Thursday, December 21, 2017

Christmas Live Blog 2017

Thursday, December 21st

2:30 PM

I'm not spending any more money this Christmas.  I'm finished with this whole spending money thing.  Christmas is expensive.  It's not even about the gifts.  I have to buy food and alcohol and decorations and utensils.  It never ends.  

Welcome to the 2017 Christmas Live Blog.  This is where I narrate, vent, and otherwise tell the tale of putting Christmas dinner together.  I update my readers as much as possible on how successful I am at feeding my family a feast.

I know I complain, but after every Christmas dinner I make, I can't wait to do the next one.  I have been waiting two years to have this chance again and I have been planning the menu for just as long.  It takes time, money, organization, and a few headaches to put together a three-course dinner for a large number of family members, but I don't want to do it any other way.

Actually, I would like to do it another way.  I'd like a house  - a decent-sized house - with a bigger kitchen and a real dining room and an attic and basement for storage, but that's a subject for another post.

Today's agenda is about spending the last few dollars I still have left in my account.  After extracting my Christmas tableware from my storage locker, I headed to Kohl's.  I needed glassware.  I break glassware all the time.  Almost twenty years ago I moved into my first apartment and my friends Mike and Sean gave me a 40-piece glassware set with the intention of giving me plenty of glass to break.  Well, I have broken most of those glasses.  I needed glasses for non-alcoholic beverages.  Kohl's has decent housewares selection, so I headed there.  

I don't really need a centerpiece, but this year I felt I just had to have one.  I want my tables to look more festive.  I scoured Home Goods for something that would look nice on the table.  It was a tea light holder, so I had to buy tea lights.  

My final stop was at Party City.  I needed the clear plastic mugs to serve the hot apple cider. I have nothing at home that would look nice for the cider.  The clear plastic mugs are attractive enough and I don't have to keep them.  I do hate the idea of waste though.

Next I'll be at the liquor store buying brandy for the hot cider and at the Italian specialty store for panettone and some fresh mozzarella.  

I started out with a leisurely morning, but that will be my last leisurely morning for a long time.

7:50 PM

Closing out the day with a Baileys-spiked hot chocolate and my beloved copy of Paul Theroux's A Christmas Card.  This is a time-honored Solstice ritual for me. 

Friday, December 22nd

8:21 AM

I just got back from the gym.  I may let my healthy eating habits fall by the wayside a bit during the holiday season, but I am determined to keep up my fitness.  Exercise keeps me sane and I think it helps me eat better.

When I left the house at 7 this morning, I saw a small school bus waiting outside my building.  I was still under the influence of reading A Christmas Card and was in fantasy mode.  I had a hope that bus was there for me and that it was a magic bus ready to take me on some kind of Polar Express-type adventure.  Alas, it was not to be and I had to go to the gym.

Today is the least fun day of prep.  This is cleanup day.  This is the day I make my apartment shine from top to bottom.  I dread it, but I have to get through this.  I go one room at a time.  I start at one end of the apartment and work my way from room to room until I get to the other end.

The first order of business is trash removal.  I am emptying every receptacle so I have room for all the trash I'll be generating during the cooking and setup process.

I have to take these boxes to the compactor room before I do anything else.  These are the by-product of gift shopping and supply shopping.  This is what I mean about not wanting to spend more money.  Look at all this stuff!

11:15 AM

My order from Fresh Direct arrived.  I don't have to worry about Christmas dinner not making it here.  I do have to go back to the compactor room now to dispose of the boxes.  Grrrr...

There was nothing in that small top box except two lemons.  That is what I call monumental waste!

2:00 PM

Finished cleaning the master bath, bedroom, and living room.  I am not sure if I want do any further cleaning of the living room floor.  It's vacuumed, but I didn't mop it.  I did that last week and it still looks okay and it's only going to get really dirty again anyway. Maybe save that for after Christmas. I'm saving the kitchen and the guest bathroom until the end of the day on Sunday when we are closer to the big day.

So while I have this lull in my duties, I should talk about the menu.  What am I serving?

Every year I do a different theme for Christmas dinner.  In 2014 the meal was what I would consider classic American.  I made roast beef, mashed potatoes, turkey breast, green bean casserole, and a layer cake.  In 2015 I decided to take a virtual trip across the pond and had an English inspired dinner with goose, ham, roasted parsnips, and trifle.  

This year I decided to go Italian.  When I say Italian, I do not mean the kind of traditional Italian-American dinner so dear to my readers with the requisite lasagne or other heavy pasta dishes, and finished with struffoli.  I did my research and decided to try to emulate a dinner that would actually be served in Italy.  This is no small feat considering that meals in Italy are going to vary from region to region.  Still, an Italian Christmas dinner is going to follow the same format as most formal Italian meals: antipasto, primo (rice or pasta), secondo (meat and vegetables) and then dessert and coffee. One popular dish for the Christmas pasta course is tortellini in brodo and porchetta is a popular meat course.

Keeping that in mind, this is my menu for Christmas Dinner.

Antipasto (I have two kinds of dry sausage, prosciutto, mozzarella, provolone, roasted peppers, and olives, with grissini and flatbreads)
Tortellini in Brodo (tortellini cooked in homemade chicken stock)
Porchetta (I ordered one from Heritage Foods USA)
Whole chicken breasts cooked with grapes and white wine (adapted Melissa Clark recipe)
Parmesan roasted cauliflower
Spinach sautéed with raisins and pine nuts
Pandoro (store bought)

The remaining dessert will not be Italian.  I was planning to make a chocolate ricotta cake for dessert.  In addition, my mother is making one of her monster cookie trays.  When I was growing up she always made a tray of various types of cookies at Christmas.  They were a major part of my childhood Christmas memories.  Mom stopped making them years ago, but she decided to go back to it this year.   A few days ago my sister-in-law said she is bringing cookies too.  I decided we didn't need more dessert.  I bought the ingredients for the cake, so I have to make it eventually, but I won't be making it for Christmas dinner.

While I have been cleaning all day, I have also been making a pot of homemade stock.  I always keep veggies bits and bones and carcasses in my freezer for stock-making.  I save whatever I can from the chicken every time I roast one.  It comes in handy when I want the perfect stock for a special meal.  I put that thing on to simmer in the morning and at the end of the day I hope to have a rich and hearty stock for my tortellini.

5:17 PM

This is why I want a house with a big kitchen that can hold a big refrigerator.  There is nothing else that can go in here.  

We're going out for any meal that can't already be obtained from what's already in here.  No leftovers either.

Saturday December 23rd

8:30 AM

This is going to be as close to a day off I'll have this weekend.  If I were doing any baking, today would be baking day, but I'm not baking, so I'm taking it easy.

One of my few cooking tasks today was to dry brine my chicken.  The original recipe doesn't call for it (and uses a whole chicken instead of breasts) but I wanted to try it and see if it would keep my chicken crispier after roasting.  I used a mixture of salt, lemon zest, and fennel seeds and rubbed it all over the chicken.  This will go in the fridge until it's ready to be roasted Monday afternoon.

What is my plan for the rest of the day?  I am going to spend the day with my horses.  It will be my only day this weekend to do so.  I will have to do laundry as well as pick up some necessities from CVS.  It's a mix of business and pleasure.  

11:43 AM

Wrench, meet works.

Just received a call from Mom.  She was starting in on the Christmas cookie baking when she discovered her oven wasn't working properly.  No oven, no cookies.  Two of her cookies are no-bake, so she will still bring those, but otherwise, we're a tad short on desserts.  It looks like I'll be baking that cake after all.  So much for spending the day with the horses.  I don't have time to ride now.  

It's a miserable day out.  It's not the kind of day I want to make a 70 mile drive, so I guess it's a blessing in disguise.

