Pasta Salad Niçoise

Pastasalade Nicoise met eiThis zesty salad is perfect for easy weekday lunches. And once the weather really shapes us, it would work well on a picnic, too. 

Serves: 4-6

  • 300g fusilli
  • 150g fresh green beans, trimmed and cut in half
  • 4 eggs
  • 5 tbsps olive oil
  • 2 tbsps red wine vinegar
  • 1 tsp Dijon mustard
  • 1 ½ tsp dried basil
  • salt (preferably fleur de sel) and freshly-cracked pepper
  • 1 red onion, halved and thinly sliced
  • 100g black olives
  • 100g sun-dried tomatoes, chopped
  • 2 cans of tuna in water (195g each), drained
  • fresh basil leaves

Cook the pasta according to the instructions on the package, adding the green beans in 5 minutes before the end of the cooking time. In the meantime, hardboil your eggs (8-12 minutes). Once cooked, rinse them under cold running water, peel them and let them cool. Drain the pasta and green beans, quickly rinse under cold running water and allow to drain well. In a large bowl, whisk the olive oil, red wine vinegar, Dijon mustard, basil and salt and pepper. Add the drained pasta and green beans and the rest of the ingredients. Carefully stir. Cut the eggs into sections. Transfer the salad to a serving platter and garnish with the egg.

Week at the French Seaside

Le Touquet-Paris-Plage is known as one of the most luxurious beach resorts in the north of France. Wealthy Parisians have beautiful summer villas there, and the resort was a favorite among people such as Serge Gainsbourg, Marlène Dietrich and Winston Churchill. One of its most famous residents today may just well be French presidential candidate Emmanuel Macron!
We fell in love with Le Touquet years ago during our first trip to the north of France, and since then, we alternate either early winter in Bourgogne or late spring in Le Touquet. Last week we had another wonderful holiday at this gorgeous coastal town. It was only five days, but it felt like so much more. We enjoyed wonderful (and not so wonderful!) French food, had the fortune of having fantastic weather (albeit a little on the chilly side), and enjoyed walks on the beach with our little digger Pastis (who gave me quite a scare when he got sand in his eyes!). Here are some snapshots of our week, for those who didn’t already see them on Instagram. PS: There are more there.
I am looking forward to going back already! Never visited? Have a look at this link:

Our ‘welcome to France’ meal has always been steak-frites. And the best we’ve ever had is served at Brasserie de la Paix in Sainte Cecile. Everything is perfect here. The wine, the desserts, the ambience!
Brasserie de la Paix, from the outside. The beach is two steps away.
Some of the seaside houses of Le Touquet. The really fancy ones on their own private little hills are about a five-minute drive from the beach and city center.
This could have been the best meal ever! We went for a drive and ended up in a coastal town called Saint-Valery-sur-Somme. There we stopped at Le Bistrot de St. Val where I started with six beautiful oysters before moving on to this sumptuous choucroute de la mer! Sauerkraut, various types of seafood and a delectable cream sauce to gloriously crown it all. The wine was gorgeous and the setting at their veranda just perfect.
After lunch, we walked through the center of town, Beautiful little French village!
Our next stop was Cayeux-sur-Mer.
Majestic views around Camiers.
On Wednesday, we visited Boulogne-sur-Mer and ate at the cozy restaurant La Pierre Chaud. Run by a friendly couple, eating at the restaurant feels like coming home after a long day at work. I started with a herring salad and my main was a traditional dish of northern France called ‘potjevleesch’, a terrine with various types of meats such as rabbit, pork, veal and chicken. I can’t even tell you how good it is — though it may not look that appetizing!
After lunch, it was time to walk off some of the calories!
Square at Boulogne-sur-Mer.
On Thursday morning, hubby and I headed for the market in Le Touquet where we enjoyed coffee and croissants in the sun! Kirstie stayed at the hotel with Pastis as markets are not all that interesting to them.
The covered part of the market is the best part! We got some bits and pieces for dinner that day, including a tasty piece of duck-pepper terrine from Prince Mulard!
And no trip to the north of France would be complete without buying a chunk of the stinkiest and tastiest of cheeses — Maroilles! Look at this beautiful cheese stand!
Our final lunch in France was at Á Table in Le Touquet’s Rue du Metz. Wonderfully cozy place. We started with this lovely goat’s cheese salad and our main was pork loin in mustard-lavender sauce! A flavor explosion! By the way, we had a pretty horrible experience at Le Matisse (where I got served the most vile Belgian endive salad) and at Au Marché (where Kirstie was served a bleeding burger and I ended up a bit sick; a shame as we loved this restaurant in the past). But we didn’t let those hiccups ruin our fun!
Our final sunset at le Touquet. Can’t wait to be back!







