donderdag 24 december 2009

Merry Christmas everyone.

Windmill at Voorhout, The Netherlands.
Name: 'De hoop doet leven' translated 'If there's hope, there's life' *

More Photo's of the winter wonderland, are here.
Although I'm not actually having turkey this year Christmas wouldn't be Christmas without Cranberry Sauce. It's just one of the traditions like Mince Pies, that a Brit just cannot do without!
So I made some fresh cranberry sauce, and it is so good. I used:
340gr Fresh cranberries
grated the rind and juice of an orange
just over 100gr sugar, (to taste, sounds a lot but they are so sour!)
good pinch all spice.
good pinch rommelkruid (a spice mix consisting of aniseed, coriander, cinnamon, ginger, licorice)
It is so simple almost quicker than opening a jar- damn jars! Wash cranberries, place in a saucepan with the spices and orange juice/peel, add boiling water (about 150-200ml) Bring back to the boil and simmer for 10 minutes or until nearly all the cranberries have popped open. Keep the lid on!
Make a paste with arrowroot and a little cold water and add to the cranberries, it will thicken immediately. Add more sugar if necessary. Enjoy!

I couldn't resist but to eat some of mine with a slice of Chocolate Crunch or some of you will know it as Chocolate Concrete. Remember from school dinners? I'm still trying to perfect the recipe so watch this space!

* The windmill was built in 1783 in Rijnsburg, The Netherlands. Due to expansion of the FloraHolland flower auction the mill was relocated, in 1999, to the Elsgeesterpolder near Voorhout.

dinsdag 22 december 2009

A Box of Delights

It's that time of year when your employer shows his appreciation for a year’s hard work in the token of a box of goodies, in other words it's Hamper Time.
I don't actually get one myself, running an own business, but I am allowed to share someone else’s :-)
Put together a cardboard box and the element of surprise and you get our full attention every time. Picture this scene: my son came in, all big smiles, and we were all huddle excitedly around a box!- four pairs of childlike eyes are eager to see what was in store, which wonderful treats would be revealed- and what totally useless items! (I don't mean to sound ungrateful but you sometimes get some pretty useless things in a hamper)
The all time favourites are present: vol au vent, this year in the shape of Christmas trees, with good old ragout filling,
The usual potato chip/ nut snacks, lots of very welcome chocolate in all shapes and forms including Dutch Droste.
Cookies and candy even some Christmas tree shaped marshmallow.
But what is this: a bake mix (oh that is so Dutch, literally everything is available in a packet form!) for making Christmas cookies, just add water- well I never!
Senseo coffee pads and an interesting flavour tea bags: Turkish, with apple, fig and date.
The customary bottle of wine seem to have been replaced (thank goodness I am very off wine at the moment ;-) by Le sirop de Monin 'Chocolate Cookie' syrup. For use in chocolate milk, Tiramisu or cocktails- I feel some inspiration coming along.

But where is the Christmas tree shaped pasta?
Replaced perhaps by two bottles of shower gel?
There are even Fortune cookies- will they give us a hint of what the new year will hold?
All in all a pretty useable hamper, not overly luxury but certainly enough to keep everyone happily munching through Christmas.
And what is even better, both my sons work part-time at the local supermarket so not do we have one, but we are doubly pleased!
Thank you Albert Heijn for allowing us to get so excited over a box of groceries.

Oh the weather outside is frightful....

Doesn't the snow just adds to the feel of Christmas like nothing else, despite an actual 'White Christmas' being few and far between. I remember as a child it was rather more common, as the other song goes "just like the ones I used to know". Perhaps that 's why I suddenly got the urge to run into the kitchen late yesterday evening to bake my mince pies. Well it certainly wouldn't be Christmas without them!
Mince pies:
Mince pies are not available in the supermarkets here and anyway shop bought mince pies are ok but are nothing compared to the homemade version. It is actually so easy and such a joy to do.
We are actually spending Christmas day here and traveling across to the UK on Boxing day (weather permitting I must add).
I was lucky enough to have some mincemeat on hand but if you haven't it is easy enough to make. This looks just as good as anything around, if you cannot get access to suet or choose to make vegetarian no worries, look here.
I couldn't resist 'tarting' my mincemeat up: a handful of roughly chopped nuts here, and a good dash of cointreau there, not forgetting a heaped teaspoon of speculaas for added spice. Oh it was so fragrant, almost homemade!
I used a pretty standard pastry, preferring shortcrust over flaky/puff.
300 gram plain flour, pinch salt
150 gram butter
4 or 5 heaped tsp sugar
1 egg yolk
little water
egg white with a little icing sugar for glazing.
I jar 410gr mincemeat
optional: few walnuts, speculaas, good dash of cointreau.
Icing sugar for dusting
Makes 18 mince pies.
The secret for good crisp pastry as everyone knows is to handle as little as possible and use very little water.
Rub the butter in the flour, stir in the sugar. Add the egg yolk and a very little water just enough to bring the pastry together (it should still be very crumbly). Place in the fridge for as long as you can (ideally 2 hours). Mine got 30 minutes.
Preheat your oven 190C. Grease your tin.
Roll out and cut out with pastry cutters or glasses. Size: 8 and 6.5cm.
Re-roll any 'trimmings'. You should aim for 18. Push the pastry 'bottoms' into the tins gently. Fill with mincemeat. Moisten the edges of the 'lids' and press firmly over the mincemeat sealing the edges. I cut the shape of a star and made two 'vents', this allows the heat to escape. Otherwise they may burst open.
Beat the egg white with a little icing sugar and glaze the pies. You could just use water or milk of course.
Cook them for around 20-25 minutes. Cool on a wire rack.
Serve warm with a dollop of cream, brandy butter or some Dutch vla.
I had a little mincemeat over so decided today to make some more! A Brit can never too many mince pies in the home at Christmas.
This time I made the half and used part whole meal flour (volkoren) and added some dried cranberries and a dash of brandy.
I also omitted the egg. They were quite delicious, the pastry was so light. Beautiful and rather rustic looking. See picture above, front right front.
More pictures of the snow:
On the road:
The proof Holland is flat:
And yes we do have windmills:

woensdag 16 december 2009


Meet my caricature- can you see the likeness? Isn’t it amazing? Sketched by René van Hooren in just a few minutes. I was at a works end of year party on Saturday and this caricaturist was present. He was excellent and certainly entertained the guests not only with his sketches, but also as magician.
It was fascinating to watch him in action. It was amusing to see the faces and reactions of people coming eye to eye with their caricature for the first time!

And for those of you wondering if the party girl went dressed in apron carrying kitchen utensils- well no, I didn't!
The artist at work.

woensdag 9 december 2009

My confessions: Ready-made food and chips!

I apologise for my absence in the blogging world, no I haven't wasted away. I have been cooking (and eating- honestly!) but just haven't found the time to put anything together. And I haven't just been eating packaged foods and chips as the title may suggest, but take yesterday for example we fancied a fry up, hardly blogging material but satisfying none the less. Often it is good to have a little of whatever you fancy despite it being easy.
Last weekend we celebrated Sinterklaas and I did what I do every year: a cheese fondue. I also make mulled wine which nicely sets the atmosphere. It has become somewhat of a tradition. I readily admit to using readymade packets of cheese fondue, it is just as good and anyway there isn't an awful lot of talent in melting cheese, because basically, this is all it is. On occasions I have made my own, with cider or wine and it is delicious but in the traditional recipe Kirsch is called for, and I can't justify buying a bottle of Kirsch for just one use in a cheese fondue. I'm sure I could come up with recipes, but really I am quite satisfied with the easiness, and taste of Swiss cheese fondue ready-made. Be sure to slightly allow for more than the suggested serving on the packets. One packet of 400gr should serve 2 persons but we used 4 packets for 6 persons. We don't only dip bread but all kinds of vegetables (raw cauliflower, celery, carrot, tomatoes, cucumber) and fruit (apple, pineapple, dried dates, figs, apricot). We serve this with various salads, nuts, smoked salmon, sausages, olives. Actually it is quite a good and fun way of eating vegetables. If you are looking for something different, and a mess free meal (no grease to clear up afterwards unlike with traditional oil fondue or gourmet) then you really can't go wrong even with large numbers so try it.
Now you are all going to be terribly disappointed with me but Sunday at my house isn't as you would expect Roast Dinner day but rather Chip Day! Yes really- the deep fat fryer rears its ugly head nearly every Sunday evening! Why? Well we do like to keep things easy on lazy Sundays but I guess when 3 people are telling me that they want CHIPS & SNACKS regularly then I have to listen. Not only do they eat chips covered in different sauce concoctions but also greasy Frikadel and Kroket. I watch in disgust, I thought I had educated them, how wrong can you be! I avoid all of that processed stuff, that in my opinion doesn't even resemble meat (apart from its sausage shape) let alone taste like- well anything in particular. So generally I only eat a few plain chips, sometimes with a dollop of mayonnaise, perhaps a slice or two of ham, I may even eat a cheese soufflé from time to time (so stodgy!) and occasionally I bake myself a salmon steak.
Sometimes I sneak in some of my own chipped potatoes and often I introduce different vegetables in chip form. For example we have eaten chipped pumpkin, celeriac, and sweet potatoes all with great success and turnip (koolraap) with less success as it tasted rather too much like vegetables!
In order to get perfect results you should twice fry your vegetables. Once at a lower heat to cook through, (then raise) and then wait for the higher temperature and fry until for crispy. To guarantee a crisp result then shake the vegetable chips in a little flour, cornflour or semolina before frying.

