Let’s go Dutch

Friday August 15th, it is 8:30, and we are setting off through the deserted streets of Luxembourg city (it is a holiday, it is early, it is raining and it is Luxembourg), friends on the back seat, in the direction of an inspiring weekend in Amsterdam. The plan is to travel the city up and down via all the best ways: on foot, by bike and by boat, as long as the weather permits us to do so. And if this is not the case, we know we can take shelter in one of the numerous cosy cafes and find comfort in a slice of delicious “Appeltaart”.

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One of my favorite cafes in Amsterdam is De Bakkerswinkel. It is always extremely busy, so you need to arm yourself with patience until you are finally seated either to a large table shared with other groups or to a tiny table surrounded by worn out cloth chairs. And then… you find yourself faced with a dilemma: the attractive quiche of day or the warm “broodjes” filled with combinations of ingredients that delight the taste buds; the apple pie (which ranks 2nd or 3rd on our list of best apple pies in Amsterdam) or the delicious scones with homemade lemon-curd and clotted cream? I finally had a lentil, spinach and goat cheese quiche which inspired the vegetable and fresh goat cheese “quiche without crust” that I baked this week.

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The quiche is one of my childhood standards. My mother, always anxious to keep her dishes light (she is a Dietitian) would prepare it without crust. The base is extremely simple and for the filling you can unleash your creativity! Presented with a side salad, it always pushes the right button.

Another breakfast option often seen in Amsterdam cafes and which usually hits the spot is the muesli. When home over the weekend, I like to give a twist to my breakfast with a homemade fruit muesli, so simple and yet so attractive. Over the last few months, I have collected all sorts of seeds, nuts and dried fruits. I feel like a painter when adding a stroke of cranberries here, another one of sunflower seeds there and finishing off with halved almonds.

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Our friends had never set foot in Amsterdam before, thus, for dinner, we decided to take them to places which honor the water component of the city. The first night was on a platform in the IJ river: REM Eiland. This platform was built in Ireland and used to host pirate radio and TV stations. The second night, we chose a cosy trattoria by Keizersgracht (Emperors Canal): Pastini. We all ordered pasta, and it all looked amazing. I highly recommend the Crespelle Capra, a pancake of pasta filled with spices, lemon, goat cheese and green peas.

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On our way back to Luxembourg, we stopped at my boyfriend’s parents for what we thought would be a quick bite. But Kjeld’s mother surprised us with a savory avocado cheese cake and a strawberry pavlova. Both looked absolutely stunning! I had been thinking about baking a pavlova for a while and it was so good that I decided we just had to have it again this weekend. Meringues are really fun to bake. I made them with slightly less sugar than indicated on most recipes. I can’t wait to try other versions, more or less crunchy, with different flavors (orange flower, rose, vanilla) or in different sizes!

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Amsterdam is a truly inspiring city! Kjeld, when are we going back? 😉

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Homemade fruit muesli
(Serves 1)

100 g / 1/2 cup low fat Greek yogurt or fromage blanc 20% fat
50 g / 1/2 cup strawberries, sliced (or any other berries)
1 tsp dried cranberries
1 tsp sunflower seeds
1 tsp pumpkin seeds
3 almonds, halved
1 tsp honey (optional)

Pour the yogurt (or fromage blanc) in a small bowl. If you prefer it sweet, add the honey and mix well. Cover with the other ingredients, one after the other, in the order indicated above.

