1 Year in the Netherlands

It’s officially been 365 days, an entire year, since I moved to the Netherlands. What a year, its had it’s up and downs and I can say unreservedly that its been an adventure.

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Brexit: This is the gift that just keeps giving, much like an STD. I literally have no idea what my future holds or what will happen with Brexit. I moved from England as I didn’t want to live in a country that isn’t a member of the EU, my opinion on this has not changed. I can see that the UK has changed as a result of Brexit and most certainly not for the better. I can only hope that I will continue to have EU freedom of movement and live in Netherlands or wherever the wind takes me.

Expat Life: I have now been a dirty foreigner living abroad for over 18 years, officially, Ive lived abroad longer than I lived in my birth country. I think it makes it easier to adapt but equally I will always feel like a foreigner no matter where I live. Being an expat means I tend to attract other expats, we have common ground. It’s great to be able to share experiences that natives/locals can’t relate to or haven’t experienced themselves. I’ve met some amazing expats living here in the Netherlands and I’m proud to be able to call them friends. I created a social group in Amstelveen, I’ve never hosted so many dinner parties, given baking lessons, or responded to so many Whatsapp/Facebook messages in my life. I’m not so proud to admit that I’m occasionally so busy that I have to book people in my diary weeks in advance, like a true Dutch person.

Art and Culture: There is more to the Netherlands than tulips and wood shoes. I love the fact that every weekend I have the opportunity to do things. At least two weekends in every four, I am taking advantage of my museum card and exploring. I’ve seen some amazing exhibits, museums, casts, things that left me in tears with laughter and Ive equally seen things that were less than impressive. The Stedelijks in Amsterdam is by far my favourite modern art museum and if ever I had a spare hour in the city, this is where you’ll find me. Despite visiting a number of the large cities, Amsterdam is still my favourite. Forgetting the tourist, drugs and the Red Light District (I understand it can be hard to overlook these), it’s a city with history, heritage and so much to see and do.

 

Dating: This has truly been interesting for me. As with most things in my life, its been comically funny, not all good but most certainly funny. There has been lots of blogs about dating in the Netherlands and how its a challenge for expats. Having personally experienced it, I agree. I’ve decided to do a separate blog dedicated to being single and my dating experiences rather than take up paragraphs here – watch this space.

Working with Dutchies: This has been an experience! I have to admit that I’m incredibly lucky to work with the people that I do, my wider team is fantastic. We all laugh, a lot, occasionally even being told off for laughing too loudly or worse, having too much fun in the office. They say I’ve corrupted them, I think this could be true.

There are three things that stick out to me the most about Dutch Office Life, the elevator, the coffee machine and sandwiches.

  • The Elevator – Being British means I’m reserved, no eye contact is generally made (ok, this could be my functioning autism coming out too) but you most certainly don’t talk to people in the elevator, oh sweet Jesus, no! Ideal British elevator interaction, THERE IS NONE, we all ignore each other listening to our headphones, happy days! I also like to think having my headphones in is a sign that I’m not approachable but NO, this does not deter the Dutch. Apparently stranger danger isn’t applicable in a Dutch elevator and strangers talk to each other, in EVERY elevator. I’ve now become to the kind of person that if I see someone getting in the elevator, I walk that little bit slower to avoid having to get in the elevator with them and have any form of conversation. Honestly, its kind of nice that people talk to each other, on the other hand, it’s really weird (het is echt vreemd, hoor!) and goes against all my British instincts. What I also love, quite adore in fact, is watching the Dutchies completely checking themselves out in the elevator mirrors, you can see it in their face and then all of the personal adjustments that follow suit. I would honestly say my experience is like 8 out of 10 people will do it. I take the attitude that if I don’t know what I look like by the time I get in the office elevator, there’s no hope left for me or point in looking in the mirror, it’s just too late.
  • The Coffee Machine – this is the mecca for office chat, its like a beacon that draws people in. I’ve never quite seen anything like it. Apparently chatting at your desks isn’t the done thing, no, you save it, you wait, you hold it all in until you go to the coffee machine. This makes me grateful that my first coffee of the day is hours before anyone gets in and then 10am caffeine fix is provided by Starbucks. I break all the rules and force people to talk to me at my desk or theirs and then completely ignore them if I’m walking by the coffee machine. Sometimes you have the be cruel to be kind. Any yet somehow, despite this, people in my office seem to really like me and go out of their way to chat to me away from the coffee machine.
  • Sandwiches – a serious dutch lunch. Never get between a Dutch person and their sandwich. Everyone arrives at the office with their homemade sandwiches in the  plastic bag and consumes them throughout the day, breakfast, snack, and lunch, all sandwiches. My colleagues don’t understand how I can eat a homemade chicken salad most days and look at me, look at my salad and then back to me and just shake their heads. The irony being I do the same at their sandwiches. I also eat a yogurt every morning for breakfast in the office, which also breaks the above sandwich rule.

