Chocolate Espresso Biscotti

I adore coffee, there are few smells that make me as happy as the smell of coffee. I can understand why people have coffee addictions (myself included) and how the aroma truly makes or breaks ones morning. Luckily, I now live in a country that is equally passionate about coffee, good coffee. When I came across this recipe, I knew it was for me. Biscotti is a twice baked Italian cookie, normally Im very American when it comes to cookies, the softer the better. However, I am prepared to sacrifice my soft cookie preference for a good biscotti.

I’ve started sending home baked treats with my colleagues to give to their partners, sharing is caring and honestly I think its cute and very undutch. One of the partners was so impressed with this ‘cookie’, that he emailed me to thank me and sent me the link to the Dutch version of the Bake Off. Whilst I was flattered, I politely declined. Its always nice when individuals appreciate your baking and being entirely honest, I even impressed myself with this baked treat!

Chocolate Espresso Biscotti

Makes: 30ish 1 inch cookies  Prep time: 10 mins  Cook time: 2 X 30 mins  Total time: 80+ mins

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Required Ingredients:

  • 2 cups (256g) plain flour
  • ½ cup (50g) cocoa powder
  • 2 teaspoons instant espresso powder
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1.5 cup (230g) dark chocolate chopped 
  • 1/2 cup (113g) butter, room temperature
  • 1 cup (200g) granulated sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 cup chocolate coffee beans (or a chocolate covered coffee bean works) with 30ish reserved to decorate with
  • 1/2 cup (100g) white chocolate

Now how to make these delightful espresso twice baked cookies:

1. Pre-heat oven to 300 F (150C), line two baking sheets with greaseproof/parchment paper.
2. In the bowl of your food processor, combine the flour, cocoa powder, espresso powder, salt, baking powder, and 3/4 cup of chopped dark chocolate. Pulse until the chocolate is ground into the flour mixture, set aside.
3. In the bowl, cream the butter and then add in the sugar, mixing until creamed together. Add in the eggs and vanilla, mix until combined.
4. Now stir in the chocolate flour mixture just until combined, use a wooden spoon to ensure that you did not over it. I left quite a bit of flour around the sides, knowing that I still had the chocolate and expresso beans to mix in. Stir in the remaining 3/4 chopped dark chocolate and chocolate espresso beans.
5. On the parchment/greaseproof paper,  divide the dough in half and form two logs, leaving at least a 4 inch gap, be warned, they will spread whilst baking! Shape your logs so that they are smooth, even and vaguely the same shape/size.
6. Bake for 30 minutes, the logs should be firm but not hard. Allow them to cool for at least 15/25 minutes before moving them to a wire rack. I was overly keen and managed to crack mine in half in trying to move it too soon. I left mine to cool for about an hour, as the crack put me off.
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7. On a cutting board using a serrated knife, cut slices of ½-1 inches (if the slices are overly crumbly, allow the loaf cool a little longer, they will be somewhat crumby). Lay the the slices back on the parchment/greaseproof paper and bake for 30 minutes until the surface of the cookies is dry ( though the chocolate and chocolate espresso beans will be melty).

8. Melt your white chocolate (I was being lazy and opted for the microwave at 30 second blasts until melted) and using a piping bag or freezer bag with the corner cut off, drizzle the white chocolate over your cookies. I then decorated them with chocolate espresso beans I put to the side.
9. Allow the chocolate to ‘harden’ and store in an airtight container.

 

Remember to share with friends and enjoy!

 

Going Dutch – Dating in the Netherlands

I am single and have been single for many years, I decided to dip my toe into the Dutch dating pool. This has been unique in many ways and most certainly a learning curve.

Here are the opinions from people around me on my single status and dating:

My mother:

  • ‘I’m ready for you to have a boyfriend, honestly, I was ready years ago for you to have a boyfriend. I’ve accepted that you are a crazy cat lady and wont give me grandchildren but at least give me someone else I can write about in the Christmas card.’

My friends:

  • ‘It could be that your standards are too high, have you considered having no standards?’
  • ‘I have no idea why you put so much effort into your personal appearance when you’re single, seems a waste to me.’
  • ‘For a lady whose had a complete stranger confess his love for her, I have no idea how or why you’re single’.
  • ‘For my own sake, I hope that you don’t find a boyfriend because listening to your dating stories leaves me in fits laughter to the point of tears. Hearing your experiences are always the highlight my week when I speak to you’.

My  colleagues

  • ‘Dutch men like a challenge, I’m surprised you’re single.’
  • ‘We’ve been asking around the office for you to see whose single and we’ve been putting out feelers for you.’ – I choked on my coffee when I heard this and then had to explain the, ‘you don’t sh!t where you eat’ theory. They laughed at this and assured me they are still on the look out, much to my horror.

