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 RenĂ© 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.