Dutch Currant Buns: From Funeral Food to Breakfast Treat


bunsBefore moving to the Netherlands, breakfast was a solemn affiar. When I lived in the United States, on my way to work or school, I often stopped at the local Dunkin’ Donuts (can’t believe the first one has just landed in Amsterdam — and no, I’m not so sure I’m still a fan) for a cup of weak, milky coffee to wash down a bagel with strawberry cream cheese, If I had time to eat at home, it was usually a toaster waffle and instant coffee. You can imagine my amazement and delight when I was introduced to the wonders (trust me, certainly wonderful compared to what I was used to!) of the Dutch breakfast table by my very traditionally Dutch mother-in-law. Breakfast was a beautiful and abundant affair with everything from fresh fruit to various types of hearty carbs. Luckily, gluten intolerance wasn’t fashionable back then…
Out came the pretty damask tablecloth, and while the kettle was put on for tea and the scent of filter coffee filled the air, eggs were boiled and a variety of Dutch breakfast icons slowly started to appear on the table: hagelslag (chocolate sprinkles), beschuit (rusks), ontbijtkoek (spice cake), appelstroop (apple syrup), three types of cheese (aged, young and cumin), a plate of cold cuts, Calvé peanut butter, sliced whole wheat bread, soft white rolls, crackers and krentenbollen.
I was especially charmed by the latter. The tender, currant studded buns enticed me with their aromatic scent of vanilla. I would split them open, generously butter each half and layer them with a few slices of sharp, aged cheese — a sweet and savory treat all in one. And we all know the thrill of sweet and salt. Salted caramel is a prime example of this deliciousness.
But krentenbollen, I later found out, did not originate at the breakfast table. In fact, they were first called ‘leedbollen’ (sorrow rolls) and were a staple at non-Catholic funerals, much like the still popular ‘plakje cake’ (slice of cake). Catholic funerals, on the other hand, gave preference to things like gingerbread (rouwpeperkoek) and cookies.
Today, krentenbollen are also served on less somber occasions. They travel well and are a popular choice for packed lunches, day-trips and picnics. I always had one in my bag during my days as a student at the University of Leiden, and my daughter still loves them for lunch. It’s their taste and texture that makes them so appealing as an ‘on-the-go’ food. A squashed ham or cheese sandwich isn’t really something to look forward to, yet for some reason, a slightly flattened krentenbol doesn’t lose its charm it only gets better.
Unfortunately, the ridiculous fear of carbs has made many Dutch wary of their krentenbol these days. Empty calories. And all that sugar! Might as well scoff a chocolate bar! It’s interesting to note that a decade or so ago, krentenbollen were part of the weight loss plan designed by Dutch diet guru, Sonja Bakker. Times (and diet insanity) sure have changed. The calories in a krentenbol, however, remained the same: a modest 150 or so, unless you opt for the larger variety, a reuze krentenbol’. In that case you can tack on an additional 100 calories.
For those who are unconcerned about restrictions or are craving a Dutch krentenbol after reading this blog, my recipe follows. Keep in mind that unlike the shop-brought variety, these are a bit more substantial and less ‘wodgier’. They also keep much shorter:  I would eat them within two days. Make them for brunch (lovely on your Easter table), and serve them warm out of the oven with royal lashings of butter and slices of aged Gouda. The recipe makes twenty. Freeze what you won’t be eating. Though freezing always affects taste. But don’t fret too much, and remember the Dutch saying that goes: “Het leven is net een krentenbol, met af en toe een hard stukje” (Life is like a currant bun, every once in a while there’s a hard bit)!

