Tag Archives: Holidays

French Food Pics

Just come back from a few days in France where I ran away to eat.

I couldn’t resist sharing my food pictures from the town of Arras.

Lobster, oysters, patisserie, steak tartare, foie gras, pot au feu and lots more …

French Food Pics

Spanish Food Secrets

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I’ve loved all things Spanish for some years now.  This is thanks to a good friend who introduced me to the country.  Stupidly, I thought that Spain was all about the worst of northern European tourists and their rather restricted diets!  How wrong could I be – there is so much more to the country and its culinary heritage than the worst elements of the tourist industry.

Every time I visit Spain (I try to get there at least once a year), I love to visit a new Parador.  The Paradors are authentic Spanish hotels, which are situated in the most fantastic locations.  The hotels are very often converted monestaries or other historic buildings.  The great thing is that they are often located in places that I would never consider visiting, so, over the years I have discovered some real gems.

CarmonaParador

The latest of these discoveries is the Parador in Carmona, a real Spanish town, only 30km from the city of Seville and 23 km from Seville airport.  As with all Paradors, the menu’s reflect the local cuisine, but, as good as they are, there is nothing like getting out and about and tasting it for yourself.  For me, Carmona is all about the tapas.  If you ever get there, head for the main square and take your pick.  Every bar has it’s own speciality.  Some are more meat based and some more fish.  The local speciality is a tapa or ‘racione’ (larger portion) made with chickpeas, spinach and spices.  This definitely has a taste of Northern Africa so often found in the food of Andalusia.  The city walls were not the only thing the Moors left behind, their influence on the food is obvious too.

TapasSpinachChick

Apart from tapas, there is another simple aspect of Spanish food life that I really enjoy.  I like to find a local café, one that is buzzing.  I head there around 10:30 each morning for a coffee and tostada con tomate.  You could be forgiven for thinking that this is nothing special, but, this simple morning snack of toasted bread with butter or olive oil and some puréed tomatoes is something much more to me.  It is the essence of Spanish food and life.  Simple, good ingredients, respect for food,  pride in giving good service, friends, family, life, love……Spain.

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Baked Salmon and Parsley Sauce

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Baked Salmon and Parsley Sauce

Salmon is always my favourite ingredient for a spring time Sunday lunch.  This recipe is very simple and clean.  Fresh flavours combine effortlessly.

Preparation Time: less than 15 minutes
Cooking Time: less than 15 minutes

Ingredients for 4 Servings
For the Salmon
4 x salmon filets of about 150gr / 5 oz. each
Juice of one lemon
1 x tbsp of olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

SalmonRawTray

For the Sauce
15gr / 0.5 oz.  unsalted butter
15gr / 0.5 oz.  plain flour
300ml / 10 fl oz.  semi-skimmed (half fat) milk
2 x heaped teaspoons of Dijon mustard
A large handful of flat leaved parsley chopped very finely
Salt (easy on the salt as the mustard can be salty)

ParsleySauceIngred

Method

To bake the Salmon

  1. Pre-heat your oven to 200°C / 400°F.
  2. Place aluminium foil in a roasting tray.  Enough so that you can wrap the fish in it loosely.  Place the fish on the foil.  Drizzle over the oil and the lemon juice.  Sprinkle over the salt and the pepper.
  3. Cover your fish with the foil, making a loose parcel.
  4. Place the tray in the oven and allow to bake for 7 to 12 minutes.  The cooking time will not only depend on your oven, but also on how thick the salmon filets are.
  5. While the salmon is baking you can make the sauce.

To Make the Sauce

  1. Melt the butter in a heavy bottomed pan.  Not a non-stick pan.
  2. Add the flour and mix it, using a metal whisk,  until it is covered with the butter (a few seconds)
  3. Add about half third of the milk, whisk vigorously, it will be lumpy, don’t worry.
  4. Once this is thickened into a mass, add the other half and whisk until smooth.
  5. Turn the heat down to low, add the mustard and parsley with a little salt and mix it through with a wooden spoon, let it sauce simmer very gently for a few minutes.
  6. If at any point you feel the sauce is too thick, add a little bit of milk.
  7. Check for seasoning and serve.

ParsleySauceWhisk  

Tips and Variations

  • I like to serve this dish with some boiled new potatoes and either broccoli or green beans.
  • You can use other fish too.  Trout works very well, or milder tasting fish like whiting, cod or halibut.
  • Try adding some chives to the sauce for an extra flavour.
  • You can make the sauce in advance.  It may seem thick, but when you heat it gently again, it should reach the texture you want.  If not, just add some milk.
  • For a really luxurious version, use cream instead of milk, or use half cream, half milk.

Amsterdam Private Food Tours

If this has made you hungry for more, why not book one of my Private Amsterdam Food Tours?  Just you and your own party with some of the very best food the city has to offer.

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Christmas Food Shopping in Amsterdam

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Where I’ll be buying the turkey this Christmas!