I joke with Mom that she always manages to get out of making requested dishes for holiday dinners.  

So let's talk about the cake.  What exactly is this cake I'm baking?

I went to my Number One resource for dessert recipes when looking for the best ricotta cake recipe.  That would be Emily's blog.  She provided me with exactly what I needed.  She always does.

In other news, I just got an unexpected and lovely gift from my BFF.

I adore Penzey's.  I think my cake might have a little extra orange in it.

I removed them before I took the photo, but this box was filled with cinnamon sticks, bay leaves, and whole nutmegs.  I will be using those cinnamon sticks for my hot spiced cider.  

4:00 PM

Cake is baked.  Nothing else to do today.  Just dinner, Netflix, and bedtime.  Lots to do tomorrow though.  I need to do more major cleaning and some minor food prep.  Also Star Wars.  

Here is the cake.

I don't know if there was any way to prevent the center from falling in a bit.  I followed Emily's recipe mostly.  I added a bit of that new orange extract.  I also baked it in a springform pan rather than a regular cake pan.  I just felt the cake would be easier to unmold if I used a springform.  Most cheesecakes use a springform after all.  Since a springform is a little bigger than a regular cake pan, I shaved 5 minutes off the minimum baking time. 

The cake seems so quintessentially Italian with the almonds, citrus, and ricotta, doesn't it?

Sunday December 24th

7:30 AM

Rise and shine!  Happy Christmas Eve morning.  This morning's agenda consists of breakfast and yoga.  Then I have to get serious again.  

Today I'm prepping anything that can be prepped in advance.  I'll be cutting vegetables, assembling a spice blend for my hot spiced cider, toasting nuts, and taking inventory of all necessary pots, pans and serving dishes.  Then I clean the kitchen thoroughly and give a good cleaning to the guest bathroom.  Finally I will set up my tables and chairs.  Tomorrow I'll set them.

But first, breakfast.  

2:00 PM

I probably spent way too much time procrastinating this morning, but I managed to be productive in the end.  I even put off cleaning the kitchen by saying I didn't have enough kitchen cleaner and needed to go out and buy some more (so much for not spending any more money).

My first goal was food prep.  I cut up a large head of cauliflower so I can easy coat it with olive oil and pop it in the oven tomorrow.

I toasted some pine nuts so they would be ready for the sautéed spinach.

I made a gremolata for the pork.  This is made of a bunch of arugula, the juice and zest of a lemon, four cloves of garlic, about a half a cup of toasted almonds, and a good glug of olive oil.

I also put my spices together for the hot spiced cider.

I realize as I write this I forgot to grate the parmesan for the cauliflower.  Do I do that now, or do I wait until tomorrow since the morning will be relative quiet?  Hmmmm...

The bathroom is next.  Luckily it's a smallish bathroom and won't take too long to clean.

What comes after that?  Star Wars!

Monday, December 25th

10:05 AM

The big day has arrived!

It was a busy morning.  I got to bed late last night after seeing an 8:00 movie and then a late night dinner at the diner, but I could't sleep in this morning.  There was just too much to think about!

I was still trying to keep up my fitness so before breakfast I did a Kinect Zumba workout and ate what will probably be the last healthful meal of the day.

Next it was time to set up my tables.

I never seem to have enough linens or glassware and often my stuff is wrinkled or ill-fitting.  I have a round (and wrinkled) tablecloth on a rectangular table.  I only had 8 Christmas themed napkins and there are 9 people having dinner tonight.  I also have two different sets of water glasses.

I think I'm the only one who cares.  It only distresses me because I read so many food blogs and I see so many beautifully set tables where everything looks so smooth and perfect.  I want my tables to look like that and not like everything was thrown together.  I guess that's the problem with apartment living.  I am so limited with how much stuff I can have and can store and can put out.

True story.  One year I had more guests than I had place settings with my "good" china.  I was serving a salad course and each place setting had a bowl matching the plate.  I took the bowls into the kitchen to dish up the salad and family members came into the kitchen to help me distribute them.  When I came back to the table, I saw the bowls were not all matched to the corresponding plates.  I had a hissy fit while my family hadn't even noticed the green bowls were now sitting on top of the blue plates.  Yes, I truly am the only who who cares.

Now that I am set up, I don't have a whole lot to do for the next two hours.  Everything else needs to be done closer to guest arrival.  At noon I'll be taking my pork out to bring to room temperature.  I can actually relax for a bit.

Relax?  What's that?

4:08 PM

Pork is having a nice slow roast.  Even though it's a little early, I put out my antipasto tray.  Let's hope I don't eat it all before the guests arrive.  I have sweet sorpresata, hot salami, prosciutto, mozzarella, aged provolone, and olives and cured peppers.

I always clear the mail off the front hall table to use as a drinks table.  Guests can pour one as soon as they come in.

I know there isn't much on it, but wine is the one thing I assign my guests to bring.

In addition, my hot spiced cider is in the slow cooker getting nice and warm and spicy.

Lights dimmed, tree and candles lit.  We are ready for company.

10:09 PM

...and just like that it's over.

The meal was a roaring success (if I do say so myself).  The pork was perfect.  The chicken was tender and tasty.

Here is a shot of the buffet.

The porchetta is sliced up and displayed front and center.  To right right are the vegetable dishes of cauliflower and spinach.  At the upper left is the gremolata.   The far left is the chicken.  I cut the meat off the bones to make it easier for the family to eat.  The gravy boat contains a mixture of pan juices and roasted garlic.

Before the buffet we had our tortellini soup.  These are Rana tortellini I bought from Shop Rite.  They were delicious.  They were just as good as the fancier kinds you buy at gourmet pasta shops.

After dinner we opened gifts and ate from the dessert buffet.  We had my cake and my mother's rum balls and cornflake wreaths.  We had panettone and pandora.  My brother brought chocolates as well.

But the best part of Christmas dinner is the company.

I hope everyone had as happy Christmas meal as I did.  

Saturday, December 16, 2017

New Series: Literary Inspirations

I'm taking on a new project for 2018.

I often write about how inspiration can come from anywhere.  It can come from watching Food Network.    It can come from a movie.  It can come from spotting a new ingredient at the store. It can come from mistakenly reading a food label.  It is always exciting to me when one of these ideas come to me and I find myself thinking, "I want to cook this."

Some of that inspiration comes from the books I read.  It was The Bone Clocks that inspired me to create my Banana Cherry Muffins (please note if you click this link, you will be forced to relive enduring another one of my bad puns).  It was another novel that inspired me to stuff tiny chickens with a cherry-infused stuffing.  One of the things I love the most about reading is the ways it stimulates my imagination - including in the kitchen.

I'd love to say my new project is completely original, but it was a blatant five-finger discount, even though it's something I should have thought of myself long ago.  Earlier this year one of my friends made a post on Facebook asking for book recommendations.  One of our old high school classmates posted a link to her blog for her Book, Look, and Cook Project.  Her goal was to read 100 books and cook a recipe inspired by each of them.  Since she is a professional photographer, she did beautiful photo shoots of her food and books.  One hundred books and recipes is a lofty goal, and I'm not sure she did all 100 (her IG feed only has about 30), but I think she covered a broad range of literary and culinary tastes.

So this is going to be my new project.  While I don't have a set number, I aim to cook a recipe inspired by every book I read.  Maybe the recipe will be in the book itself, maybe the food will be specific but there won't be a recipe for it, or maybe something in the book will just suggest an idea for a recipe for me.  In any case, I will do my best to associate everything I read with food. (That shouldn't be difficult because I associate just about everything in my life with food.)

