Peace of Cake

Peace of Cake
As I’ve mentioned in the past, the celebrations surrounding the 300th anniversary of the Vrede van Utrecht (Peace/Treaty of Utrecht) are continuing through September, with a variety of exhibits and events to be found throughout the city. One of the more amusingly titled exhibits is Peace of Cake, an exhibit at Utrecht University.

As the university’s website explains:

Take a look behind the scenes of the science behind peace. Together with scientists from the University of Utrecht, the exhibition focuses on three (former) war zones: Uganda, South Africa and Yugoslavia. In short documentaries scientists look for insight into their search for peace.

To be honest, I haven’t been to the exhibit, nor do I have plans to go, but I’ve enjoyed the window display. I also enjoy cake. I have a recipe for a low-calorie chocolate cake that I make regularly so I can have something a little sweet after dinner without going overboard. I thought I’d share the recipe and hope that this doesn’t all come across as a little too “let them eat cake!”

Peace of Chocolate Cake
3/4 cup of flour
1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon light brown sugar
3 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup water
1/4 cup unsweetened apple sauce
1/2 teaspoon vinegar
1 1/1 teaspoons butter, melted
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350F/200C

Combine the dry ingredients and stir together until all are blended evenly. Then add in liquid ingredients and stir to combine. There may be some lumps, but there should be no obviously dry clumps.

Pour the mixture into a greased glass pie plate (approximately 8 inches) or divide evenly into a 12-hole muffin tin. Bake for approximately 18-22 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.

I like to play around with the basic recipe, sometimes adding in chocolate chips or a dash or nutmeg/cinnamon, and nowadays I tend to sprinkle powdered sugar over the top before baking to give it a slightly sweet, delicate texture on the top. I eat it plain, but you can also top it with a glaze, frosting, or any other topping you like.

Before any extras and assuming 12 servings, it breaks down to 59 calories per serving. Even 1.5 servings, which is how I tend to break it down, is only 89 calories. It’s not the world’s best chocolate cake, but it certainly helps keep cravings at bay and satisfies my chocolate urges.

Peanut Butter Truffles

If there’s one thing that unites all immigrants/expats, it’s the occasional craving for a food item you just can’t get in your new home country. One of the challenges is trying to recreate a beloved recipe when you know you can’t get all the exact ingredients. You start to get creative, determining different substitutes to get you closest to the general idea.

I recently came across this recipe for peanut butter truffles and immediately bookmarked it. I don’t have a strong sweet tooth and I’m not much of a baker, but these aren’t too sweet and they don’t require any baking! Perfect! Now that the little Easter chocolate eggs have all been finished, I’ve been wanting a little something to fill my brief sweet cravings.

Unfortunately, as I looked at the recipe, I couldn’t help but notice it called for graham crackers. We don’t really have graham crackers here. It’s not the first time I’ve come up against this ingredient. I wanted to make a graham cracker pie crust for a southern-food-themed dinner party I hosted, so I had to find another type of cookie to substitute, since I didn’t want to make a regular pastry crust. I used a vanilla cookie of some sort, but it’s going to take some fine-tuning of the recipe to have it work perfectly. This time, to make these peanut butter truffles, I used simple digestive biscuits. Of course, the recipe calls for 18 sheets of graham crackers, which meant I had no idea how much of the digestive biscuits I was going to need. Fortunately, a friend in the US came through for me and gave me the weight in grams of 9 sheets of graham crackers. Which reminds me … I really should write that down somewhere so I don’t forget!

In the end, with only a few alterations, I was able to make these delicious little treats. If you like peanut butter, definitely give them a try. For those of you in the US — or anywhere that has graham crackers — just use the original recipe in the link above. If you’re living somewhere without graham crackers, you can try my variation. I also made only about a quarter of the recipe, since I’m only cooking for two people and don’t need that much temptation. I ended up with a baker’s dozen of the truffles. Apologies in advance for the mix of metric and imperial measurements. That’s just how I roll these days! Fortunately, it’s a forgiving recipe, so you don’t have to be too exact.

