A wonderful dessert – the end

This is the end! If you really want to get into the right mood whilst you read this, click for some musical accompaniment. With this final recipe, I’m taking us back to the very start of this blog. I started writing all this when I was living in Genova for a year, and I was looking for a fun way to record all the new food I was getting to know there. I’d been thinking about writing something food-based for a while before then, but I never knew how to approach it. Genova changed that.

In one of those early posts, I wrote about a place I sometimes went to eat, da Maria. Such a wonderful place. Nothing too fancy or atmospheric, with bare walls, tube lights, and plain white tiles on the floor. But its casualness is also its charm: daily changing, hand-written and photocopied menus, some dishes crossed out with black marker after they’ve run out (the fish always the first to go, then the stew). The waitresses calling out to ask if you’re ready to order whilst on their way to other tables, never writing down what you want, always just shouting it directly into the kitchen. And most importantly, really good food.

It’s just around the corner from where I used to live, less than a minute’s walk, so the temptation was ever present. As I wrote all those years ago, I usually chose the same thing. Always the trenette al pesto to begin with, followed by whatever was still left by the time I showed up – fish if I was lucky, but usually the veal and aubergine stew or stuffed vegetables.Then I’d always get the only dessert that they had (aside from fruit salad, which doesn’t count): their famous dolce delizioso, or ‘wonderful dessert‘.

And wonderful it is, indeed. It took me a while to figure it out, but the dolce delizioso is actually a variation on tiramisù, with the same cream made with mascarpone and eggs. It is also packed with rum, although it only took me one bite to figure that out. With two wonderful things right there, together in one dessert, you can’t go wrong. Now I may have to admit, I ate off many a hangover at Maria‘s, and sometimes I found the rumminess of the dessert to be a bit much (although of course I always finished it). You can decide for yourself how much booze you want in it. If you’re having this after dinner (as opposed to after lunch which was really breakfast, as in my case), you’ll appreciate the excessive alcohol, no doubt!

So this is it, the end of our goodbye party, and the end of the dictatorship. Thanks so much to everyone who read and commented on the blog over these past five years. I really had fun, I hope you did too. Now go make dessert!


For four, use:

  • 2 egg yolks
  • 1 egg white
  • 200 gr mascarpone
  • 50 gr sugar
  • about two glasses of rum
  • about 20 to 24 lady fingers
  • 2 candied cherries

Separate your eggs, put the two yolks in one bowl and one of the egg whites in another. First beat your egg white until it’s all stiff and it stands up in peaks. Then mix the sugar with the egg yolks and beat that into a smooth cream. Now add the mascarpone and one tablespoon of rum (don’t worry, we’re using more later), mix well. Then add the egg white to the yolks and scoop it all around without breaking the egg white that you’ve just spent so much energy on – fold, don’t stir.


Put some rum in a bowl that’s big enough to put a lady finger in, roll said lady fingers around in the rum for a bit (depending on how rummy you want the dessert to be, quickly dunk them in and take them out, or actually drag them around in the booze for a couple of seconds). Put the lady fingers in a little glass bowl (you won’t believe it but these are the exact type of bowls that Maria served her wonderful dessert in!) until you’ve got one layer of rummy biscuits. Now top the biscuits with the cream. Put the bowls in the fridge for a few hours (at least three, I’d say – the cream needs to settle).

Then, when you serve up, you have to put half a candied cherry on top of each dessert. Why do you have to add candied cherries, which are totally disgusting?

Because Maria adds them, that’s why.

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The end!

Posted in Food, Italian, italian food, sweet, Sweets and desserts | Tagged , , , , , , | 8 Comments

Pollo alla cacciatora, the middle of the end

For the second course of our massive boozy goodbye party, I’ve decided to go for a classic. There’s not much to write about it this time. Normally I’d choose a recipe that had come up in the past week somehow, but this time I actually deliberately looked for a recipe with a bunch of booze in it to fit the theme of the goodbye party dinner, which makes for a brief story.

It would have been fun to go for a recipe with as much booze as I could possibly get in there, you know, see if you can actually get drunk on food. I decided against it on account of those recipes often being a bit on the experimental side. I didn’t want to end on something weird and unknown like pork with rum and pineapple. Instead I wanted to do something that I know already and that I was sure would come out looking appetising. So we’re going for pollo alla cacciatora.

