Crêpes for Chandeleur

I love food traditions tied to holidays. First, we made steamed chicken buns for Chinese New Year. Then on Sunday, I was happy to recognize another holiday that I only recently learned about: la Chandeleur—a wonderful excuse to eat too many crêpes! 

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Chandeleur, also known as Candlemas in English, is celebrated 40 days after Christmas on the second day of February. Along with the strong link to Christianity, the celebration of Chandeleur has connections to pagan and Roman traditions. Long ago, making crêpes helped use up surplus flour, and the round pancakes loosely resemble the shape and color of the sun—fitting for the celebration of light and the coming of spring.

In Switzerland, I’ve been hearing that Chandeleur isn’t celebrated as much as in France. At the same time, I’ve been reading about Chandeleur-related events at various locations around us in Suisse-Romande, so it does exist in some forms here.

On Sunday, we made dairy-free and egg-free crêpes for a special Chandeleur lunch. I used a different recipe this time, but it didn’t measure up to my favorite vegan crêpe recipe from VeganYumYum. Next time, I want to use sarrasin or buckwheat flour to try making vegan galettes—a special crêpe from Brittany, France.

For my homemade crêpes, our toppings included lingonberry jam, maple syrup, Véron molasses spread and my latest discovery… Whipped soy cream! I did a ridiculous little dance in the kitchen after I tasted it (really) because it was so close to the real thing. A little vanilla sugar, powdered sugar, and soy cream whipped together with my immersion blender, and I had faux chantilly cream for our thin little pancakes.

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After eating way too many crêpes, we took the funicular up and walked in the woods above our small Swiss city. Without any snow, it’s already starting to feel like spring. Of course that could change any day now, but we’re enjoying the mild winter while we still can.

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While we’ve lost the tradition of hot wings and nachos for the Super Bowl here in Switzerland, we’ve gained Chandeleur and crêpes. And, be prepared to see soy whipped cream making many future appearances on this blog!

Celebrating Onions in Bern

The smell of onions was in the air yesterday in Bern. I somehow talked two friends into taking an early morning train with me to visit the “Zibelemärit”—an annual onion market that’s one of Switzerland’s oldest fairs. I’m always searching for opportunities to learn about Swiss foods, and the onion market introduced me to some specialties for the autumn/winter seasons. We spent about 1 1/2 hours there, during which we sampled “glühwein” (hot mulled wine), “zwiebelkuchen” (onion tart), brötli (small breads) and more.

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Bern’s autumn market dates back to the 15th century, but the focus on onions apparently began in the mid-19th century. It’s always held on the fourth Monday in November, much like Thanksgiving is held on the fourth Thursday in the United States. Like Thanksgiving, the Zibelemärit seems to celebrate the end of the harvest season and the beginning of winter. Of course, the Swiss version includes loads of confetti, squeaking plastic hammers and most importantly, a focus on onions (I particularly like author Diccon Bewes’ description of the atmosphere).

While I knew the onion market would draw a huge crowd, I was still surprised by the tremendous number of people there at 6:00 in the morning. At times, my friends and I were walking shoulder-to-shoulder past countless booths of braided onions. In contrast, I talked to several Swiss and non-Swiss folks living in our small French-speaking city who had neither attended, nor even heard of the onion market before.

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In the coming weeks, I’ll work on sharing a few Zibelemärit-inspired recipes (sans dairy, raw/undercooked egg and almonds). However, I think it’s nearly impossible to recreate the delicious onion tart full of eggs, cheese and cream. In the meantime, I’ll use the onions I bought in my homemade stuffing and other dishes for our Thanksgiving feast this Thursday. What’s left of our pretty onion braid will serve as our Thanksgiving centerpiece!

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For those who celebrate this very American holiday, I wish you and your family a very Happy Thanksgiving!

Neuchâtel’s Fête des Vendanges 2013

Neuchâtel hosted a huge wine festival over the weekend, known as “Fête des Vendanges.” This event draws an enormous crowd, spanning over three days and into the wee hours of the night. The wine flows, along with copious amounts of beer and liquor. The music plays until 4 a.m. on Friday and Saturday night and until midnight on Sunday. We missed the festival last year, so this was our first time experiencing it.

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In its 88th year, this year’s festival did not disappoint. The weather wasn’t always perfect, but the party never stopped. We attended parades, checked out rides (which reminded me of the Minnesota State Fair’s Midway) and enjoyed local food and wine.

I’ve been inspired to make a few allergy-friendly versions of fête-related foods, but today’s “Soupe des Vendanges” was a total failure. And, I definitely won’t be making the nearly raw horse meat sandwich that my husband accidentally ordered (horse meat is common here). Until I perfect a recipe that’s good enough to post, I wanted to share a few photos and videos from Fête des Vendanges 2013.

