A Dutch apple tart story

This story is about the comforting smell of cinnamon and the nostalgia that comes with apples baked in pastry. This collection of ingredients is symbolic in more than one part of the world for pure happiness.  Just like the warmth of a burning hearth and the simple joys of a steaming mug of tea, the apple tart is an emotional aphrodisiac.

As a regular traveler between Europe and North America, I have studied the similarities and differences between the American apple pie and the Dutch “appeltaart”  for some time. Just how food traditions weave themselves into cultural rituals fascinates me. This fact will  hopefully both explain and excuse the length of the following narrative that eventually does lead to one of my favorite (and most tested) recipes described in detail at the bottom of the page!

So without further ado, this is what I have to say about the Dutch appeltaart and the goodness of home baking. Continue reading

First harvest apple and oat honey crunch

I drag my feet at every change of season. As the long lovely days of sunlight clearly slip away into October, I dig my heels into every Indian summer moment until the arrival of first harvest apples. The entrance of countless sorts of just-picked varieties of this cheerful fruit, neatly organized in bushels and crates at farmers market stalls everywhere simply win me over. Before I know it, autumn feels like my favorite time of the year and I find myself experimenting in the kitchen with colorfully crunchy apples from countryside orchards spread across the low lands of the Netherlands.  Continue reading

Buttermilk and red currant pancakes

When I was growing up on rare occasions my mother would make pancakes for dinner. This was an incredible treat and felt like being on vacation in the middle of the week. Although she made different sorts — including potato pancakes which I will write about another time — my favorites were made with buttermilk. This particular kind of pancake was referred to as “Finnish”; although that name referred to our family heritage, at the time it sounded as luxurious as having breakfast for dinner actually was. Many years later, my mother’s recipe is alive and well as part of my comfort food collection.   Continue reading

Pickled butter beans and marinated mackerel

 

I know that pickled beans might sound a bit strange and most probably not as addictively appetizing as they are in real life. I am convinced that this is the fault of some minor misconceptions. First of all, the process of marinating in vinegar is called “pickling” in English. This word naturally evokes sour thoughts of all sorts,  without doing justice to the wonderful flavor transformation that takes place when vegetables (and beans of course) are bathed in something refreshingly tart like vinegar. Secondly, beans have a bad reputation mostly because when prepared without passion they can be decidedly uninteresting.  Combine both of these words in the English language, and one runs the risk of promoting an unappealing pair on the plate.

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Summer spaghetti frittata

There’s something about spaghetti for breakfast – or eating the crusts of homemade pizza in the morning for that matter –  that remind me of countless carefree summer days living along the coast of Naples. When I was younger, my mother’s best friend and everyday espresso partner taught her how to make use of leftover spaghetti by baking a simple frittata. The following recipe is the perfect example of how southern Italians make something delicious out of a handful of seemingly unimportant surplus ingredients.

Once baked this dish packs well as picnic food.  Served cold – wrapped in parchment paper –  with a ripe red tomato washed in the salty ocean – is how I remember this rustic Neapolitan frittata at its very best.

Served straight from the oven sprinkled with salt flakes – it makes for a wonderfully simple lunch –  even without a view of the Mediterranean.

The crunchy brown curls of the baked spaghetti are the best part by the way . . .

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Rhubarb stalks and rose petals

I never would have imagined that I would grow to love rhubarb but the appearance of bunches of this bright reddish pink stalk at the market every spring have gradually won me over.  I started experimenting with this astringent vegetable a few warm summers ago and I don’t think I am finished understanding its qualities yet. At the moment refreshing drinks with rhubarb are my solution to the summer heat.

Both of the recipes written below involve clean clear water with the simple addition of fresh mint on the one hand and rose petals on the other. It has taken me a while to decide which one is my favorite and then I realized there is no need to choose. . . Continue reading

The makings of migas

I traveled across continents from idyllic Italy straight into the heat of Texas oh so long ago to follow my studies in philosophy. Needless to say this move was a culture shock of massive proportions. One of the things that kept me focused was my fascination for people and for what defines them — despite and absolutely because of cultural differences I might add.

In the midst of a head-spinning number of years at university, I made friends with a couple of true-blue Texans who took me under their wing and showed me the good things in life in this laid-back part of the world. It was at their home that I learned how to cook migas — a Tex-Mex “breakfast-for-lunch” dish filled with savory ingredients as easy to prepare as making a piece of toast.

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Oven-roasted rhubarb flat breads with smashed blueberry yogurt

I look forward to Sunday morning all week-long. Practically speaking it is the only day of the week I start with absolute and glorious silence. After drinking a caffé-latte in a big white bowl I go about my entire day walking barefoot through the house. Wearing no shoes symbolizes the simple satisfaction that goes with having no obligations on a day with no definitions.

While catching up on my reading and writing, I cook ahead for the jam-packed days that follow. Breakfast is served just around lunchtime. Generally the first meal of the day is savory but lately I have focused on spring and the fruits that it has to offer.

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Sweet potato cakes

I learned how to make things stick a long time ago. Although mathematics are not my strong point, I know from experience that any combination  of ingredients requires the right proportions in order to work.  Whether making fresh pasta, gnocchi or polpette — the Italian name for an edible ball of goodness — it’s all about texture.

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A salad of orange . fennel and pale pink langoustines

I have no explanation for how the weeks and months have flown by so quickly that the last time I wrote in my collection of recipes was more than a season ago. In the meanwhile I have been caught up in the pragmatic whirlwind that goes with cooking for a living. A professional kitchen is not unlike an average household; it just has a tighter and more demanding time schedule with less opportunity for flexibility.

When I am overwhelmed with the straightforward line of thinking that goes with my work, the rational can actually overshadow the creative — and when that happens for too long I become decidedly restless. In order to stay down to earth I need the fuel that dreams are made of. . . .

As the necessities of the last work day of the week fade into the freedom of weekend, the peace of mind I need to tell food stories is slowly settling in.

What better way to move from one state of mind to the other than to write about a combination of ingredients as simple and rustic as the Sicilian countryside ? I am referring to the salad recipe below, made from the licorice-like fennel bulb, mixed with the sweet and sour beauty of the blood orange.  I discovered this combination of flavors deep in the winter while wandering through Rome — but this tradition is most definitely Sicilian-grown.

Before fennel and oranges disappear from local market stalls for another year, I hope you will be inspired to make this crunchy-sweet-and-savory mix of colors and textures.

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