All through the year,  I am constantly on the hunt for the best ingredients for my recipes and for tastings on culinary tours.  Ingredients that are fresh and taste how they should (sounds crazy I know, but you’d be surprised!).  Ingredients that are grown and products that are made by people who know what they are talking about, know what quality is, and most of all care about  the result.

This year round food detection really pays off at Christmas time.  I have years of experience and up-to-date information on the best addresses and the top ingredients just when I need it most.

As you can imagine, I get quite a few questions about where to get all that Christmas cheer in Amsterdam,  and so, I like to write a little blog piece each year to help out my fellow Amsterdam Christmas cooks.

This year, I am letting you into my personal, inner circle of  Amsterdam Christmas food supplies.  The places that I will be buying all my Christmas food.  So let’s start at the top:-

The Turkey
The perennial issue in the Netherlands, the million dollar question ‘Where can I get a turkey??’  I have heard this question for years, people frantically phoning me, or during cooking lessons when they ask, I see desperation in their eyes.  I understand totally, my first couple of Christmases in the Netherlands were spent in a desperate search for this illusive, Pimpernel-like bird.
For those of us from the UK or the US, we kind of just expect that at this time of year  the stores will be bulging at the seams with turkey, not so.  There is no tradition of eating turkey in the Netherlands, and why should there be? I mean, the bird is native to north America after all.
You might think that I’ll be heading straight for the most expensive,  chic, butcher to the stars kind of establishment, but that is not the case.  Not that there is anything wrong with that, not at all, in fact, there are some fabulous top of the range butchers that do great things with a turkey.  But I just want a good bird, no frills and so have ordered my turkey from Poelier Jonker (Maasstraat 19, no website available) , this place has been around for decennia, and is just what I love about a food store.  Honest product for  an honest price.

The Stuffing
I have to, really have to have a pork sausage based stuffing.  Nothing else will do.  I don’t want breadcrumbs, I don’t want fancy dried fruit versions, no vegetarian types, no nuts, no expensive meat stuffings.  I want pork, apple and sage.  That’s it.  So, first thing I need is a good sausage, which, once sourced and brought home, I will split open, retreive the meat and add my flavourings to make the stuffing.  The challenge here is that the sausage, the one I want anyway, is not really a Dutch thing.  So you may think you need to head to a deli and get a fancy sausage, Italian, Spanish style. You could, but that would be too posh, to many exotic flavours.   I now have the answer, I get my sausages from The French ButcherI pick up a couple of kilo’s of a basic “Bradwurst” and keep them in the freezer until the time comes to get my stuffing ready.  Stuffing sorted.

Fish
Although Christmas is the season of eating everything you can get your hands on, everything that is ‘naughty’, everything that is rich and bad for us, at a certain point all this heavy richness may get the bettter of you.  So you look for something else, something lighter, something that doesn’t sit with you for three days afterwards.  It’s time to turn to fish.  There are a few options here, but this year I have come to respect the fish counter at  Marqt more and more.  The staff are well informed, which always helps! They have information on sustainable fish and they can tell you what is caught locally.  For me, at this time of year, it’s usually salmon I’m after, and at the moment they are offering various types.
And of course there’s the prawn cocktail to consider, AND what Christmas would be complete without some smoked salmon.

Spice
It not only has to taste like Christmas, but it has to smell like Christmas.  Where does that come from?  Well, it’s that spice combination of cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, star anise and ginger.  I need this mix for my mince pies, for ginger breads and cookies, for Christmas cake, for mulled wines, I could go on…..
For me, it’s not just the sweet baking spices I need, but I want to make sure I have some sharper, warmer and even hot and spicy spices at my disposal over the festive season.  Why? Turkey Curry of course!  Well, only joking, not exactly curry, but I love to make some spicy Asian style salads with left overs and crunchy vegetables,  for a contrast to all that meat and cream.
This morning, I checked my spice provisions and will need to do a dash this week to Peperbol to replenish stocks.  In this store they have every spice from A to Z.  If you need a little assistance with some translations, the staff are more than willing to help.

Vegetables
Not unimportant, where would we be without our Brussels!  This one is not so difficult, there are lots of great options to get tasty vegetables.  I reckon that the markets are the best bet for taste and freshness.  This year, I’ll be making two market visits to make sure that all my Turkey trimmings are up to scratch The Albert Cuyp markt and The Boeren Markt  (only open on a Saturday) will be filling my table this year.

Sweets, Treats and Special Things

These are all the things we don’t make ourselves, those tricky cakes and sweets, the cheeses, pâté’s, the delicatessen specialities that add a bit of sparkle to the festivities.  My cheese, stilton amongst many others, as always will be coming from Tromp, I am sure they will have other treats for my Christmas drinks and snacks too.  Pâté and rillette (NEED rillette on a warm, lightly toasted baguette) will come from the French Butcher (see above), dates, nuts and pomegranates from the Turkish Shop Nuri Genco,  (Rijnstraat 49, no website available).

As well as having guests at Christmas, if I’m lucky, I may get a couple of invitations too.  I love to bring something to friends that I have made as a contribution to the festivities, but I also love to buy things for my host.  If I buy, then I always choose something that I don’t make myself and go to the real artisans.  In this case it’s Van Soest for chocolates or Patisserie Kuyt for special cakes.