75 grams digestive biscuits, ground in the food processor
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
a smidge of ground nutmeg
1 tbsp (approximately) honey
1/2 cup peanut butter
1-2 tbsp melted butter (I’m not sure how necessary this really is)
1/3 to 1/2 cup confectioner’s sugar
100 grams dark or milk chocolate

I added the cinnamon, nutmeg and honey to add more of the graham cracker flavor, at least, as I remember them. You can add more or less of the spices to suit your tastes. I’m still not sure how necessary the butter really is. I might skip it next time and see how it goes. It seems like the peanut butter would be enough of a binder as it is, and my addition of honey seems like it could replace the butter. As for the chocolate, I just used a 100 gram bar of dark chocolate that I melted up. It seemed to be just enough chocolate for the amount that I made. After taking the peanut butter balls out of the freezer, I simply tossed three or four at a time into the pot with the melted chocolate and rolled them around. That seemed to be the easiest and cleanest way of getting them coated.

If you make them, eet smakelijk!

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.

Woordenboek Woensdag: Maaltijd

Zucchini Tart [Day 178/365]
While we were out shopping last week, G asked me if I knew what maaltijd meant. He said he’d seen it quite often on restaurant signs, but didn’t know what it meant. He was doing better than me; I hadn’t even noticed the word! For me, it was a bit confusing, because when I think of mal/maal, I think of something bad, thanks to the Italian and French that I know, not to mention their somewhat negative connotations in English. So to think of a “bad time” (tijd=time) in regards to a restaurant, I knew my Italian and French weren’t helping any here. It turns out, though, that it’s not really that far off of English. Maaltijd means meal, as in meal time. Ah! That makes much more sense!

I still hadn’t noticed the word, though, until today, when I was checking the latest Waar In Utrecht game and saw that the prize for a correct answer is now a maaltijd from Stamppot To Go. Hopefully, I’ll be able to win one of the prizes soon!

Speaking of maaltijden, I thought I’d share a recept (recipe) for the maaltijd I made last night. It was a hodgepodge of recipes — some tried and true, some new — that turned out heerlijk (delicious)! The main dish was a zucchini, ricotta and feta tart, which I found the recipe for here.

I think there is some sort of frozen pie crust available here, but it’s not in the ready-shaped form that you can buy in the US, not that I have room in my tiny freezer to keep pie crusts in any size. Fortunately, Lizzy posted a recipe last year for a very easy-to-make pie crust that doesn’t require the cutting in of shortening/butter that makes me hate making crust from scratch. This one uses oil instead and it’s so fast and easy and quite delicious. Since I was going to need only one crust, I simply halved the amounts without any trouble. I also played around a bit with the oils, since I knew I was going to be making a savory dish. Instead of 1/4 cup of vegetable oil, I did a mix of olive oil, a smidge of sesame oil, and then finished it off with regular vegetable oil.

Finally, as I was cooking the zucchini, I was worried that it would all be a bit bland. I like spices and I love spice blends, especially the ones I make myself, so I sprinkled a bit of one of my latest favorite spice blends, Kayotic Kitchen’s ras el hanout, over the zucchini as it was cooking in the pan. I didn’t use a lot, but just enough to give it a nice depth and warmth of flavor.

I was really happy with how the whole dish turned out — we paired it with a nice side salad — and I’m so glad there are leftovers for my lunches!

Eet smakelijk!

Paas Potatoes

Although we don’t technically celebrate Easter, we do take advantage of using it for a good excuse to have a special dinner. We stopped by the biologische (organic) butcher on Biltstraat on Saturday to splurge on some tasty lamb racks. Next door at the Super de Boer grocery store, we found some lovely fresh asparagus, and I had plans for a potato galette. All in all, a nice menu!