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Two wheels: I really enjoy cycling. Words, I would have never thought I’d ever say. Being knocked off my bike by a car was an experience I hope to never re-experience but sadly is a common occurrence in a country full of bikes and cars. I have an app that I create routes and explore the local area with. I enjoy being able to cycle the days frustrations out or attempt to anyway. I still think Dutch people who take a leisurely 40-60 ride are nuts ball crazy though, that’s not leisurely at all.

Even after a year, these things still do not seem normal to me.

  • I find this more funny than rude but its the way that men in the elevator will not make eye contact but rather you see their eyes going from my red lipstick to my chest and then back and forth at least two times. My colleague and I laugh about this most days, it’s a common occurrence and so obvious. Honestly, I do have to stop myself from bending down and staring at their crotch as a ‘return the look’.
  • Customer service – This country literally has none. I think I’m more surprised whenever I actually come across any.
  • Paracetamol does not solve the worlds illnesses, unless you’re in the Netherlands.
  • Rain! ZOMGs! So much rain! Having lived in England, I thought I knew rain but no, just no! I think on average it rains something like 30 minutes everyday, that’s a lot of rain.
  • Dog excrement, EVERYWHERE. Anyone who knows me knows that I’m not pro-dog but seriously, its disgusting that people just don’t clean up after their dogs, at all. I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone with a dog bag. It’s just a thousand levels of  laziness and grossness.
  • Sleeping badly – this seems to be a problem experienced by many expats living here. I can honestly say that I’ve had maybe 3 seriously decent nights of sleep since moving here. My nightly routine now includes taking melatonin before bed.
  • Brown shoes – brown shoes are everywhere, it’s almost like everyone is colour blind to any colour except brown. The silver lining of getting into a busy elevator is then looking at everyones shoes and 9 out of 10 will be brown.
  • Dutch fashion – this is a wide and varied topic and something that brings me amusement every day but the Dutch most certainly have their own sense of style and fashion. I hope that I never lose my sense of non-Dutch style and fashion.
  • ‘Ah-zo’! – this is a noise that Dutch people make. Generally it takes one person to say it and then the domino effect happens and then everyone is saying it. I guess I can only describe it as what they say when they are trying to fill a silence.  It’s just so weird to me and I don’t get it but it does make me laugh.
  • Compliments – Dutch people don’t give compliments. I give loads! If you look nice, smell nice, or anything nice, I’ll let you know. Turns out that my colleagues LOVE this about me. My cleaner and I were having a discussion about compliments and she says compliments just aren’t Dutch, she never gives any and finds it awkward if she feels she needs to or if people give them to her.

 

My version of the Dutch language has most certainly improved over the year. To be fair, it really couldn’t have gotten much worse. As standard with a second language, I understand more than I speak. I know that I speak Dutchlish (mixing Dutch and English) and that I speak it with such a thick English accent that people look either confused or laugh. I had an experience in Utrecht at a museum, where the lady asked if I wanted her to speak in Dutch or English and I did my usual, ‘it doesnt mater, either is fine’ in Dutch, so she proceeded in Dutch, awesome. I responded to her questions in Dutch, she then stopped me mid-sentence with a look of seeing either a pig that had grown wings and was flying or seeing a genuine unicorn riding over a magical rainbow and said , ‘Wow, you are a real British person aren’t you?’. This made me laugh, mostly because British people arent rare (entire country of them) and proved the point that my Dutch really is Dutchlish!

