January was a fairly eventful month for cooking and eating as you’ll see in this monthly roundup. Throughout the month I ate a few nice things both as restaurants and homemade. It was also my husband’s birthday near the end of the month so we had a birthday/house warming party with lots of homemade fingers foods and then also ventured out for dinner at Maris Piper in De Pijp.
Easy Weeknight Cashew Chicken
My family was visiting for the duration of the holidays so there was a lot of indulgence on the menu. Once everyone left and we were getting back into our regular routine, we were both craving something healthy and full of veggies.
I threw together this cashew chicken on a busy weeknight and it fit the bill for healthy, tasty and easy. It’s really adaptable to a lot of different veggies that you may have lying around.
I used red pepper, yellow pepper, Brussels sprouts, and topped with some fresh green onion. You could substitute carrots, broccoli, bok choy, or any other mix of sweet and cruciferous vegetables. Stronger flavoured veg like mushrooms might crowd out the cashew flavour but you could always try it.
The cashews add a satisfying crunch and are particularly good in contrast to the garlic, ginger, chillies, soy, and hoisin sauce base.
If you have to swap out the cashews you could do so with peanuts or almonds..but walnuts, pecans, hazelnuts or any other nut might throw off the flavour balance.
As for the protein, this dish is made with chicken, which has a mild enough flavour to balance out nicely with the cashews and vegetables. You could easily swap out the chicken for tofu and make this vegan.
If you don’t have hoisin sauce you can replace it with one tbsp of soy sauce and one tsp of brown sugar.
You can also see the full recipe post on cashew chicken for more detailed information.
- 4 boneless skinless chicken thighs (around 250 grams / 9oz), cut into bite-sized pieces
- 2 boneless skinless chicken breast filets (around 250 grams / 9oz), cut into bite-sized pieces
- 1 cup cashew nuts
- 250 grams brussels sprouts,
- 1 red pepper and 1 yellow pepper
- 2 red chillies, thinly sliced
- 3 cloves garlic, mashed or minced
- 2cm piece of ginger, mashed or minced
- 4 stalks green onion, thinly sliced
- 1 tsp wheat flour
- 1 tbsp soy sauce
- 1 tbsp hoisin sauce
- Oil for frying
Easy Weeknight Lemon Pepper Drumsticks with Burst Tomatoes
Another weeknight meal when I had very little energy for elaborate preparation. This couldn’t have been easier. Preheat oven to 200 C / 400 F. Pat drumsticks dry, place on a large baking tray and then drizzle and rub with olive oil.
Cover on all sides with salt, pepper, lemon zest and Mediterranean herbs. I use this Euroma Mediterranean Herbs blend that I’ve been using in a lot of things lately. It’s a high quality blend so it adds a lot of flavour. If you don’t have access to it you can also combine equal parts oregano, rosemary and mint.
Sprinkle the lemon slices around the baking tray and then lay a few bunches of on the vine cherry tomatoes in and drizzle with a bit more olive oil. Bake for 30 minutes or until chicken is browned and tomatoes are burst. Serve as is or with roasted potatoes or rice.
Unfortunately we ate too fast for an after picture.
- 5 chicken drumsticks
- 2 boneless chicken quarters
- 1 tbsp Mediterranean herbs
- Salt & black pepper
- 1 lemon separated into 1/2 tbsp lemon zest and cut the rest into slices
- Few bunches cherry tomatoes
- Olive oil
Whole Grilled Dorade at Restaurant Colijn in Amstelveen
One day in the middle of the month my colleagues and I went for an impromptu work lunch at Restaurant Colijn in Amstelveen. We’d walked past it so many times and were curious to try it. The whole front facade of the restaurant is a brightly lit sunroom with a fireplace in the middle. It makes for a cozy dining area with a relaxed and friendly atmosphere.
The menu at Restaurant Colijn is varied. It’s available in both Dutch and English. You can choose from burgers, a variety of seafood dishes, sandwiches, soups, salads, steaks and pasta. I was still recoverying from a bit of stomach upset (bad takeaway) so I opted for the simplest thing on the menu – grilled dorade with roasted vegetables. To be honest I wasn’t really looking forward to it because there were so many other delicious options – spicy shrimp, salmon with hollandaise, cod with dill butter – all of which seemed tastier but couldn’t be tolerated by my sensitive stomach.