The potato galette was vaguely inspired by various recipes I’d seen online, although by the time it came to cook it, I had to wing it, since we were without the internet at that point. My copies of Joy of Cooking and How to Cook Everything weren’t much help, either. Fortunately, winging it turned out just fine. The dish turned out excellent and G was raving about it. I figured since I remembered to take a few before and after photos, I’d share the recipe, although I don’t have exact amounts to pass along to you. I made mine in a small springform pan that was enough for two people. You could take it larger to feed more or to make more of a main meal out of it.

grated parmigiano-reggiano cheese
dried rosemary and sage
salt and pepper

When we moved, I sadly left behind a lot of my kitchen utensils and instruments. I have no idea what I was thinking, especially since I had such a lovely stocked kitchen. It was bad enough leaving behind my beautiful Kitchen Aid, but why I left behind my zester and other smaller, non-electric tools, I’ll never know. I think by that point I was too caught up in taking as little as possible. Fortunately, I didn’t leave behind my mandolin. It’s a beautiful stainless steel one that my mother got me for Christmas a few years ago. It’s wonderful for slicing potatoes for homemade chips or for dishes such as this one.

I washed and sliced three or four smallish potatoes, cutting them at roughly a quarter-inch thickness. Basically, you want to leave them thick enough so they don’t fall apart easily, but thin enough that they’re not big chunks. I then parboiled them for 5-8 minutes to take the edge off them, so that they wouldn’t need a ton of time in the oven, with the possibility of raw bits and pieces. Once they were done, I drained them and left them to cool off a bit while I moved on to the onions.

I thinly sliced an onion and then slowly cooked it in a bit of olive oil and butter until they started to caramelize. The key really is to cook them slowly. I have a habit of turning the heat up too high and they end up more burnt than caramelized. This time I had success, though. Deliciously sweet and pretty! I added a bit of salt, pepper and dried rosemary toward the end.

Once the onions were done, I started layering the potato slices into my springform pan. Unless you know your springform has a tight seal, you may want to use a solid baking form to avoid any leakage, or you can just put the springform on top of another baking sheet with edges to contain any drippings (I speak from experience). Once you have a layer of overlapping potato slices, then add in a layer of the onions and top that with some grated parmesan cheese and some dried sage. Keep repeating these potato, onion and cheese layers until you’ve run out of ingredients or room in the pan. The top layer should be potatoes. I drizzled a bit of butter over the top, to help keep it golden and from drying out. I also added a bit more grated cheese and dried sage.

The whole thing went into the oven at around 200C/400F for 15 or 20 minutes. Basically, until the top was golden and the cheese nicely melted. Since I needed the oven for the lamb, I cooked the potatoes ahead of time and served them more at room temperature, sort of like a fancy potato salad. In other words, it’s good hot or cold. I had some potato slices left over, so I pan cooked those with some olive oil and a bit more salt and rosemary to have for lunch the next day. Why waste good potatoes!

The dinner was delicious, even if it turned out that the lamb wasn’t cooked yet and had to go back into the oven. We just ended up eating the potatoes and asparagus as a first course with the lamb as the second course. It pays to be flexible and not too picky!

Veggie Cookies

Veggie Cookies
I like vegetables a lot. I also like small round foods, something to which veggies lend themselves easily. This particular recipe for vegetable cookies is one of my favorite recipes from Kayotic Kitchen, and that’s saying something because I’ve loved just about every single one of her recipes that I’ve tried. This dish is a fun, healthy way to get some more veggies into your diet, while feeling like you’re eating a less-than-virtuous snack food.

One of the reasons I like this recipe so much is because you can change it up depending on your mood and what you’ve got on hand. That’s also why my photo doesn’t look anything like Kay’s photo, since I made mine a bit differently. Mine may not be that pretty, but they sure are lekker(tasty)! My version of the recipe today started off with a bag of chopped mixed vegetables. While the grocery stores here are one of the few things that make me homesick for the US, I still can’t complain that much, because what they lack in variety, they make up for in convenience. Most grocery stores here sell a variety of pre-chopped vegetable mixes that are handy when you need a mix of things, but don’t want to buy full sizes of each individual vegetable. They’re not as expensive as the pre-cut veggie packs in the US, either, or at least they’re often close enough in price to the whole vegetable that it’s sometimes worth the few extra cents. I particularly like them for my lunches, which are often something like these veggie cookies, or a mix of veggies and lentils. It’s a quick way to throw together a healthy lunch without a lot of fuss.

