making one or the other, but not both at the same time.

If you’d like to make this Panna Cotta, which I really think you should, you can find the recipe for the pomegranate jelly here. Enjoy!