Although I say I'm doing the project in 2018, I'm giving it a head start.  I recently finished The Rules of Magic by Alice Hoffman.  It is the prequel to her more famous book Practical Magic.  It tells the story of the mysterious aunts, Franny and Jet, who raised the two sisters who were the protagonists of Practical Magic.

The book doesn't have much focus on food with one exception.  Franny and Jet learn to bake a "Tipsy Chocolate Cake" from their aunt Isabelle, who occupied the big house on Magnolia street before they did.   The cake was so laden with rum, it could make you drunk just smelling it.  I don't want my chocolate cake to be too alcoholic to the point where you drown out the chocolate, but I do think that chocolate is well complemented by many forms of alcohol.

I didn't make a chocolate rum cake.  I took a different route.  This recipe on Delish was popping up all over my social media feeds.  I love Baileys and it mixes well into all kinds of desserts.  This cake would definitely be tipsy since the alcohol isn't boiled into syrup or baked into the cake.  This is straight up liquor.   I knew I wanted to make it, but it's the kind of cake I usually like to have an excuse for baking.  It's an occasion cake.

This week my office announced we were having holiday bake-off in December.  I knew I wanted to participate.  I can never resist that kind of challenge.  I didn't know what recipe to make.

When I remembered my book challenge and how my most recent book contained a booze-soaked chocolate cake, I realized I had a chance to kill three birds with one stone.

The recipe calls for a cake mix, but we all know I don't do cake mixes.  I mixed up my go-to chocolate cake recipe, My First Chocolate Cake.   I poked the holes in the top with the end of a wooden spoon poured a  mixture of Baileys, condensed milk, and cocoa powder.  Finally it was topped with the simple buttercream flavored with Baileys and chocolate.

Staging photos is tough in the winter when you don't have enough hours of natural light and you're too lazy to take out the light box and do something decent.

I had no expectations of winning the bake off.  My office is mostly men and men tend to be picky about sweets and chocolate.  I also know soggy cakes can be divisive.  Many people feel soaking a cake in liquor destroys the texture.  Frosting is also a divisive food.  Some people can't get enough of it and some people think globs of buttercream are gross.

I didn't have to worry about competition.  As it turned out, no one else entered.  The cake was well received and I had some of the guys tell me even if I had competition, I would have won.

I will definitely make this cake again when I need a chocolate cake with a kick!

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Is Food Love?

I know I haven't been sharing many recipes lately.  I have been on somewhat of a creative dry spell.  However, I didn't create The Essential Rhubarb Pie just to share recipes, but to share all of my thoughts about food and cooking.  Today I am going to discuss something that's been on my mind for a while.

Three years ago, when I started out the Lean Eating program (refer to my other blog for details) my teammates and I were musing on the message boards about how much, and in what ways, we would be restricting our eating.  Many of us agreed that we loved to eat.  We really loved it.  We enjoyed delicious food.  How much would we have to curtail such a pleasure in order to lose weight?

The discussions brought down a virtual handslap from the coaches and mentors.  The message was clear.  If we loved to eat, it was indicative of deep-seated emotional issues.  We were medicating our psychological issues with food.  It was impossible, according to the coaching team, to like food just for food itself.  Enjoying the act of eating had to be indicative of greater issues.

"Food is not love," the health experts love to say.  "Food is fuel.  Food is what you use to power up your daily activities."  You are not allowed to be emotionally attached to eating.

Do you know what I find strange? Every day we allow ourselves all sorts of sensory pleasures.  We stare at works of art, climb to the tops of mountains and tall buildings to enjoy the view, and watch dancers and performers.  We get massages, pet our furry animals, and have sex with our loved ones (or at least our lusted ones).  We go to concerts, plug into our iPods, or simply savor the sounds of rain on the roof or ocean waves.  We wear perfume, stop to smell the roses, and love the scent of a crackling fire.  No one considers these acts of sensory pleasure to be indicative of some larger emotional issues.  Why is the simple sensory pleasure of taste so different?

I love going to the store and planning my meals.  What looks good?  Is there a product I haven't tried yet that I want to try?  What if I can't find everything I need for the meals I want to make?  What should I substitute it with?  Can I come up with recipes on the fly?

I love going to farmers' markets and seeing the beautiful visual displays of fresh produce.  I love the fresh smells of all of those fruits and vegetables.  I especially love them in the summer when they are bursting with so many different varieties of everything edible.

I love trying new restaurants.  I love trying new ethnic foods.  I love to see how professional chefs will transform ingredients.  It doesn't matter if the restaurant is a five-star gastronomic paradise or a greasy spoon diner.  I want to experience all the ways someone else can cook for me.

I am not a very artsy or crafty person. I don't knit, crochet, or sew.  I don't draw or paint.  I don't build decorative objects out of wood or mold them from clay.  Cooking is one of the few ways I can successfully create.  I love taking raw ingredients and putting them together into a meal.  I find inspiration anywhere.  Sometimes a random ingredient will pop into my head and I'll decide I want to cook it.  Sometimes I'll read a passage in a book about a particular food and decide I want to cook it. I see recipes online and on TV that I want to cook or adapt.  I never stop wanting to create meals and recipes.  The best part of this type of craft is that I can enjoy it by eating it.  After it nourishes my soul, it nourishes my body.

What means the most to me is cooking is easy to share with other people.  The best part of cooking is that is can easily be shared.

I truly believe the way to a man's heart is through his stomach.  There is a reason why Ina Garten's roast chicken recipe is nicknamed "engagement chicken".  I have won over more than one potential romance with brownies.  I was on an internet forum years ago where one of the female members recounted the chicken dinner she made the night before and one of the men on the forum said reading that post was a huge turn on (there was nothing sexual in the post).  When you cook for a partner you give him a sensory pleasure and also show you are willing to put some effort into caring for him. (Men, this works in reverse as well.)

Throughout the course of human history, families have gathered around food.  All cultures around the world have holidays with foods specific to each one and the memories surrounding these foods are as important as the people we share them with.  Throughout history food is how family and friends connect.  We share meals together and as we share food, we share so much more.  

The Diet Police will tell us that families need to find new activities to do other than eat.  We should all start healthy new traditions.  How exactly do you do that?  How do you get multiple family members, with various temperaments, in different generations, to all enjoy the same activity?  Eating is one thing everyone in the family can agree on.  Eating is an act of intimacy.  When we share a meal, we are all eating the same things (or at least some of the same things).  These foods touch every part of our bodies.  They eventually become part of us.  I know when I cook a meal for the people I love, they will always have a part of me with them.  Eating is one of the essential components of life itself. Why not make a celebration of that life?

Food will not cure depression.  It will not permanently alleviate sadness (although I will argue it can provide some excellent temporary cheer).  It is not a replacement for human companionship.  Food will not fill the empty spaces in your life (unless we're talking about your hungry stomach). 

But  I will say that food is love.  Embrace your love for food.  See all the ways that food can love you back.

Friday, August 11, 2017

Goodbye Blackberries. Welcome Corn

One of my summer fruit dessert goals was a blackberry dessert.  Unfortunately, blackberries were arriving sooner than I expected and peaked while I was on vacation and unable to bake.  The week I returned from vacation was too full of appointments to squeeze in any baking time.  I worried I would not be able to find any blackberries at my next trip to the farmers' market.  I had been looking forward to making that blackberry cobbler and I might not realize that dream this summer (unless I wanted to do a supermarket cheat - and that would defeat the purpose of baking with local seasonal fruits).

Fortunately there were still blackberries at the farmers' market this week.  There were still raspberries too.  I was shocked to see one vendor still had strawberries. I'm not sure if these fruits are not truly local or if there is some kind of fruit voodoo going on in these farms.  Either way, I decided to buy some and do my best to convince myself I was getting fresh, local, berries.

So this week there was cobbler.

