The Principle of the Pecan

South meets Dutch
We were going to celebrate Thanksgiving on Thursday, as it’s meant to be done, but we ended up postponing our celebration because of a lack of nuts. Sure, some people think it’s not Thanksgiving without the turkey or the dressing or the cranberry sauce. For me, it’s not Thanksgiving without a pecan pie. Unfortunately, pecans can be a bit more difficult to come by here in the Netherlands, or at least our corner of Utrecht.

We can sometimes find them at the grocery stores, but they’re often pricey for a small amount. This week, our usual store just didn’t have them at all. In a last-ditch attempt, we did check out one of the organic grocery stores, but I refused to pay €2,95 for a 75 gram bag of pecans. At a minimum, I needed two bags and just couldn’t stand the idea of paying almost €6 for such a paltry amount. I paid that much for a can of Libby’s pumpkin purée the first year we were here and vowed never again, thus the lack of pumpkin pies at this time of year, as well. (I’m too lazy to go through all the hassle with a real pumpkin.)

You see, growing up, I used to pick pecans from the trees in my great-grandmother’s yard in Florida. Even now, my parents were telling me about all the pecans a friend of theirs had given them. I come from a place where pecans are free or at least downright inexpensive! So to pay such a ridiculous amount for a paltry amount of pecans is just wrong.

Fortunately, I knew that the Saturday market at Vredenburg always has a couple of noten kramen (nut stalls), with a wide variety of nuts. So Saturday morning, we headed out to the market and sure enough, we found pecans at a much better price and quality. The stall we went to had 200 grams for €4,50, which is much more acceptable and the nuts were much fresher and nicer. Definitely worth the delay.

Karo

Using up just about the last of my Karo syrup, I made my beloved pecan pie. It’s sticky, gooey, nuttiness is one of the great pleasures in life! Sadly, I don’t have enough Karo left to make another. My mother has suggested Lyle’s Golden Syrup, but if anyone else has any suggestions for Karo alternatives, I’m all ears. I usually only make pecan pie once a year, so I’ve got time to find alternatives — or hope someone visits from the US and can bring a bottle or three with them.

Ready to Bake

If you want the bare-bones recipe that I use for my pecan pie, here it is. If you need more tips, I’d suggest Googling for better directions. This year I skipped the traditional pastry crust and went with a simple digestive-biscuit crumb and butter base for something different, since it’s easy and not particularly sweet. As for the actual recipe directions, beat the eggs a bit first and then start adding in ingredients. I leave the syrup for second to last and the pecans for last. I also roughly chop my pecans and save a few whole ones to decorate the top. Enjoy!

Pecan Pie Recipe
3 eggs
1 cup sugar
2 tbsp melted butter
2 tsp vanilla
1/4 tsp salt
3/4 cup Karo light syrup
2 cups pecans

Bake at 350F for approximately 55 minutes
Pecan Pie

Eggnog and Spirits

Homemade Eggnog
After thinking about it all week, I finally put up our Christmas tree today. Part of the delay came about because I couldn’t decide which eggnog recipe to try. I don’t think I’ve made homemade eggnog since I was little and tried the recipe for it that was in my Betty Crocker cookbook for children. Normally, the only time I drink it is while I’m actually decorating the tree, so in the past, I’ve simply bought a carton from the store.

Sadly, though, I’ve been without eggnog these past two Christmases in the Netherlands, as it doesn’t seem to be sold here. The Dutch have a drink/liqueur called advocaat, but I don’t think it’s the same. Can anyone who has had both eggnog and advocaat tell me the difference in taste (other than advocaat having the alcohol already added in)? Since it didn’t look like I was going to get any eggnog help from the grocery store, I figured this season I would finally make my own eggnog to help get me into the holiday spirit — with the addition of some spirits, of course. I searched foodgawker, looking at all the different variations of the recipe, going back and forth on which one to try. I eventually settled on a combination of a couple of recipes that seemed simple and that didn’t have quite as much sugar as the others. One of the reasons I rarely drank much eggnog in the US was because it was so sweet.

