Easy vegan granola

Most granola available in stores contains honey (at least it does in my neck of the woods), so when my local supermarket decided to discontinue my preferred honey-free option, I thought: "Why not make my own granola?"
This recipe is so easy that I wonder why I never tried it before!

Makes 8-10 servings:
2c oats
1/2c almond flakes
1/2c maple syrup

Add-ins of choice, such as:
Sultanas or raisins
Dried cranberries
Freeze-dried strawberries
Shredded coconut or coconut flakes
Dried banana chips (not salted, obviously...)
Crumbled apple chips
Flax seeds
Sunflower seeds
Pumpkin seeds

Preheat oven to 200°C. Prepare a baking sheet with baking parchment.

In a bowl, mix oats, almonds and maple syrup. Spread mixture out thinly on the baking sheet and bake for 15mins. Let the granola cool completely (it will crisp up), crumble and mix in add-ins of choice (I used raisins and shredded coconut). Store in an airtight container.
Enjoy with (non-dairy) yogurt for breakfast.

Based on a Happy Herbivore Mealplan recipe.

Dutch holiday loaf

In the Netherlands, it is customary to eat a special raisin bread with almond paste filling for Easter and Christmas. This is a vegan version, and a friend of mine thought it was much better than the store-bought varieties!

What you need (for 1 large loaf or 4 small loaves):
- 100g raisins or sultanas
- 100g currants (or extra raisins)
- 2 tbsp lemon zest (I used store-bought zest from Dr. Oetker)
- 3 tbsp rum or water
- 1 package ready-made almond paste (Dr. Oetker) or make your own (see recipe below)
- 7g dry yeast
- 200ml non-dairy milk
- 60g unsalted vegan margarine
- 125g caster sugar
- 430g flour
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 4 tbsp soy yoghurt (or pureed silken tofu)
- sunflower oil
- additional non-dairy milk
- flaked almond (optional)
- icing sugar

Mix raisins, curants and lemon zest in a bowl, add rum or water and soak, covered, for 2hrs until all liquid has been absorbed. (Prepare the almond paste if making from scratch, see recipe below).
Melt the margarine and mix in milk, sugar and yoghurt. Let it cool to approx. body temperature, then stir in the yeast.
In a large bowl, stir together flour and salt, then make a dip in the centre. Mix in the milk mixture and knead for approx. 10 mins. until the dough is soft and elastic. Add a bit of flour if the dough is too sticky. Shape the dough into a ball, brush a bit of oil on top and let it rise, covered, for 1 - 1,5 hrs. at a warm spot.
Knead the dough, then flatten in on your work surface. Sprinkle the soaked fruit on top, then fold over the dough and gently knead it until well-mixed. Shape the dough into an 20cmx30cm (8"x12")oval. Knead the almond paste and shape it into a 30cm (12") roll. Put it on top of the dough, then fold over the dough so the almond paste is sealed inside. Let the loaf rest and rise for another hour.
Preheat the oven to 180°C (circulation oven: 170°C). Brush a bit of milk on top of the loaf and sprinkle on some flaked almonds, if desired. Bake the loaf for 30-35 mins. until golden brown.
Once the loaf has cooled, sift some icing sugar over the top. Cut into slices and serve with margarine and sugar.

This bread freezes quite well. Instead of 1 large loaf, consider making 4 smaller ones (each is enough to generously serve 2 people) and freezing the leftover loaves. Put the icing sugar on top after defrosting the loaves.

To make your own almond paste, you´ll need:
100g almond flour
100g sugar
2 tsp lemon zest
3 tbsp water

Mix all ingredients into a thick paste. Store at a cool place until ready to use.

Based on this recipe.

Easy Aloo Palak

I´ve never been particularly fond of spinach, because, let´s face it, it doesn´t really look that appetizing when cooked into oblivion. As a matter of fact, Aloo Palak doesn´t look that appetizing either, but I´ve become a bit more daring in recent years so I decided to sample a bite when my mother ordered it in an Indian restaurant a couple of months ago. Turns out spinach doesn´t taste like spinach when you pair it with plenty of spices, and anything potato is always good news!