zaterdag 28 november 2009

Simple Desserts: 10 minute Tiramisu and a quick Trifle

I've been fancying a lot of desserts recently, many that go as far back as my childhood, some are even school dinners! At the time not something you cared to admit to enjoy, except of course ‘chocolate crunch and chocolate custard ‘ everyone's favourite. But my recent urges are for suet puddings (spotted dick or jam roly-poly), jellies and milk puddings (rice puddings and tapioca) something that I didn’t particularly like at all. And a bit more up market, and things that I have always enjoyed: cheesecakes, lemon meringue pie, and (English) trifles.
Now it's time for a 'pick-me- up' the literal translation of: Tiramisu, an Italian dessert, it’s name referring to the boost you get from the stimulants (caffeine) coffee and (theobromine / phenethylamine)cocoa plus it's high sugar content, giving a burst of energy. Well as I have already mentioned I am a bit ‘egg phobic’. I couldn't even contemplate making an authentic ‘Tiramisu’ which in order to to bear the name, must contain (amongst other ingredients) eggs and Massala (a type of fortified wine). Other ingredients include mascarpone, cream, sponge fingers (savoiardi) strong coffee and cocoa. However I do love this wonderful dessert and have almost certainly (albeit unknowingly) eaten raw eggs before now- and what is more I have survived to tell the tale!
It can be made in individual glasses or in any dish, a glass trifle or even an lasagna dish. It should be made in layers but I wanted to get mine made and in the fridge as quickly as possible, and eaten even quicker! So I choose to make one layer of each ingredient.
I searched the internet for a nontraditional recipe without eggs and a bit less fattening than the usual. I wanted all the taste but as few calories as possible. In the end I based it on a good friends recipe who always makes delicious Tiramisu. I was quite proud of guessing her ‘secret’ ingredient- Vla.
This is a Dutch cold custard and it is ideal for making Tiramisu. It certainly takes all the fuss away. I love cooking but I am all for shortcuts.
The success of a Tiramisu is in the consistency, you have to find the balance between it not being too runny or too dry, you must experiment- oh dear that means it has to be a regular on the menu ;-) The same rule applies to the cookie fingers as flour, they are ’inconsistent’ (different types of flour have different absorptive properties), so the amount of liquid is always very much about 'feel'. Although it is rather a cheat recipe I justify that it is an Italian dessert and Italian cooking is all about simply things, minimum ingredients but maximum taste, and as they say the proof is in the pudding....

Dutch influenced 10 minute Tiramisu
Make a strong cup (about 150-200ml) of espresso coffee (or instant if you prefer)
100ml Tia Maria (or any alcoholic beverage you desire)
250gr mascarpone
250ml vanille vla (Dutch cold custard)
Lady's fingers/ lange fingers/ (about 130gr)
3 heaped tsp sugar
Serves 8

Make the coffee and dissolve the sugar. Add the alcoholic beverage. Dip the cookies one for one and lay them on the bottom of your dish (or individual glasses) a large glass salad bowl is the traditional way of serving Tiramisu. Feel the cookies and drip on extra liquid if necessary.
Beat the mascarpone until smooth and combine with the vla, beat until smooth. Add an extra dash of alcohol to the mascarpone/vla if you wish (I did!).
Ensure the lady’s fingers are completely cool. Pour the mascarpone/vla over the cookies. I made one level but you could make two or more depending on your serving dish.
Smooth the surface over and generously dust with cocoa and/or chocolate shavings.
Add nuts for an even more luxorious look. Unfortunately my photo's were lost but when I make it again I'll be sure to post.
Refrigerate for a few hours. Enjoy!

Tiramisu is also great in the summer with fresh raspberries or strawberries. December 12th 2009: Here is a Strawberry Tiramisu I made today, I used layers and you can see how pretty it can look made in individual glasses. This time I used Kahlua (coffee) liqueur.

A trifle is actually quite similar to a Tiramisu, in that it's a layered dessert consisting of (sponge)cake soaked in liquor (sherry). Normally with fruit/ jelly, custard, cream and normally lavishly decorated. It is great if you have some (sponge) cake to use up. Or you have some frozen fruit lurking in the freezer.
This one is very easy but quite authentic tasting, with just one layer of each ingredient. You could make more layers. An alternative is to set the jelly and then 'chop' it up, this makes layering the dessert much easier.
I love mascarpone and used it instead of cream but you could of course use (whipped)cream instead. Because I used frozen fruit it set very quickly. It certainly doesn’t have to be left overnight, within an hour it had set.

Quick Trifle
1 jelly (or 10gr gelatine and sugar/ fruit juice to taste, avoiding kiwi, pineapple, papaya, these are fruits that interfere with the setting process)
200gr sponge cake
250gr forest fruits (frozen)
250gr mascarpone
2-3 tbsp custard powder
milk 400-500ml
sugar to sweeten (couple of tsp should be sufficient)
vanille vla
100ml sherry
amaretto cookies (optional)
Decorations (nuts, sprinkles)
Serves 8

Dissolve jelly cubes in 250ml boiling water. Top up to 500ml (with ice cubes)
Cut cake into slices and place on bottom of glass dish. Pour over sherry and leave until soaked in.
Spread the frozen fruit (reserving a few for decoration) over cake and spread a little jam. By now the (jelly) liquid should be cold.
Pour slowly over fruit. Place in fridge, it should set very quickly due to frozen fruit.
Make custard, a bit thicker than you normally would. You could use part thick custard and part add Dutch vanilla vla like I did, this would speed up the cooling process. Bear in mind that it will thicken as it cools. If the custard is too thick add a bit more vla.
If your custard is too thin add some amaretto cookies. Leave your custard to cool, 'cover' with cling film to avoid the formation of surface skin which will lead to lumpy custard.
I added some amaretto cookies to give it some more flavour.
When the custard is cool, carefully spread over jelly. Beat mascarpone in a bowl with a little vla (couple tbsp) and spread on top of the trifle . Decorate with the reserved fruit, or nuts, sprinkles as you wish. Refrigerate.

These desserts certainly look impressive, only you have to know just how easy they are!

maandag 23 november 2009

Super Foods- Eat yourself healthy with Pumpkin Seed Oil, Goji Berries and Quinoa

A little over a year ago while leisurely strolling along the *Haarlemmerstraat in Amsterdam I sampled a delightful product in **Meeuwig & Zn. a specialised oil, vinegar and mustard shop.
The sampling itself was rather different, not done by dipping a piece of bread but cupping and tasting from your own hand! Apparently this is true tasting.
Pumpkin seed oil: It was quite delicious, nothing like I had never yet experienced, it had an uniquely extraordinary taste. Unfortunately due to circumstances I was unable to purchase at the time (my friend and I were on our way to a concert) The substance however lingered in my memory, but before I could go back to Amsterdam my friend spotted it on the shelves at- her local Lidl store!
Pumpkin oil from Styria (in German Steieirmark)
It has been popular and highly valued in Austria (and parts of Slovenia and Hungary) for many years. It is only here that the conditions are ideal for producing a perfect harvest. It is as widely in use in this area as olive oil is in other Mediterranean countries. In fact it forms a staple part of their diet. It seems to me they have been rather unwilling to share, almost a well kept secret. But now it seems it has been discovered and is now appearing on the menu in many top restaurants. It is gaining a reputation among chefs worldwide not only because of its unique taste but because of it is highly nutritional values.
It is very organically produced, often on family farms that has been producing quality oils for generations. The seeds are obtained from the Styrian pumpkin (Cucurbita pepo styriaca) and are characterized by being hull-less or 'naked' (having a thin membrane as opposed to the thick husk of conventional pumpkin seeds), they are dark green in colour, they are first roasted and are then easily crushed (cold pressed) to extract the highly prized and expensive edible oil otherwise known as 'Green Gold'.
It takes 2.5 kilo of pumpkin seeds to produce 1 liter oil. Not only is its intensive nutty flavour remarkable also the colour, it has a deep green (which looks red in the light) colour. Because it is expensive it is often mixed with cheaper oils i.e. sunflower oil but in my opinion it is better to enjoy it as an expensive (albeit occasional) delicacy.
Only the pure oil may bear the special markings on the bottle ‘Steirisches Kürbiskernöl’ (Styrian Pumpkin seed oil) the one from Lidl is also authentic, bearing the mark and is 100% pumpkin seed oil. It was 4,99euro for 250ml. Unfortunately it was a limited period product.
It is a wholesome and versatile food and can be used in salads, dipping bread, potatoes, rice, pasta, drizzled on cooked grilled vegetables or a topping on soups or even desserts, particularly delicious on ice-cream, pancakes - a true culinary delight. Beware-it does not tolerate heat well (tends to burn easily- so not suitable for frying!) and should be regarded with care during use in warm foods. Further it contains no artificial additives or preservatives. It should be stored in a dark cool place.
I have used it as a topping in porridge, (pumpkin)soups, salads and with ice cream with balsamic vinegar. Apparently it makes a wonderful scrambled egg, if moderately cooked.
Not only is its culinary qualities that are so valuable, but it is a 'Power food'. It has numerous health benefits. There have been extensive scientific research in all areas where it claims to have beneficial properties. Indeed it has proven to have many therapeutic qualities.
It is extremely rich in polyunsaturated fatty acids essential fatty acids (omega 3 & 6), antioxidants, vitamins and minerals. It helps to regulate cholesterol levels which can help prevent heart and circulatory diseases.
It alleviate prostate/ bladder problems and urinary/intestinal infections and helps to restore a good hormone balance. Its use for intestinal infections includes parasite elimination!
Furthermore it is linked with having anti-inflammatory properties, relieving chronic rheumatoid arthritis and preventing kidney stones. It is reputed to increase the immune system.
It is excellent for maintaining skin health (dry skin and ageing, help prevents dehydration resulting in wrinkles and reduces scarring, particularly stretch marks)
Try it yourself not only is it a delight on the palate but a benefit to good health- what could possibly be more amazing that eating yourself fit?
Remember a little goes a long way...and experiment- its uses in the kitchen will go as far as your own imagination.