In the end, I was quite please with how the eggnog turned out. The addition of some dark rum made the aroma complete, taking me back to past holiday memories. With eggnog in hand, and Christmas music on the stereo, the tree went up fairly easily. I even got to dance with Lola to Elvis’ Blue Christmas, a tradition that I love to do, but I’m not sure she’s as thrilled with it. Especially when I pulled her off the heater today in order to dance. She had a death-grip on the heater, but I won in the end. I’m sure she’ll look back on it all with a laugh some day.
Merry Freakin' Christmas

Eggnog Recipe
serves 2 decent-size glasses or 4 small glasses

2 eggs
1/4 cup sugar
1.5 cups milk
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 tsp grated nutmeg or to taste
rum or bourbon to taste

Whisk together eggs and sugar in a sauce pan and then slowly add in the milk and then the nutmeg. Turn the heat on low and continue to stir until the mixture thickens just enough to coat the back of a spoon. When it’s the right consistency, take it off the heat and stir in the vanilla, then refrigerate. You could add in the alcohol before you refrigerate it, or simply add it to the glasses when you’re ready to serve it up. It will take a bit of stirring to combine the alcohol and eggnog, so leave room in the glass. I like to top the glasses off with another light sprinkle of nutmeg.

It’s The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown!

That's gotta hurt!
It’s pumpkin season! In the US, I’d buy big pumpkins specifically to carve them up like this for Halloween. It’s tradition! However, I rarely actually cooked the pumpkin. Any pumpkin I needed I got from a can. Libby’s canned pumpkin puree to be exact. The recipe for pumpkin pie (the only way I ate pumpkin) was right there on the can’s label! Easy peasy!

Now I’m in the Netherlands and Halloween isn’t that big a deal. Neither is pumpkin pie. But pumpkin as a food stuff actually is quite common. Still, if you want pumpkin puree, you’ve got to make your own. There’s no canned stuff here. Well, the expat stores tend to carry it, but it’s about €7 a can!

As the weather has started to cool off significantly and the first scents of wood fires could be detected in the air today, I figured it was time to buy a pumpkin. Tis the season, after all! But this time I don’t plan on carving it up. I plan on cooking it up and making my own puree to use in a handful of recipes I’ve come across recently. So while I was at the store today, I picked up a pumpkin. It’s a bit smaller than usual, and I do miss the “pumpkin patch” buying experience (even if the patch was just the front lawn of one of the local churches). Still, just having it in the house makes me feel like autumn is really here. Now, I wonder if I have a knife small enough to do a quick carving.
Pompoen Seizoen

Cooking MacGyver Style

Creative Cooking
I’ve been getting creative with various household items to get some cooking done recently. I like to call it cooking, MacGyver style. (If you’re not familiar with MacGyver, he was a television character famous for getting out of tight situations with a bit of creativity, some duct tape, and a Swiss Army knife.)

One of my regular improvs is my version of a cooling rack. You see, in the past, it seemed that a cooling rack invariably seemed to come with any house we bought, so I never had to buy one. Unfortunately, I didn’t bring them with me when we moved, and I haven’t seen any on the few occasions I think to look for one here. As a result, when it comes time to cool some sort of baked good, I’ve had to get creative. My go-to way of working these days is to take a handful of metal skewers we have and spreading them out across a plate. I don’t bake in large batches, so this usually fits my rare baking needs. It’s surprisingly effective!
Going MacGyver
It also takes up very little storage space when not in use, so I’m tempted to not bother buying a proper cooling rack any time soon. If I plan to do any larger batches of baking, I could just buy more skewers! One of my favorite tv chefs in the US was Alton Brown, who always insisted that any kitchen tool should be able to serve more than one purpose. I think he’d be proud of my ingenuity!

As for the cupcakes in my shots, they’re not going to be as good as those made by American Baking Company, but they are on the healthier side of the cupcake divide. They’re an old Weight Watchers recipe that I have and now know by heart. They suit my need for a little bit of something chocolate on occasion.