Here´s what you need (for 2 moderate servings):
- 1/2 package frozen spinach in cubes, thawed
- 1/2 package (ca. 250g) pre-cooked potato wedges or pommes parisienne
- approx. 50ml. water
- pinch of salt
- 1 tbsp oil
- 1 small onion, diced
- 1 tsp ginger paste or fresh ginger, minced
- 1 tsp garlic paste or fresh garlic, minced
- 1/2 tsp coriander powder
- 1/4 tsp each of ground cumin, curry powder and salt
- 1/8 tsp each of chili powder and turmeric
- pinch of cinnamon
- 2 1/2 tbsp non-dairy cream (I prefer rice cream)
Put the thawed spinach with water and pinch of salt in a blender (the Magic Bullet is ideal for this) and blend smooth. Heat the oil in a pan and fry the potatoes until they are slightly browned. Add the onions, ginger and garlic, and sauté until the onions are translucent. Add the spices and sauté for a minute (add a splash of water if the spices stick). Pour in spinach and mix well with the spices and potatoes. Cover and simmer 7 minutes. Turn off heat and allow to sit 2-3 minutes. Stir in the cream. Turn heat to medium/low. Cook uncovered 5 minutes or until sauce thickens.
Serve with rice, roti and/or chapatis.
Based on this recipe.


Vegan Bento No. 7 | Sandwich Bento

On a recent trip to Japan I went on a major bento shopping spree, and also managed to get my hands on several hard to find (outside Japan, anyway) sandwich bento boxes.
Sandwich bento boxes differ from other bento boxes in the sense that they:
1) have mesh sides so prevent the bread from getting soggy
2) are collapsible (very efficient on your way back home when you've finished your sammies)

I broke in my newly acquired bento box with a focaccia sandwich, consisting of:
~ basil & garlic bake-off focaccia bread
~ homemade arugula pesto
~ grilled aubergine & courgette slices
~ sliced tomato
~ fresh arugula

Vegan Bento No. 6 | Green Pasta Salad Bento

This bento proves that you don't need any cutesy, expensive bento boxes to make a bento lunch: it is a 'regular' sandwich lunch box, that, due to its size, is perfect to carry a salad for lunch.
It consists of:
~ Fussili pasta salad with sauteed courgette and green pepper, capers, tossed with homemade arugula pesto
~ cherry tomatoes
~ seedless grape medley

To make the arugula pesto, you'll need:
a handful of arugula leaves
a clove of garlic. minced
1 tsp nutritional yeast
approx. 1 tbsp of roated pine nuts
approx. 2 tbsp of extra virgin olive oil
salt & pepper to taste

Add all ingredients except oil and seasoning in a blender. Switch on the blender and slowly pour in the olive oil until all ingredients are liquidized and you have a smooth pesto sauce (you may need a bit less or more to achieve the desired consistency). Add seasoning to taste and pulse once more to blend well.

Vegan Bento No. 5 | Farfalle Pasta Salad Bento

I wanted to participate in a pasta-themed bento contest, so I made several pasta bentos in preparation for the contest. This was the first one, it consists of:
~ farfalle pasta salad with grilled courgette and aubergine, sauteed onion, garlic, mushrooms and sweet pepper, tossed with tomato tapenade
~ sliced cucumber
~ cherry tomatoes
~ vegan banana muffin (using the veganized version of this recipe)

Vegan Bento no. 4 | Roasted Potato Bento

When making dinner the night before, I saved some potatoes and nuggets to use for this bento.
It consists of:
~ rosemary & garlic roasted potatoes with ketchup & (vegan) mayo for dipping
~ Provençal vegan nuggets
~ bean stirfry made with green beans, sugar snaps, shelled edamame, onion and tomato

Vegan Bento No. 3 | Dried Fruit Bento

Bento no. 3 consists of:
~ blanched shelled edemame
~ stirfried bok choy, onion and mushrooms in soy sauce
~ (heirloom) carrot kinpira
~ Japanese white rice with gomashio (salted black sesame seeds)
~ dried fruit medley (a.o. apricot, raisin, apple, cranberry) for dessert

Vegan Bento No. 2 | Sidedish Bento

For this 2nd bento, I used leftovers from the 1st bento, and added some extras as well.
It consists of:
~ Japanese white rice with (heirloom) carrot-sesame furikake
~ blanched shelled edemame
~ leftover mushroom, onion & carrot teriyaki
~ instant cucumber pickles*
~ leftover pepper kinpira*

* Just Bento Cookbook recipe

Vegan Bento No. 1 | Teriyaki Veggie Bento

My bento-making has been on a bit of a back burner for a while, but I recently took it up again on a somewhat regular basis. The challenge this time is to make vegan bentos, which take a bit more thought for me as I can no longer rely on my past bento standbys such as shaped eggs, tortilla omelet or little meatballs...