Oliebollen

After all that traditional Britishness which I love to have for my Christmas dinner, I do conede to a  little bit of Dutchness for New Year.  I am not a natural ‘oliebol’ eater.  I don’t relish the little doughnut type sweets as do my Dutch friends, but I have found a baker who makes them just the way I like them.  Is it a coincidence that they are one of the best bakers in Amsterdam?  I don’t know, but these are the only  oliebollen for me.  Get to Hartog’s early on new years eve because the queue gets outrageously long!

Wherever you get all those goodies, make sure you enjoy them and have a Very Merry Christmas!

Celebration Lasagna

LasagnaBaked

If you are having some people round, this is a great “pimped” version of an old favourite.  Traditionally, this originates from Naples and is the feast meal prior to lent.  I think its great for any kind of celebration or get together and is pretty easy on the cook too!

Ingredients for 6 Servings using an oven proof dish 25cm x 35cm, depth 5cm

 For the Tomato Sauce
2 x tbsp olive oil
1 x large onion, chopped finely
3 x 400gr tins of chopped tomatoes
300ml pasatta
500gr ripe, medium sized tomatoes
2 x tsp tomato pureé
2 x garlic cloves, chopped finely
2 x tbsp fresh thyme leaves
8 o 10 fresh sage leaves chopped finely
A large handful of basil, stalks chopped finely, leaves torn or chopped roughly
1 x tbsp honey

For the Meatballs
450gr minced beef
3 x garlic cloves, crushed
4 x spring onions, chopped finely
5 or 6 fresh sage leaves chopped finely
1 x tbsp fresh thyme leaves
A small handful of flat parsley chopped
40gr porridge oats (or breadcrumbs)
Salt and pepper
1 x tbsp olive oil

For the Lasagne

300gr good quality egg pasta lasagna sheets
150gr ricotta cheese
4 large hard boiled eggs chopped roughly
150gr grated parmesan
4 x 125gr mozzarella balls chopped roughly
Some fresh roughly chopped basil to dress

Method

  1. The best place to start is with the sauce.  Place a non stick pan on the heat and add the olive oil.  Once hot, add the onion, basil stalks and garlic and allow to cook and soften for a few minutes.
  2. Add about two thirds of the fresh tomatoes, the tomato pureé and the thyme and sage.  Stir around and then add the tins of tomatoes, pasatta and basil, stir through.  Add the honey and salt and pepper, mix in and cook on a medium heat and allow to simmer for at least 30 minutes.  I like to let this simmer along whilst I am getting the rest of the lasagna together.
  3. Then it’s on to the meatballs.  Place all the ingredients except for the olive oil into a bowl, and with your hands, mix, squeeze and squidge it all together until everything is equally distributed.  Then roll the mix into little walnut sized balls.
  4. Heat the olive oil for the meatballs in a non-stick pan and cook them, turning each one until they are browned all round and cooked through (the best way  to check if they are cooked is just to cut one open and check they are browned through and no longer contain any pink bits – oh, and then eat it, perk for the cook!).  Once ready, set them aside on some kitchen paper on a plate.
  5. Last step is to assemble the lasagna – I love this bit, the building!  In the bottom of your heat proof dish, take some of the tomato sauce and spread it over the base.  Then lay out your lasagna sheets.
  6. Each layer is then: Tomato sauce, a sprinkling of egg, parmesan, mozzarella, scattered meatballs and drops of ricotta.  Try and get it everything evenly distributed so that each serving contains a bit of everything and nobody feels hard done by.
  7. Usually, I get four layers, but of course this very much depends how much of everything you use per layer.  This is also why the amount of lasagna sheets you use can vary.
This picture will give you an idea of how the lasagna looks before it goes into the oven.

This picture will give you an idea of how the lasagna looks before it goes into the oven.

  1. On the top you should have your tomato sauce, meatballs, eggs, ricotta, mozzarella and parmesan as usual.  Then sprinkle over the remaining fresh tomatoes.
  2. In an oven which has been pre-heated to 200°C, place the dish, covered in aluminium foil to bake for about 30 minutes, then remove the foil, return to the oven for a further 5 minutes or until the cheese has melted and browned a little.  Before serving sprinkle over the fresh basil leaves.

Tips and Variations

  • You may find that you need a little more or less lasagna sheets, it really depends on how you spread them out over your dish, don’t worry though, it shouldn’t vary that much.  You can also choose for the spinach version of this type of pasta, gives a nice coloured effect.
  • The best mozzarella is of course made from the rich and creamy buffalo milk, but the cow’s milk version works really well here too.
  • Many people soak their lasagna sheets first, but there is no need as the moisture in the sauce does this as it cooks.
  • You can keep this lasagna and eat it the next day hot or cold.
  • You can make the tomato sauce in advance, I often do this the day before and leave it to stand is it only tastes better.
  • You can make an even richer version by using some pancetta and/or salami in the tomato sauce, just fry them off at the same time as you are cooking the onions and garlic.