Chocolate Cupcakes
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/2-cup brown sugar + 1 tbsp brown sugar
3 tbsp cocoa powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 cup apple sauce (no sugar added) (I use the individually portioned apple sauce cups)
1/2 cup water
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 tsp apple cider vinegar (I tend to just use natural vinegar now)
1 1/2 tsp melted butter (I use the liquid stuff)

First combine the dry ingredients and mix them together well. Then add in the liquid ingredients and stir just to combine. Then spoon the filling into a prepared 12-piece muffin tin and bake at 350F/180C for around 18-22 minutes.

I eat them plain, although they’re also good spread with a bit of Nutella. You can also add in a 1/4 cup or so of chocolate chips/pieces. Or sprinkle some hagelslag on top before baking. I’ve also used this recipe to make regular cakes. They’re not the end-all and be-all of chocolate cake, but they’re not bad when you want something chocolate, but also want to avoid lots of calories.

Spice Trade

Kruiden
I love to cook and I’m always adding herbs and spices to just about anything I cook. They may usually be dried and preground, which proper chefs would say is a no-no, but I figure this is less of a waste, not to mention easier to track down. When I moved here, I had to rebuild my spice shelf. That meant learning some new names for old favorites. Most are fairly easy to figure out, but I thought I’d share a list of some of my mainstays in case anyone else suddenly needs a translation.

Kruiden | Herbs/Spices

Kerrie | Curry
Kurkuma |  Turmeric
Kardemom Poeder  |   Cardamom Powder
Knoflook Poeder  |   Garlic Powder
Koriander  |   Coriander
Kaneel  |  Cinnamon
Komijnzaad  |   Cumin Seed
Kruidnagel   |  Clove
Uienpoeder   |  Onion Powder
Basilicum |  Basil
Peterselie  |   Parsley
Nootmuskaat  |   Nutmeg
Gember   |  Ginger
Salie  |   Sage
Tijm   |  Thyme
Rozemarijn  |   Rosemary
Paprika   |  Paprika
Laurierblad  |  Bay Leaves
Oregano   |  Oregano
Serehpoeder (Gemalen Citroengras)  | Lemongrass Powder
Zout    |   Salt
Zwarte Pepper  |  Black Peper

Gourmetten


As I mentioned on Friday, we went that evening to our friends in Oudewater to finally experience the Dutch tradition of gourmetten. This indoor electric grill is such a fun way to cook a lot of types of food and great for entertaining, since you all sit together and cook your own food. M and R set up a fantastic spread for us that night, as you can see. If you click on the picture, it should take you to the Flickr page, where you´ll be able to see the notes listing each food item. To give you the short version, we had a selection of beef, pork and chicken, some plain and some marinated, along with mini burgers, mini slavink, and a lovely variety of vegetables, and some beaten egg to make our own omlettes in the little triangular trays you see there. On top of it all, we had a huge bowl of bread and a variety of sauces. It really was both tasty and fun. I can´t wait to get my own gourmetten now!

This was the table after we´d eaten. A few bits and pieces left, but not too much. I didn´t get any cooking shots, because to be honest, I was too busy eating and enjoying myself and the camera was out of reach.

While we were there, we also got to meet their new kitten, Miles! She´s so soft and adorable, although still a bit skittish. However, she was also a bit curious, eventually.


And finally, it wouldn´t be right to leave out their other cat, Bob. Such a sweetie!

A Few of My Favorite Things

I’ve recently been the recipient of the Beautiful Blogger Award from both Isabella over at A Touch of Dutch and Dave at Random Walks in the Low Countries, both of which are regular reads for me. It’s always nice to realize others are reading and actually enjoying my pictorial ramblings.

There are a few vague rules associated with this award; rules which are quite open to interpretation. Here are the original rules and requirements:

Beautiful Blogger rules (change to fit your mood)

  • Recognize and link to the person who nominated you.
  • Paste the award on your blog.
  • Share 7 interesting things about yourself.
  • Nominate (or note) 7 bloggers who you like.
  • As many have done, I figured I’d change the “7 interesting things about me” to something a bit different. In this case, I’m going to go with seven interesting things about Utrecht.