My approach to dating

I recently watched on the Netflix Iliza Shlesinger – War Paint. This is hilarious on many levels and really explains the female approach to dating perfectly. I think that single men would benefit from watching this, just to have little bit more of helping hand with setting their own dating expectations. 

My approach is probably described as a guys/male mentality to dating. Im really relaxed, I absolutely don’t rush anything, I refuse to ever make the first move (unmale like, I know) on all levels and Im fiercely independent. I’m quite happy not to message a guy for days at a time. Guys need to chase me. I’m married to my job, I work long hours and am at my desk by 06:20 most mornings. I friendzone everyone as a starting point. If I like someone, I try my absolute best to put them off. I divulge and exaggerate my faults and if they hang around, they are probably worth a chance. I think if someone can accept my faults, they will be pleasantly surprised with my strengths. I know I’m a catch with a fantastic sense of humour and a fun imagination but I’m absolutely going to make the guy work for it (which I’m very honest about). It’s setting expectations from the beginning, there will always be elements of me that are awkward and difficult.

I thought I was really hard work and high maintenance before dating in the Netherlands, just look at the above. My experiences with Dutch women are that they like to be in utter control of every aspect of their relationships and their boyfriends lives. They expect guys to constantly text them, speak to their partners in a belittling way and not as equal (this can be regularly seen in any grocery store), manage every aspect of the guys life and are generally onerous. It reminds me of a strict mother with a 3-year-old, ‘you will do this’ and the 3 year old does it but instead it’s with a grown man. Turns out compared to a native woman, I’m super easy, relaxed and no effort at all. You’d think given my new ‘no effort’ status, it would be no problem finding a Dutch boyfriend, er, yeah, not quite. There are a lot of very humourous blogs about expat dating in the Netherlands. Here are a few that I could relate to and made me laugh:

How to Attract Dutch Men – I break 4 of these rules

what’s up with…Dutch men – This is interesting and Id agree on a few points

Five Differences Between British and Dutch Men – Stereotyped but true on many levels

The Netherlands and Dating: 6 things about dating the Dutch – Straight forward and apt

Lessons learnt dating in the Netherlands

Dutch guys: Lets start with the obvious, they are a entire breed of Zebra of their own. Three things that I almost instantly notice about Dutch guys: hair gel, cologne and grey socks. The amount of hair gel Dutch men seem to use, ensures that when light hits their hair, you have to instantly look away not to be permanently blinded by the shine. I also think this is a potential fire hazard but fear for my own safety to ever test this theory. Cologne, I can only imagine that it’s purchased by the litre, as it seems as though they bath in it. Sometimes the cologne is so strong that you need to hold your breath, to stop from gagging on the overwhelming smell. It reminds me of the skunk from Looney Tunes, Pepé Le Pew, who leaves a path of fumes where-ever he goes. Grey socks, like brown shoes, are the choice of the Dutch man. Given how the clothing choices can be less than exciting, I’m always secretly hopeful that they will show some of sort of fun with their socks, so far I am yet to be pleasantly surprised.

Apps: Being a young(ish) person, dating apps seem the way to go. I’ve been on my fair share and still have a semi-active profile. I’ve chatted to and met a number of guys from apps. There seems to be two types of Dutch guys on the apps, those who simply want to chat and will never meet (but fail to tell you this or admit it) and those who will meet you but want to do it instantly before they even know how to pronounce your name or you are able to determine what colour socks they wear. If you can find someone in the middle, well done! What I enjoy about apps are the profiles, the really honest ones that are so straightforward that it’s weird and bordering on cringeworthy. Dont get me wrong, there are hundreds if not thousands of really bad profiles but they’re boring and instantly forgettable, by the time you’ve swiped left, you’ve already forgotten them. I also appreciate honest messages that make you giggle and cringe. Here are two examples, one straightforward cringey profile and another of a message that I received. I did not swipe right on the profile despite its directness and honesty or making me laugh, nor did I respond to the message even though I do smell nice.

Profile     message

Dating: I know I shouldn’t admit this but I enjoy dating, even if it goes off path. Dutch men like to go to the cinema, which seems odd to me, given that there is little opportunity to talk during a film, fine if you’re like on date 3+ but for an initial date, it seems, odd. My preferred date is a place (museum, exhibit, zoo, etc), as it’s a great way to see what levels of commonality that you. If you have nothing in common, at least you have something else to look at, things around you that create conversation and you’re not just stuck looking awkward across the table from someone. I have also had several moments of ‘Dutch directness’ where I literally thought to myself, ‘did he seriously just say that?!?’. These instances covered topics from personal looks and appearance, being a foreigner, speaking the language, to random other things. I’ve found in these situations its best to smile and change the subject quickly, some things are best ignored. Or at least ignored until I chat to my friends about it and we laugh about it, a lot. Luckily I do a good enough job vetting the guys (making them prove they deserve a date) before I meet them that I haven’t had any truly horrific dates, just a couple of quite awkward ones where I politely decline a second date.