My recent bentos have also been more Japanese-inspired than before, and a big help in this regard have been Makiko Itoh´s Just Bento Cookbook as well as her recipe sites Just Bento and Just Hungry.


This first bento consists on:
~ Japanese white rice with (heirloom) carrot-sesame furikake
~ Sauteed mushrooms, onion and (heirloom) carrot in teriyaki sauce
~ Yellow pepper kinpira*
~ Pickled ginger

Not to bad for a first try in ages, if I do say so myself :-)

* Just Bento Cookbook recipe


Vegan mayo

Store-bought vegan mayo is handy but relatively expensive. It is actually very easy to make your own vegan mayo! I tried this recipe the other day and was pleased with the results.

What you need (approx. 1 jar):
100 ml soy milk
250 ml sunflower oil
1 tbsp apple cider vinegar
1 tsp mustard
1 tsp salt
1/2 - 1 tsp agave sirup (to taste)

Add all the ingredients to a tall mixing jar. Use a immersion blender to mix all the ingredients. Make sure that all ingredients are well incorporated, but don´t overmix. Transfer the mayo into a sealable container and store in the fridge for approx. 1 week.

Tips & tricks:
- An empty peanut butter jar works perfectly to store the mayo!
- Since this mayo keeps for approx. 1 week in the fridge, consider halving the quantities for about 1/2 a jar of mayo.
- It´s better not to substite the soy milk with other non-dairy milks such as oatmilk or rice milk: the lower fat content will not create the desired consistency.
- To prevent having to throw away the rest of a carton of soy milk, consider buying small juicebox-size cartons.
- Don´t have agave syrup on hand? You could also use regular sugar.
- Use the mayo as a base for other sauces such as cocktail sauce (omit the agave syrup, add ketchup), aioli (add garlic), remoulade/tartar sauce (add chopped capers, finely chopped cornichons and mixed herbs), etc.
- One of my favourite indulgences: fries with peanut sauce and mayo!

Recipe by EVA. Watch a how-to video (in Dutch) here.

Mushroom stroganoff

What you need (1 generous serving):
1 tbsp vegetable oil, such as olive oil or sunflower oil
1 clove of garlic, minced
1 small-ish onion, roughly chopped
200 g mixed mushrooms, cut in bitesize pieces
1 heaped tsp flour
100ml. vegetable broth (from a stock cube)
salt & plenty of fresh ground pepper to taste
50ml soy cooking cream
1 tsp dried herbs such as thyme or parsley
1 tbsp mild paprika
warm cooked pasta of choice (I like penne or tagliatelle), to serve
Heat the oil in a skillet and saute the onion and garlic until the onion is translucent. Add the mushrooms and paprika and cook for a couple of minutes until the mushrooms start to colour. Stir in the flour and cook for 1 minute. Add the broth slowly while constantly stirring. Add the cream, bring the sauce to the boil and season with salt, pepper and herbs. Cook for a few more minutes (reduce the sauce a bit if necessary) and serve over pasta.

Based on this recipe.


Quick & easy vegan satay sauce

Peanut or satay sauce is originally from the East Indies. Most storebought varieties contain regular milk/lactose. You can easily make your own vegan version.

What you need (approx. 3 servings):
2 heaped tbsp of peanut butter
1 clove of garlic, minced
1 tsp sambal oelek
2 tbsp ketjap manis (or soy sauce of choice)
50ml water
splash of non-dairy milk of choice, such as soy, almond, rice (optional)
salt & pepper to taste

Put all the ingredients in a microwave-safe bowl, cover and heat at `high´ for 1 minute. Stir to combine the ingredients and heat again for about 1 minute. Stir again until the sauce is smooth. Repeat if needed. If the sauce is too thick for your liking, add a bit more liquid. Season with salt & pepper if necessary.
Tastes great when served with kebabs / satay, french fries, bread (to dip), nasi goreng etc etc.