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This year I’ve experienced more snow than Ive seen in 25 years (the blizzard of 1993!), Ive become more social than Ive ever been and Ive laughed so much. I wont lie, it has also been tough, Ive come across challenges I didn’t expect and I still have no idea what or where my future lies. Its been a very interesting 365 days and it will be more interesting to see what the next 365 hold in store for me.

Dutch Apple Pie

I originally took this recipe from Dutch Cooking Today and then naturally changed and adapted it into a recipe that works for me. I was gifted this cook book roughly 10 years ago by my Dutch friend and whilst there are some great recipes in it, there are also some that I will never make – ie super picky eater.

Sundays for me are for baking, well paracetamol and baking. Sundays are the day where I remember that Monday is on the horizon, its time to be an adult and prepare for alarm clock and corporate world that will greet me in less than 16 hours. I normally start the day with baking, allowing myself a few hours in the morning to wake up, take it slow and realise my long list of things I need to do.

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As you know, I like to take something baked goods in on Mondays to start the week off on a literal sweet note. Each week I like to bake something new for my colleagues, never repeating recipes where possible. I had a request for apple pie and I did what I do best. I told my colleague ‘no’ in a inappropriate way, even using a hand gesture (he wouldnt recognise me any other way and it goes without saying that Im as sassy in the office as I am outside of the office) and clearly stated that I dont take orders. I then came home and decided to surprise him and make his request. Why being boring when I can be entertaining and surprising instead? I had this super awkward moment at work, I took these pies in to work, colleagues ate them, said how good they were and then proceeded to give me a standing applause. Yeah, just a thank you would have worked and been far less embarrassing. HOWEVER, if I am able to impress my Dutch colleagues with my version of Dutch apple pie, then I feel like Im onto a serious winner! Ive been making this pie for years and its now officially gotten a standing ovation from real Dutchies this week.

I decided to make individual pies rather than a large pie, convenience, easy to eat and easier to take in to work. I doubled the below recipe to make 24 mini pies – yes, I had a LOT of happy colleagues.

Dutch Apple Pie

Makes: 1 large pie or 12 individual pies   Prep time: 20 mins Bake time: 45 mins Total time: 65 mins

Ingredients:

  • 2/3 cup (100g) raisins
  • 1 1/2 cups (350ml) orange juice
  • 2 cups (300g) plain flour
  • 1/2 cup (100g) white sugar
  • 1/4 cup (50g) brown sugar
  • pinch of salt
  • 1 cup butter (chilled)
  • 2lbs (1kg) firm apples
  • 1 tablepsoon custard powder
  • 3 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 teaspoon all spice

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Now to make this Dutch approved apple pie

1. In a saucepan, combine the raisins and orange juice and bring to the boil and allow to boil until the liquid has evaporated, this will take 3-5 minutes. Set to the side.

2. In a large bowl combine the flour, sugars and a pinch of salt. Cut in the butter, in chunks and using a pastry knife (or two knives), cut in the butter until it resembles course bread crumbs, add in the all spice and 1 teaspoon of cinnamon and then knead until a firm ball is formed. Alternatively use a food processor (sadly mine was out of action and I did it all by hand which took 5-10 mins).

3. Grease a large 10in pan or a muffin pan with butter. Press the dough 2/3 up your pan.  You should have approximately 1/4 of your dough left. Refrigerate the pan and remaining dough.

4. Preheat the oven to 375F/175C.

5. Peel, core and slice the apples. For mini pies I chopped up the applies so they would cook more quickly. Put them in a bowl and combine with the raisins, custard powder, 2 teaspoons of cinnamon and 2 tablespoons of sugar.

6. Take your pan out of the refrigerator and arrange the apple filling over the dough. I tend to just throw it in and then flatten it with my hand. Try to push any raisins down, as they can burn. Take the remaining dough and crumble it over the top, alternatively you can roll it out and create strips over the top of the pies.

7. Bake for 45 minutes (for individual pies 30 minutes) or until golden brown. Allow to cool in the pan for 15 minutes and allow to cool on a wire rack for mini pies. For mini apple pies, run a knife around the edge of the pan to aid removal from the pan. Keep refrigerated and consume within 3 days.