Whatsapp : The death of conversations. The dating world is obsessed with Whatsapp, I am less so. Normally within three app messages from a guy, I get ‘add me on Whatsapp, my number is X.’ This is the point where I politely decline. Sadly I have made the mistake several times of adding individuals on the Whap and regretted it pretty quickly. The Whap has taught me that Dutch men get needy pretty quickly, I can only imagine this is as a result of dating Dutch women and the expectation is set that they must text frequently with checkins. As stated above, Im really good at not instantly replying or not sending messages for days at a time. My lack of instant response drives Dutch guys nuts to the point that I get messages that say, ‘I can see you’re online, why aren’t you replying to me?’, ‘I can see you’ve read my message, do you have no response?’ and ‘why aren’t you messaging me?’. These are a of the few examples of messages Ive received, it’s just too needy to me. I could never imagine sending anyone such messages, we’re all adults, we all have lives, we work, nothings on fire, we’re not in a defined relationship, like what’s the rush? The next backward step seems to be that you can have somewhat of a proper conversation over an app and once you move to the Whap, it’s like guys now expect the female to create every conversation and provide one word responses. I think this could relate back Dutch girls dictating how the conversation will go and just seeking acknowledgement of what shes saying rather than a two way conversation. My experience is that Whatsapp is the killer of conversations because of either the expectation that I need constant messaging and I will respond instantly or the guys lack of ability to have a in-depth conversations.

These experiences have made dating in the Netherlands, interesting, unique and different. I think that it helps/hampers that I’m generally happy in my life, I have no interest to change who I am (or how frequently I respond to messages) or to be with someone for the sake of it. I have met and dated some nice guys, blocked a few numbers, made a few friends and even turned down opportunities to have relationships. Since dating in the Netherlands, my own ideas of what I thought I wanted and needed have changed entirely. I’m in the best head space with dating Ive been in years, I’m aware and honest with what I want and what my expectations are. I also believe that if something is meant to be, it will, no matter what the differences are that we might have. I have no doubt that I will continue to have experiences that I will find humourous in the strangest of ways and honestly, I dont mind, as long as Im laughing.

Zucchini Bread

Is it a zucchini or a courgette? Its both, in America, its zucchini, in the rest of the world, its a courgette. No matter what you call it, you’ve probably eatten it as a vegetable in a savoury way. I enjoy challenging the pallet and the mind and baking sweet things with zucchini, from breads to brownies. I thought I’d pass the idea by my Dutch colleagues, of ‘what do you think of zucchini bread?’, I then explained it was sweet with a lot of cinnamon. They thought it was a weird idea but that they were willing to sacrifice themselves as my ‘proefkonijns’ (guinea pigs). Luckily everyone has pleasantly surprised, despite pulling faces that suggested they really didn’t want to try it, (un)fortunately I refuse to leave my colleagues desks until they have taken a piece. I’m never really bothered by if they like what I make or not but I insist that they try it. 

I searched various different recipes and came across different ideas that I was able to combine into one. This is a combination of best zucchini bread with a crumb topping.

Zucchini Bread

Makes: 2 loaves  Prep time: 20 mins Bake time: 45-60 mins Total time: 65+ mins

Ingredients:

For the bread:

  • Butter and flour for preparing baking pans
  • 3 cups (384g) plain flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 3 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp ground ginger
  • 1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
  • 3½ cups (500g) grated zucchini, with the excess liquid removed
  • 3 eggs
  • ½ cup (127g) apple sauce (I used pear butter or you could also use apple butter)
  • ½ cup (118ml) vegetable oil
  • 2¼ cups (450g) granulated sugar
  • 4 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 cup (125g) chopped pecans

For the crumb topping:

  • 1/2 cup (60g) all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup (100g) packed light or dark brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 cup (20g) old fashioned oats
  • 1/4 cup (60g) unsalted butter, melted

Now to make this deliciously sweet bread

1. Grate your zucchini (I used my food processor or rather I realised that my food processor had an attachment, got really excited and then used it) and then using a muslin/cheese cloth or similar cloth and remove/squeeze the excess liquid from the zucchini. Set aside.

2. Make the crumb topping: With a fork, mix the flour, brown sugar, oats, and cinnamon together in a small bowl. Stir in the melted butter. Don’t over-mix; you want crumbles that are flour-y! Set aside.

2. Preheat oven to 350°F (177°C). Butter and flour two loaf pan or line with parchment paper. Set aside.

3. Make the cake: In a large bowl beat the eggs. One the eggs are completely beat, add in the applesauce/pear butter, oil, sugar and vanilla extract.