Neuchâtel-20130928-00781View from the ferris wheel (Photo credit: Helen Kim)

DSC01481A huge pot of choucroute (sauerkraut)

DSC01427Covered in confetti and watching the parade


A wandering band

Cow bell procession

I just finished watching the Great British Bake-Off, and the contestants were making “Spotted Dick” out of suet. Seriously, I can’t make this stuff up. Hope you’re having a good week!

Longest Meal Ever: Festin Neuchâtelois 2013

I talked some friends into attending a 4-course meal of typically Swiss foods from the canton of Neuchâtel last weekend. Restaurants throughout the canton participated in Festin Neuchâtelois, including our pick—Restaurant Au Château in Colombier. Each site served a set meal of traditional dishes made with “produits du terroir” (local products). Little did I know when the meal started at noon, it would last for over 6 hours!

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When I saw the posters up around town for Festin Neuchâtelois, I decided I had to attend. One of my goals for this blog is to identify Swiss recipes I can recreate at home—free of my son’s allergens. Some recipes that I’ve found, like for Pane Ticinese, don’t call for milk, eggs and nuts. For other recipes, I enjoy adapting them to include allergy-friendly ingredients, like using coconut milk to make Salée à la Crème. I thought this would be a great opportunity to try lots of local foods, all at once.

Festin Neuchâtelois did not disappoint. It was the longest meal I’ve ever had. So many delicious plates of food. For the full menu at Restaurant Au Château that day, click here (in French). The photos below provide examples of some of the dishes served during each of the “services” or courses.

1er service

DSC01172Bondelle fumée du lac” (Smoked whitefish of the lake)

DSC01175“Gelée de pied de veau à la lie” (Calf’s foot jelly, this wasn’t my favorite…)

2ème service

DSC01178“Pot-au-feu” (French beef stew)

DSC01180“Saucisson neuchâtelois IGP cuit à la braise sur pétcha” (Neuchâtel sausage)

3ème service

DSC01182“Tourte aux poireaux” (Leek pie)

DSC01168“Pièces d’agneau rôties au serpolet” (Lamb roasted with wild thyme)

4ème service

DSC01184Tarte aux fruits, Crème bachique, Parfait glacé à l’absinthe”
(Fruit tart, Bacchanalian cream, and Parfait absinthe)

All of us took home a small cookbook with the recipes from our huge feast. I’m hoping to make some of these dishes soon and will post the recipes when/if I get them right. That reminds me… If anyone knows where I can get a cheap bricelet press, please send me an email (the new one I saw here in town was CHF 240!).

As always, thanks for reading and supporting Dairy-Free Switzerland. Bon week-end!

Spring Cow Parade and Saffron Bread

Lots of lucky Swiss cows spend their summers in the mountains.

Inalpes festivals happen in the springtime when cows ascend toward their alpine pastures (the fall equivalent celebrating their return is Désalpes). Imagine a parade of flower-decorated bovines with immense clanging bells around their necks.

On Mother’s Day, we checked out one such festival that occurs about once every 10 years in the town of Estavannens, not far from Gruyères in the Fribourg region. The weather was cold and wet, but we packed our lunches and piled in our Mobility car to experience this traditional Swiss event.

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Poya 2013

Since 1956, the small mountain village of Estavannens has held a Poya celebration seven times. In the local dialect, the term Poya apparently refers to herds rising to their pastures. This 5-day event with food, music and more culminates in the cow procession on Sunday—a clanging parade of cows and other livestock with their human handlers dressed in traditional costumes.


Making Saffron Bread

At the Poya festival, the huge food tent served up typical festival fare—french fries, chicken nuggets, Swiss sausages, and pizza, for example. So when we got home, I decided to try making an allergy-friendly recipe from the Fribourg region. After consulting my Swiss cookbook, I chose a yellow-tinged saffron bread or “Cuchaule.”

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After two failed attempts with saffron threads—the yellow color didn’t flow throughout the bread (I should have known better)—I finally tracked down small packets of powdered saffron, and it worked great.

Also, while I used flax meal in the bread, I decided to try an egg wash for the first time in over a year—now that our son has passed his “baked egg” food challenge. An egg wash gets crazy-baked to the point of turning brown, and the bread bakes for 25 minutes at 200°C/400°F, so I felt comfortable serving this to him (FYI: Allergy UK has a helpful table with “egg foods,” but always consult your allergist first to make sure).

The Swiss serve Cuchaule with Bénichon mustard, a sweet and savory condiment made with white wine, vin cuit and spices. While I have a recipe for it, I couldn’t spare the time this week to make homemade mustard. I checked around for a pre-made version at a few stores, but found out it’s a seasonal product sold in the fall. So, like the Swiss, I’ll hold off until fall to try my own Bénichon mustard.

In the meantime, we’ll enjoy our Cuchaule! Here’s the allergy-friendly recipe I modified from my Betty Bossi cookbook.