Not to be confused with coq au vin or chicken chasseur, this is a classic from Tuscany and it’s as easy as it is delicious. As usual, when the French put chicken in wine, they go the full fucking monty and add a million other things as well, plus you have to let it soak, rest and simmer for quite a bit. The Italians, as they do, just keep it as simple as they possibly can, which is great because it makes this dish affordable for paupers like me, and it keeps the threshold for actually making it low. It goes with the Holy Trinity of Italian cooking, i.e. celery, carrot and onion (plus, of course, garlic – the Mother Mary of Italian cooking), wine and tomatoes, and that’s basically it. Try some over the weekend!


For 4, use:

  • 1 whole chicken. I couldn’t be bothered with a whole chicken because I don’t have a cleaver. I just got legs. You can get any part of a chicken as long as it has bone.
  • 1 carrot
  • 1 onion
  • 1 leg of celery
  • 1 clove of garlic
  • 5 peeled tomatoes (you can peel them yourself or use the tinned ones, it’s up to you, both work, but if you peel them yourself, do that before anything else)
  • some rosemary (best to use whole sprigs, if you have them – easier to fish out)
  • WINE! As this is a dish from Tuscany, I went for Chianti. Also because it was on sale. A full-bodied red is what you’re after, not too sweet.
  • some salt, pepper, and olive oil

First take care of your chicken. If you bought a whole one, chop it up into workable pieces. If you’re that kind of person, wash it and dry it. Either way prepare it for its delicious olive oil meeting. Heat some olive oil in a large frying pan with heavy bottom or otherwise one of those creuset-like stew pot things. Easy on the oil, the chicken releases quite a lot of fat.

Now you just want to brown it on the outside, which will take about ten minutes (check on the state of the chicken and flip them when necessary!). Just enough time to finely chop your onion, celery and carrot, and to crush your garlic. When the chicken is nice and tanned, chuck in the vegetables. Stir them around and leave them to soften up in the pan for a bit. Five minutes or so, then add the wine (about a glass full), simmer for two minutes on low heat. Then add the tomatoes (roughly chopped), and the rosemary, salt and pepper it up, and again, simmer for two minutes. Now give it a last stir, bring to an easy simmer and leave it by itself, with a lid on top. Check on it occasionally and stir if you have to. If it gets dry (although it shouldn’t and probably won’t) you can add some water or chicken stock.

Now all you really need to do is wait for the chicken to be done – depending on the size of your chicken and in what pieces your chicken is cut, this will take from half an hour to about an hour. Once it’s cooked, if you want to condense the sauce a little bit, leave it for another 10 minutes or so without the lid on, give it a last good stir, taste for salt and pepper, take out the rosemary, and serve up!


Posted in alcohol, chicken, Food, Italian, wine | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Penne alla vodka, the beginning of the end

Hello there. I’ve got something special to tell you. Did you know that next week will be my two hundred and fiftieth blog post? Aye aye, 250 recipes, tried and tested, photographed, coupled to an inane rant, and published here. It’s been five years that I’ve been doing this, pretty long eh? So I thought that it seemed like an opportune moment to call it a day. That’s right. The dictatorship is almost over.

For the small but loyal group of followers I have on this blog, I feel I should explain why I’m calling it quits. You see, five years is a long time to be doing something, and lately I’ve been thinking that maybe it would be nice to try something different. Of course a person can have more than one hobby, but the blog actually takes up quite a lot of time, even though it might not look like it does. (Sometimes, when I tell people I find it hard to keep up with the blog due to lack of time, they say “Ohh, surely not, how much time can it take?” I’m sure they mean it in an encouraging way, but I can’t help but find it a bit insulting.)

Mostly, the blog has been great fun over the past five years. It’s forced me to cook something new or interesting every week. It’s encouraged me to look around for new ideas. It’s allowed me to practice my writing skills in an environment where there’s no grades involved. Mostly, I’d say, it’s been enriching.