When the dorade finally came I was blown away. It was a whole dorade, carefully stuffed with a mix of limes, rosemary and what tasted like tarragon, and then grilled and served with perfectly roasted carrots, green beans, baby corn and potatoes. It was absolutely excellent. Even the vegetables were cooked perfectly.
Simplified Picadillo Beef Empanadas
There’s nothing like a genuine picadillo beef empanada. The combination of briny green olives with a sweet pimento center and creamy hard boiled egg scattered throughout highly spiced beef creates a really distinctive flavour profile that happens to make an excellent party food when wrapped in the pillowy folds of homemade empanada dough (or store bought for the time-strapped or generally disinclined.)
Before making these Argentine inspired beef empanadas for Bogdan’s birthday, I hadn’t had a proper beef empanada in probably two years. Unlike Toronto, the distance from Amsterdam to South America makes it quite difficult to find good South American food here.
In Amsterdam you’re much more likely to find empanadas stuffed with brie or confit duck (France, is that you?). This was my experience at the Noordermarkt late last summer when I came across an empanada vendor with nary a classic flavour about him.
Of course there’s nothing wrong with experimentation, but sometimes you just crave the nostalgic taste of the classics. So I decided it was time to make some traditional beef empanadas.
Thai Spring Rolls
Thai spring rolls are a recipe I devised after visiting Thailand in 2015. My friends and I wanted to do so much eating that we crafted an elaborate meal schedule involving pre-breakfasts and post-dinners and snacks and small bites – all in addition to our regular plans for touring as many food markets and street vendor stalls as we could find.
These Thai spring rolls bring together the 4 cardinal flavours that together make the quintessentially Thai flavour balance:
- Salty from soy and fish sauces
- Spicy from fresh red chilies
- Sour from tamarind and lime juices
- Sweet from brown sugar
When combined with highly seasoned filling (garlic, ginger, lemongrass, and kaffir lime leaves) of finely diced pork or chicken (mushrooms and carrots are also great for the vegetarian) and aromatic pandan rice, it makes for a perfect bite sized explosion of Thai flavours.
I made over 40 mixed pork and vegetarian Thai spring rolls for Bogdan’s birthday and they were probably the most popular snack of the evening. My gourmand friend Sarah liked them so much she made a batch the very next day and then another over the subsequent week. They’re that good.
I haven’t managed to get a proper picture of the Thai spring rolls yet but one of these days I will.
In the meantime here’s a quick recipe for the meat version:
Thai spring rolls recipe
- 1 kg / 2 lbs pork shoulder or chicken thigh, finely diced. You can also buy pre-ground.
- A package of 40-60 spring roll rice paper wrappers (the soft frozen ones not the dry ones used for fresh rolls)
- 1.5 – 2 cups of cooked pandan rice
- 2 cm piece of ginger
- 3 cloves garlic
- 5-6 Thai bird chilies or 1-2 regular red chilies
- 3 stalks lemongrass, cleaned and cut into fine rings
- 5-6 kaffir lime leaves
- 3 tbsp tamarind juice/pulp
- 3 tbsp soy sauce
- 3 tbsp fish sauce
- A large handful of fresh Thai basil (Italian is okay too if you can’t find Thai)
- Juice of 1-2 limes
- Up to 2 tbsp brown sugar
- Oil for frying and basting
- Use a mortar and pestle to pound together the ginger, garlic and lemongrass. You could also use a good processor.
- Slice the chilies finely into small rings, cut the kaffir lime into tiny pieces, and sliver the basil into small strips.
- Dice the meat. Pre-ground will give you similar results, but chilling it yourself makes it caramelize into sticky crispy golden perfection.
- Rub half the ginger, garlic, lemongrass and chilies into the meat.
- Heat a tbsp of oil in a large skillet or wok. Add the meat and brown on medium-high heat. Cook down until browned and aromatic.