 

This pie is equally tasty no matter in its large or in a mini version. This is a great recipe if you want to impress friends, treat yourself, or add something special to brunch.

*Note for those who are unable to get Birds Custard Powder, use Jell-O French Vanilla Instant Pudding Mix instead and add in 2 tablespoons of the powdered mix.

Remember to share with friends (or colleagues) and enjoy! 🙂

The ultimate 6 hour pasta sauce

I am one of these unfortunate people who is unable to cook for less than 4-6 people, ever. I almost find it impossible to cook for one or two, I always start out with the best of intentions and then have enough food for 4-6 people. This is ultimately what I love about this recipe, it makes enough to feed 10-12 people, which means I freeze it and multiple dinners are sorted. Being a southerner means I like things that go low and slow and this recipe ticks the box, you cook it low and slow for 6 hours and allow the flavours to develop. Ive been making this recipe for years and its great on cold evenings when you want something hearty and flavourful to beat the cold or a Dutch summers evening when you’re wondering how its cold and yet almost July.

Doing some research for this post, I came across the following definitions for sauces.

  • A marinara sauce is a simple tomato based sauce with no meat.
  • Bolognese sauce is a meat-based sauce originating from Bologna, Italy.
  • Pasta sauce is any sauce that is put on pasta.

I think this recipe/sauce falls under the category of Bolognese but isn’t made in the traditional way.

My nana recently asked for this recipe and my response was ‘Throw stuff in a pan and let simmer for 6 hours’, needless to say this wasn’t the response she wanted. It encouraged me to put create a proper recipe for something thats been in my head for years.

The ultimate 6 hour pasta sauce

Makes: 8-12 portions Prep time: 20-30 mins Cook time: 5-6 hours Total time: 6 hrs 30 mins

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Ingredients:

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1lb/500g minced beef
  • 8 small carrots
  • 3 bell peppers (I used red, yellow and green, use different colours as it gives better presentation)
  • 1 large onion
  • 250g/.5lb button mushrooms
  • 250g/.5lb cherry tomatoes
  • 1 X 400g/14oz tin of chopped tomatoes
  • 1 X 68g/2.3oz tin of tomato puree
  • 1 X 500g/17.6oz box of Passata
  • 3 tablespoons tomato ketchup
  • 2 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 2 beef bouillon cubes
  • 1 tiny bottle 250ml/1cup red wine
  • 1-2 tablespoons pureed garlic
  • 3 tablespoons mixed herbs/italian seasoning
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Now to make this utterly amazing low and slow sauce:

1. Grate your carrots and chop the rest of your vegetables. The great part of this recipe is if there is another vegetable that you love or have excess of, throw it into this recipe. Ive also used leek and zucchini and they tasted great.

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2. In a very large sauce pan, add in your oil olive, grated garlic and chopped onion, sauté until soft, approximately 3-5 minutes.

3. Once your garlic and onions have softened, add in the minced beef and cook until browned, breaking up the beef. Once it has browned, remove all of the excess liquid and fat, I used a strainer (bad photo) but you want to get rid of moisture element.

4. Return the beef, onion and garlic mixture back to the pan and turn the pan on high for approximately a minute.  You will hear it sizzling, this is a good thing. Now add in your wine, this will deglaze the pan, taking all the flavour from the bottom of the pan and putting it in the mixture, stir thoroughly.

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5. Now to start adding in all the stuff that makes it a sauce. Add in tinned tomatoes, passata, tomato puree and herbs, stir well. Add in the tomato ketchup and brown sugar. The brown sugar helps to take away from the acidity of the tomatoes.

6. Now to add in the vegetables, quite literally just chuck them all in and stir.

7. Mix your 2 beef bouillon cubes with 2 cup of boiling water and stir until the cubes have dissolved. Pour this mixture into the sauce, this should basically now fill your pot. (This is the excitement on my face of realising its only 6 hours to go and then the sauce will be done!)