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Vegetable and fresh goat cheese “quiche without crust”
(Serves 4)

For the base
3 eggs
100 g / 3/4 cup flour
100 ml / 1/3 cup + 1 tbsp milk

For the filling
100 g / 1/2 cup coral lentil
100 g / 3 oz green beans (frozen or fresh)
100 g / 3 oz green peas (frozen or fresh)
100 g / 3 oz carrot, grated
100 g / 3 oz fresh goat cheese
30 g / 1 oz emmenthal cheese, grated (any other grated cheese will do)
1 onion, sliced finely
1 garlic clove, sliced finely
1 tbsp fresh mint, chopped
salt, pepper

Cook the coral lentil in 1 cup of water (two times its volume) with a pinch of salt between 5 and 10 minutes (they should stay firm). Sauté the sliced onion in a large frying pan with a tbsp of olive oil. Once soft add the garlic and stir. Add the green beans and the green peas, stir and cook for 2 or 3 minutes, until the vegetables are defrosted. Add the grated carrot and the cooked coral lentil, season with salt and pepper, give it a good stir and cook for 1 or 2 minutes.

In a mixing bowl, mix the eggs and the flour until smooth. Add the fresh goat cheese and mix until smooth. Season with salt and pepper. Then gradually add the milk and mix well.

Butter and dust a mold (about 20 x 25 cm / 8 x 10 inches). Pour in the vegetable mix, then the base mix, add the chopped mint and gently stir to evenly spread the ingredients. Sprinkle the top of the dish with grated emmenthal cheese and bake in a preheated oven 180°C/ 350°F for 45 minutes or until the top turns golden.

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Mini pavlovas
(Serves 4)

For the meringues
3 egg whites
100 g caster sugar
1/2 tsp white wine or cider vinegar
1/2 tsp cornstarch

For the topping
150 ml / 2/3 cup whipping cream (lighter option: 75 ml / 1/3 cup whipping cream and 75 g / 1/3 cup fromage blanc)
2 tbsp icing sugar
A handful of strawberries, currants, blueberries (or any other berries)

In a mixing bowl, whisk the egg whites until stiff. Gradually add the sugar while mixing. Mix the vinegar and cornstarch through. Spoon a quarter of the foam on a lined baking sheet to a kind of heap. Repeat the operation for the 3 other meringues.

Bake in a preheated oven 130°C/ 266°F for an hour and a half. It should be crunchy on the outside and marshmellow-like on the inside. Let is cool down in the oven with the door open.

Slice the berries and when you are close to serving, whip up the cream with the icing sugar. For the lighter option gently fold the whipped cream in the fromage blanc. Place a meringue on a serving plate, tap it gently to break the center. Finally add the cream and the fresh berries on top and enjoy!

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Rain and treats

Luxembourg is a charming city but Sundays tend to be very quiet. They are great for meeting with friends around a copious brunch, going for long walks in the woods or laying down in the park. But what if it is a mid-July Sunday when most of your friends are away and for some reason it is constantly raining? I find myself stranded at home with plenty of time on my hands. This is the perfect opportunity to try out new recipes! For lunch, I want to bring Summer back with a fresh quinoa salad. I love the bitter-sweet of grapefruit in salads. An avocado, smoked salmon and grapefruit quinoa salad with a light “fromage blanc” sauce it will be! I had some salmon left, so I accompanied my quinoa salad with smoked salmon potted eggs.

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When the sun starts setting, I feel like a warm and comforting dish. My coral lentil, chicken and coconut milk soup did the trick. Finally to please my Dutch boyfriend with a reference to his national color, I decided to go for a full blown orange dinner with a carrot cake, an all time favorite. I sometimes cook a gluten-free version of it for my gluten sensitive friends. Without giving in to the recent gluten-free or all-organic crazes, I like the challenge of baking with unusual ingredients and discovering new flavors and textures. My cupboards are now well-stocked with different types of flour: coconut, chestnut, corn, rice, buckwheat. I am not done experimenting!

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Avocado, smoked salmon and grapefruit quinoa salad

(serves 4)

200 g / 1 cup quinoa
2 avocado
150 g / 5 oz smoked salmon
1 grapefruit

For the “fromage blanc” sauce
200 g / 1 cup fromage blanc (can be replaced by fromage frais or quark)
2 tsp Dijon mustard
1 tbsp chives, chopped
1 tbsp dill (fresh and chopped or dried)
salt / pepper

Cook the quinoa in 2 cups of water (two times its volume) with a pinch of salt until all the water is absorbed (about 15 minutes). When ready let it cool down for 10 minutes or so.