This was another effortless recipe.  I used my basic drop biscuit recipe that comes together easily in the food processor.  The berries were tossed with sugar and cornstarch and flavored with a touch of lime.  Then into the oven it went,.

While berries are beginning to disappear, other summer specialties are still in abundance.  Good tomatoes are arriving.  Peaches are making an appearance.  Best of all corn is here.  I love summer corn.  I can't get enough of it.  I want to cook it a hundred times before the season ends.  I want corn, corn, and more corn all summer long.

I wanted my first corn recipe of the summer to be a main course.  Corn wasn't just a side dish.  I wanted it to be the starring player.  I came up with the idea of corn gazpacho.  It would be an easy weekend recipe that would only require cooking up the corn and then blending a bunch of ingredients together.  Seemingly effortless.

I looked at a few corn gazpacho recipes for inspiration.  I took my main inspiration from Spoon Fork Bacon that suggests using white beans rather than bread as a thickener.  That sounded much more virtuous - lots of fiber and more nutrients.  My outside inspiration stopped there.  Most chilled corn soup recipes have a Mexican flare to them with chili peppers and lime.  I wanted to use up the bumper crop of mint I have on my balcony this summer.  I made mine with garlic, mint, and lemon.

I used too much garlic and not enough liquid.  I know the recipe would have been better with more corn (I used 3 ears), more veggie stock (I used a half a cup), and less garlic (I used three cloves).  My recipe below is what the recipe should have been and not what it was.  As with every recipe I provide, if you feel it should be adjusted more, feel free to experiment.

Corn Gazpacho

  • Kernels cut off of 4 cooked ears of corn
  • 1 15 oz. can white beans
  • 1 cup vegetable stock
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 1 good handful fresh mint leaves
  • Juice and zest of 1 lemon
  • 2 tsp salt (or to taste)
Blend all ingredients together in a food processor.  Serve chilled and garnished with corn and fresh mint leaves if desired.

My cobbler recipe has a high crust:berry ratio.  It's almost more of an upside-down shortcake.  This is on purpose.  I wanted lots of crust to absorb the juice.  Also, most people really love crust - even if they won't admit it.

Blackberry Cobbler

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 2 Tbl sugar
  • 1 Tbl baking powder
  • 1 stick of cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
  • 1 cup of milk
  • 2 cups blackberries
  • 1 tsp lime juice
  • 1 tsp lime zest
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1 Tbl cornstarch
Heat oven to 350 degrees.

Mix together berries, sugar, juice zest and cornstarch in baking dish.  Set aside.

In the bowl of a food processor, mix the dry ingredients together.  Add the butter and pulse until the butter and flour are integrated and the mixture looks like crumbs.  Put the dough in a bowl and gentle stir in the milk.

Drop spoonfuls of biscuit dough over the berries in the dish until they are mostly covered.  Bake for 45-50 minutes or until the top is golden.

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Now It's Time for the Blueberries

I am continuing with my project of making a dessert with every major summer fruit (or as many of them as possible).  So far I have done strawberries, cherries, and raspberries.  This week it's blueberries.

Blueberry pie is one of my favorite fruit pies (second only to cherry pie), but I already did pie this summer, so I turned my attention to cake for this week's dessert.

I used my basic pound cake recipe that I have used as the base for the my Orange Bourbon Pound Cake, Chocolate Chip Bailey's Cake, and Hazelnut Brown butter cake (a recipe in bad need of tweaking because it was too dry).

I made a few tweaks for this cake.  I decided to work with brown butter again, because most desserts taste better with the butter browned (if you haven't tried Emily's chocolate chip cookies with brown butter, you are missing out).   I wondered if it needed more butter because browning the butter makes some of the liquids evaporate.  Rather than add more butter,  I decided to try using sour cream instead of milk.  This would supply extra fat and give the cake a softer texture.  I had to research what tweaks I needed to make a cake with sour cream.  I just needed less fat, less baking powder, and some baking soda.  I crossed my fingers that this would work.

It worked.  I brought the cake to the office and it received rave reviews. I personally thought it could be a bit sweeter.  If I make this again I might add a bit more sugar (I considered adding brown sugar this time around and I may try that).  The sour cream gave it a perfect texture.  I was the only person who didn't think the cake was sweet enough, so I would say the experiment a success regardless.

Brown Butter Blueberry Sour Cream Cake

  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 2 sticks of butter
  • 3 eggs, lightly beaten
  • 2 cups of sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1 cup of sour cream
  • 1 pint of fresh blueberries.
Heat the butter over low heat until melted and foamy.  When the foam subsides, carefully continue heating it until it turns amber and smells nutty.  Immediately remove from heat.

Pour into a bowl set over a larger bowl full of ice water.  Cool until it is solid again, but soft. (Alternately, you can refrigerate it and remove when it is solid and slowly let it come up to room temperature again.  You will need to do this way ahead of time.)

Heat oven to 350 degrees.  Spray a Bundt pan with baking spray (or just butter and flour it, but baking spray will make it easier for you to get into all the crevices of the pan).

In a medium bowl combine the flour, salt, baking powder, and baking soda.  Set aside.

Beat the butter in an electric mixer.  Stream in the sugar and beat until fluffy.  Add the eggs a small amount at at time, making sure each spoonful is absorbed before adding the next.  Continue beating until it is pale and gaining volume.  Beat in the vanilla.

Turn the mixer to low and begin alternately adding the sour cream and the flour.  Do it in about 3 or 4 batches, ending with the flour.  When it is well blended, gently fold in the blueberries.

Pour batter into prepared pan and bake for 55-60 minutes or until toothpick poked in the center comes out clean.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

It's The Raspberry's Turn

This summer I made a vow to make at least one dessert with each of the major summer fruits: strawberries, raspberries, cherries, blueberries, blackberries, and peaches. Each dessert would be a different dessert type as well.  I started off with my Strawberry Shortcake White Chocolate Coconut Trifle back in May.  Last week I made a cherry pie (it was a basic cherry pie, so I didn't post the recipe here).  Today's recipe features raspberries.

Some of my past raspberry recipes include  raspberry buttermilk cake and raspberry truffle brownies, so I wanted to take this dessert away from cakes and bars.  I saw some intriguing raspberry bread pudding recipes online and that sounded delicious.  I decided to make my own version.  I love making bread pudding because it's simple to make, but lends itself to a million sweet and savory variations.

I started with challah bread for my base as I love the texture and sweetness of it.  If you prefer a different bread, feel free to substitute. I added chocolate chips, because I can't go a whole summer without including chocolate in some of my desserts.  It just isn't done. Finally I wanted to add a deeper flavor dimension to my custard. Cinnamon and vanilla both work well with most bread pudding dishes, but I wanted something that would really play against the rapsberries.   A shot of liqueur or spirits is also common in my bread pudding recipes.  In this case I wasn't sure what would highlight both the raspberries and the chocolate.   I decided to use a bit of orange liqueur.

It came together easily and was popular both at home and at work.

Raspberry Chocolate Chip Bread Pudding


  • 1 loaf (about 1lb of challah bread)
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 4 eggs*
  • 1/4 cup orange liqueur such as Triple Sec
  • 2 cups half and half
  • 1 cup mini chocolate chips
  • 2 cups fresh raspberries
A day before you make the pudding, cut the bread into chunks and allow to dry out for a day.

Heat oven to 350 degrees.  Butter an 8" square baking dish (you can also use 9" x 13", but you will need to adjust your baking time by 10-15 minutes).

Mix together eggs, sugar, half and half, and liqueur.  Toss bread cubes in the batter and make sure they are evenly coated.  Stir in chocolate chips.