* Haarlemmerstraat, Amsterdam is a true culinary paradise, various delicatessens, restaurants, and specialised shops (also non food) offering quality products from around the world. It is very pretty it has an air of old fashioned-ness. I can certainly recommend the little Italian restaurant Scarlet, we had the surprise menu and were not disappointed! In one word: delicious. We also had lunch at the Portuguese delicatessen, officially not a restaurant but they were very accommodating, the wine was fabulous and not expensive.
Others shops include Hollanduz (produce from Spain) Kookboekhandel (cookery books) Caulils (wines, cheese & lobsters) Vlaamsch Broodhuys (breads and pastries) Unlimited Delicious (handmade chocolate in the most unusual flavour combinations) Tampopo (Asian supermarket) Papabubble (see how these specialised and personalised sweets are made)or de-tox at Jay's Juices. Don't forget to visit the weekly organic market at Noordermarkt, if only to experience the atmosphere (it is quite expensive but you do have quality produce):
There is an annual food Fair 'New Food Fair’ when even the streets are full of culinary delights.
Why not plan a Saturday morning at the market, an afternoon strolling along the Haarlemmerstraat and finish your evening with an early dinner in one of the lovely little restaurants. Or even better contact Paola, Mijn Zoete Leven who can take you on a very informative Culinary walk. Her enthusiasm will truly overwhelm and inspire you!

** Meeuwig en Zn offers a wide variety of high quality (olive)oils most of which are purchased on small scale farms (non bottled) from the countries Italy, Spain, Portugal, Greece an France. They are stored in large stainless steel tanks in the shop where oil can be tapped for you in bottles sizes of your choice.

Goji Berry
Another super food I recently became acquainted with is Goji berries. These strange little berries that resemble (red) raisins are grown on the vines in sheltered valleys of the Himalayas on evergreen shrubs. The delicate berries are carefully shaken off the bushes (to avoid bruising) and are dried very slowly in the shade to produce the small, brick red dried fruit.
They are native to China and Tibet, and have been treasured for generations for their nutritional and therapeutic qualities, being used to cure various ailments.
Its taste is rather strange, not pleasant nor unpleasant, they are slightly 'salty' sweet and sour.
Like the pumpkin seed oil, numerous claims have been made. Some are very bold claims, since the fruit contains such high levels of antioxidants (more than any other fruit) there are suggestions that they can prevent or even cure cancer!
The Goji berry is very high in vitamin C, iron, beta carotene, polysaccharides, amino acids, and potassium.
They are said to protect the heart, are anti-aging and help protect the skin from the harmful sun, help improve eyesight, are very good for the immune system, the antioxidants help fight cancer and even can increase ones sex drive! (known also as Fruit-Viagra)
In recent years the Goji berry has become popular mostly incorporated in a beverage, (to disguise its unusual taste?) it is expensive and the wide claims that have been made are mostly unsupported.
Is it over-hyped or a super food? Well I think we have to leave it in the middle, take the claims with a pinch of salt. In China ALL food have some medicinal properties. If a fad encourages people to eat more fruit then I think it is a good thing too. Since the Goji berry may interact with certain (anticoagulant)drugs it should be taken in moderation.
All in all they are high in fibre, naturally low in fat as well as high in nutrients so can be included as part of a normal healthy and balanced diet.

Another super food I would like to be acquainted with is quinoa (pronounced Keen-wah). It is a versatile product, the leafy part is eaten as a vegetable, originating from South America. I understand it is rather like Couscous, but not actually a grain at all but a seed. It is high in protein and other nutrients including magnesium and riboflavin , high fibre and gluten free. If anyone knows where it is available (in the Leiden area) please let me know. I am always curious and eager to try new things.

woensdag 18 november 2009

Stew and Dumplings (with speculaas spices and ontbijtkoek)

What is easier and more satisfying than a stew in these cold and windy days? Yesterday I had meat and dumplings but it wasn't just good old British stodge, it was Dutch influenced. Not that there is anything wrong with meat and traditional English gravy but this time I looked around me for inspiration. I have heard that the Dutch sometimes use spiced cake in their (stoofpot) stews and I couldn't resist giving it a go. With 'Sinterklaas' just arriving in the country I thought I would find another use for that delicious mix of 'speculaas' spices that is so widely used in cookies and cakes at this time of year. I didn't add any vegetables apart from the onions because I was serving brussel sprouts separately but normally I would. They looked particularly festive and even the kids love them if you dress them up a bit.
Speculaas stew:
Stewing steak, beef (I used 630gr AH pure en eerlijk scharrel rundvlees)
2 red onions
koek & speculaas kruiden ( a mixture of spices, cinnamon, coriander, nutmeg, cloves, ginger, cardamom)
2 bay leaves
1 cinnamon stick
5 cloves
dried red chilies
dried chili flakes
ground cumin
paprika powder
2 cloves of garlic
extra nutmeg & cinnamon
2 slices ontbijtkoek (spiced cake)
1 sachet creamed coconut (50gr) (I used Patak)
2 tsp brown sugar
salt and pepper
boiled potatoes
100gr self raising flour (I used plain and 2 tsp baking powder)
50gr suet (if unavailable you could use butter)
desiccated coconut, about a tbsp.
salt, good pinch
cold water
fresh parsley and sage
Makes 8 small dumplings
Brussel sprouts with dried cranberries and thyme:
Handful of dried cranberries
fresh thyme
Cut meat into cubes. Place in a plastic bag with some cornflour (to absorb the moisture) and shake. In a large pan heat some oil or butter and brown the meat. Add the sliced onions, sliced garlic, bay leaves, cinnamon stick, cloves, nutmeg, speculaas spices, and a good shake of cumin, cinnamon & paprika powder, two slices of ontbijtkoek cubed and water (I boiled the kettle and used hot water) enough to cover the meat. Put on the lid and leave to simmer for 2 hours on the lowest burner.
Now you have time to peel some potatoes and prepare the dumplings. Put the SR flour (or plain and baking powder) in a bowl with the finely chopped herbs (parsley and sage) Stir in the coconut and add fat (suet or butter) Stir in suet or quickly rub in the butter (the less handling the better) and add enough water to make a soft dough. (about 75ml). Divide into 8 and make little balls, set aside, ideally in the fridge.
Go and relax while the food is cooking itself! Check the water level occasionally and top up as necessary and stir. (keep the meat well covered)
Boil the potatoes as you usually would.
In the last ten minutes of cooking time add the coconut cream and brown sugar to the meat, stir well and add the dumplings. Cook for about 10-15 minutes with the lid on. They will stay on top and rise in size. The gravy is lovely and rich and no need to thicken thanks to the ontbijtkoek (and cornflour). Very easy.
Preparing the sprouts:
Remove the outer leaves of the sprouts, wash and make a cut 'X' n the base (for even cooking). Cook the sprouts (about 8-12 minutes) test after 8 minutes. I like my vegetables with bite. When done drain and put back on heat to steam away excess water. Add a good knob of butter, salt, the thyme (only the leaves not the hard stalk!) and the dried cranberries, heat through. Serve with roughly broken walnuts(dry toasted for more flavour). These would be great with a bit of crispy bacon for Christmas dinner.
I sprinkled some desiccated coconut for a festive look. Roll on Christmas....