4. Sift in the flour, salt, baking soda, baking powder and cinnamon. Stir gently to combine. Gently stir in shredded zucchini and nuts into the batter with a spatula or wooden spoon.

5. Pour half of the batter into each prepared pan. Top each loaf with the crumble topping. Bake for 45 to 60 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the centre of the loaf comes out cleanly. If you find that the crumble is burning or looks like its going to burn, cover the loaf pan with aluminium foil.

6. Allow to slightly cool in the pan and remove for cooling on a wire rack. It should be consumed within 3 days.

 

I forgot how much I enjoyed making this recipe years ago and then was reminded that it has autumn flavours in it. Lets be honest, summer is coming to an end and winter is most certainly the way, this is kind of a sweet reminder of whats to come. Sadly my crumble came out drier than I would have liked (I went a bit off piste from the recipe and regretted it before I set the bowl side) but it was still nice and gave the bread a sweet bite.

I absolutely loved that my colleagues kept telling me that every though they could see the green from the zucchini, they couldn’t taste it. Much like pumpkin, zucchini tastes of whatever you season/flavour it with. A few colleagues even took pieces home for their partners to try it. I think it’s funny/great how many husbands I’m now giving Monday treats to!

Remember to share with your friends, family and colleagues 🙂 

Breakfast muffins

I love a muffin! Sweet or savoury, they are filling and can be either a meal or a snack. Muffins aren’t really done here in the Netherlands. You see them occasionally and if you see them, its like super standard (boring) flavours, blueberry or chocolate.

I was thinking of what I could take in to my colleagues that would be filling and healthy, well as healthy as I make anything. I was thinking maybe a carrot cake in a muffin or something similar and came across a recipe for Morning Glory Muffins, naturally I’ve taken it, adjusted it and changed it. Heres my creation, Breakfast Muffins, approved by my Dutch colleagues, who now look forward to Mondays or as they now call it ‘cake day’. I have created Monday monsters, if I fail to bring something in on a Monday, I get looks and ‘What? No cake?!’. I don’t mind but I feel like it goes to show how much I’ve changed my office but I am truly grateful that I am no longer asked if it’s my birthday.

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Breakfast Muffins

Makes: 12 large muffins   Prep time: 30 mins Bake time: 25 mins per batch Total time: 80ish mins

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup (75g) raisins
  • 1/2 cup (120ml) orange juice
  • 2 cups (260g) plain flour
  • 1 tablespoon baking soda
  • 1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ginger
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/3 cup (35g) ground flax (optional)
  • 1/2 cup (64g)  chopped pecans
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1/2 cup (100g) packed dark brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup (85g) honey
  • 1/3 cup (80ml) vegetable or sunflower oil
  • 1/3 cup (60g) pear butter or applesauce
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 cups (260g) shredded carrots (about 4 large)
  • 1 cup (140g) grated apple (I did 2 apples)

Now to make these delicious muffins:

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. Whilst your raisins are plumping up, grate your apples and carrots. I wont lie, this is time consuming and the least exciting part of making this recipe. If I had been clever I would have used the grating attachment on my food processor, needless to say I didn’t even consider this option.

3. Preheat your oven to 425°F (218°C) and line a 12-count muffin pan with cupcake liners.

4. In a medium bowl, whisk the eggs. Add in the brown sugar, honey, oil, pear butter/applesauce and vanilla together until combined.

5. To the wet mixture add in the dry ingredients, flour, baking soda, cinnamon, ginger, salt, flax, and pecans together until just combined. Now add in the raisins, carrots, and apple. Fold everything together gently just until combined and no visible flour remain.

6. Spoon the batter into liners, filling them 3/4 of the way full. Bake for 5 minutes at 425°F  (225°C), keeping the muffins in the oven, reduce the oven temperature to 350°F (177°C). Bake for an additional 18 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. The total time these muffins take in the oven is about 25 minutes. Allow the muffins to cool for 10 minutes in the muffin pan, then transfer to a wire rack to cool until ready to eat.

I doubled the recipe and made 24 delicious cupcakes.

Notes: I used my pear butter because I have it and it added loads of amazing flavour, you can use applesauce but I seriously recommend pear butter for something a bit special.

I hope you enjoy these as much as much as my colleagues did!

Remember to share for with your friends, family or colleagues 🙂

 

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, castles, things that left me in tears with laughter and I’ve equally seen things that were less than impressive. The Stedelijks in Amsterdam is by far my favourite modern art museum and if ever I have 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 are a number 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 are 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 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. 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 (or play hide and seek with them, lesson learnt for me!). Everyone arrives at the office with their homemade sandwiches in a 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.

 

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. 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, taking paracetamol and procrastinating. 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 (but most likely won’t).

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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! 🙂