Vol-au-vent with mushroom ragout

Traditional appetizer for Christmas brunch or dinner, but very tasty any time of year.
Of course you could just buy a can, but you can easily make your own ragout from cupboard ingredients and the possibilities are endless!

What you need (4 servings):
4 pastry cases*
50g butter or margarine*
50g all-purpose flour
500ml mushroom stock (from a stock cube)
100g sliced mushroom (fresh or canned & drained)
1 clove of garlic, minced
salt & pepper to taste
1 tbsp of dried parsley
curry powder to taste (optional)
sambal oelek to taste (optional)

Heat a bit of oil in a skillet. Saute the garlic and sambal oelek for a few minutes. Add the mushrooms and cook until the mushrooms are browned.
In a saucepan, melt the butter at a low heat, making sure it doesn´t brown. Once the butter is melted, stir in the flour, about a tablespoon at a time until well incorporated. Cook the sauce on a low heat for a few minutes, stirring continuously. Add a bit of stock to the mixture, stirring well to incorporate the liquid. Add more stock once all the liquid has been incorporated. Continue adding stock until the sauce has the desired consistency.
Stir in the sauteed mushrooms and parsley, and season to taste with salt, pepper and curry powder (note: be conservative with adding extra salt since the stock already contained salt).
Heat the pastry cases in an oven according to the directions on the box (approx. 10-15 minutes at 150°C). Spoon in the mushroom sauce and serve immediately.

*Veganize it:
Use vegan pastry cases and vegetable magarine.


Ovenbaked portobello mushroom with quinoa & vegetable stuffing

A satisfying and filling vegan dish.

What you need (2 servings):
2 large portobello mushrooms
90g quinoa
1/4 mushroom stock cube
1 tsp garlic paste (or 1 clove fresh garlic, minced)
1/2 tsp sambal oelek (or to taste)
1/2 leek, chopped
1/2 bell pepper, chopped
50g frozen peas
approx. 8 cherry tomatoes, chopped
1 tbsp pine nuts, toasted
salt & pepper to taste
olive oil

Cook the quinoa, 240ml water and the stock cube in a rice cooker (or boil approx. 20 minutes in a pot on the stove). Grease an oven dish with some oil and preheat the oven at 180°C.
Remove the stems from the mushrooms, chop the stems and set aside. With a spoon, remove the gills from the mushrooms and add them to the chopped stems.
Drizzle a bit of oil on the mushrooms and place them cap-side down in the oven dish. Cook the empty mushrooms approx. 15 mins in the oven.
Meanwhile, heat some oil in a wok. Saute the garlic and sambal. Add the leftover mushroom stems and gills, leek and peppers. After a few minutes, add the peas and tomatoes. Stir fry until all the vegetables are cooked and season with salt and pepper.  Stir in the pine nuts and cooked quinoa.
Remove the oven dish from the oven en spoon the quinoa mixture into the caps. Cover the oven dish with aluminium foil and cook the mushrooms for approx. 15 minutes. Remove the aluminium foil 5 minutes before the end. Serve immediately.

Loosely based on this recipe.

Vegan carrot cake cupcakes & cream cheese frosting

This is the first vegan cupcake recipe I tried to make, and it came out wonderful. My non-vegan colleagues loved it too.
The recipe is from an American cookbook, so the quantities are in US cups.

What you need (for 12 cupcakes):
2/3 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground ginger
2/3 cup sugar
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1/3 cup soy yoghurt (plain or vanilla)
1 tsp vanilla
1 cup finely grated carrots
1/4 cup chopped walnuts
1/4 cup raisins

For the frosting:
1/4 cup nonhydrogenated margerine, softened
1/4 cup vegan cream cheese, softened
2 cups confectioner´s sugar (= powdered sugar)
1 tsp vanilla extract

For decorating (optional):
1/3 cup chopped walnuts
12 raisins or finely grated carrot

Preheat the oven to 350F (180C) and line a muffin tin with cupcake liners.
Mix together sugar, vegetable oil, yoghurt and vanilla in a mixing bowl. Sift in the dry ingredients (flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, spices) and mix until smooth. Fold in carrots, raisins and walnuts.
Spray the liners with non-stick baking spray and fill them 2/3rds full. Bake for 26-28 mins (a toothpick should come out clean when they are done). Let the cupcakes cool completely.
Meanwhile, make the frosting: cream together margarine and cream cheese until just combined. Use a handheld mixer to whip while adding the confectioner´s sugar in 1/2 cup batches. Mix until smooth and  creamy, then mix in the vanilla. Keep tightly covered and refrigerated until ready to use.
Once the cupcakes have cooled and are ready to serve, top them generously with  the frosting. Put the chopped walnuts on a plate and roll the edges of the cupcakes in them. Put 1 raisin in the center, or sprinkle with grated carrot (if serving immediately).