maandag 16 november 2009

Something old, something new

This weekend I decided to make pumpkin soup again (perhaps you have seen my Thai inspired pumpkin soup) but this time I used Thai GREEN curry paste. Otherwise I almost kept to the same ingredients.
Since my trip to Thailand earlier this year I have been inspired by Thai food. It is certainly a style of food that has been growing on me. Before my holiday I rarely cooked Eastern dishes and didn't even own a wok! Now I always have two pots of the basic curry paste: green and red on hand. Basically it is a mix of lemongrass, red (for red curry paste) or green chilli (for green curry paste) garlic, galangal, onion, salt, bergamot and coriander. You certainly don't have to feel guilty using paste since it is quite accepted, although you could start from scratch. I use paste and extra fresh ingredients, I will be posting a Thai curry recipe very soon on my blog. Watch this space.
As I didn't have any orange juice on hand I decided to use apple juice, which is quite an unusual combination since I don't recall seeing any apple's in Thailand! I needn't have worried because here is the result- an empty pan, I didn't even get time to get it on picture!
Thai inspired Pumpkin soup 2
1 small biological pumpkin ( or butternut).
1 large onion
fresh green chili pepper (to taste) I used about 1/4
Thai green curry paste (to taste) I used 1 heaped tbsp.
1 clove garlic
Oil (olive)
Coriander (ground, to taste)
500ml stock (chicken or vegetable)
200ml apple juice
1/2 - 1 tin (200- 400ml) coconut milk
salt and freshly ground pepper
Serving suggestions: pumpkin seed oil (or creme fraiche, knob of butter)
Serves 4
Cut the pumpkin in slices, remove peel, (you can use a potato peeler) stringy parts and seeds, discard. Chop the flesh in pieces. Dice the onion. De-seed the pepper and finely chop. Heat a little oil in a large pan. Fry the onion and green pepper for a few minutes. Add the curry paste (to personal taste). Stir and add the pumpkin, garlic (chopped) and fry for a few more minutes. Add salt, black pepper and coriander to taste. Add orange juice and coconut milk and heat through. Add stock and bring to boil, simmer for 15- 20 minutes (until pumpkin is soft, a little longer if you are using a butternut). Cool slightly and blend. Reheat. Serve with topping of choice. I added some pumpkin seed oil and it was amazing!
(I used just a half tin of coconut milk that was leftover but feel free to add a whole one.)

I have been very much dreaming of desserts lately which is very unusual for me, since normally I am quite satisfied with some yoghurt at the end of a meal. I very much hope to make a Tiramisu soon and a good old English Trifle. But because the Kwark-Cheese cake was so good I decided to make another one. In my opinion a little bit of what you fancy does you good; Food cravings could well be a sign of deficiencies in specific nutrients- well that's my excuse ;-)
This time I made it easier by replacing the cottage cheese (which needed to be sieved) with Philadelphia cheese ( I used ‘light’). I think it was even better! My craving has been satisfied.

Lemon Kwark-Cheesecake 2
10 digestive biscuits (180gr) Last time I used Verkade, this time I used AH brand and needed more than 10 to get the same weight.
85gr butter
2-3 tsp brown sugar
500gr kwark (low of high fat to choice) I used organic kwark, low fat
185gr Philadelphia cheese (I used light)
1 small carton cream (200ml)
80gr castor sugar (or more for a sweeter cheesecake)
juice and grated rind of 2 small or 1 large lemon
10gr gelatine, 6 sheets
1 spring form, lined. 20cm (last time I used 24cm)
Compote (topping)
Break up biscuits in a plastic bag with rolling pin (or pestle, which I prefer to use). Heat butter in a small pan until melted. Add biscuit crumbs and brown sugar (optional). Press in the base of a spring form with the back of a spoon. Cool in refrigerator. Beat the kwark until smooth. Add the Philadelphia cheese, sugar and lemon rind, mix. Soak the gelatine in a little water for 5 minutes. Heat the lemon juice (do not boil!) stir in (drained) gelatine and mix until everything has dissolved, heating if necessary but do not boil. Leave to cool slightly. Whip the cream until stiff, being careful not to over whip! Add cooled gelatine to kwark mixture and stir carefully but thoroughly. Fold in cream. Pour into baking tin. I lined mine with baking paper. Refrigerate for 4 hours. Add topping just before serving. I used a mix of compote and jam.

Today I lost track of time needed to come up with a meal in minutes, so it just had to be a 15 minute pastaThis recipe was based on a quiche I made years ago. The combination of butter, mushrooms and sherry is very satisfying.
Smoked chicken pasta in a mushroom and sherry sauce
300gr pasta of choice
200gr smoked chicken pieces (or pre-cooked chicken breast)
2 small spring onions
250gr chestnut mushrooms thickly sliced
2 celery sticks, chopped
White sauce (40gr butter, 40gr cornflour, 400ml milk)
Salt Pepper
fresh parsley and celery herb, finely chopped
sherry 2-3 tbsp (to taste!)
butter/olive oil
carton creme fraiche 200ml
Serves 4
Boil a large pan of water.
Heat a good knob of butter (or olive oil) and gently cook chopped celery. Remove celery and set aside. Cook pasta for time indicated on packet.(al dente- with a bite)
Make a roux sauce with butter, cornflour and milk. Add mushrooms, cook gently for a few minutes. Add celery, seasoning, sherry, chicken, creme fraiche and lastly spring onion and herbs. Heat thoroughly.
Serve with a fresh mixed salad, and walnuts. I added a dash of pumpkin seed oil. Delicious! This wonderful oil, known as 'green gold' deserves more than a mention and I will be addressing this very soon.

woensdag 11 november 2009

Eat your greens and pressure cooking!

You are what you eat.
While I cannot stress the importance of healthy and varied eating you must find a balance that suits everyone. Compromise rather than force-feeding may result in harmony around the dining table but it may well lead to 'pressure cooking' in the kitchen...
I was brought up on fruit and vegetables. I am a country girl and we were practically self sufficient. In my area you lived off the land and what we didn't grow in the garden we bought at local farms or on the market. And as long as I remember my grandparents have always kept chickens. Everything was plentiful, fruit, vegetable, dairy and meat.
I grew up on vegetables like swede, turnip, parsnip, (it's great that they are becoming popular here now although to be honest I didn't actually appreciate them at the time) carrot and cabbage. What is more we were expected to finish our plates whether we liked it or not! We were always served huge portions and thinking back it was rather unkind what was expected of us.
My Dutch husbands eyes were opened as he was introduced to English vegetables he had never seen before, especially the root vegetables! Today he often rather cruelly comments about the size of English produce. Peas the size of sprouts and spouts the size of cabbages...

Thinking back, I don't think being force-fed vegetables has actually done me any harm, on the contrary I am always looking out to try new vegetables and create different ways of preparing them. However I did decide to take a rather a different approach with my own children. I introduced them at an early age to many different vegetables but always very small portions and I think it has worked. I was open for compromise, vegetables they loathed were 'banned' from the menu. Each member of the family was allowed to 'blacklist' one particular vegetable. For hubby (yeah-men are almost like children and need to be treated as such!): Chicory. Eldest son: Beetroot. Youngest son: varying over the years between Zuurkool (Sauerkraut), aubergine and courgette. (I think he is always trying to outwit me by confusion- but I am on to him ha-ha)

It certainly seems to have worked because my boys expect a balanced meal. On the occasions when we have eaten quick meals of convenience (YES- guilty as charged!) they have often asked: “but where are the vegetables?” But quite possibly this was down to an unfortunately event when I discovered to my horror the 'forgotten' pan of vegetables on the stove when the meal was finished! "Cold broccoli anyone?" I think we have all been there...oops!
Nevertheless I do feel guilty if I try to get by with not providing the daily vegetable requirements and I don't get away with it- it never goes unnoticed. Should I see it as kind of punishment for being too strict? What goes around comes around- and often bites you on the butt! Another example is being literally dragged out of bed by nagging teenagers.....when I've been sleepily watching a film in my bed gradually dozing off- Mum, Have you cleaned your teeth?...GET UP, GO AND CLEAN YOUR TEETH! Now... ha-ha
I know I have achieved success because not only do they eat most vegetables, they now have their favourite types and way of preparation. We not only ‘chip’ potatoes but also pumpkin, celeriac and sweet potatoes.
One of the all time favourites is spinach with pasta sauce, another stir fry, even cabbage but in particular Paksoi. or Pak Choi as it is known in English. I am ashamed to admit I actually had to google to see what it is in English my mother tongue!
I cook it is many different ways but one that has stuck is very simple,
Pak Choi with caraway seed.
pak choi
1 small (red)onion, chopped
few tsp. sugar
large knob butter
caraway seeds, heaped tsp
salt and pepper
Optional: vinegar and cornflour, chili flakes
Firstly I caramelize some sugar. I use a dry saucepan, and add a few teaspoons of sugar, heat gently and watch in amazement how it will turn liquid. Keep stirring (do not leave!) until all the sugar is dissolved and it has a nice brown colour. Cool slightly then add a large knob of butter (I love butter- I never use margarine, though I suppose you could). When melted add one finely chopped onion, and cooked for a few minutes, then add one heaped teasp. of caraway seeds a good pinch of salt and pepper (and chili flakes if desired), the white pieces (sliced) of the pak choi. Stir fry for just a few minutes. Lastly I add the roughly chopped green tops and stir until wilted. Serve.
This is based on a Viennese Pak Choi (Weense Paksoi) recipe. You could thicken the sauce by making a paste with a little cornflour and some vinegar (I used organic cider vinegar)add it at the end and bring to the boil. Enjoy!