Lay some of the bread cubes in the baking dish and sprinkle gently with raspberries.  You want to avoid crushing them too much, so the idea to to layer the bread and sprinkle the raspberries over it.  Pour any remaining custard over the top.

Bake for about 50 minutes or until the top is springy. 

*I used four because I bought my eggs at the farmers' market where I don't have much choice over size.  My eggs were on the small side.  If you are buying uniformly large eggs at the supermarket, you may want to consider using fewer.

Monday, June 12, 2017

Just For Fun: The World's Most Overrated Foods

Hello TERP Muffins.  I know I continue to be rather absent from my beloved blog.  I continue to have a bit of writer's block when it comes to fresh recipes.  I realize that's not really an excuse.  I started this blog not just to share recipes, but to share all kind of food related topics.  I am supposed to be reviewing restaurants, books, and new food products as well as share my inane, food-related thoughts. In that spirit, I thought I'd share a fun post today. 

I say I am a failure as a foodie because I'm too picky.  There are too many foods in the world I consider inedible:  Peas, grapefruit, olives, blue cheeses, and anything born in the water and bearing a fishy flavor (including, but not limited to crustaceans, mollusks, and fish with fins).  There are foods I can choke down, but don't like (beets, Brussels sprouts, and the all-too-ubiquitous pumpkin).  I know I'm not alone in many of my dislikes. I just feel guilty about them as a food blogger.

Today's post is not about what I dislike outright.  It's about those foods so many people seem to love and I just don't get.  I don't hate them, but I can't say any of the foods on this list taste particularly good.  How can you get excited about some of this stuff?

So what are these overrated foods?

I get it.  The plant kingdom is a bit short on complete, bioavailable proteins.  I'm sure vegans  have it rough.   Not everyone likes tofu and soy is one of the most common food allergies.  I'm sure it's easy to tire of rice and beans.  Quinoa must seem like a perfect protein solution for vegans.

I just don't get why everyone else thinks this stuff is so great.  I'm told it tastes "nutty", but I never tasted a nut that tastes like quinoa.  To me quinoa tastes like a combination of soap, birdseed, and nothing at all.  Seriously omnivores, what do you like about this stuff?

Dark leafy greens are good for you.  I believe that one can say most edible dark leafy greens are good for you.  What makes kale so special?  It doesn't taste all that good.  Some people find it too bitter.  I don't think it's bitter as much as it just tastes blandly vegetal with an undertone of dirt.  It's not bad when you roast it into kale chips, but most vegetables will taste better in crunchy chip form, especially with plenty of salt.  Put it into my soup and it just tastes like slimy green stuff.  If I want some greens with my dinner, I'll stick with chard or spinach.  I think whoever decided kale should be called a "superfood" is playing a nasty joke on the rest of us.  How much kale will the masses eat if we tell them it's the most nutritious vegetable in existence?

I call this a "disappointment food".  There is something tempting about yogurt.  It looks so creamy and sweet.  I can remember my first tastes of it as a child.  I saw this stuff that looked like pudding or ice cream.  I wanted it to taste good so badly.  Too bad no matter how many times I tried it, I was eating this nasty sour stuff.  I used to put this one on the list with peas and olives, but the introduction of strained yogurt to mass market shelves has helped me to tolerate it a bit.  Strained or "Greek" yogurt (or Icelandic Skyr) has a pleasant texture and less torturous tartness.  I am still not too keen on eating it by itself.  It makes a nice dressing and it adds protein to a smoothie without resorting to chemical-laden powders.  I just don't understand how anyone can consider it dessert.  I once watched a travel show where the host made a mango shortcake and used yogurt instead of whipped cream.  If anyone ever does that to me, I will see to it she regrets it for the rest of her life.

Do you love oatmeal?  When was the last time you had oatmeal?  How was it prepared?  Did you use one of those instant packages laden with sugar?  Did you make a bowl of quick-cooking oats from a can?  How did you eat those oats?  I'll bet you put something on it.  Maybe you poured sugar or honey or maple syrup on it.  Maybe you garnished it with fruits and nuts and nut butter.  It's possible you even poured butter or cream on top. How could you not love oatmeal when you just took that boring batch of gruel and covered it with dessert?  I say to people oatmeal is bland and joyless and the retort is usually, "I love oatmeal I eat it with..." and then proceed to tell me at least three toppings that go on top of their bowl of oatmeal.  Cook yourself a bowl of oatmeal and don't put anything on it and tell me how much you love it.  If you need to put a plethora of toppings on your food to make it taste good, then it doesn't taste good to begin with.  Oatmeal, while it doesn't taste inherently bad, is a joyless bowl of mushy starch.  It has little merit on its own.

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

The Name of This Dessert Is Too Long for a Post Title

What do you do when you have a half a bag of coconut left in the fridge from your Almond Joy Pie and you want to use it up?

On top of having too much coconut in the house, it's also the start of strawberry season and you are craving strawberry shortcake?

Additionally, you are invited to a party and you have to take a portable dessert for a crowd?

This was my dilemma this week.  I was finally starting to see local strawberries in the farmers' markets and I was thinking about how good they would taste over homemade sweet biscuits and topped with fresh whipped cream.  Unfortunately, strawberry shortcake is not a practical potluck party dessert.  The party seemed like a better excuse to use up the coconut.

I needed to come up with a recipe that would use up  the leftovers in the kitchen that would still satisfy my cravings for strawberry shortcake.  When I ask my brain to come up with a new recipe, it always gurgles and scrunches, but it eventually spits out an answer.  Some answers are more edible than others, but I always receive an answer.

The answer was trifle.  I could make the trifle similar to strawberry shortcake and incorporate the coconut.   Instead of pound cake or sponge cake, I would use biscuits.  I would layer my biscuits and strawberries with coconut custard and top the whole thing with fresh whipped cream.

I decided to take it one step further.  One of my favorite pies is coconut and white chocolate cream pie. One of my favorite layer cakes is a white chocolate and coconut layer cake.  Even though I'm not enthusiastic about white chocolate, it does combine beautifully with coconut.  With this in mind, I added another layer of flavor and made my coconut pastry cream into white chocolate and coconut pastry cream.

I called this dessert Coconut White Chocolate Strawberry Shortcake Trifle.  I couldn't seem to come up with a better, shorter, or more clever name.  I am simply telling you exactly what the dessert is.

I made my base with drop biscuits.  There is no need to make rolled biscuits for a dessert where they will be buried under goo.

I don't have a go-to pastry cream recipe. I need to find one at some point.   Every time I want to make a dessert with pastry cream, I end up on the internet searching recipes until I find one that's not too complex.  I also need to find one that works.  I have often tried pastry cream recipes that flopped.

The recipe I tried this time turned out pretty well, so maybe this will be the one.  It worked well with coconut milk replacing most of the dairy milk.

I layered the biscuits, then the cream, and then the berries.  When they were all used up, I topped it with a light cap of fresh whipped cream.  (Cream not shown in photo.)

The custard was tight and I wonder if it were less tight if it might have soaked the biscuits a bit better. I thought they stayed a tad too dry.  The cream was also a bit too sweet.  More strawberries might have also improved things.  I didn't get any complaints at the party though.  The dish was a hit, so maybe I'm too picky.

White Chocolate Coconut Strawberry Shortcake Trifle


  • 2 cups flour
  • 3 Tbl sugar
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 Tbl baking powder
  • 1 stick cold butter, cut into pieces
  • 1 cup milk
Pastry Cream
  • 1 15oz can coconut milk*
  • 1/4 cup half and half*
  • 6 egg yolks
  • 2/3 cup sugar
  • 4 oz good white chocolate cut into pieces 
  • 2 Tbl Malibu rum (or a tsp of coconut extract if you prefer)
  • 1 cup sweetened coconut flakes
Topping and Assembly
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 2 Tbl confectioners sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 2 pints strawberries stemmed and sliced.
First make the biscuits.  Heat oven to 400 degrees.  Pulse together flour, salt, sugar, and baking powder in a food processor.  Sprinkle the butter over the top and pulse until the butter is evenly distributed and the mixture looks like crumbs.