Don´t like walnuts? I left them out and the cupcakes still came out yummy, though maybe a bit smaller than usual.

Recipe from `Vegan Cupcakes Take Over The World´.


Baking tips & tricks

I like baking - it´s no coincidence that the ´baked goods´-section is one of the more extensive sections on this blog.
Along the way I´ve come across some tips & tricks that might be useful for other (aspiring) chefs as well:

- does a recipe call for flour and baking powder but you don´t have either (or both) on hand? If you have self-raising flour in your pantry, you´re good to go. Substitute the quantity of flour with the same quantity in self-raising flour and omit the baking powder (as the self-raising flour already contains a rising agent - hence the name). I do this all the time and everything tastes great.
- do you have a receipe for a cake or loaf, but you´re feeling more like making bite-size portions?
No problem. Most recipes for a single loaf or cake will make approx. 12 (generous) muffins or cupcakes. A rule of thumb is to halve the baking time. However, it´s better to err on the side of caution and reduce the baking time a bit more. Use a skewer to test whether they are done and, if necessary, bake for a few more minutes.
- to make equal-sized muffins or cupcakes, use a regular icecream scoop for the batter. Much less messy than fiddling with spoons!
There are also smaller sized cookie dough scoops that are perfect for dividing batter for mini muffins or, of course, cookie dough.
The smallest size (approx. 1¨ diameter) is also ideal for making small meatballs or falafel!
- most recipes will state the temperatures for different types of ovens on which to bake your cake, pie or loaf. When using a circulation oven instead of a convection oven, the rule of thumb is to reduce the temperature by 10%.
- some (more economical) brands of spices come in closed metal tins with only an opening to sprinkle from. It can be a bit hard to get larger quantities from the can, even when using the largest opening. Using a can opener, remove the bottom of the can to easily scoop out the required quantity and store the rest in a spare container.


Couscous salad

Inspired by the chefs at work, I made my own couscous salad the other day. Thumbs up!

What you need (1 large portion):
120g couscous
200ml boiling hot chicken stock (from a cube or powder)
approx. 100g cooked leftover chicken, shredded or diced
1/2 courgette, diced
1 tomato, deseeded and diced
1/2 onion, chopped
1/2 bell pepper, deseeded and diced
1 clove of garlic, minced (or 1 tsp garlic paste)
1/2 tsp sambal oelek/harissa/chili paste
1/2 tsp ground paprika
chopped herbs, such as parsley or coriander (dried herbs are fine too)
salt & pepper to taste
olive oil

In a bowl, pour the stock on the couscous. Cover the bowl with some tin foil and let it rest a few minutes until all the liquid has disappeared. Stir with a fork to loosen, then stir in a drizzle of olive oil and season with paprika.
Meanwhile, heat some oil in a pan and sauté the onion, garlic, chili paste, pepper and courgette and cook for a few minutes until the onion is softened. Add the chicken and season with salt and pepper.
Mix the chicken mixture, tomato and herbs with the couscous and serve warm or cold.

For those on the Weight Watchers Pro Points 2.0 plan (like me): this could totally count as lunch or dinner on a 'green' day!

 Try this:
- use smoked chicken, cut in cubes.
- for a vegetarian alternative, use vegetable stock and mixed roasted nuts instead of chicken.
- mix in some toasted pine nuts for a bit of crunch.
- add chopped leek or diced eggplant in with the other veggies (note: eggplant takes a bit longer to cook)
- add some sultanas or raisins for a bit of sweetness


Brie and ham tartelets

Another staple at get-togethers are these tarts that a friend of mine always brings.