We also thoroughly enjoy our salads. We actually grow a little home produce, herbs (parsley, thyme, rosemary, sage, lemon balm, celery, coriander with less success, rocket, aubergine, tomato, bell peppers, fruits. I have also grown pumpkins in previous years.

So no pressure cooker in sight, (I don't even have one anymore) the referral in the title is because we ate salmon steaks today...
Because I have been rather too lenient and don't force feed I have made a rod for my own back. My boys have always refused to eat fish and unlike vegetables which are necessary for good health, fish doesn't fall into that category so I have never made an issue of it, encouraged yes- without success. I am left with a choice: forfeit fish myself or make double meals: so I prepare meat for them. So yesterday it was a juggle with the many pans! A juggle on the stove and a juggle in the dishwasher! Hopefully time will change because yesterday they were willing to taste one mouthful of salmon.
We also ate boiled potatoes, mashed sweet potatoes with coconut milk. Fruit salad for dessert, and a swimming pool cocktail for good measure. I had some left over coconut milk. (my excuse)
It sure was chaos in the kitchen or 'pressure cooking' but more important we not only ate our greens but we actually enjoyed them!

zaterdag 7 november 2009

201 Meals in Minutes- Pasta Fantasta

Sometimes you just need a quick meal, one that can be literally made in minutes. A dish that can be put together in a shorter time than it would take to order a pizza (and have delivered) to pick up a take-a-way. Pasta fits the bill perfectly- it is very handy food and can be very adapted into many dishes, it is very satisfying and it doesn't need peeling! I can be eating within 20 minutes!
You could fall back on a store bought sauce or even worse a packet, but it is no comparison with fresh, contains far too much salt and a homemade sauce is almost as easy anyway not to mention cheaper!
What are the options: You could go for an all time favourite: macaroni cheese but it does get a bit monotonous after a while. You could go for Dutch macaroni but that is way over the top- an Italian nightmare! They are obviously out of their comfort zone because packet mixes are very popular. It is a tomato based sauce with way too many ingredients to have any particular flavour and how ever short you cook the pasta it always ups up mushy!
When I'm in a hurry and that happens a lot due to business commitments. We run a flexible company and sometimes accommodating to other people’s needs means I am often left with little time in the kitchen but hungry mouths to feed!
Just before I reach for the pasta pot I open my fridge.
I glance around (the joys of having a well stocked fridge) for what I have on hand for inspiration to put together up a delicious pasta with sauce. Now the Italians eat a lot of pasta and little sauce but I prefer a good heaping of sauce. I do adhere to the Italian concept and choose out a few ingredients and not too many flavours like in Dutch Macaroni!
An example is a few weeks ago when I was time limited and needed to come up with a healthy dish and quick. I had some left over pesto sauce in the fridge so I decided to make:
Pesto pasta
Pasta 300gr
1 bell pepper red
2 large tomatoes (sliced)
1 courgette (cubed, not too small)
1 clove garlic
salt pepper
white sauce: 40gr butter 40gr cornflour Note: plain flour will do but cornflour (maizena) will give a much better result 450ml milk
bacon cubes about 250gr
1 large onion chopped
red pesto sauce (fresh- very easy to make or jar will do fine)
paprika pepper
chili flakes
fresh basil leaves and pine nut kernels.
Parmesan cheese
Serves 4

Toast pine nuts (dry in a pan). Keep to one side.
Boil large pan of water.
Depending on the leanness of your bacon you can add a little frying fat (I always use mild olive oil) to the pan. Fry bacon pieces with onion until cooked but not overdone. Remove from pan with slotted spoon. Set aside in a dish. Heat the same pan and add courgette, garlic, bell pepper and stir-fry, lastly add tomatoes and a sprinkling of ground sweet paprika cook briefly until vegetables are al dente.
Add a large knob of butter, make roux with cornflour. It's very easy melt the butter add the corn flour and stir with a wooden spoon, Cook for a few minutes, you should have a smooth paste. Add milk, all at once or in parts whatever you feel comfortable with. Heat gently- keep stirring ( the lumps will disappear as the sauce becomes warm)and DON'T leave the pan! Boil to thicken, keep stirring for a few minutes. Add pinch chili flakes, pepper (salt if necessary). Add onion/bacon mix heat. Add pesto (to taste a good couple of tablespoons), extra parmesan if desired and roughly ripped basil leafs. (I also had a half a carton creme fraiche leftover so I added that)
The pasta needs careful timing and should be added to the boiling water be ready simultaneously with the sauce. Obviously each pasta sort has its own cooking time. Cook al dente (with a bite) Drain and add vegetables, mix carefully.
Serve pasta-vegetable mix on plates, pour on sauce, add pine nuts and whole basil leaves.

Pasta with Fennel and leek
2 small Leeks
1 large Fennel
250gr diced bacon
White sauce (see above)
Diced cheese of choice
Salt Pepper, Nutmeg
(Olive) oil
Serves 4
Yesterday I had to prepare a quick meal for my working son-you have guessed it- Pasta.
I glanced in the fridge and came out with leek and fennel. That was the basis for my sauce.
I had some diced bacon.
I proceeded as above. I set the bacon/ onion mix (this time two small shallots) aside and cooked the fennel in the bacon juices with a little more olive oil, added the leek and cooked for a few minutes, added a good grind of fresh nutmeg, salt and pepper. I love re-cycling my pans, even though I have a dishwasher.
I made the basic white sauce and added some diced cheese, don't worry about grating it will melt sufficiently, I prefer having cheesy lumps when it adds to the enjoyment. It was delicious, in particular the fennel a pleasant aniseed taste still with enough bite.

One of our all time favourites is fresh spinach. A bit like Spinach Lasagna with less than half the cooking time! Just add the cooked, well drained and chopped spinach to the basic sauce with your choice if cheese. Cover with extra grated cheese and flash it under a grill if you require the crispy topping associated with lasagna.
The kids will love it! Sauces are a sure good way of getting children to eat their vegetables and to drink their milk at the same time!
You will feel clever using up ingredients that are (almost) past their best, that blue cheese that is rather too strong than is pleasant will make an excellent pasta sauce.
You not only have a satisfying meal but also a relatively healthy one with protein, carbohydrate and vegetables.

Do you have a major time limit: substitute bacon for ham or (smoked) salmon. Or even smoked chicken or tinned tuna. Prawns or white fish is delicious, unfortunately two persons here refuse (as yet) to eat fish.
I hope you are beginning to see the versatility of pasta.
You can add virtually any kind of vegetable; leek, fennel, celery, broccoli, bell peppers, tomatoes, courgette, chicory, spinach. Or tinned artichoke.
Add anchovies, capers, olives or (fresh) herbs; parsley, basil, sage or particularly good is dill (add fresh herbs just before serving). I am sometimes extravagant and use saffron.
Another favourite is mustard. Wholegrain mustard not only tastes great but looks good.
Walnuts are also delicious in a pasta sauce, add towards the end, toast lightly for better results.
Don't just stick with milk but try adding (substituting part of the milk) some cream, creme fraiche, coffee milk works well too, mascarpone or ricotta or a small tin of tomato puree for a lovely pinky/orange pasta. Or what about some white wine?
I think I will try using Dutch kwark one of these days.
Mushrooms are also a favourite with pasta and don’t need long cooking times.
Try all sorts of cheese, adding at the end. Gorgonzola is particularly good.
Don't overdo the ingredients, I can't emphasize enough the idea is to have few ingredients for full flavour. As with the salads less is more.
Keep the pasta dishes looking great by serving them with some fresh green salad on the side, a dash of olive oil and balsamic vinegar and you'll be on to a winner. What's more the variations you will come up with will amaze your family. The array of different types, shapes, colours, and tastes of pasta will keep the fun who wants to go back to boring old macaroni cheese?

woensdag 4 november 2009

The secret to perfect mash

My intention when I started this blog was largely to share recipe's. Since I work a lot to 'feel' it has proven very difficult to put recipes to paper. I hope you will bear with me.
Today I don't actually have a recipe but more a tip.
Mashed potatoes is the ultimate comfort food. Simple but simply delicious.
I think it is one of the nicest ways of eating potatoes but unfortunately hubby disagrees and he is Dutch! I think perhaps he has been brought up on too much Dutch 'stamppot'- mashed potatoes/veggies.
I too have childhood memories of eating mashed potatoes- feeling under the weather and my mother enticing me with a little mash.
Despite my husband’s resistance I continue to put mash on the menu- for three of us, his portion of potatoes sits forlornly on his plate and what do you think he does? - Yeah he mashes them on his plate, men! Maybe he has some childhood trauma of being forced to eat lumpy potatoes I don't know, but I always makes sure he has a forkful of just what he is missing hoping one day to win him over. As yet to no avail.
Of course you can go many ways with flavour, adding a number of tastes to compliment the mash; garlic, mustard, horseradish, pesto, (cream)cheese, mayonnaise or creme fraiche but in my opinion butter, nutmeg, milk/cream, butter and salt and pepper will suffice. But I digress… the 'perfect' mashed potatoes has nothing to do with taste but everything to do with technique!