- Add the cooked rice, tamarind, soy sauce, fish sauce, and the rest of the ginger, garlic and lemongrass paste as well as the kaffir lime leaves.
- Cook the composition a little longer and then slowly add one tbsp at a time of the lime juice and a small sprinkle of brown sugar. Calibrate the sour/sweet balance until it’s exactly right. There should be a perfectly balanced interplay of salty, sour, spicy and sweet – but of course this can be different for everyone. Remember as a rule of thumb that it should be a bit stronger in flavour since it will go in a spring roll wrap.
- Once the mixture is calibrated, begin rolling 2-3 tbsp in each wrap. Depending how much oil you used in the mixture, you may need to brush each roll with a bit more oil so is crisps up properly.
- Bake in a pre-heated oven at 190 C / 375 F for 20 – 25 minutes or until golden. Can be served alone or with sweet chili dipping sauce.
These spring rolls can easily be made ahead and kept on a plate in the fridge for up to a day before baking.
Artichoke Spinach Dip
Artichoke and spinach dip was a staple at mid-market eateries when I was growing up in Toronto. My favourite version was at Kelsey’s, where the dip was served piping hot with just toasted fresh pita. It was a sad day when I realized they had phased out the pita and would henceforth only serve the spinach dip with tortilla chips.
It’s been a while since I’ve had spinach dip but it’s an easy crowd pleasing hot appetizer that doesn’t take a lot of time to pull off. This was my second time making spinach dip since moving to the Netherlands and both times I was surprised to find that most non-North Americans had no idea what spinach dip was.
This is a basic spinach dip. A bag of spinach, two diced onions, 3 cloves garlic, a jar of marinated artichokes, and 2-3 packages of Philadelphia cream cheese. Melt it all together, top with cheddar and mozzarella and the artichoke spinach dip is born.
The best part about this spinach dip is that it can be repurposed as a super fast creamy pasta base. It has all the right ingredients and if you heat it in a pan and add some crushed tomato you have a delicious sauce in 5 minutes flat.
Easy Puff Pastry Wrapped Camembert Two Ways
Another super easy hot appetizer is baked camembert. In this case it’s made with store bought puff pastry which makes the whole process even faster. I made two versions:
Pesto, chilli flakes & toasted almond: Smear 2 – 3 tbsp of your favourite pesto in a circle on the puff pastry and top with 1/2 tsp chilli flakes and a few tbsp of freshly toasted and crushed almonds.
Raspberry jam and mixed nuts: A few spoonfuls of raspberry jam and a small handful of freshly toasted nut mix – I used a mix with pumpkin seeds, cashews, almonds, raisins and dried cranberries and tossed it in a hot pan for a few minutes to crisp up the nuts and seeds and freshen it all up.
For Bogdan’s actual birthday we went to Maris Piper in De Pijp. This was my second time going to Maris Piper and I chose it for Bogdan’s birthday specifically because I was so impressed last time I was there. The smoked eel and foie royale on soft toasted brioche is one of the best bites of food I’ve tasted in a very long time. Sure enough my second visit didn’t disappoint.
We were sat in a super quaint and atmospheric corner. Starters were fresh oysters, crazy tender grilled octopus, and the foie royale and smoked eel. For mains Bogdan had the dover sole and I had the roast chicken. Both were perfect.
Dessert was mind blowing – baked Alaska with hot rummy raisins, crunchy nuts, and the most perfect light and fluffy ever so slightly lemon flavoured meringue topping. Maris Piper is always a winner. One of these days I’ll do and write a proper restaurant review. You can see the full menu at Maris Piper.
Mister Chen X Cha House in Oost
Sourdough Workshop at The Baking Lab
On the last day of the month I attended a sourdough for beginners workshop at The Baking Lab in Amsterdam Oost. It was a really inspiring evening learning about sourdough bread baking and at the end of the night I left with a freshly baked loaf, a sachet of smoked Danish sea salt that I can’t wait to try, and a little cup of sourdough starter that will definitely feature in February’s food and cooking roundup.
That’s all for January’s monthly roundup.
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