What you need (24 tarts):
100g Brie
6 squares of store-bought puff pastry, defrosted
1 egg
2 tbsp whipping cream
1 tbsp flour
75g ham
1 tsp dried oregano
salt & pepper to taste

Pre-heat the oven at 200C.
Finely dice the cheese and ham. Divide each square of pastry into 4 pieces. Line the holes of 2 muffin tins with a piece of pastry, flour-side down.
Beat the eggs with whipping cream and flour. Divide the mixture over the 24 tarts. Add a bit of the diced cheese and ham to each tart and season with oregano, salt and pepper.
Bake the tarts for about 15 mins. until golden and serve warm (or cool and re-heat in the oven before serving if making in advance).

Recipe from C1000 Kookboek 2004

Pesto pinwheels

Pesto pinwheels are the signature dish that a friend of mine always brings to get-togethers. They're very tasty!

What you need:

- 1 box of white bread mix
- pesto (made fresh of store-bought)
- slices of ham (lunchmeat)
- grated cheese
- pine nuts, chopped walnuts or chopped cashew nuts (optional)

Pre-heat the oven at 200C.
Prepare the bread dough according to the instructions on the box. Leave it to rise for approx. 10 mins.
Roll out the dough thinly but make sure it is at least 30cm wide. Spread the pesto onto the dough using the round side of a spoon. Place the slices of ham across the middle of the dough and liberally sprinkle with grated cheese (and pine nuts / chopped nuts if using).
Loosely roll up the dough and cut the roll into 3cm wide slices. Put the slices on a baking tray, making sure they're not too close together as the dough will expand. Bake the slices for max. 20 mins in the heated oven (they are supposed to stay a bit pale!).

The pinwheels are best served when they are still a bit warm.

Or try this:
- don't want to bother with making fresh bread dough? Use canned crescent roll dough! Divide the rolled-out dough in half for 2 rolls, and you can also choose to make the slices a bit smaller (1-2 cm wide). Bake according to the instructions on the package.
- use red pesto or tapenade instead of green pesto.
- use sliced chicken instead of ham.
- you can easily prepare the rolls in advance and slice and bake when needed.


Carrot-ginger cake with cream cheese frosting

Another Hummingbird Bakery recipe that was a big hit among my friends!

What you need (12 servings):
 225g peeled and finely grated carrots
1 tbsp peeled and grated root ginger (or store-bought ginger paste)
40ml buttermilk
1 1/2 large eggs (I scrambled 2 eggs in a bowl and used approx. 3/4 of the mixture)
1/2 tsp vanilla essence
175 ml vegetable oil
210g caster sugar
250g plain flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground ginger
40g pecans, roasted and chopped (optional)

150g icing sugar, sifted
25g unsalted butter, at room temperature
60g cream cheese, cold

Pre-heat the oven to 170C and line a square cake tin with baking parchment.
Mix together the carrots, root ginger, buttermilk, eggs, vanilla essence, vegetable oil and sugar in a mixer until all the ingredients are well-combined.
Sift together the flour, baking powder, bicarbonate of soda, salt and spices, then slowly beat into the carrot mixture. Stir in the chopped pecans, if using, and mix the cake batter until it's smooth and even.
Pour the batter in the cake tin and bake for approx. 30 mins.
Meanwhile, beat the icing sugar and butter together using an electric whisk or freestanding mixer on medium-slow speed until the mixture comes together and is well-mixed. Add the cream cheese in one go and beat until it is completely incorporated. Turn the mixer up to medium-high speed and continue beating for at least 5 mins. until the mixture is light and fluffy. (Do not overbeat as the frosting can become runny).

After the cake has completely cooled, cover the top with frosting. Cut the cake into 12 squares and serve.

- the cake recipe is from 'Cake Days', the cream cheese frosting recipe is from 'The Hummingbird Bakery Cookbook' (both books are listed in the sidebar on the right!).
I halved the quantities of the original recipes to make a square 24cmx24cm cake.



It's unbelievable how many cheesecake recipes are out there. I won't claim this one is the best, but it sure is pretty darn good ;-) I got it from a colleague, who even translated it for me from Spanish.