8. Bring your sauce to a rolling boil and then turn it down and allow it to very slowly simmer for 6 hours, stirring it every 30-60 mins. You will see it slowly reducing and I guess its more than half a pan full when its done. It will be between 1/2 to 2/3 of the pan when its simmered down, you want a really thick sauce with not much liquid, you dont want it runny basically. Taste it at this stage (making sure you dont burn your tongue) and add salt and pepper to taste. (Im not going to lie, I was running short on time and only did this one for 5 hours but honestly I could tell a difference, there was a lot of liquid on the plate when I dished it up and it really needed that extra hour)

This can be served with any pasta that you like or just with bread, to dip the bread in (Im also a big fan of this). It freezes really well, allow it to defrost 24 hours before reheating.

Yes, it takes a LOT of time initially, however, it tastes really delicious, your house smells really amazing and makes enough so that you dont have to make it regularly.

Edits: If you dont like wine or chose not to cook with wine, replace the wine with beef stock or beef bouillon. Honestly, the wine gives it a richness that cant be replaced. I hate wine, I dont drink it (it gives me bad headaches almost instantly) but I absolutely would not leave it out of this recipe, thats what a taste difference it makes.  You can also it more tomato rich by doubling the puree, passata and tinned tomatoes if you like, then half the beef bouillon that you use.

Remember to eat on a cold evening to warm yourself up and enjoy! 🙂 

 

Banana Bread

I really love cookbooks, I have two types, the first being the cookbooks that seemed like a good idea at the time to buy but when Im looking for inspiration I never find anything I want to make but they look pretty. The second type is the cook book that I go back to over and over and over again.

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I have one recipe thats absolutely covered in butter, pureed things, possibly egg and everything else in between thats called for in the recipe, which shows how much I adore this recipe and cook book. This is my go to banana bread recipe, which have proven a hit time and again. In the UK its called banana cake, cake it is not but in the US and to me it will always be banana bread. I made it this weekend for my colleagues and all 16 pieces went ridiculously quickly and I didn’t even get a piece! You could even say they went bananas for it (pun completely intended). Several colleagues have now asked for the recipe or rather my version of the recipe, Im really great at taking a base recipe and changing it to suit my taste.

This cake tastes better if you let it sit for 2-3 days, as the flavour develops. It will be very hard to resist temptation, so go on and have a piece but honestly you will be able to taste the difference over the days.

Banana Bread

Makes: 16 small to medium portions   Prep time: 10 mins Bake time: 45-60 mins Total time: 70 mins tops

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup (200g) sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 2/3 cup (150g) margarine or butter (butter is always better!)
  • 4 teaspoons buttermilk
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 2-4 teaspoons cinnamon
  • 1/4 cup (50g) brown sugar
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla flavouring
  • 1 cup mashed over ripe bananas (which is 3 medium sized bananas and you REALLY want them over ripe)
  • 1 1/2 C (192g) self raising flour

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Now to make this truly amazingly yummy bread

  1. Preheat the over to 350F/180C, grease with butter or line a pan with greaseproof paper. (I used a 10in square silicone pan)
  2. Mash your bananas, I always start off with a fork and then move to a food mixer. Having overly ripe bananas makes this much easier to do with a fork. Once your banana is mashed, add in the cinnamon. Set aside. As you can see from my ingredients photo, I had 2 super ripe bananas but I was short a banana and used a not so ripe one to make up the ingredients.

3. Combine the eggs and margarine and mix until combined. Add in the sugars and bananas (I then added in more cinnamon).

4. Add in half your flour and baking soda, mix until just combined, then add in the buttermilk and mix. Add in the remaining flour until just combined.

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5. Bake in a greased/lined pan for up to 1 hour, check it with a toothpick that comes out clean. I made a large banana bread for the office and then a small one for a friend who has never had it before (2 birds, 1 stone). The large bread took 45 mins and the small one like 20 mins.

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6. Allow to cool on a wire rack and store in a air tight container for up to 5 days. Seriously remember to allow the bread to sit for a few days for the flavour to develop, its so worth it!

 

Edits: You can add nuts to this, I would go with pecans personally but walnuts also work (I just find them bitter). If you do not have buttermilk, you can make your own, use 3 teaspoons of milk and add in 1 teaspoon of vinegar or lemon juice and allow to sit for 5 minutes.