 

Cuchaule

(dairy/nut-free), can be made egg-free

3-3 1/2 cups flour
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/4 cup sugar
2 1/4 teaspoons yeast
150 ml soy or rice milk
100 ml water
3 tablespoons vegetable-based margarine
1 pinch of saffron
1 tablespoon flax meal mixed with 3 tablespoons water (or 1 egg)
Glaze: 1 egg yolk, beaten OR 1-2 tablespoons vegetable-based margarine, melted

1. Whisk together dry ingredients in a large bowl—3 cups of flour, salt, sugar and yeast. Set aside.

2. Separately, mix together the milk substitute, water, margarine and saffron. Gently heat in a small saucepan, stirring constantly, just until the margarine is melted.

3. Mix flax meal with water and set aside for a few minutes. Add to dry ingredients along with the warmed saffron mixture. Stir together to form dough. Knead for about 5-10 minutes, adding the remaining flour as needed, until the dough is smooth and elastic.

4. Place in a covered bowl. Let rise until doubled in size, about one hour.

5. Form the dough into a round loaf and brush with glaze. Make crisscross cuts along the top. Place on a parchment-lined baking sheet.

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6. Bake for about 25 minutes at 200°C/400°F. Remove and cool on a wire rack.

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I could really devote a weekly series to Swiss bread. So many different, regional options. Look forward to trying them all. What’s your favorite? And, as always, Bon week-end!

Salon du Chocolat and Allergy-Friendly Chocolate Search

On Thursday night, I had the unique opportunity to attend the VIP Inaugural Soirée for Salon du Chocolat in Zurich. A very special thanks goes out to Kerrin of My Kugelhopf for hooking me up with some tickets (kugelhopf is the Alsatian version of a bundt cake)! In the afternoon, I jumped on a train, and by 6:30 PM, I was sampling delicious Swiss chocolate from some of the world’s finest chocolatiers.

Delicious chocolate and amazing macaroons (one of my favorite treats at the event) from Sprüngli

Delicious chocolate and macaroons (one of my favorite treats at the event) from Sprüngli

Salon du Chocolat Fashion Show -- clothing made with chocolate!

Salon du Chocolat Fashion Show –  clothing made with chocolate! Check out New In Zurich‘s video.

Another new favorite - Zurich's Läderach, and their wonderful chocolate bark

Another new favorite – Läderach and their wonderful chocolate bark

Salon du Chocolat would have been challenging to navigate with our food-allergic son. Milk and/or almonds are likely ingredients in nearly everything at the event. Our son’s allergies also require us to avoid products with traces of these ingredients (and eggs too), which further limits our search for safe chocolate. It would have been cruel to expose our little guy to such glorious treats, and then tell him he couldn’t have any!

Just to make sure, I’m in the process of sending follow-up emails to a few dozen chocolatiers and other vendors from Salon du Chocolat inquiring about the availability of allergy-friendly chocolate. I’ll be sure to spread the word if I make the exciting discovery of Swiss-made, dairy/nut/egg-free chocolate!


Searching for Allergy-Friendly Chocolate

Since arriving in Switzerland, I’ve been hunting for chocolate that’s safe for my son (in the United States, our go-to chocolate was from Enjoy Life Foods, but I haven’t seen these products in Europe). In all, I’ve probably spent a couple hours reading chocolate labels in search of the elusive, Swiss-made and allergy-friendly chocolate. Often times I’ll come close with a dark chocolate, but then there will be that “peut contenir traces de…” label with our allergens, and it’s right back on the shelf.

After all this searching, other than cocoa powder from Coop, we’ve only found one kind of chocolate that’s safe for our son. However, this chocolate bar isn’t made in Switzerland. And, instead of sugar, it contains Xylitol—a sweetener made from Birch trees in Finland (who knew?). Apparently, Xylitol has fewer calories than sugar and is safe for diabetics. While the chocolate tastes pretty good, the main feature is that it’s dairy-free and nut-free (and gluten-free, as well, for those who need it). At 6.40 CHF per bar (!), I would buy this again, but would prefer a less medicinal-seeming chocolate. I want chocolate with good ol’ sugar, and made in Switzerland, if you please.

Choxy from Xylotil UK

Choxy from Xylitol UK

Of course, I could order allergy-friendly chocolate online from the UK or elsewhere, but for some reason, I really want to find a good-quality, Swiss chocolate that anyone would eat—not just one catering to those with special dietary needs. Maybe I’m asking for too much? The Great Allergy-Friendly Swiss Chocolate search continues…

For those without food allergies looking for an amazing Swiss chocolate experience this weekend, check out the Salon du Chocolat, which runs today and tomorrow in Zurich from 10h00 to 19h00 at Messe Zürich – Hall 5, Wallisellenstrasse 49. Bon week-end!