Here's what you need:
250g ricotta
250g mascarpone
1 dl milk
120g sugar
170g butter
75g flour
1 egg
1/2 box Digestive biscuits, crumbled
4 tbs brown sugar
1 tsp grated lemon peel and/or seeds from a fresh vanilla pod (optional)

Beat together 120g butter, egg and sugar in a bowl until the mixture is smooth. Add milk, ricotta, mascarpone and flour and stir until there are no lumps left. Add grated lemon peel and/or fresh vanilla seeds if desired.
Grease a springform pan. Melt 50g butter in a pan and stir in the biscuit crumbs and brown sugar, until the mixture forms a ball and all butter has been absorbed. Flatten the ball in the springform pan for the cheesecake base.
Pour in the cheese mixture and bake for approx. 45 mins at 180C (a toothpick should come out clean when done).  Once cooled, spread strawberry jam or melted chocolate on top, or serve as is.

Try this:
- add cocoa powder to the cheese mixture for a chocolate cheesecake. You could also use chocolate biscuits for the base.
- use candy biscuits (such as Bastogne) for the base.


Kung Pao Chicken

The 3rd dish we were taught to cook during our cooking class in China was Kung Pao Chicken.

What you need (2 servings):
200g chicken breast, cut in small cubes
50g carrot, diced
1/2 onion, diced
1/2 green pepper, diced
1/2 red pepper, diced
5cm cucumber, quartered, deseeded and chopped
(note: the vegetables and chicken should be cut roughly the same size)
1 spring onion, finely chopped
1cm fresh ginger, peeled and finely sliced
4 cloves of garlic, crushed (or less if you prefer)
2 star aniseed
2tsp soy sauce
2tsp oyster sauce
50g unsalted peanuts (optional)
salt and plenty of black pepper to taste

Heat up some oil in a wok. If using, add the peanuts and turn the heat down low. Cook for 3 mins until the skin of the peanuts starts to 'blow up'. Remove the peanuts from the pan and set aside.
Add oil to the pan if necessary, then add the chicken. Cook for 30 secs, then add garlic, ginger, black pepper, star aniseed and soy sauce. Stir fry for 1 min, then move the chicken mixture to one side of the wok.
Add onion, carrot and diced peppers to the other side of the wok and cook for a few mins. Add the cucumber and oyster sauce and mix everything together. Cook for another minute or so and season to taste with a pinch of salt.
Remove the star aniseed and serve sprinkled with the spring onion and peanuts on a plate with some rice.

Stir-fried noodles and vegetables

The 2nd dish we were taught how to cook during our cooking class in China, was a very simple noodle & veggie stir-fry.

What you need (2 servings):
200g dried noodles
50g carrot, julienne sliced
50g baby bok choy, sliced in strips
3 spring onions, chopped
2tsp soy sauce
1tsp oyster sauce
3 cloves of garlic, crushed
1cm fresh ginger, peeled and finely sliced
salt to taste

Soak the noodles for approx. 15 mins. in warm water. Heat some oil in a wok and sautée the carrot, ginger and garlic for a few minutes before adding the bok choy. Drain the noodles and add them to the wok, along with the soy sauce and oyster sauce. Season to taste with salt. Stir in the spring onions and serve.

Chinese dumplings

While in China, I attended a cooking class. One of the dishes we made were dumplings cooked in 2 ways: steamed and fried. They were delicious!

What you need (approx. 20 dumplings):
at least 20 store-bought dumpling wrappers, defrosted (available at most exotic stores)
200g pork mince (or half pork/half beef if you prefer)
100g spring onion, finely chopped
100g carrot, finely chopped
100g Chinese mushrooms (soaked and drained if dried), finely chopped
chicken stock powder
soy sauce
vegetable oil

You'll also need a wok, bamboo steam basket and some cheese cloth, cut to fit the bottom of the steam basket.

In a bowl, stir together the chopped vegetables. Make a marinade of 1/4 tsp salt, 1/4 tsp chicken stock powder and 1 tsp soy sauce and add to the vegetables. Mix well and leave to rest for a few minutes.
Put the mince in another bowl and marinate with a mixture of 1/4 tsp salt, 1/4 tsp chicken stock powder and 2 tsp soy sauce. Mix well and also rest for a few minutes.
Combine the meat and vegetables and mix well.
Place a dumpling wrapper on the palm of your hand and put a walnut-sized scoop of the meat mixture in the middle. Wet the edges of the wrapper with some water and fold the wrapper in half, Make sure the edges are completely sealed. Starting in the middle, make a few small pleats on the sealed edge of the dumpling. Place the dumpling on the cheese cloth in the steam basket. Repeat until there is no more meat mixture left.
Place the steam basket in a heated wok and add water to create steam. (it may be necessary to add some more water while you're cooking)
For steamed dumplings, cook the dumplings for 10 minutes. For fried dumplings, steam them for 6 minutes, then fry them in some oil for a minute on each side until they are brown and crispy.