    1. The Domtoren. An obvious choice, but it really is pretty fantastic. It’s the tallest church tower in the Netherlands, standing at 112.5 meters/368 feet. I love that almost anywhere I go in town, I can see it rising up over the rooftops. I find it impossible not to get at least one shot of it whenever I take my camera out on the town. I’ve got a whole set devoted to it over on Flickr.
    2. Binnenstad. I love that the city center of Utrecht is relatively small. It’s easy to walk from one side of town to the other. Every time I look up a location on Google Maps, I find myself thinking, “Oh, that looks kind of far.” Then I actually walk it and it’s incredibly close! I like a walkable city!
    3. Cultural Sunday. Every month, there’s a Cultural Sunday event here in the city center. The theme changes every month, so you’re bound to find a topic that will interest you throughout the year. Music is a frequent theme, but done in all sorts of styles and presentations. This Sunday the theme is jazz. Past events have included the musical boat parade, the anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, and the annual Uitfeest, just to name a few.
    4. The Post Office. Really! It’s interesting from the outside, but it’s unbelievable on the inside! I keep forgetting to take my camera with me when I go, which isn’t all that often, so I need to plan to go specifically just to take photos. It’s a fantastic interior that anyone visiting the city should see.
    5. The History. This one’s a bit esoteric, but I truly do love living in a city that had its start around 47 CE (AD). That was when the Romans arrived and set up shop where the Domtoren and cathedral now stand. As I’ve mentioned before, there are markers in some of the roads, showing the outlines of that first Roman fortress. One of the other great things about so many of the historic buildings in town is that they are still used and not just turned into sterile museums. They’re living history, still a vital part of everyday life here.
    6. Maliebaan. A beautiful, tree-lined street, with statue-lined walkways. Even with traffic going past, it’s surprisingly calm and peaceful. I love strolling down the path with Pippo at my side, enjoying the combination of nature and art. Interestingly, it seems that Louis XIV, the Sun King himself, was quite taken with the Maliebaan when he was here in 1672.
    7. The Cathedral. It’s kind of hard not to love the only cathedral in the Netherlands closest to the French Gothic style. It’s even harder not to love it when you realize that more than half of the cathedral is no more. The nave of the cathedral collapsed during a hurricane in 1674, and it was never rebuilt. It’s still an impressive structure with its buttressed apse and the area where the nave once stood is now a charming square where all sorts of events and festivals take place throughout the year.
    8. I figured I’d throw in one last, extra tidbit. Utrecht is trying to start a new campaign promoting the city and province. The official campaign begins 1 March, I believe. In the lead-up to the campaign, there’s a song written by Utrecht’s own Colin Benders, more famously known as Kyteman of the Kyteman Hip Hop Orkest. Here’s a video of Kyteman conducting an orchestra performing his composition Ode aan Utrecht.

    And now for something completely different (from what I’ve been writing about) … Here are a few blogs I enjoy and recommend — and nominate if they’re so inclined. Since many of the ones I read have been nominated by others already, I thought I’d go with a cooking/food theme for my recommendations.

    • Kayotic Kitchen: I’ve mentioned her quite often, but I truly do love her recipes and have never been disappointed with any of them. She also takes beautiful photos.
    • The Misadventures of Mub: She tries out lots of different recipes each week and then posts her reactions to them and suggestions for making them better, if necessary. I love that kind of real-world approach.
    • Lizzy Goes Dutch: If you’re one of the people who think vegetarian food is nothing more than leaves and twigs, Lizzy will make you think twice. She makes all sorts of vegetarian recipes that are appealing, satisfying and downright tasty!
    • Home Cooking with Sonya: This is one of the newest blogs I’ve started reading. As an American expat, it’s handy to see what she comes up with for substitutions or variations on American recipes that require ingredients that aren’t so easy to find here in the Netherlands.

    Early Expats


    On this day in which Americans around the world celebrate Thanksgiving — a case of expats/immigrants trying to make friends with the natives of their new homeland — I thought I’d mention some news about some early expats here in the Utrecht region. It seems that some untouched Roman graves have been found near IJsselstein, dating from around the second century AD. They may have been related to the Roman fort that was about 200 meters away.