The mix I went with today was probably around three or four cups worth before it cooked down and is a simple medley of carrots, leeks and cauliflower; the soup vegetable mix as it’s marketed. I followed the basic recipe by cooking them briefly until they’d softened up a bit, then I added in about a half-cup of flour, a handful of shredded aged gouda, a few chopped olives just because, and decided to give the whole thing a bit of an Asian flavor by seasoning with a dash of sesame oil, some soy sauce, and some ground ginger. Once that was all cooked for a few minutes more to get rid of the flour flavor, I turned the heat off and added one lightly beaten egg. Stir and then put spoon-sized dollops on a tray lined with baking paper and bake for around 20 minutes at around 200C. As I said, this recipe is such a great one, because it gives you a lot of leeway to play around with the flavor combinations. I’ve used other vegetable combinations before and also chopped them more finely, while using different spices to season them, too. They’re pretty addictive, no matter which way you make them, but at least you don’t have to feel guilty about indulging in these!
Flavour [Day 88/365]

On an unrelated note, thank you for your questions and suggestions regarding my blogger’s block. I’ve got some ideas in mind already and will be answering your questions later on this week. Feel free to keep asking questions. I’d start answering them now, but I didn’t get any sleep at all last night and spent most of the night up reading or doing taxes (in Dutch, which is confusing and a nightmare) and now I’m feeling too thick-headed to write anything decent.

Hot Dogs

In the category of things that are just that little bit different here, I think hot dogs earn a spot. They do have them here, which is nice, since I have the occasional craving for them. You can even buy pairs of them in buns, ready to microwave, in the packaged fresh food section of the grocery store. Oddly enough, regular hot dog buns are slightly harder to find, though. But it’s the regular hot dogs themselves that are the slightly odd part. It’s not the taste. They taste quite normal; I guess it’s that original American recipe they follow. What’s odd is that they come in cans.

For those not from the US, hot dogs there usually come in vacuum-packed packages. Here, they come in cans. There are quite a few varieties of canned hot dogs/sausages/worst to be found in the shops here. I’ve bought the hot dog & bun ready-to-go packs in the past, but today I got up the nerve to buy the canned ones. There was just something vaguely off-putting about canned hot dogs, when it’s not at all how I’m used to them. Fortunately, they were just fine — I figured they would be, since I assumed the ones I usually bought probably came from a can, too — and I used them to make this recipe for my dinner tonight when I couldn’t find the other ingredients I wanted at the store.

So yeah, canned hot dogs. Just one of those small differences that make you think, “Toto, I don’t think we’re in Kansas anymore.”

Dutch Twist

In the southern part of the US, one of the traditional meals on New Year’s Day is pig of some sort (pork chops, ham, etc.), collard greens (or mustard greens, turnip greens, kale, or some other leafy green), and Hoppin’ John, a dish made with rice and black eye peas. The various dishes are supposed to bring you wealth and luck and general prosperity for the new year.

Yesterday, for the actual first day of the new year, we did the Italian good-luck dinner instead, which consisted of cotechino (pork), mashed potatoes, and lentils. Still, just because it’s not January 1, doesn’t mean I can’t still do the Southern version of the traditional new year’s dinner. After the past year, I’m sure a little bit of extra luck and wealth wouldn’t go unappreciated!

Fortunately, I can get the ingredients to make Hoppin’ John here in the Netherlands. Although I think I should now call it Hoppin’ Jan, instead. There’s a shop at the end of the street that sells the black eye bonen. They might even sell the dried beans, instead of just the canned ones, but I’m taking the easy way out this time. A package of witte rijst (white rice), some ontbijtspek (bacon), an ui (onion), and some seasoning are already on hand. (For the record, I cook the rice in chicken broth for a bit of extra flavor, thus the kippen bouillon.) Our celery has turned to rubber, so I’ll have to pick up some more this afternoon when I hit up Albert Hein for the pork chops and the kale. I thought about heading over to the big outdoor market to see if I could find some collards or mustard greens, but today, I can’t be bothered. That’s what a bad night’s sleep will do to you. Thank goodness kale is popular here!

In case you’re interested in the recipe for my version of Hoppin’ Jan, here goes:
1 cup dry white rice
1 chicken or vegetable bouillon cube
1 can black eye peas
1-2 stalks of celery, chopped
1 onion, chopped
.5 – 1 tsp dried oregano
dash of Tabasco
dash of vinegar or lemon juice
2-4 oz. bacon, chopped

Bring 2 cups of water and the bouillon cube to a boil, and add in the dried oregano (or any dried herb of your choice). When it comes to a boil, add in the rice and cook according to directions, about 20 minutes or so, until it’s done. When the rice is done, empty it out into a mixing/serving bowl. Add in the drained black eye peas.