Until just recently I have always been more than satisfied with my mash but a couple of weeks ago I discovered something that I just must share. Many thanks to celebrity chef, Simon Rimmer (BBC 2 Something For The Weekend)
You don't even need to rush out and buy a ricer (utensil resembling a large garlic press) I try to avoid too many cooking helps and try to avoid gadgets that has just a single use because all they end up doing is jamming up kitchen drawers! Further you need no electronic devices- which is strictly taboo as far as mash is concerned as this will cause over beating, resulting in the spuds releasing the starch and you will be left with a gluey mess. (I think we all have been there at some stage- I remember making baby food with a blender-it’s a wonder it’s not my son that is the mash-hater)

I won't go into detail about types of potatoes and cooking etc. Just ensure your potatoes are well cooked (they cook more evenly if sliced length ways) and bear in mind if they are are underdone then it's a lost cause, there is no way lumps can be avoided.
Reheat the pan of drained, cooked potatoes for a few moments to steam away any excess water.
Turn the heat off. Don't add any liquids or butter at this stage but first mash the potatoes with your masher until the lumps have gone (but not any longer), don't over work them.
Now you can add any cream/milk/ liquid preferably warmed, with butter, seasoning and proceed further with a good old wooden spoon and whip. As the butter emulsifies you end up with a nice smooth and glossy mix and the potato no longer stick to the pan, it's amazing.
You will get perfect light and fluffy mash, the texture will be perfect. Heat briefly if necessary. Serve. Mmm delicious!

Something very funny happened this evening and now I am even more encouraged to persevere with my mission to convince my husband to eat mash. We were eating Moussaka and my son asked where the olives were! Well I was dumbfounded and very nearly fell off my chair, because up until recently he claimed to detest them! My husband is the same, in the last year he has started not only to eat olives but admits to positively enjoying them! Funny enough he now eats olives fervently, black or green alike, as if catching up for all the years he has avoided them!

zaterdag 31 oktober 2009

Jellied Eyeball Shots and Severed Fingers for Halloween

Well it's that time of year again: Halloween...when it's quite possible and quite acceptable to find a fly in your soup, a body part on your plate or even lumps in your custard!
Yet again I will be dusting off my broomstick and heading off to a friend’s house to celebrate. It has become somewhat of a tradition, maybe because of her Irish origins, after all Halloween did begin as a Celtic festival. It will be a pot-luck or more fitingly a 'cauldron-luck' dinner. I am making dessert. At first I wanted to make jellied eels uh I mean 'worms' but they look so disgustingly realistic I couldn't imagine anyone eating them so opted instead for Vodka shots with you've guessed... lychee original-not! Definitely not for the kids! And I have decided to make severed fingers after last year’s success when I made them with bread dough ('finger food') and a cheesy spider dip. They went down so well, (not even complains about the 'fingernails' in the food) so I have decided to try the cookie dough variant, which will be served with chocolate-fondue-dirt dip (Oreo cookie crumbs sure resemble dirt) and fruit compote which with a little bit of imagination, could well be clots of blood. I have even added an extra element- dirty fingernails yuk. Oh this is going to be fun!
I must admit some of the Halloween ideas I have come across on internet look so gross I have quickly lost my appetite! While achieving the desired shock-effect they have rather gone over the top, after all food enjoyment has a lot to do with appearance. With Halloween food you need to find the balance fun-yes, scary-yes but disgusting-no. Halloween is certainly a time to let creative juices flow, but be careful not dry up digestive juices in the process! While you may think it fun to serve edible puke your guests may well be running to (YOUR!) the bathroom to vomit!
Looking for a finger cookie recipe proved a bit of a hassle. Because it has become such an American influenced celebration I could only find recipes with cup big is the cup??? Do Americans actually have a cup that they weigh their ingredients in? Luckily I soon found a conversion chart.
Here is the recipe I came across more than once it must be good, now translated into grams. These seriously delicious, very buttery and despite being a bit creepy looking 'witches fingers' are sure to bring a smile to the faces of your Halloween guests.
The Vodka shots recipe I came up with myself. I could only find recipes for Jello? it must be American I guess. I used the one remaining English jelly I had left in my store cupboard with a little gelatine. I have never made Jelly shots before and was rather nervous that the alcohol content was going to affect the setting so I adapted my recipe.
Here is what I used:
Vodka Shots with Jellied Eyeballs
1 jelly
5gr gelatine (leaf)
2 tsp sugar
lychees without pip (tinned)
Cherries (tinned)
Vodka (I used extra strength 50% vol)
Food colouring (optional)
Dissolve the jelly in hot water; add water to the jelly pieces up to the 350ml mark of a measuring jug, add sugar and stir. Soak leaf gelatine for 5 minutes in a little cold water. Add to jelly mix. and stir well until everything is dissolved. Leave to cool slightly and add vodka up to the 550ml mark on the jug.
Fill the 'socket' of each lychees with a cherry and place in shot glasses. Pour a little jelly liquid in each glass and refrigerate overnight. Enjoy!
Severed Fingers
225gr butter, softened
110gr icing sugar (I used 1/2 icing/1/2 caster sugar)
1 egg
1 tsp almond essence
1 tsp vanilla essence
275gr plain flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt (I used a good pinch)
I egg white
1 tsp. cacao powder
Whole almonds
Beat butter, sugar, egg, almond essence and vanilla essence. Beat in flour, baking powder, and salt. Refrigerate for 30 minutes (I left mine overnight). Working with a quarter of the dough at one time (keeping the remainder cool) shape the cookies. Take a piece the size of a small walnut and roll into a finger shape, making a knuckle and making cuts with a knife and place on a baking sheet with baking paper. Make a paste with about a teasp. cocoa and a little egg white and paint the nail tips. Press the almonds firmly in place. Bake in an oven 160°C. for about 20 minutes. I made 66.

I wish you all a very happy Halloween.

Update: 1st Nov. Everyone loved the shots, they tasted great and held up for a couple of hours out of the fridge. Apparently the cookie fingers were even more realistic than the bread dough variant- they scared the kids, but in no time they were happily dipping their 'fingers' in the chocolate sauce!