Remember to share with friends (or colleagues) and enjoy! 🙂

Gluten Free Rum Raisin Carrot Cake

I recently discovered I am married to my job, Ive been doing crazy hours and I have actively started getting into my office for 6:20 each morning. Sometimes you have a realisation and realise its not for fun or giggles and that if I want to be married, it shouldn’t be to the corporate world.  However, this also means that my time is taken up working and not blogging, although I still make time to bake for work each week.

Someone recently asked me why I dont take ‘pretty pictures’ of the food that I make, I laughed. I replied,’ for the same reason that I dont take pretty selfies, I know Im pretty and more importantly I know that my food tastes amazing.’ Theres nothing worse than seeing pretty food and tasting it and it having no flavour or substance. So you get less than pretty pictures and tutorials of food that is tried, tested and tasted and approved not only by me but also by my colleagues who are my guinea pigs or as they tell me in Dutch ‘proefkonijns’, which literally translate into ‘experiment bunnies’. This is what I love about the Dutch language, it doesn’t translate literally very well.

One of my favourite spirits in Rum, we are really good friends (probably too good) and what I like about Rum most is that it doesn’t give me hangovers (for the win!). When I came across this recipe, I knew I wanted to try it and improve it.  There is no rum taste in the cake, as its all cooked out, which actually felt like a let down and honestly I think Id make it alcohol free next time (and just drink the rum instead) and substitute orange juice instead for a more citrus taste.

Gluten Free Rum Raisin Carrot Cake

Makes: 16-20 portions   Prep time: 20-30 mins Bake time: 30-60 mins Total time: 90 mins

Ingredients:

  • 3 tbsp pine nuts
  • 2 (200-250g) medium carrots
  • 1/3C (75g) raisins
  • 1/4 C (60ml) rum (or use orange juice)
  • 3/4C (150g) caster sugar
  • 1/2C (125ml) regular olive oil
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 3 eggs
  • 2 C (250g) ground almonds
  • 2 tsps ground cinnamon
  • ½ tsp ground nutmeg, or to taste
  • ½ lemon, finely grated zest and juice (optional – I left it out, mostly because I didnt have a lemon on hand)

Now to make this yummy gluten free cake:

1. Preheat the oven to 180C/350F. Line the base of a 9in round springform cake tin with re-usable non-stick silicone liner or baking parchment and grease the sides with olive oil. I used a silicone pan and made my own life easier 🙂

2. Toast the pine nuts by browning them in a dry frying pan, watch them to ensure that they do not burn. This will take approximately 3-5 minutes. Set aside. (clearly I did a lot more than the 3 tbsps as I was roasting for multiple recipes)

3. Grate the carrots with a coarse grater (sadly my processor is broken but if you have one, use it), then sit them on a double layer of kitchen paper and wrap them kind of wringing them out to soak up excess liquid. Set aside.

4. Place the raisins in a small saucepan with the rum, bring to the boil, then turn down and simmer for 3 minutes.

5. Whisk the sugar and oil until creamily and airily mixed. Add in the vanilla extract and eggs, whisking well, fold in the ground almonds, nutmeg, grated carrots, raisins (with any rum that clings to them) and the lemon zest and juice (which I left out).

6. Pour the mixture into the prepared cake pan and smooth the surface. Sprinkle the toasted pine nuts over the cake (I also threw on some chopped pecans because I had them and well, why not?) and bake it for 30–40 minutes, or until the top is risen and golden and a skewer inserted into the centre comes out sticky but more or less clean.

7. Turn out on a wire rack and allow to cool completely. Cut into slices, store in a air tight container and ideally should be consumed within three (3) days.

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I have to say that I was pleasantly surprised with this cake. Normally almond meal can be a bit grainy in texture but it wasn’t as bad as I had anticipated. My colleagues really enjoyed it, even though it didnt taste of rum.