Dice the avocados and slice the salmon. Cut the grapefruit in half crosswise and remove the pulp with the help of a thin kitchen knife while keeping the grapefruit on top of a bowl in order to collect the juice. Keep the juice aside and mix all the other ingredients in a large bowl.

To prepare the sauce: Mix the fromage blanc, the Dijon mustard, the grapefruit juice, the chopped chives and the dill. Season with salt and pepper.

When cooled down, pour the quinoa and the sauce in the large bowl together with the other ingredients and gently stir.

Smoked salmon potted eggs (Oeufs cocotte)

(serves 4)

4 eggs
50 g / 1.5 oz smoked salmon
20 cl / 7 fl oz light cream
1 tbsp chives, chopped
1 tsp dill (fresh and chopped or dried)
salt / pepper

Chop the chives. In a bowl mix with the cream and the dill. Season with salt and pepper. Divide the cream and herb mix between four small pots. Thinly slice the salmon and divide between the four pots. Add an egg on top of each pot. Season with salt and pepper. Heat in a bain-marie either in a pan or in the oven for 10 minutes or until the egg white turns solid.

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Coral lentil, chicken and coconut milk soup

(serves 4)

220 g coral lentil
1 carrot, diced
3 chicken breasts, sliced
20 cl / 7 fl oz coconut milk
1 onion, sliced finely
1 garlic clove, sliced finely
1/2 tsp turmeric, 1/2 tsp ginger, 1/2 tsp cumin, 1/2 tsp coriander, 1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
75 cl / 25 fl oz chicken broth
1 tbsp fresh coriander, chopped

Sauté the chicken slices in a medium pan with a tbsp of olive oil. Once golden, set aside. Sauté the sliced onion in the same pan on medium heat with some extra olive oil. When softened, add the garlic and the spices and stir for a minute or two. Add the lentil, the diced carrot and the chicken broth. Bring to a boil and then cover and lower the heat. Leave it to cook for 10 minutes. Add the chicken slices and leave it to cook for another 5 minutes. Add the coconut milk and give it a good stir. No need to blend. Sprinkle with fresh coriander before serving.

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Carrot Cake (gluten-free option)

(serves 8)

3/4 carrots, finely grated
95 g / 1/2 cup brown sugar
2 eggs
60 g / 2 oz walnut halves, finely chopped
45 ml / 3 tbsp olive oil
45 ml / 3 tbsp colza oil
175 g / 1+1/4 cup plain flour (for gluten-free version mix 75 g / 1/2 cup chestnut flour and 100 g / 3/4 cup rice flour)
1 package 16 g / 2 tsp baking powder (make sure to chose it with maize starch for gluten-fee version)
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 pinch of salt

Cream-cheese frosting (optional)
50 g / 1.5 oz butter at room temperature (salted or not)
100 g / 3 oz cream-cheese (Philadelphia)
50 g / 3/4 cup icing sugar
1 package 7.5 g / 2 tsp vanilla sugar (or 1/2 tsp vanilla extract)

Preheat oven to 150°C / 300°F.

In a mixing bowl, whip the eggs and sugar energetically until creamy and fluffy, then add the oil and mix well. In another bowl sift together flour, baking powder, cinnamon and salt. Fold the flour mixture into the egg mixture and blend well. Add carrots and chopped walnuts and blend well.

Butter and dust the cake mold with flour. Pour in the dough and bake in a preheated oven 150°C/ 300°F for 1 hour. You can also use muffin molds, in this case only bake for 45 minutes.

Let the cake cool on a wire rack. When cold, you can ice the cake if you wish. In this case mix the butter and the cream cheese until smooth. Then add the sifted icing sugar. Mix well and cream your cakes with the icing. Hold 15 minutes in fridge before serving.