At the same time, however, it’s also become a limitation. Everything I eat is now judged on its blog-suitableness. Recipes that I may have wanted to try but that aren’t photogenic have been ignored in favour of their more glamorous-looking counterparts. If a recipe had no chance of making it to the blog, I often felt I could make better use of my time by cooking something else, and that’s been starting to bother me.

This decision hasn’t been easy for me to make. I’ve veered between quitting or continuing, and to be honest, I’m still not one hundred percent convinced. But I feel it’s like all those times I packed up all my shite and moved to another country. At first, you’re sad to leave all your friends and your favourite pub and the life you’ve constructed in your latest home town behind, but then when you arrive somewhere new, you recognise all the new opportunities that are suddenly available to you, which is also great!

Of course it would seem pretty poor to quit just like that, no warning or anything, so that is why I’m announcing this now. Next week is my 250th post, but I’m not one for even numbers, so we’ll do three more recipes, one today, one more next week and the one the week after, and finish on 251 posts. In proper goodbye party style, they’ll all be centred around booze! If you’ve been reading for a while (or if you know me in real life), you must know I’m an enthusiastic drinker, so I’m going to end on a cheerful, tipsy note. Moreover, we’re going to structure it like a proper dinner: a starter, a main, and a dessert.

This week, for our primo piatto, we’ll do penne alla vodka, an American classic, I think. There are various stories as to where, when and why this dish came about. Some of these involve Italians (1960s communist party Russia sympathisers from Bologna is one hypothesis), but I’m not really feeling it. You know what the Italians are like, they’re particular about what they let touch their pasta, so I’m pretty sure it must have been an American who invented this dish.

Penne and vodka seems like a weird kind of recipe, until you realise that it’s really a question of terrible naming: it should really be called “penne with tomato sauce and cream and also we put vodka in as an emulsifier to stop the cream from splitting”. That would have explained it all and I wouldn’t have spent years thinking the old yankees just poured vodka on their dinner.


For four people, use:

  • 400 gr penne
  • one 400 ml tin of chopped tomatoes
  • 150 ml of double cream
  • 4 shots of vodka
  • one dried chili
  • 3 fat cloves of garlic
  • some fresh basil
  • some grated parmesan, plus extra to serve
  • olive oil
  • salt

Get your water boiling with plenty of salt. You know, for later, when you’re ready to boil the pasta.

Chop your dried chili and gently fry it in some olive oil. Peel your garlic and with the ball of your hand, crush them slightly, so that they’re broken, but still more or less in one piece. Throw them in with the chili and fry for a couple of minutes. Add the tomatoes, some salt, some sugar if necessary, turn up the heat, and stirring, reduce the sauce a little bit.

Your water is boiling? Throw in the penne! They’ll probably need about ten minutes (check the bag!) and that’s just how much time you’ll need to finish the sauce.

Turn the heat under the tomatoes down to medium-low. Throw in four shot glasses of vodka, stir well, and leave it like this for at least five minutes. Stir occasionally, and make sure the sauce doesn’t boil, at this point it should just simmer quietly. When the pasta is close to done, add the cream to the sauce. Stir well, and leave to simmer for a couple of minutes.

Drain the pasta when it’s done, then add it to the sauce. Grate in some parmesan and stir in some roughly chopped basil. Mix well, then serve up with some more cheese on top. It’s weird, but nice!


Posted in alcohol, Food, Italian, pasta, Vegetarian | Tagged , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Burani bonjon as a consolation prize

I’ve got a couple of friends who play in a band together, and sometimes, when they perform, I tag along and sell t-shirts for them. It’s great fun, because I get to hang out with them and the other band members, I can see them play for free (they’re good! Check them out!), and usually I’ll manage to scrounge a couple of free beers out of it.

Last weekend I headed over to the east of the country, where they stay, for a gig. On my way there, I sent them a quick text to find out where and what time to meet. “Shall I get you guys at the venue? What time?” They responded: “Yeah, get us at the venue around 7. Next month. You know. When the gig actually is.”

I cannot even say in my defence that this is the first time I do this, that I’m not usually so absent-minded, because I actually did the exact same thing last September, when I showed up for a gig that wasn’t scheduled for another four weeks. Ah well, I got a nice dinner out of it, because they felt a little bit bad for me so they invited me over for some delicious, delicious burani bonjon. They’d actually given me the recipe for this stuff years ago, but I just never really got round to making it before. Turns out to be a total shame, because it was divine, I tell you, fuckin’ divine. So I dug up the recipe and had a go myself – mine needs a bit of fine-tuning, but it was still really good.