In a sauté pan, cook the chopped up bacon until it’s done to your liking. I guessed at the amount of bacon. Really, though, it’s bacon. The more the merrier! When bacon is done, transfer it to a paper towel if you want to be healthy, or just go ahead and put it into the bowl with the rice and beans. Use the bacon fat to then lightly cook the celery and onion, just long enough to take the edge off, but to still leave some crispness to them for texture. If you prefer, you can just skip the cooking part all together with the celery and onion and add them in raw. That works, too. When they’re at the stage that you want, add them into the rice and bean mixture and then give it a good stir to mix it all up. Add in a dash or so of Tabasco and some vinegar or lemon juice to make it pop a bit. Season with salt and pepper, but you probably won’t really need any salt.

I don’t follow a specific recipe, so my version may be different from others. It’s not a hard and fast rule with any of the amounts, either. Just do it to your own preferences and tastes and enjoy!

Links 234

I’ve not got too much to say today, since the past few days have been little more than me wrestling with Dreamweaver as I try to build a website for my editing service. Plus, despite my ability to ramble on here about next to nothing, I find it difficult to write about myself, particularly in regards to selling myself. And describing my editing services? Oy. I suspect I need to say a bit more than, “You write it; I’ll make it better.”

So since I have nothing of interest to say, I’ll just direct you to this link for a recipe by my Dutch cooking guru, Kay from Kayotic Kitchen. She posted this recipe for ham, cheese and chicory (endive) rolls served atop mashed potatoes. I saw the recipe this morning and knew immediately what we’d be having for dinner tonight. I’ve made endive wrapped in ham, topped with a cheese sauce before, but with today’s rainy, cold weather, this just sounded perfect and comforting. I highly recommend checking out her site. I’ve linked to some of her recipes before, because every single dish we’ve tried has been a winner.

Eten en Drinken

Most of my friends and family know I like to cook. Ik vind het heel leuk. In moving to the Netherlands, I left behind a very well-stocked kitchen that included a Kitchen Aid mixer. *sob* I also had quite a bit more counter and storage space. That said, my current kitchen is prettier, what with the almost floor-to-ceiling windows, not to mention I have a gas stove again. In moving, I’ve also given up certain recipes that I just can’t make here because I can’t find some of the ingredients very easily. On the other hand, that just means I find new recipes to fall in love with now. I like to think I’m achieving a certain yin/yang balance with it all.

One of my new favorites recipes is the Dutch version of meatballs: gehaktballen. You can buy them premade in the grocery store, but I’d always passed them up, in part because we’ve never eaten meatballs that much, despite G being from Italy. However, through the wonder that is foodgawker, I recently saw this recipe for gehaktballen and figured it was time I gave them a try. I have no idea if they’re still a traditional Wednesday-night dish, but we went ahead and waited until Wednesday to give them a try. We’re now thinking of making this a regular Wednesday-night tradition for ourselves, even if the Dutch aren’t so picky about when they’re eaten nowadays. They were delicious! There’s nothing outlandish or drastically different in the flavoring, but they still end up being a fantastic comfort-food meal, especially paired with the roasted potatoes. Even the jarred green beans just seemed to fit in perfectly.

I’ll probably end up posting here more often about food I make at home, even when it’s not traditionally Dutch at all. I promise to try to take better pictures, too. This photo was a last-minute shot when some of the food had already been eaten. G had received a business call just as we sat down to dinner and I ended up eating some of my food while I waited, but didn’t think to get a photo until G was back and starting to eat. I had to use his plate, since he had more food on it, but I didn’t want to be rude and start moving his food around to make it look prettier. He was already being more than patient in letting me get the shot! At least I remembered in time to get a photo, unlike the night before, when I made a lovely watermelon, basil and goat cheese salad, but didn’t remember to take a photo until it was too late! A shame, because it was both lovely and delicious!