Category: In My Life

Pour moi un kir, s’il vous plaît !

14322645_976255342501039_8657764148315173062_nfullsizerender-14 One of the biggest pleasures of dining out in France is being able to order a proper and simple kir, the most delicious of apéritifs, as far as I’m concerned!
In the latest issue of France magazine En Route — which just hit the newsstands across the Netherlands this week — you can check out my column on page 77 and find out more about the history of the popular drink. It is such a joy to write for this magazine because it gives me the opportunity to research one of the subjects I love most — French food & drink!
Happy reading, happy weekend and tchin-tchin!

Fragrant Chicken Pilaf

pilaf3A while ago I worked on a culinary feature for Dutch women’s weekly Vriendin. The subject was cooking with different types of rice, and I also had to develop six international rice recipes. Though I grew up with Colombian parents who served rice at every meal, I hardly eat rice anymore. It just doesn’t appeal to me. I find it a rather uninspiring food. Perhaps I had too much of it in my youth. Anyhow, it was an interesting production to work on, despite the fact that by the end of the week, I never wanted to see another grain of rice again!
That must have been two years ago.
The record was broken yesterday when I was suddenly in the mood to make a pilaf. Just out of the blue, which is pretty much the way culinary inspiration hits me. Randomly. (Side note: A few nights ago I had a dream I was eating lobster at a very fancy restaurant. Wonder what will come of that.)
I scribbled the following recipe, and hoped for the best. Well, it was delicious. Though next time I think I’ll serve it with a spicy relish — like the one the paella lady serves in Duras. More on that later.
Here’s the recipe:

Fragrant Chicken Pilaf
Serves 4

  • 1 tbsp Harissa sauce
  • 1 tbsp full-fat yogurt
  • 350g chicken thigh fillets, cut into small pieces
  • 300 g basmati rice
  • knob of butter
  • 1 tbsp mild olive oil
  • 3 shallots, finely chopped
  • 2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 6 cardamom pods, bruised
  • 1 1/2 tsp curry masala powder
  • 50g dried cranberries
  • 560ml hot chicken stock
  • 50g pistachios
  • chopped flat leaf parsley or coriander, to serve

Mix the Harissa with the yogurt and stir in the chicken pieces. Put the rice in a fine mesh sieve and wash it under the tap until the water runs clear. Heat the oil and butter in a shallow, heavy-bottomed pan and gently sauté the shallots, garlic, cinnamon stick, cardamom pods and curry masala powder for approximately 8 minutes. The spices will release their aroma and give the dish a lot of flavor. Remove the cardamom pods (this will be a bit of a search!), increase the heat and add the chicken. Cook the chicken, while stirring, for 10 minutes. Stir in the rice and cranberries. Add the stock, stir everything well and bring to a boil. Lower the heat immediately, place a lid on the pan, and allow the dish to simmer for 20 minutes. In the meantime, toast your pistachios in an ungreased frying pan, leave them to cool and chop them up. Remove the pan of pilaf from the heat, and let it stand (do not stir!) for 5 minutes. Add in the pistachios and mix through the pilaf with a fork. Using any other implement will make the rice stick. Sprinkle with the chopped herbs and serve. Note: when serving the dish, however, you will want to scrape up all the bits at the bottom!

Tagliatelle with Gorgonzola, Walnuts and Caramelized Red Onions

tagliatelleIt’s a good thing when your children like your cooking. Yes, there have been foods that Kirstie absolutely hated. Like pumpkins, for example. Or avocados. She used to almost gag at the sight of an avocado, and now she eats them happily and without protest. The same goes for pumpkin, too. Though perhaps not completely ‘happily’.
They say that children have to try some foods several times before they can accept them, and I think this is very true and demands a little perseverance on the part of the parents. While Kirstie was growing up I always encouraged her to at least try a little of something she didn’t like. And then I prepared that particular food again. And again. I don’t know if that makes me a good or bad mother, but I will never wrap my head around parents who cook separately for their children. I am, by no means, judging. We all do what we think is right for our families.
For me, one of the greatest compliments is when Kirstie asks me if I can make a particular dish again. It implies that the meal was memorable. Perhaps it will be one of those dishes she’ll make for her own family some day, seasoning it with plenty of fond memories of her childhood at home.
So last Friday, when she asked me when I would be making pasta with blue cheese again, I promised her I’d make it very soon. And that’s what I brought to the table in my beautiful dark blue Le Creuset casserole last night. I must say that I gave the dish a new twist. Improved it, in my opinion. Whereas in the past I used too many ingredients (chicken or bacon, leeks, mushrooms), I decided to keep it a little more sober this time, and to make it vegetarian.
The combination of flavors is a perfect marriage between the sharp, woodsy and slightly herbal Gorgonzola piccante; the crisp, toasted walnuts and a crowning of sweet, caramelized red onions. It’s also a dish that you can make in under twenty minutes, which makes it all the more appealing.