Transfer the dough to a mixing bowl and gently mix in the milk.  Drop by large tablespoon fulls onto a baking sheet and bake until the tops are golden (about 15-20 minutes).  Remove from oven and set aside.

To make the custard place the chopped chocolate in a large bowl and set asside.  Whisk together half of the sugar, the egg yolks, a half cup of the milk and the cornstarch.

In a saucepan, heat the remaining milk and sugar over medium heat without stirring.  Bring to a simmer.

When the milk on the stove is simmering, whisk it to combine.  Then add some of it to the egg mixture and whisk it together quickly.  Quickly whisk the egg mixture into the milk on the stove.  Stir over medium heat for about 5 minutes, or until it thickens.  Strain the custard into the bowl with the chopped chocolate.  Stir until it is melted and smooth.  Stir in the rum.  Finally, fold in the coconut.  Place a plastic wrap over the top and refrigerate to cool.

When you are ready to assemble the trifle, place 5 or 6 biscuits at the bottom of a trifle bowl, breaking them up if you need them to cover the bottom.  Cover them with strawberries.  Then cover the strawberries with the pastry cream.  Add another layer of biscuits to the bowl and continue layering the berries and cream.

Beat the heavy cream, powdered sugar, and vanilla in a chilled bowl (cream whips faster in a cold bowl) until fairly stiff.  Spread over the top of the trifle.

Allow to sit for a few hours for the flavors to blend and serve.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Almond Joy Pie for Mother's Day

My family rarely ever celebrates Mother's Day like normal people.  For one thing, we often don't celebrate Mother's Day on Mother's Day.  The Saturday night before Mother's Day is always so much more convenient for celebrations. 

We also don't do wimpy brunches. I never understood why Mother's Day is always about brunch.  After all our mothers do for us, don't they deserve more than brunch?  Kevin and I like to serve our mothers something more substantial.  Last year I made a pot of Sunday Sauce and piles of good ziti.  Pasta is my mother's favorite food and why should I serve her anything other than what she loves for her day?

This year I decided to maintain the tradition.  Big pasta dinners make everyone happy (except for my nephew, and I'm sure he'll outgrow his aversion to tomato sauce eventually). 

This year's Sunday Sauce is the same as last years.  I made a hearty sauce and filled it with meatballs, sausage, and beef shanks.  I  prefaced it with a bit of antipasto consisting of olives, roasted peppers, cheese, and some local salumi.  I accompanied all of it with fresh bread and good wine.  This is what family dinners are supposed to be about.

The one part of the meal I changed this year was dessert.  I haven't made any new desserts lately and I was itching to make a new pie. I decided to create a a new pie recipe that incorporated two of favorite flavors: chocolate and coconut.  I took that over the top by adding almonds to the mix too. 

My new creation was appropriately called Almond Joy Pie, in honor of the similarly flavored, beloved, candy bar.  It consisted of an almond flavored crust, chocolate coconut filling, and a topping of almond whipped cream garnished with crunchy almonds and toasted coconut.

My plan to make an almond flavored meant I wanted to make a crumb crust out of almond flavored cookies.  This was one of the biggest challenges.  It's not easy finding an almond flavored cookie that makes a suitable crumb crust.  The most common type of almond cookies are biscotti, and biscotti are rock-hard.  I was afraid they would make a hard crust.

Eventually I found these almond wafers.  These were perfect since thin wafer cookies make the best crust.  Unfortunately, they were a little too strong in the ginger department with little pronounced almond flavor.

I crushed them up, mixed them with butter, and baked them. The flavor might not have been perfect, but I had a useable crust that was neither too soft nor too hard.

The other tricky part was adapting a chocolate pastry cream recipe that would incorporate the coconut flavor. I didn't just want to add a bag of coconut to chocolate pudding.  I wanted the flavors to blend together seamlessly.  The best way to do that was to make coconut milk part of the custard base.  Would that work?  I have made coconut cream pie with coconut milk in the custard before (thank you Elaine Corn), but I haven't ever tried it with chocolate.  It would be an interesting experiment.  I crossed my fingers and adapted my favorite chocolate cream pie recipe using coconut milk as a replacement for some of the cream in the pudding.

Finally I topped the whole thing with fresh whipped cream blended with amaretto.  I topped it with more toasted coconut and sliced almonds.

It was a hit!  I will definitely do this one again.

Almond Joy Pie


  • 1.5 cups crushed almond wafer cookies
  • 2 Tbl sugar
  • Pinch of salt
  • 5 Tbl butter, melted
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup corn starch
  • 1 can coconut  milk
  • 4 egg yolks
  • 1 1/2 cups half and half
  • 6 oz semi-sweet chocolate, chopped
  • 2 Tbl butter
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1 cup whipping cream
  • 1/4 cup confectioner's sugar
  • 2 Tbl amaretto
  • 1/4 cup toasted coconut flakes
  • 1/4 cup toasted sliced almonds 
Heat over to 350 degrees.  Mix together crumbs, butter, sugar, and salt.  Gently press into 9" pie plate.  Bake 8-10 minutes or until firm and set. 
Whisk the sugar and cornstarch in a medium saucepan. Gradually whisk in 1 cup half and half. In a separate bowl whisk together the remaining half and half and the coconut milk with the egg yolks.  Whisk them into the mixture on the stove.

Keep whisking the mixture over medium high heat until it thickens and boils.  This should take about 8 minutes. Remove from heat and add the chocolate and butter, whisking until smooth.  Stir in the vanilla. Transfer filling to crust, press a piece of plastic wrap over directly over the top, and chill for at least 6 hours.

Beat cream, sugar, and amaretto on high speed until thick and fluffy.  Spread on top of pie.  Sprinkle generously with almonds and coconut flakes.

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

My Amsterdam Food Travelogue

I know I haven't been keeping this blog up lately.  I do have some new projects in the works for the coming months, so I hope to be a little better about adding more posts in the near future.

One type of post I love to make is about the food I eat when I travel.  Since I took a trip to Amsterdam last week and did a lot of eating, I had to make sure it was well documented here.

If you want to read the non-food story of my trip, it's on my other blog. You can see a full set of photos here.

During a bus tour during my trip to Amsterdam, a guide said The Netherlands doesn't have many specialties in the way of cuisine.  When I booked my vacation, my focus was not on food because I wasn't sure what to expect.  However,  like most cosmopolitan cities, Amsterdam has its share of fine dining.   Even if I didn't have much of a clue about  Dutch cuisine (other than herring and Gouda cheese), I knew there would be some special restaurants regardless.  I was looking forward to seeing what I might find in the city.  I was not disappointed by what I found both in Amsterdam and the surrounding area. 

Day 1 - There was a lot of food served on the flight, so when I landed in Amsterdam mid-morning, I wasn't terribly hungry.  When Kevin and I arrived at the hotel, the restaurant, Lotti's was still serving brunch.  At first I didn't want anything, but I found myself tempted by the sight of all of those mimosas and decided to have one.

Since we couldn't check in right away, we did some exploring.  By mid-afternoon we were finally starting to feel hungry.  At first we thought we only wanted a snack like a coffee and some pastry.  Then we spotted a restaurant called Quattro Gatti near our hotel that had a tantalizing assortment of cakes in the window, so we thought we would give it a try. (Also, how can I not want to eat at a place called "Four Cats"?)