    As I mentioned previously, Utrecht was the location of a Roman fort built around 47 AD. There are also remains of the old city walls (as seen above), although they date from closer to the 1100s. We live right on the eastern edge of the old walled city. I guess Utrecht just can’t get rid of those Italians. G’s even made it inside the city walls. ;)

    Now I’m off to give the oven a workout. Time to bake the sweet potatoes, turkey, and cornbread dressing. Plus, those regular potatoes aren’t going to mash themselves. Happy Thanksgiving to all who may be celebrating it, no matter where in the world you’re located.

    Two-Day Meal


    We managed to make it out today without getting drenched. It’s been overcast, but the rain has held off. We headed over to Biltstraat to visit the butcher and Super De Boers (another grocery store chain). At the butcher, we ended up buying half of a turkey breast. Sadly, they didn’t have any turkey legs and the breast is without skin. I’m not really sure how I’m going to cook it, but I’ll find a way. At least I’ll have enough left for sandwiches the next day. That’s the most important part.

    I also managed to find some massive sweet potatoes — much bigger than any others I’ve seen here and bigger than the ones I used to find in the US, for that matter. I also got my pecans, so pie has been made today, along with cranberry sauce (with orange and ginger), and I made the cornbread for the dressing. We’ve got potatoes for mashing and green beans for topping with fried onion bits (sort of like the Dutch version of French’s onions), so I think we should have a nice Thanksgiving dinner tomorrow.

    It’s been fun reading posts from other expats who are preparing for Thanksgiving, and seeing which ingredients are must-haves. It’s funny the simple ingredients that can get us so excited when we find them!

    Gefeliciteerd!

    Lekker!
    Yesterday was my birthday and my first one to be celebrated in the Netherlands. Since cake isn’t as popular here as pies and pastries, I figured I’d make my own — although I probably would have made my own, anyway. I’m not a huge fan of baking, but I do enjoy making the occasional cake.

    I knew I wanted chocolate cake — it’s my favorite — but I wasn’t sure if I wanted fruit added in somehow, or if I wanted my beloved German Chocolate Cake. Since pecans aren’t as easy to come by here, I decided to go the fruit route. I went with raspberries, since they have a nice subtle tartness that I thought would offset the chocolate. In the end, I made a three-layer chocolate cake (the middle layer had bits of chopped up dark chocolate added in, just because), with raspberry compote between the layers, all topped off with a cream cheese icing. I think icing is the better term, rather than frosting, as the cream cheese mix was a bit on the thin side.

    I spent much of the day making the cake — with a pause for Giovanni to surprise me with a fun new watch — and the rest of the afternoon doing very little. As has been the habit now for the past five or six years, we went out for sushi for my birthday dinner. We stopped in at the Potdeksel for a fluitje, while I decided which of the two sushi restaurants to try. Since we had been planning on going to Graaf Floris on the Oude Gracht for an Irish coffee after dinner, I ultimately decided on the restaurant on Voorstraat, since it’s a bit closer to the Oude Gracht. Unfortunately, it’s a small restaurant and there were no tables free for at least half an hour. With that news, we decided to try the new sushi place on Nachtegaalstraat. Fortunately, they had a table and the food was really quite good. It was much better than the sushi we’d had at the restaurant on Mariaplaats.

    After a lovely dinner of salmon, tuna and eel, among other things, we decided to head to Graaf Floris to get the much-anticipated Irish coffee. Sadly, as soon as we stepped outside, we realized it was raining quite heavily! None of us had an umbrella and the wind was blowing quite strongly, so we decided to head back to the Potdeksel for an Irish coffee there, instead! At one point, the wind was blowing so strongly that we ended up with the rain blowing sideways, straight into our ears! Fortunately, by the time we left the Potdeksel — the cake was beckoning — the rain had stopped.

    We went home and cut into the cake. Delicious, if I say so myself! Well worth the time and effort! In all, my first birthday here was a low-key but pleasant day. In other words, a pretty good birthday!