Remember to share with friends (or colleagues) and enjoy! 🙂

Chocolate Pine Nut Tart

I was recently made an honorary Dutch citizen, sounds exciting, right? Yeah, this means I was hit by a car whilst on my bike (if it weren’t for bad luck, I’d literally have no luck at all). Luckily it wasn’t my fault even though the car driver really wanted me to think that it was (insert several expletives) but it most certainly bruised my ego more than my legs (which were most certainly 50 shades of bruising). Im very lucky that I wasn’t seriously hurt, my legs were covered in bruises and I broke a nail (which upset me more than the bruising). I naturally heal slowly, so being covered in bruises whilst the weather has been nice has added insult to injury, all I really wanted to do is get out my lovely bronzed legs and show them off and three weeks later I was still in black tights. Ive now shed the tights, with a bit of bruising to show my roadkill survival.

One of my colleagues brought me a load of pine nuts on the basis ‘you bake, make something sweet with these’! Awesome… was not the first thought that I had. Ive never worked with pine nuts and was slightly clueless, however, this did not deter me. I have the ultimate sweet tooth and love a challenge to make new sweet things.

My Pinterest search began and I came across this awesome recipe, Chocolate Tart with Pine Nuts and decided to jazz it up and make it more to my taste.  Heres the step by step tutorial on how to make this rich chocolate tart, which was enjoyed by many colleagues. They seriously love the fact that every Monday I bring in something different, new and something that most of them have never tried.

Chocolate Pine Nut Tart

Makes: 8-12 portions   Prep time: 3.5 hours Bake time: 25 mins Total time: 4 hours approx

Crust ingredients:

  • 1 cup (128g) all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup (43g) unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 cup (100g) ground almonds
  • 1/2 cup (67g) ground toasted pine nuts
  • 1/4 cup (35g) toasted pine nuts
  • 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1 cup (225g) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 3/4 cup (150g) granulated sugar
  • 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon dried instant espresso grounds

Chocolate filling ingredients:

  • 6 ounces (150g) dark chocolate
  • 4 large eggs
  • 1/3 cup (40g) granulated sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • Pinch sea salt 
  • 1 shot espresso

Now to make this very nice and delicious tart:

For the crust:

1. Grind the pine nuts down, I found that they went into a paste, which was unexpected but understandable (and made a bloody awful mess in my coffee grinder). I would suggest maybe using a pestle and mortar to grind the pine nuts down.

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2. In a bowl, beat the butter and sugar on medium speed until fluffy. Add in the flour, cocoa, ground almonds, pine nuts (ground and whole), dried espresso and sea salt, mix at low speed until combined.

3. Roll the dough between sheets of parchment (greaseproof) paper to about 1/8-inch thickness. Refrigerate for a minimum of2 hours or overnight.

4. Once your dough has chilled, preheat the oven to 350°F (180° C). Coat a 10-inch tart or springform pan with a removable bottom with butter or line a springform pan with greaseproof paper (like I did).

5. Carefully press the dough onto the bottom and sides of the pan (not going to lie, this was beyond tricky and difficult for me). Bake for 15 minutes (I let mine go for 25 mins because it just didnt look ‘done), until firm to the touch. Be prepared – the crust will slouch/fall down the edge of the pan a little as it bakes. Remove from the oven and allow to cool whilst making your chocolate filling.

For the chocolate filling

6. Melt the chocolate slowly over a bain marie (double boiler). Remove from the heat and let it cool slightly.

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7. Using an electric mixer (or kitchen mixer) whip the eggs and sugar on high speed until very pale and thick, about 5 minutes. Add in the vanilla, espresso shot and sea salt. Gently fold a third of the egg mixture into the chocolate just until incorporated to lighten the mixture, then gently fold in the remaining egg mixture.

8. Immediately pour the filling over the cooled crust and bake for 20 to 25 minutes, until puffed and set. A skewer or toothpick stuck into the center of the tart should show some crumbs but not a runny filling. Let cool before slicing into wedges.

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9. Refrigerate any cake that you do not eat and consume within 3 days, if it lasts that long!

 

Verdict: Im not going to lie, it was a LOT of effort that took hours to make and the taste was like a very rich brownie. You cant taste the coffee, as it just enhances the chocolate flavour, which is amazing. Part of me was like, ‘seriously, its just easier to make brownies’ but my colleagues were very impressed and asked for the recipe. I get the feeling once they realise how much effort it takes, they will be less keen to make it. Having said that, it did make an absolutely awesome Monday treat in the office.