The restaurant was small - more like a little coffee shop.  The decor was simple.   An assortment of copper pans hung on the back wall, but there was little other ornamentation.  The open kitchen at the back was tiny.  It looked like the kitchen of a humble Roman apartment.  The smell of fresh herbs permeated the place (unlike so many Italian restaurants that only smell of garlic). The simplicity of the place charmed me right away.

When I looked at the menu, I knew I wasn't having dessert.  I saw an impressive list of homemade pasta dishes and I had to have one.

I chose spaghetti carbonara.  I ordered the small portion.  This photo makes it look as if it was indeed small, but this plate was deceptively deep.  I was trying to eat light, but there was plenty of pasta here.

I think this was the best cabonara I ever ate.  How many times have you been to an Italian restaurant and ordered the carbonara and found the chef cheated and used cream to avoid clumpy eggs?  That happens to me all the time.  This was not the case at Quattro Gatti.  This chef knew how to stir his eggs into the sauce properly.  Even though I thought it was a bit too salty, it was so rich and satisfying and expertly prepared, I will stand by my statement that it was superior to any other carbonara I have eaten.

Kevin ended up sticking to his plan of having dessert.  He loved this chocolate almond cake.  He did have his regrets about not having pasta despite the cake. We hoped to come back here, but they are only open to the public for lunch and we were never in the neighborhood at lunch time after this.

I will always regret not coming back here.

We stayed in the neighborhood for dinner.  In fact, we didn't even leave our hotel.  We had dinner at Lotti's.

I had my pasta later in the day and it was filling, so I wasn't terribly hungry at dinner.  I avoided
appetizers and focused on the main course.  I decided to make a radical change to my normal restaurant routine and had this dish of mixed roasted parsnips.  Some were wrapped in filo dough and some were plain.  They came on top of a radish salad.  It was an unusual dish, but I thought it was also a fun deviation from stuff I normally eat.  I just wish there was more filo involved.  Only two large parsnips were wrapped in it. When I saw it on the menu, I had hoped it would be more like a strudel.

Day 2 - We always ate breakfast at our hotel and I tended to keep it simple with a cappuccino and a croissant with an occasional fruit salad so I have no breakfast photos.  Lotti's served American pancakes, but I was more interested in trying traditional Dutch pancakes.  After spending the morning touring the Anne Frank House, we met up with our friend Miriam (whom we met during our Italy trip six years ago) at Pancakes Amsterdam.  I said at the beginning of this post I wasn't aware of many Dutch specialties, but I knew pancake houses were a popular lunch staple in the city and I was excited to try one.  They serve the traditional, flat, crepe-like pancakes, American pancakes, and the traditional puffy poffertjes.

I was having such a good time with Miriam and her kids, I forgot to take a picture of my lunch.  I chose a flat pancake topped with Camembert, raspberry sauce, chicory, and ham.  It was delicious and I'm happy I tried it.  One of my lesser food regrets is that I never tried the poffertjes during my trip.  Those looked good too.

That evening I tried another Dutch tradition that isn't Dutch.  I wanted to try the Indonesian rijstaffel (rice tables) that are a staple of the Amsterdam food scene.  I did some searching online and found Sampurna was a popular option. 

On the map it looked as if Sampurna was reasonably close to my hotel.  It was less than a 10 minute walk according to Google maps.  Unfortunately, it was raining steadily at dinner time and that made the walk more uncomfortable than expected.  It's too bad because the stroll along the Singel canal looked interesting with plenty of beautiful shops.  The restaurant is right alongside the famous flower market, but it was closing up when we arrived (and we wouldn't have wanted to hang out there in the rain anyway).

I was glad I made reservations for the restaurant a couple of weeks prior to the trip.  The place was as crowded and they asked if we had reservations as soon as we walked in.  During the course of the night there was a constant stream of people coming in and out.  They managed to keep the service consistent and friendly despite the crowds, so I give them a lot of credit.

There were a la carte options, but I wanted to try the full rice table meal.  They had three options to choose from.  We could order extra spicy, spicy, or vegetarian.  I went for the spicy meal for two. 

They gave us shrimp crackers and dipping sauces to start.  The sauces were quite fiery, but they were delicious.  For our appetizer we could have soup or fried chicken dumplings.  We were on vacation and fried food is always fair game on vacation, so we had the dumplings.  They came with a sweet-spicy dipping sauce.  They were good if you like fried food (obviously I do) but anyone looking for a more unique flavor, would have found them ordinary.

Once we finished our dumplings the full meal came out.  There was a sweet spicy beef and sate skewers (my favorites), chicken in a coconut sauce (Kevin's favorite), shrimp in coconut sauce, and a few different vegetable dishes (including marinated cucumbers which were another favorite).  We had peanuts and soybean crispy stuff to sprinkle over it all and plenty of rice to go under it.

Some of the dishes tasted a bit too similar to each other.  Other than the chicken, Kevin was less than impressed.  I felt a bit bad about that since the restaurant was my idea.  I still enjoyed the meal, and enjoyed more dishes than Kevin did, so I was still glad I had experienced this. 

My dessert was the standout.  It was described as a light fruit pudding on the menu.  I don't know how else to describe it.  It had a burnt sugar topping like creme brulee`.  Underneath were layers of fluffy cream with flavors of pistachio and a fruit whose flavor I couldn't put my finger on.  The contrasts in textures and the creaminess and the unusual flavors surprised me in the best way possible.

On our last night in Amsterdam I discovered  there was an Indonesian restaurant just a few doors down from our hotel.  It was in the opposite direction from which we usually walked, so I never saw it until it was too late.  Maybe it would have been less crowded than Sampurna and Kevin would have liked the food better. 

Day 3 - We took a day trip to the countryside today.  We started out in the windmill village of Zaanse Schaans.  The village looked like it had a few specialty food shops (or more likely just tourist trap shots), but our time was limited and we were there to see the windmills.  We went inside one of the mills and had a demo on the process of grinding linseed oil.  That particular mill was right next to a hot chocolate shop.  I could smell that hot chocolate everywhere in the vicinity of the mill.  I was dying for a cup of it by the time we left.

Our next stop on the tour was to the lakeside village of Volendam.  There were a couple of local specialties here.  The first one is cheese.  We went to The Cheese Factory (major tourist trap).   It's not really a factory.  The cheese itself is made elsewhere, but they have a demo room and some equipment to show how traditional Gouda is made.  We sat in on the demo and let's just put the emphasis on CHEEZE.

Do you know how the Dutch eat cheese?  They slice it thin and put it on sandwiches.  Who would have thought someone would do that?  They use this tool to slice it.  You can conveniently buy the tool in the shop.

The store was filled with free samples, so I'll stop complaining.

We had lunch at a recommended restaurant called De Lunch.  I don't know if it was the best restaurant in town, but our time in Volendam was limited and our guide said that restaurant would have the fastest service.

This was where Kevin sampled the other culinary specialty of Volendam - a local cod fish called kibbeling.  De Lunch makes it into fish and chips.

Our server tried to steer me into ordering it, but I had to politely tell her I don't like fish. I had a pork schnitzel instead.  There were french fries of course.  There were always french fries.

I satisfied my craving for hot chocolate here.  This was some seriously over-the-top hot chocolate.  They served me a mug of hot milk and a cup of chocolate chips.  I just stirred the chips directly into the milk.  I could make it as strong or as weak as I wanted (I'm sure it's no surprise I used all the chips).  It was accompanied by both whipped cream and marshmallows.  It was so good, I think it made the Belgians nervous.

We returned to Amsterdam in the later afternoon and had no dinner reservations for the evening, so we thought we would explore the neighborhood and see what restaurants looked good.  (This is when we found out we couldn't get dinner at Quattro Gatti.)  We ended up at Het Paleis, a restaurant that was kitty-corner to our hotel.  We could see it from the window in our room, which helped pique our curiosity.  It is named The Palace because it is on Paleistraat, the street that eventually leads to Dam Square and the Royal Palace.