For two, use:

  • 2 aubergines
  • 2 green peppers
  • 1 onion
  • 4 tomatoes
  • 300 gr thick yoghurt (like Greek or Turkish style)
  • 4 or 5 cloves of garlic
  • some fresh coriander
  • some fresh mint
  • 1 tsp kurkuma
  • 2 tbsp lemon juice
  • salt and pepper
  • oil, for frying

First of all, slice up your aubergines in fairly thick slices (or even better, slightly varying slices, anywhere between 0.5 and 1 cm). Sprinkle them with salt and put them in a colander for about half an hour.

In the meantime, finely chop the onion. Remove the seeds from the green peppers and chop them finely, too. Fry in some oil (sunflower or rapeseed, but not olive) until the onion is translucent and it starts to smell really good. Take out the mixture and keep it aside for now.

Now fry the slices of aubergine. You might have to to a few batches – just keep the fried aubergines on a plate or something and throw them back in once the last slices are done. When they are, throw back the onion and green pepper. Chop your tomatoes and add them, too. Add a little bit of coriander (but make sure to keep some for later, too!) and the kurkuma. Add a glass of water, put the lid on, and simmer the lot for half an hour or so on medium to low heat.

In the meantime, we’re going to make the yoghurty dressing. Finely chop or crush the garlic. Finely chop some fresh mint and some coriander. Put in a bowl, add the lemon juice, the yoghurt, and enough salt and pepper. Mix well.

Keep an eye on your aubergines – the sauce should come out nice and thick. Stir one last time, taste for salt, add some if you need to, then serve with the yoghurt sauce on top. Traditionally, this dish is served as a sort of pastaless lasagne: a layer of yoghurt, a layer of aubergine, and another layer of yoghurt. I like the presentation as seen in the picture so that everyone can decide for themselves on the yoghurt to aubergine ratio. You decide. Eat with bread, rice, or pitas.


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Bucket list eggs benedict

Sometimes I can be a real Calvinist. Sometimes I do things not because I want to do them, but because I feel I should do them. For instance, that time I struggled through all of Crime and Punishment, and hated most of it, but wouldn’t put it down, just because I felt I ought to have read at least one of the Russians. In the same vain, I sometimes feel I should cook the classic difficult dishes, just to prove that I can. Prove to whom? I don’t know, myself, I guess. The other weekend I made some eggs benedict just to see if I could. It’s meant to be one of those difficult dishes, up there with soufflé and macarons, so I wanted to have a go and, hopefully, tick one more dish off the cooking bucket list.

Why are eggs benedict so difficult? Mostly because the recipe includes making Hollandaise sauce, which is one of those whimsy emulsions that apparently feel like going tits-up most of the time. As a bonus difficulty you have to poach eggs, which I always find slightly tricky to get right. Bonus-bonus difficulty for us, Europeans: none of the recipes agree on what meat actually goes between the egg and the English muffin – some say ham, some say bacon, but then apparently in some parts of Northern America, bacon is called ham. (Tom Green explained it quite well, back when he was still allowed on TV.)

So here’s some beginner’s luck for you: everything went right on my first try. Which is why I will never make this again. The Hollandaise came out nice and creamy, the eggs had a beautiful, runny yolk. The muffins didn’t burn, the bacon was bacony. Sure, it went right once, but that doesn’t mean you can go around tempting fate. On top of that, I’ve got a confession to make: it was good, really – but it wasn’t “30 minutes worth of beating egg yolks in my pyjamas whilst I’m still seeing double” good. I’d order it if I went out for breakfast, definitely. But in my own house, I think I’d sooner just have an extra half hour’s sleeping off my hangover, and settle for a fry up. But here, just in case you guys want to have a go, eggs benedict!


For two breakfast punters, use the following:

For the Hollandaise sauce:

  • 2 egg yolks
  • 125 gr butter
  • 1/2 tsp vinegar
  • some ice water
  • a pinch of salt
  • a squeeze of lemon juice

This will make you more than enough for two people, but I don’t know how to make less.