donderdag 29 oktober 2009

Spot the elephant

Today no food blog but do I want to share my day out in Amsterdam.
Yesterday I was in the city to see something very special...a parade of elephants. Not real ones of course but works of art, very much on public display. 112 elephant to be exact, the number being very significant in representing 1-1-2 the alarm number, raising our attention to the plight of this splendid creature sadly threatened with extinction.
The Asian elephant- I was fortunate enough to meet this animal in Thailand earlier this year. It is an amazing species, I was very much in awe but the setting was less fortunate. The story of the elephant is very tragic.
The elephant population has very much declined in the last years. The reasons: poaching, landmines and unemployment. These magnificent beasts and probably Thailand’s best known national symbol , they have been instrumental in building and defending the country. Now they work either in elephant camps carrying tourists on elephant treks or parade in the cities, illegally begging for money. The elephant do not belong in the towns the one's we saw evidently showed signs of stress. Sadly there are few elephants that haven't been 'domesticated', the number living in their natural environment is rapidly declining. We also visited one of the 'schools' and took an elephant trail. If the tourists stop coming then I do fear for the elephants. I justify while it is not the best environment for the animals to live in, this way they do get daily exercise and fed! You are 'free' but encouraged to buy food, bananas and sugar cane, for the elephants throughout the trek. The intelligent and very comical elephants know only too well and show their protest! If they are not fed they stop and refuse to budge until they see food! And boy do they eat, if we weren't careful the bunch of bananas disappeared in one go and the trunk was constantly ’in search'. We watched a show where to our amazement the elephants were performing amazing tricks. We even witness an elephant painting a work of art!
The Elephant Parade, Amsterdam:
There are various ways of viewing the elephants, cruises, guided tours, by scooter, by step or bicycle, but....we walked. It is largely an open air exhibition, they are scattered around squares, street corners, parks and even shopping centers, parading in full glory where they can be admired by the public. Museum Plein, Leidse plein, Wetering Platsoen, Westermarkt, Konings Plein. see map. You can pick up a booklet with a suggested route (which isn't entirely logical in my opinion) or just plan your own walk.
Each one is an unique work of art, painted by local or international artists, examples are Ilse DeLange, Rob Scholte, Rob de Nijs, Daryl van Wouw, Jan des Bouvrie, each responsible for decorating one elephant. Where the inspiration come from I can only guess. It a mix of colour, design and material showing the creatures in several different poises. They are roughly the size baby elephants. Not only the designs are colourful but they bear interesting names: Gladiator, Communicator, O-Love-Fantje and The Eye of The Believer. My particular favourites were Justice, Maharadja and Obama, an elephant bearing more than a striking resemblance to the American President. Another elephant that has often been spoken about is Florijn, the queens elephant, orange in colour and decorated with real guilders.
One or two of the elephants could tell a colourful story or two. For example one unfortunate elephant from a previous elephant parade failed to make the auction due to damage. He is now standing proudly in front of the Museum shop for promotional purposes. Another elephant 'Dino' was stolen from Frederiksplein. He was missing for several days before he was found and returned. This caused a lot of concern as he was uninsured, had an estimated value of ten thousand euro’s! How could an elephant of 1.60m weighing 60-70kilo go missing I ask myself?! He was found just 50meters away from where he went missing and after spending a few days in the garden of the Police Station he was returned to his 'stomping ground'. One of the more flash elephants 'Reflection' has had to be temporarily replaced by 'Dikkebillboard'. He is made from a kind of mirror-mosaic but has been 'vandalised', apparently the wrong glue was used, my guess is it couldn't withstand prodding fingers.
The very first project was organised in Rotterdam in 2007 and followed in Antwerp in 2008, it proved to be very successful and raised a total amount of over 700,000euro. The 'Amsterdam' elephants are due to be sold at the Westergasfabriek by the auctioneers Christies in November. All proceeds will go to the world's largest Charity fund: 'The Elephant Family'.
In may-June 2010 The London Elephant Parade is scheduled to take place.
I can't help but wonder if the Elephants will get the same freedom in London as in Amsterdam. I know England only too well and I can see little signs in capital letters PLEASE DO NOT TOUCH THE ELEPHANTS, chains or even security guards. Today I saw the 'free spirited' Dutch children happily climbing the works of art and couldn't help but pity the elephants although overall they were bearing up fairly well. They have been on view since the beginning of September.
We didn't get to see all 112 elephants, as it was we barely had time to stop for lunch. We managed to grab a quick bite to eat at a place called Martinot nearby Museum Plein where I was 'food inspired'. We both enjoyed a very interesting Walnut and Chestnut soup with (goats)cheese. This is one I'll be attempting at home. Watch this space!
I hope you will take time to think about the elephants, you too can help to save the endangered Asian elephant from extinction. Perhaps (like me) you don't have a few thousand of euro's to spare, but you can still visit one of the two stores Elephant Parade shop situated at Kalvertoren Shopping Center and Museum Plein, here you can purchase replica's of nearly every design from the exhibition, ranging in many sizes. They are all handmade and have been handpainted in a limited edition. In doing so you will not only be having a very decorative addition to your house, but you will also be supporting a worthy charitable cause.
If you don't want to miss the Parade please hurry Saturday 31st October is the last day. If you are short of time I suggest you head to Museum Plain, here a herd of elephants are on show in all their glory.

dinsdag 27 oktober 2009

Striving to become a (domestic) goddess but just ending up with egg on your face

This weekend the kitchen worktop was scattered with a variety of ingredients: Avocado, banana, honey, oatmeal, lemon, cocao and yoghurt. Was this a Ready Steady Cook challenge when the chefs compete to cook a meal out of ‘a bag’ of goodies in just ten minutes? No. We were having a beauty evening and these were our face mask ingredients.
Who doesn't want to be seen as a (domestic) goddess?
One of my favourite TV personalities is Nigella Lawson (note I say TV personality because she has no professional training as chef or cook). To me she is THE (Domestic) Goddess. I watch in awe as this gorgeous, charismatic woman prepare lavish dishes often overdressed for the occasion (not an apron in sight) hair flowing gracefully around her shoulders. Or she is under-dressed: I was amazed to watch a video of her preparing Christmas dinner in a beautiful satin (or silk?) dressing gown! If I followed her approach in the kitchen I would be a walking fire hazard, my dressing gown would be scorched, stained and ruined, and it would be horrific to watch someone remove a strand of hair from their plate/mouth... So be it…I resign myself to falling somewhat short of being a domestic goddess. Practical clothes, check. Hair tied back, check. I do however own 'a little black dress' apron, that's as glam as it gets.
Nigella has such a passion for food and more importantly a passion for eating, especially rich and indulgent food. Seemingly with little regard for her figure, which is fantastic. With her shapely curves she is seductive and flirtuous, also gaining the title queen of food porn. She is like Marmite, you either love her or hate her; she awakens something in all of us whether it is jealousy or admiration.
Has this glamorous, stunningly beautiful woman of 49 years old (in 2009, yes, it is amazing!) stumbled on the fountain of eternal youth? I wonder if she is sharing her recipes but keeping her beauty secrets close to her voluptuous bosom. Perhaps she has accidentally discovered the benefits of using certain food for nourishing her perfect flawless skin. It seems that the same things that are good for the inside are also good for the outside. It must be more advantageous to cover your skin with something containing no chemicals, additives, preservatives or colouring... Ancient beauties like Cleopatra bathed in milk and honey, which at the time was considered very extravagant.
Today the cost of ingredients for face masks is minimal, compared to the cost of most ready-made beauty products. I think we all have some concerns about parabens and microbeads. Furthermore they are quick and simple to make. Our little mixes looked quite delicious too... in fact almost good enough to eat!

We used ground oatmeal (ground in a pestle and mortar), which works as an exfoliant and absorbs impurities, mixed with yoghurt, which also cleanses and hydrates the skin together with honey which is effective as an antiseptic, and a healer of minor skin damages, allergies or skin rashes as well as being a skin brightener, revitalising its texture.
Oatmeal face mask:
1/2 cup/100gr Oatmeal, ground.
1/4 cup/50gr Yoghurt
2 tablesp. honey.

Another mask included banana, which is anti-age, good for wrinkles, or skin damaged by the elements (sun-burn/sore winter weathered skin) and helps to moisturise the skin, suitable for sensitive skin. With honey and oatmeal.
Banana face mask:
1 banana, mashed.
1-2 tablesp. honey
Add a little ground oatmeal to thicken but keep a good spreading consistency.

Another mask we used was avocado, highly hydrating, mixed with honey and yoghurt particularly suitable for dry skin types. I choose this particular mask and was left with soft, fresh and smooth skin, no tightness at all.
Avocado face mask:
1 avocado.
1-2 tablesp. yoghurt
1-2 tablesp. honey

Then we had a luxury looking chocolate mask, with cocoa, high in antioxidant (Note: not the chocolate-drink mix with sugar!), yoghurt and honey and a little ground oatmeal to get a good consistency. This is an anti-age mask; the antioxidants absorb 'free radicals' (by-products) which can cause cell and tissue damage.
Chocolate Face mask:
2 tbsp cocoa powder
2 tbsp. yoghurt
1 tbsp. honey
1 tsp ground oatmeal

These were the basic mixes which we then personalised by adding 2-3 drops of (essential) oils:
Vitamin E oil for its healing (reduces scarring) and calming properties which helps to prevent skin eruptions and essential oil in this case Tea Tree Oil good against acne and helps heal cuts and burns.
DO NOT use tea tree oil if you are pregnant or breastfeeding. Tea tree oil (and lavender) can simulate the effects of the female hormone oestrogen and cause an imbalance!

Other natural ingredients that I have done some research on, but have beneficial properties in homemade face masks, and perhaps will use next time include:
Tomatoes- for oily skin types.
Strawberries- cleanses and exfoliates the skin...but - I would sooner EAT mine with cream!
Kiwi-exfoliant & cleanser especially suited for oily skin.
Lemon juice- is helpful for greasy skin types as is a mixture of yoghurt and yeast. Lemon is a bleaching agent and can lighten the skin and reduce freckles.
Tumeric- helps to reduce skin blemishes and give a glowing skin.
Olive oil- helps to replenish dry skin types, normally combined with egg yolk (hydrates, suitable for dry skin type), honey and oatmeal. Egg white- is great for oily skins, tightening pores. As I have a raw egg phobia,I would pass. I try to limit the use of raw eggs.
Cucumber refreshes the skin, cools and relaxes tired skin.
Ground coffee- high in antioxidants.
Pumpkin- with properties for skin healing & antioxidant. Use on environmentally damaged or sensitive skin.
Apples- high in antioxidants.