After such a filling lunch I wasn't in the mood for anything heavy.  I started with some tomato soup.

It's always a relief  when you order tomato soup and it doesn't taste like it came from a can.  I wasn't so lucky on my first meal in Paris.

My main course was a portobello and goat cheese sandwich.  I ruined the idea of eating light when I thoughtlessly agreed to have fries on the side.

Everything was good and the service was as friendly and prompt as every other restaurant I had eaten at so far.  The Dutch get a thumbs up for excellent customer service.

Did I say I wanted to eat light?  Maybe we shouldn't have shared the apple pie.  But how can you be in the Netherlands and not have apple pie?  Look at all these apples.

Unfortunately it also had raisins.  No big deal.  I picked them out and Kevin ate them.  (Who is the pickypants now?)

Day 4 - We spent an intense day visiting the van Gogh museum and the Rijksmuseum.  We ate our lunch in the van Gogh museum cafe`, Le Tambourin.  My lunch was not particularly interesting (just a decent caprese sandwich), but I give the place credit for the name.  One of the paintings in the museum is of the owner of a cafe` called Tambourin who was once van Gogh's lover.  She is seated at a table shaped like a giant tambourine.  I liked the way the museum cafe` paid tribute to that painting.

We shifted gears again for dinner that night.  Even though I didn't know much about traditional Dutch food, I was looking for some kind of kitschy, semi-authentic experience for one of my meals.  I wanted to eat at a restaurant that would recall another era.  In short I was looking for the Dutch version of a restaurant like Plzenska from my Prague trip.

I found what I was looking for in Haesje Claes.  This was another place I found online that seemed popular and well-loved (or just another tourist trap). Once again I was smart enough to make reservations a week or two before the trip.  There were so many people coming in here, the host had to turn away anyone without a reservation.

I got my desire for some over-the-top, old fashioned décor.  We had a great table.

Our time in Volendam the day before put me in the mood for cheese.  I ordered a simple appetizer of aged Gouda.  This was a lot of cheese.  Of course Kevin wasn't interested in sharing.

There were many tasty sounding dishes on the menu and it was difficult to choose, but the traditional dish on the menu was something called stamppot, which is mashed potatoes mixed with vegetables.  I had mine mixed with sauerkraut and topped with a meatball, a sausage, and a strip of thick bacon.  The meatball was slightly rubbery, but it was a satisfying dish overall.  Kevin went a little crazy and ordered beef tenderloin.

I almost wish I had come back here to try the stamppot with lamb, or the duck confit, or the croquettes, or the tomato-pepper soup.  This rich and heavy type of food is right up my alley (although for the sake of my health, it shouldn't be).

We both had stroopwafels (waffle wafer cookies filled with sweet syrup) with a giant wedge of nougat ice cream and caramel sauce for dessert.  I love syrup waffles.  They're not easy to get in the US.  The ice cream was excellent too.  It's hard to describe the flavor, but it's not as vanilla as it looks.

 For dessert we tried some of the local firewater.  The restaurant offered a variety of locally made liqueurs with all kinds of unusual flavors.  They also had some comical names like Little Hans in the Cellar and Heaven on Earth.  I had one called Marasquin, flavored with berries and cherries.  Kevin had the Heaven on Earth.  It was flavored with chocolate and spices.  They were both so strong they veered into cough syrup territory.  I still felt a burning in my chest a few minutes after I drank mine.  I was reminded of the rakjia I drank in Montenegro, although not quite as strong.

Day 5 - We took another bus tour today.  We went to Brussels and Antwerp.  If you check out my other blog, you will see it was not the best day of my vacation.  Foodwise it started out poorly, but improved tremendously.

We were in Antwerp at lunch time. We had little time to grab lunch before heading to Brussels.  We ended up in a fast food joint.  We were trying to avoid McDonald's (there were two of them within two blocks of each other), but we might as well have eaten there.  We had burgers and fries that were not too different. 

Toward the end of the day in Brussels we tried a bakery with table service called Maison Dandoy.

This is where I was finally able to eat a liege waffle in Belgium.  It was topped with strawberry sauce and ice cream.  I had a rich cup of hot chocolate to go with it.  This was the best part of my day.  Kevin had never tried a liege waffle before, so he was in for quite a treat.

It was late when we returned to Amsterdam.  It was also King's Day.  The party was ending, but we had to fight a lot of crowds who were heading in the same direction we were heading away from.  We ate dinner in our hotel.

I stuck with an appetizer and tried the Lotti's steak tartare appetizer.  I didn't have my camera with me, so I had no photos.  It wasn't as good as the waffle in Brussels, but it was a tasty end to the day.

Day 5 - For the final day of our trip we took one last bus tour.  This time we went to Bruges.  It was a much better trip than our Brussels and Antwerp tour.  Our guide for the day made a point of saying frites, chocolate, and beer are a major part of Belgian culture (Belgians are bigger pleasure seekers than the Dutch.)and we would have plenty of opportunities to sample all of them.

We went to the recommended restaurant Old Bruges.  Once again the guide recommended this because they would serve us quickly. Social media posts all say this is a pretty lackluster tourist trap.   This is the problem with bus tour meals.  The places the tour companies steer you to are often not great, but you don't want to take the risk that service elsewhere will be too slow to enjoy the rest of the day. 

I tried the traditional Flemish beef stew with fries.  It was nothing special.  I thought both dishes could have used a bit more salt. The stew was kind of bland.  Dutch and Belgian fries are way less salty than American fries.  It's too bad I like salty fries.

Would another restaurant have done it better?  Who knows?

It could have been worse, but if I had to do it over, I might have tried to find another restaurant.

Our next food stop was Galler chocolates.  We knew we wanted to take home some Belgian chocolate from Bruges, but there are so many shops we weren't sure which one to pick.  Galler was the one our guide recommended.  We bought a box of pralines and truffles (all exquisite).  Kevin didn't just want truffles and pralines though.  He wanted some bark.  We found it in another store called Mary.  We bought white and dark chocolate bark studded with hazelnuts, almonds, and pistachios.

There was a waffle truck conveniently parked next to our bus when we left Bruges, so we made sure to stop for a last waffle drizzled with Belgian chocolate sauce.

Once again it was quite late when we returned to Amsterdam.  We could have eaten at our hotel, but I wanted to try something new for our last night.  We asked the front desk for some late-night recommendations.  He suggested Cafe Libertine.  That was certainly an appropriate name for a restaurant in a city where prostitution is legal.

This was a place for young hipsters.  At first I didn't mind.  I loved the décor and the open kitchen.

The menu was a bit limited, but the pizza sounded interesting, so I ordered one with speck and some kind of cheese I can't remember.  Kevin had one with spinach and egg.  Tasty, but the crust on mine could have been a bit crispier.

Service started out good. Our server was friendly and cheerful.  Unfortunately we were abandoned after a while.  The young hipsters received all the servers' attention.  We wanted to order dessert, but they were ignoring our table.  Kevin got frustrated and asked for our check at the register and paid there.  We went back to the hotel for dessert and a final cocktail.  It was hard going to bed knowing the next morning we would have to leave.

One more breakfast and it was time to go.  My overall impression is that when it comes to food, there isn't much you can't get in Amsterdam.  The restaurant options are endless.  Except for the glitch at the end of our dinner at Libertine, we never had bad service.  Everyone was friendly and almost everyone spoke perfect English.  Some meals were better than others, but I never had a bad meal.  Amsterdam is a wonderful place to visit even without the food, but the food definitely made it that much better.