For the benedict:

  • 2 English muffins
  • a few slices of bacon – enough to cover your English muffins with
  • 4 eggs
  • some pepper (although this is entirely optional and almost certainly unorthodox)

I started with the Hollandaise because the dish stands or falls with that, doesn’t it!

On low, low heat, start melting your butter in a saucepan.

Now set up a bain marie: grab a pot, pan, saucepan, whatever, put in a layer of water. Find a bowl (or as in my case, slightly smaller pan) that will fit in the larger pan without falling into it completely – it should hover over the water, but not touch it.

Heat your water. In the meantime, pop the egg yolks into the pan, add the vinegar and ice water, a pinch of salt, and start beating like a basket case. You want a nice and foamy mixture before you even take it near the bain marie. Is it nice and foamy? OK, put her on the simmering water. Keep beating – in a minute or so it’ll go funny and it’lll start looking like, I don’t know, some kind of thick mayonnaise. That’s good!

When it’s looking pretty thick and creamy, take it off the heat (shouldn’t be more than about 3 minutes, really). Now start whisking in the butter, bit by bit. If it’s still kinda thick when all the butter’s been incorporated into the mixture, add a little bit more ice water. Finishing touch, suqeeze in that little bit of lemon juice. You want to try and keep the sauce warm, so turn down the heat on the bain marie, put the sauce on, and stir every time you possibly can.

Now, cut your muffins in half and toast them. Throw your bacon into a frying pan and leave it to its own devices.

Poach your eggs! Know how to poach eggs? Skip this. If not, grab a pan full of water and bring it to a boil. Add some vinegar, it’s meant to help the eggs poach better or something. A lot of people say you really don’t need to add vinegar, that it doesn’t actually help at all, but I secretly love the taste of it so fuck those people. Now, break one egg, but don’t chuck it in the water straight away, chuck it in your favourite tea cup. Grab yourself a spoon, and start swirling the water in the pan so that you get a tiny little whirlpool in the middle. Take the egg and slowly, gently let it slide in there. Now leave it alone for 2 – 3 minutes. Scoop it out with a skimmer or something, gently shake off a little bit of water and put it on a wee plate until you need it. Repeat with the other eggs.

Assemble! Muffins, bacon, eggs, sauce, freshly ground black pepper.

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The aubergine, my trusty friend in times of need

Semester one of this academic year is over, which means that I just handed in the last of my essays and I can finally take it easy for a bit. Time management is still a problem for me, and instead of working steadily over December and January, I just took off for the Christmas holidays and had to pack two months’ worth of work into January. It wasn’t pretty.

The past few weeks have consisted mostly of a lot of sighing, swearing, despairing. After the fifth day in a row of spending 12 hours in the uni library, all you want to do is get sloshed, but you know you can’t, you know you’ll be in so much trouble if you do, because the next day you’ll be worthless, and you need that day. In fact, you need every hour you can possibly use for writing. So you go home, brush your teeth, and sleep, and you do it all again the next day.

When you’re essentially living in the library, you need to get creative with your food. Writing all these essays makes you hungry, and you can’t just live off cheese sandwiches, you’re feeling crap enough as it is. The aubergine has once more shown itself to be a trusty friend in desperate times. So versatile, so delicious, so comforting. You have to invest about half an hour in grilling it, but then you’ve got yourself a companion for the following few days. Throw it in with your salad, add it to your leftover pasta to give it some extra substance, or just stuff it in a sandwich. Whatever you add it to, an aubergine makes everything better. Even a shitty month spent stressing in the library.


You’ll need:

  • one aubergine
  • plenty of olive oil (no really, plenty)
  • some chilies, dried or fresh,, chopped finely, or alternative some chili flakes
  • salt

That’s just the grilled aubergine, if you want a delicious delicious sandwich like the one pictured above, you should also get:

  • some mozzarella
  • some fresh spinach
  • some fresh basil
  • a tasty roll of your choice
  • salt and pepper

Take off the green hat on the end of your aubergine. Cut the whole thing into very thin slices, lengthways. You can salt them and leave them to drain in a colander, weighted down with a wee plate and some tins of chopped tomatoes, but this will take extra time, so I didn’t do it this last time.