Pre-application TIPS:
Examine your skin and determine your type of skin and decide what type of treatment you require i.e. a scrub/exfoliant, a hydrating, an anti-age/firming, a deep cleansing, or a calming/ soothing facial. Don't use ingredients on you face that you have an allergy for!
Blend the ingredients together. Cleanse your face first removing all traces of make-up and dirt; apply the mask, avoiding the area around the eyes. But you needn't forget your eyes altogether, use (moistened) teabags, slices of cucumber or failing that even water moistened cotton wool pads will effectively relieve and help to reduce puffiness. Sit down for 15-20 minutes and unwind. Remove with warm water (not too hot especially if you use egg otherwise you WILL end up with scrambled egg on your face!). Finish with a good splash of cold water and apply a moisturiser. Admire your glowing skin! You have become a goddess.

Most of these ingredients are basic ingredients so its not even necessary to rush off to the supermarket for special purchases. Instead rush into the kitchen and get mixing, not only your inner self but also your 'outside' needs nourishing.
It is time for pampering, in today’s busy lifestyle we often need to be reminded to stop and relax, say goodbye to the environmental stress affecting the areas that are exposed day after day.
Get together with a group of friends as we did, we combined it with an Italian home cooked meal, foot spas and foot massages. (and some other activities that I won't divulge)
It will give you a psychological boost; re-rejuvenate the skin and you'll have great fun too!
Guaranteed to lift your spirits- if you sit back with a nice glass of red wine and some Quality Street as we did! (It is however not recommended to eat or laugh as the mask is drying)

Go back to basics... do a bit of DIY and reap the benefits. Join the many beautiful women that have gone before you over the centuries...Within twenty minutes you too will be feeling like a goddess as nature works its wonderful magic.

I tried to make everyone in the photograph as unrecognisable as possible, I think I have achieved ;-)

maandag 26 oktober 2009

The trials and tribulations...and fun of being a recipe tester

Last year I was set my biggest culinary challenge ever: I agreed to be a recipe tester. I answered the request of a foodie, fellow blogger and a very talented lady who was working on a cookery book. The recipes quite simply needed to be tried and tested.
Now while I often choose a recipe and start cooking with my cookery book open, by the third ingredient it is always firmly shut and pushed aside in search for more counter space to litter!
Everyone has an own cooking style. I am a normally a fairly tidy person but I admit: I cook in an absolute mess…no workspace would be big enough! My husband is always surprised I am able to work in such a 'chaos', like a mad scientist and very occasionally as I become verbal, I may even sound like Gordon Ramsay, but The proof is in the pudding and I don't get many complaints! And I do always tidy up afterwards.
I don't often measure ingredients but work to 'feel', a pinch of this and a handful of that. Often in a recipe salt and pepper is added to taste, well I firmly believe that this applies to many other ingredients too. Everyone’s taste buds are different and can tolerate and/ or desire a lesser or higher degree of spiciness or sweetness. While I am guilty of spicing things up, I often reduce the amount of sugar. Ok baking is an exact science and a cake recipe a scientific formula and should therefore be accurately adhered to. But mainly I cook with reckless abandon...I am the boss in my kitchen and I love it!
But now I had an assignment, it was necessary to follow the recipe to the letter. Could I succeed? The requirement was simple to cook the food and provide good honest feedback in the form of a questionnaire.
Well I can be strict and I take my commitments very seriously. The exact ingredients had to be purchased, no substitutions possible, this itself proved quite a challenge. For some products I needed to search much further a field than Katwijk. Halloumi cheese was an example, practically no one had heard of it! Another example is smoked (Spanish) paprika (and now I wonder how I ever lived without this wonderful natural flavour enhancer!) and dried lavender (suitable for consumption)
Many ingredients I had purchased for my recipes needed to be 'protected' (I live with three hungry eaters...all male!) so I my ingredients were labelled with the writers name on and DO NOT EAT! This resulted in a very comical sight, both in the refrigerator and in the cupboards.
I had full faith in the writer and set about the challenge before me as I dusted off my scales! I started with great expectations but soon discovered this was going to be more difficult that I realised! Not that I had difficulties following the instructions, which were very clear and precise. But sometimes I almost had to physically contain myself to stay on the path. And honest feedback... hmm it is very difficult to be critical of someone else’s own creations. My family didn't completely appreciate the change of diet. Having said that we do eat varied and I am always willing to try out new ingredients on my hungry guinea pigs. But to be fair the dishes I started off with included ingredients that they are not too fond of, namely pulses. Secretly I was quite enjoying it, the relief often on their faces when they asked if it was a test recipe or one of mine was clearly an indirect compliment to me! And then I started getting direct compliments, this was interesting, I was at last being appreciated for all my slaving away in a hot kitchen! Their reactions were very amusing but at the same time it was unfortunate that they were judging dishes on a preconceived conception. As I reeled the recipes off they became more open and started to appreciate and enjoy the new dishes. And some were true masterpieces.
I must just add I do take it all very serious, I have signed an agreement, so I am sorry but I am unable to reproduce any of the recipes or divulge the finer details of the cookbook. I did take photographs so I have given you a sneak preview to whetten your appetite ...I hope your interest has been awakened enough to want to buy the book. Watch this space, I am sure it will be available very soon.

zaterdag 24 oktober 2009

Lemon Non-Bake Kwark-Cheesecake

From unpleasant to plate licking good!
This is a very intriguing product, what exactly is kwark? Well actually it's a soft curd cheese (in French it is Fromage Frais, in English Quark) with a slightly grainy texture, a little bit similar to Ricotta. It is low in calories and cholesterol, sounds very healthy but how does it taste? Hmm well actually…very strange indeed.
During my weekly shopping trips I have often wondered who actually buys 'kwark' and what on earth they do with it. (Until today coincidentally), I have never seen a person with plain French kwark (low or full fat) or in their shopping trolley, or in their fridge come to that. Yet surprisingly it has remains on the shelves of the supermarket, (practically in the same packaging) for decades. One day my curiosity got the better of me and my first purchase remains grafted in my memory forever, oh boy what a surprise! It tasted horrible, sour and very unpleasant. Now I generally like natural yoghurt and never add sugar, but with kwark it was necessary to add heaps of sugar before it was even palatable (and it still remained unpleasant). I have hardly ever come across it in recipes; it remains very much a mystery.
Incidentally it must not be confused with Creme Fraiche which I would compare to sour cream, with the benefit that it heat tolerant, it never separates. If you buy a very good one, it can be almost compared to Mascarpone and is delicious with fresh fruit.
Last weekend I decided to put together a recipe with kwark. In the supermarkets you can buy packet mixes for 'kwarktaart' by Oetker. Since I never use mixes, as they seem to contain absolutely nothing judging by the list of ingredients you need to add yourself! I created a recipe, my twist on a kwark come cheesecake, and do you know I think it worked!
I chose to make a non-bake cheesecake, without eggs (unfound or not I still worry about eating raw eggs no matter how fresh they are!). It is lighter than a normal cheesecake; you could substitute the cottage cheese for Monchou or Philadelphia for a richer taste with more calories.

Lemon Kwark-Cheesecake.
10 digestive biscuits (180gr)
85gr butter
2-3 tsp sugar (optional)
500gr kwark (low of high fat to choice) I used organic kwark, low fat
200gr cottage cheese, sieved
1 small carton cream (200ml)
80gr castor sugar (or more for a sweeter cheesecake)
Juice and grated rind of 2 small or 1 large lemon
Gelatine, 6 sheets (about 10gr, more as desired, depending on how firm you prefer)
1 spring form, lined.
Compote (topping)

Break up biscuits in a plastic bag with rolling pin (or pestle, which I prefer to use)until they resemble breadcrumbs. Heat butter in a small pan until melted. Add biscuit crumbs and sugar (optional). Press in the base of a spring form (mine was 24cm) with a spoon. Cool in refrigerator. Beat the kwark until smooth. Add the sieved cottage cheese, sugar and lemon rind, mix. Soak the gelatine in a little water for 5 minutes. Heat the lemon juice (do not boil!) stir in gelatine and mix until everything has dissolved, heating if necessary but do not boil. Leave to cool slightly. Whip the cream until stiff, being careful not to over whip! Add cooled gelatine to kwark mixture and stir carefully but thoroughly. Fold in cream. Pour into baking tin. I lined the sides of mine with Teflon foil but you could use baking paper. Refrigerate for 4 hours. Add topping just before serving. I used a mix of compote and jam.
Apologies for the poor photograph. I was anxious to tuck in!