Tagliatelle with Gorgonzola, Walnuts and Caramelized Red Onions
Serves 3-4

  • 75g walnuts
  • 2 knobs of butter
  • 2 medium red onions, halved and sliced
  • 325g tagliatelle
  • 3 cloves of garlic, thinly sliced
  • 120ml dry white wine
  • 2 tbsps crème fraîche
  • 225g Gorgonzola piccante, cubed
  • 200g fresh spinach leaves
  • fleur de sel
  • freshly cracked pepper

Toast your walnuts briefly in a small ungreased frying pan, chop them roughly and set them aside. Wipe the pan and melt one knob of the butter. Sauté your onions, stirring frequently. In the meantime, bring a large pan of water to the boil for your tagliatelle. Add salt to the water before adding in your dried pasta. Cook al dente for approximately 6-7 minutes. It may be a good idea to check the packet instructions on the particular brand you choose. I always give my pasta a minute or two less than indicated. While your pasta cooks, melt the other knob of butter in a large, shallow casserole and add the garlic, making sure it doesn’t brown. Do this over a low heat. After a few minutes, increase the heat and immediately add the wine. Allow this to bubble for about three minutes before whisking in the cream and 3/4 of the cheese. Now add the spinach and a tablespoon of the cooking water from the pasta. Give the spinach a few minutes to wilt and let the sauce thicken. Drain the pasta and stir through the sauce. Season with salt if desired, though the gorgonzola provides enough flavor on its own. Scatter with the rest of the cheese and the walnuts. Top with the caramelized onions and finish with a good grating of fresh pepper.

Mediterranean-Style Green Beans

green beansI have been very busy recipe testing these last few weeks for a new project (more on that later!). Some recipes work brilliantly on the first try, while others fail miserably (at least in my opinion — I can be rather hard on myself). On Friday, I tried a recipe for porc en croûte, and I was everything but thrilled with the final result. So on Sunday it was back to the drawing table, and luckily, this one was a success. I will make it again at least a few times before it is ever published though. In my opinion, there is nothing more frustrating than kitchen failures which result from poorly written recipes that are not thoroughly tested. It is one of my culinary pet peeves and something I do not want to do to anyone who cooks one of my recipes!
Sometimes, while I am working on one particular recipe, inspiration hits me to make something else. Like a side dish or a dessert, for example. It’s a good thing that I always have pen and paper on hand so that I can scribble away as I cook. As my successful porc en croûte happily baked away yesterday, I came up with the following recipe. I am not particularly fond of green beans and find them rather insipid. Not at all the case if you make them in the following manner. I would also not hesitate to pair this dish with a roast chicken.

PS: I am currently looking for recipe testers to help me out with my new project. Should this be of interest, please get in touch.

Here’s the recipe…

Mediterranean-Style Green Beans
Serves 3-4

  • 400g green beans
  • 1 tbsp good quality butter
  • 1 medium red onion, halved and finely sliced
  • 2 cloves of garlic, finely sliced
  • 3 tbsps toasted pine nuts
  • 10 semi-sun-dried tomatoes, chopped
  • fleur de sel
  • freshly-grated pepper

Boil the green beans in salted water for approximately 4-6 minutes. You want the beans to remain crisp. In the meantime, melt the butter in a large frying pan and gently sauté the onions. Drain the beans and allow them to steam briefly. Add in the garlic, pine nuts and sundried tomatoes and cook while stirring for another minute or so. You want these flavors to remain present and vibrant in the dish. Add in your green beans and toss them through the mixture, seasoning them to taste with salt and pepper.