So when I say grill, I actually kind of mean ‘fry’. I don’t have a griddle here and the oven is too small for an enterprise like this one, so I just use a frying pan. If you have a griddle, just brush your slices with olive oil and chuck them in there. If not, put plenty of olive oil in a good frying pan, and start chucking in the slices of aubergine – flip when necessary. When a slice is nice and soft, and looking golden brown on both sides, take it out of the pan and put it on a plate to cool down for a bit. Keep going until all the slices are done.


Now you grab yourself a tupperware or otherwise just a wee dish or whatever (it has to be deep-ish though!), and you put in your first layer of aubergines. Drizzle on a little bit of good, nice olive oil, sprinkle on a little freshly-ground salt (unless you salted them before, in which case they’ll be salty enough), a little bit of chili (flakes), and then layer on the next slices. Keep going until all aubergines are duly oiled, salted and spiced. Then just put them in the fridge and use them up over the week.

As for the sandwich, I trust you guys have made sandwiches before.




Posted in cooking, Food, Vegetarian | Tagged , , , , | 6 Comments

We loved kale before it was cool

For reasons that I cannot imagine, kale somehow became hip in the past few years. Kale, the least appetising-looking, toughest, most indestructible vegetable known to man. I’m sure it was announced somewhere to be full of antioxidants, and suddenly, as these things go, tonnes of people started eating it. Mostly across the Atlantic, at first, although the UK has caught on, and I think you can probably get air-fried kale crisps at your local Tesco now.

The thing is, though, the Dutch have been eating kale for ages. Not in the health-aware, diet kind of way – in the stamppot way. In fact, if you say ‘kale’ in Dutch (‘boerenkool‘, actually), it usually refers to the dish (boerenkoolstamppot), rather than the actual crop. It’s not necessarily a cool dish, but it’s a beloved classic, anyway. It spans generations – it’s one of those rare dishes that’ll please both your grandparents and your children.

The first time I heard about people eating kale outside the context of stamppot, it kind of blew my mind. As said, to me boerenkool really just meant boerenkoolstamppot – it just never crossed my mind that you could choose not chop it to bits and to mix it up with mashed potatoes. A friend of mine recently made a kale quiche, and said it was good, so I thought it would be interesting to have a shot. Still, I’m trying to get used to the idea, so I didn’t want to exaggerate – the goat’s cheese he’d used was still too big a step for me. In my opinion, kale has to be paired with pork – bacon and smoked sausage in the stamppot, but I figured spicy sausage would do for the quiche. So that’s what we’re doing this week, kale and spicy sausage quiche!


For one 23 cm Ø quiche, use:

  • 400 gr of kale, chopped finely
  • 1 red onion
  • 250 gr spicy pork sausage, or, if you don’t live in a country where they sell that, normal sausage that you’ve spiced up with cayenne pepper and paprika
  • 5 eggs
  • 100 ml crème fraîche
  • one pack of puff pastry

If you managed to get some spicy sausage, squeeze it out of the casing in small little balls and that’s it. If you got normal sausage (as I did, because while in Italy I used this stuff for everything, in The Hague there is no such thing as ‘spicy sausage’), squeeze it all out into a bowl, then add something like half a teaspoon of cayenne pepper (but let the quantity depend on your taste, of course) and a good dash of paprika. Mix it up well, then press it down into a slab and cut that slab up into small bits.

Chop your onion and fry it in some oil. After a couple of minutes, add the sausage and wait for it to brown. Then remove it from the pan, throw it back into that bowl you used earlier, and throw the kale into the pan. Salt it. Wait for it to shrink down to about half the size of what you started with.

In the meantime, grease a springform tin and line it with puff pastry. When the kale is done, mix in the sausage meat and and onion. Now, in a separate bowl, mix the crème fraîche with the eggs, add salt and pepper, then add this to the kale mixture. Mix well, and put it in the springform tin. Decorate the top with some leftover strips of puff pastry, shove it in a preheated oven (220 degrees) for a generous half hour and you’re done!


Posted in Baking, Food, quiche | Tagged , , , , , , | 2 Comments