Remember to share with friends (or colleagues) and enjoy! 🙂

Bath soak for dry or sunburnt skin

I was recently over excited by the prospect of sun and happily sizzled and fried to the point of no return and am now suffering the after effects, as I basically do every year. Normally I’m in Spain and just buy diaper rash cream (true story) and suffer it out. This time, I’ve decided to take a more holistic approach. I recently made a body butter for sunburns, whilst it has helped, it didn’t reverse my stupidity entirely. Some lessons you have to learn the hard way, even if it means learning the same lesson every year and somehow seem to unlearn it over the next 10-12 months.

I am trying a serious variety of DIY sunburn stupidity fixers, I opted to try a oatmeal soak bath. I’m really not into baths, at all. Its one of the key signs that I’m sick actually, it’s the twice a year phenomenon when I say ‘I want to take a bath’ and that’s it, showers otherwise for me. I just hate the idea of sitting in your own muck, eugh, it doesn’t agree with my germ OCD. Clearly it means I’m sick enough that I don’t care. 

So when all else fails, aloe vera and body butters aren’t providing the instant healthy brown glow (I live in a fantasy world of false hope), I decided to go for a bath, because I mean I’m already every shade of red and in pain, chances of a bath killing me are slim and I can shower afterwards = win win.

DIY Bath soak for dry or sunburnt skin

Makes: 4 – 1/2C portions Prep time: 10 mins

  • 1 C (125g) Dried whole milk
  • 1/4 C (45g) Baking soda
  • 1/4 C (25g) Ground oats
  • 5 tea bags of 100% Chamomile tea
  • 1 teaspoon (5mg) of sweet almond oil
  • 3 drops of Lavender essential oil
  • 3 drops of Tea Tree essential oil

Now to make this happy healthy skin bath soak:

1. Using a coffee grinder (I have one specifically for my DIY body stuff), open your Chamomile tea bags and pour them into the grinder. Grind it down until it no longer breaks down the Chamomile, I found it ground about half the mixture and the rest were still whole size. Add in your oats to the ground Chamomile and grind until a fine powder.

 

2. Next take your essential oils and mix them in with your sweet almond oil. Once this is stirred together, pour it into your baking soda and mix it well, you are rubbing the oils into the soda to give an even mixture. I would suggest you do this in a separate bowl, I did it in a tiny bowl and made a horrific mess.

3. It was at this stage that I realised my tiny container wasn’t going to be anywhere big enough to hold the mixture (which is over 2 cups). I transferred the mixture to a Tupperware container that would allow me to properly mix and then added in the milk powder. I then put the lid on the container and shook it until it was completely mixed.

4. To use, add 1/2 cup of the oatmeal milk mixture to warm water and stir to dissolve. This will give you murky water. Soak in the bath for a minimum of 30 minutes to get the benefits of this mixture. You will need to rinse yourself and the bath off after the soak, as you will have bits of oatmeal and chamomile on you and can you can see, the bath gets  covered too.

 

My skin did feel better after this soak, however, this wasn’t quite the sunburn remedy that I had hoped it would be. I think when you’re red, in pain and utterly impatient in general, you hope for miracle cures and sadly this wasn’t one of them. I absolutely believe there are benefits to this bath soak, its just not a instant remedy for sunburn.  I think this is probably more of a winter dry skin soak, to help beat winter dryness and I would recommend it for that.

Facts that make this soak great:

  • Dried milk provides moisturising and softening benefits for skin
  • Both oatmeal and baking soda reduce inflammation and soothe the skin
  • Chamomile and tea tree essential oils are anti-inflammatory, anti-fungal, and antibacterial.

I’d like to add that I’ve now also tried a bath with apple cider vinegar, not going to lie, it smelt horrific, it did sting and another remedy that didn’t quite live up to the internet speculation of sunburn cure.

Day 3, Im slowly starting to turn a shade of brown but still very much so have red painful to touch areas. Sadly my face has also started to peel, urgh. Im going to carry on with my regime of lotions, potions and soaks but I think the answer is… time. The body needs to adjust and heal naturally.

I feel like over the last 3 days Ive debunked a number of internet ‘answers’ to sunburn, none of which provide an instant cure, sadly.