Krentenbollen (Dutch Currant Buns)
Makes approximately 20 currant buns

  • 250g currants, rinsed
  • 100g butter
  • 225ml whole milk
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 2 eggs
  • 600 g all-purpose flour, plus some extra
  • 2 packets yeast (7 g per packet)
  • 70g light brown sugar
  • 2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • pinch of freshly ground nutmeg
  • pinch of salt

For the glaze:

  • 1 egg
  • 2 tsps milk

Put the currants in a pan with hot water and allow them to plump for about 15 minutes. Put the butter and the milk in a small saucepan, allowing the butter to melt into the milk on a low fire. Once the butter is melted, take the pan off the heat and add the vanilla extract and the eggs. Whisk gently. Drain the currants. Sift the flour over a large bowl. Add the yeast, sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt. Stir well. Add the currants and stir again. Add the wet ingredients to the dry and mix well with a wooden spoon. If the mixture is too wet, add a little more flour. You don’t want to make the mixture too dry either! Flour your hands and knead the dough while it is still in the bowl. Flour your work surface and knead the dough there for about five minutes. The dough should be soft. Not too wet and not too dry. Shape the dough into a ball and sprinkle with a little flour. Wash and dry the bowl. Transfer your dough to the bowl, cover with cling film and a clean tea towel. Put your bowl in a warm, draft-free area and allow to rise for an hour and a half. Punch down the dough, transfer to your work surface and knead for a minute or so. Line a baking sheet with baking paper. Make dough balls the size of prunes and put them on the baking sheet, leaving a little space between each one. Cover the buns with cling film and the tea towel and allow to rise for another 45 minutes. Preheat the oven to 200°C. Whisk the egg and the milk and brush a little of this mixture over the buns. Bake for 20-25 minutes or until golden brown. Keep an eye on them to make sure they don’t brown too quickly. In that case, you can cover them with a sheet foil. Serve warm with the best butter you can find and stuff with Dutch cheese.

Herbed Spelt Couscous with Grilled Asparagus & Halloumi


Every once in a while I decide to put my prejudices aside and try out a recipe from a magazine. Well, to some extent…
I know this may sound a little arrogant, but good recipe writing is a rarity these days. Even well-known food writers are increasingly publishing books (written by ghost writers, may I add) with recipes that simply do not work. As a recipe writer myself, I question whether or not the recipes are tested before publication. I know how disappointing it is when a poorly written recipe ends up in failure and a waste of ingredients, so my recipes are always tested before being submitted to an editor or published on this blog. I want people to gain confidence in the kitchen, not be turned off by disasters that are a result of crappy recipe writing.
Anyhow, to get back to my point…
This past weekend I picked up a copy of the newest Allerhande, a magazine published by Dutch supermarket Albert Heijn. While I prefer to shop at exclusively organic supermarkets and markets (geez that also sounds snobby!), I regularly visit the supermarket for their organic line. I usually leaf through their magazine quickly, but rarely make one of the recipes. This issue, however, featured a really tempting couscous dish I knew I would have to make. It was really my intention to follow the recipe, yet as I was cooking I decided to give it my own twist. The original version (found on page 64 of the April issue) also looks very appealing, though if you’re making it, use 480ml of water to cook the couscous and broccoli rice. The specified 350ml simply isn’t enough!
Here’s my variation, to what already looks like a great recipe:

Herbed Spelt Couscous with Grilled Asparagus & Halloumi
Serves 4

  • 300g spelt couscous
  • 400g broccoli rice
  • 1 tbsp ras el hanout
  • freshly cracked pepper
  • 480ml boiling water
  • juice of 1 lemon
  • 4 tbsps olive oil
  • 1 tsp honey
  • 1 tsp Dijon mustard
  • fleur de sel
  • 15g mint, leaves chopped
  • 15g chives, chopped
  • 15g parsley, chopped
  • 350g green asparagus, ends trimmed
  • 400g halloumi, in 8 slices
  • handful of almonds, chopped

In a large bowl mix the couscous, broccoli rice, ras el hanout and pepper. Pour in the boiling water and close with either a lid or plastic wrap. Allow this to ‘cook’ for 10 minutes. Make a dressing by whisking the lemon juice, olive oil, honey, Dijon mustard and salt and pepper. Pour this over the cooked couscous, add the chopped herbs and stir well. Divide the couscous over 4 plates. Grill the asparagus for approximately 4-6 minutes in a lightly oiled grilled pan. Season them with salt at the very end. Divide the asparagus over the couscous. Grill the halloumi for 1-2 minutes per side and divide the slices over each plate. Garnish each plate with chopped almonds and finish with a drizzle of olive oil.