The steamed dumplings must be served warm (or the dough will become chewy), the fried dumplings can be eaten warm or cold. Serve with soy sauce for dipping.


Dì Sān Xiān - Chinese sautéed potato, green pepper and eggplant

I spent the past 2,5 weeks touring through China, and let me tell you, I don't think I've ever tasted so many delicious dishes while on holiday!
One of my favorites was Dì Sān Xiān (地三鲜), which means 'earth three fresh'. The name refers to the 3 main ingredients - potato, green pepper and eggplant.

The Chinese tend to use a lot of oil in their cooking, so to make this dish a bit more waistline-friendly, I altered it a bit... This undoubtedly affects the taste somewhat, but it will still taste great.
Here's my version:

What you need (2 servings):
450g potatoes, diced
1 eggplant, diced
1 green bell pepper, deseeded and diced
1 tsp garlic paste (or 1 fresh clove, finely chopped)
1 tsp ginger paste (or 1cm fresh ginger, peeled and finely chopped)
approx. 3 tbsp ketjap manis (or regular soy sauce plus 1 tsp of sugar) 
salt to taste (note that the ketjap/soy sauce is already salty!)
wet cornstarch (the proportion cornstarch-water should be 1:2)

Bring water to the boil in a pan and cook the potatoes and eggplant for approx. 10 mins. Drain and set aside.
Heat 1tbsp oil in a wok and fry the potatoes until they start to colour. Remove from the pan and set aside. Add the bell pepper to the wok and stir-fry for a few seconds.
Add the garlic and ginger and stir-fry for another few seconds. Add potatoes and eggplant and stir-fry for a few minutes. Season with sugar, soy sauce and salt to taste, and add approx. 2 tbsp wet cornstarch. Stir through the vegetables so they are evenly coated and cook for a few more seconds.

Serve as is or with white rice.

Based on this recipe.


Idea: sweet lasagna

So my dad and I were talking the other day about making 'ordinary' lasagna and suddenly started brainstorming about a sweet version. Sort of like a trifle with a twist.
We haven't tried it out yet, but here's what we came up with:

What you need (approx. 8 servings):
1 loaf cake (homemade or store-bought)
a few bananas, thinly sliced.
chocolate mousse (homemade or store-bought)
rum (or flavouring if you don't want to use the real thing)
whipped cream, to serve

Line a loaf tin (the same size as your cake) with cling film. Cut the cake in thin slices, lengthwise. Put one slice at the bottom a the loaf tin and sprinkle with some rum. Spread a layer of chocolate mousse evenly on top and layer with banana. Repeat a few times, ending with a layer of cake.
Keep in the fridge for a little while to set. Turn the cake tin on a serving dish and remove the cling film. cover the top with whipped cream and cut in slices to serve.

Don't know about you, but it sounds yummy to me!


Blueberry pancakes

I often get a bit too excited buying summer fruits, only to realise halfway through the week that I won't be able to eat all of it by myself... I know, poor planning on my part.
However, that does pose the perfect 'excuse' to play around a bit :-)

This is a recipe from one of my American cookbooks (hence the measurements), and the result is quite tasty. They freeze well too.

What you need (approx. 12 pancakes):
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1 cup buttermilk
1/2-3/4 cups milk
1 tsp honey or sugar
2 tsp melted butter
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 fresh blueberries
melted butter, for cooking
butter and maple syrup, to serve

Stir together the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a large bowl and make a well in the center. In a separate bowl, whisk together the buttermilk, 1/2 cup milk, honey or sugar, melted butter and vanille extract, and poor into the well of the flour mixture. Stir with a whisk or fork until just combined and add a little more milk id the batter is too thick. Stir in the blueberries.
Brush some melted butter in a heated griddle or skillet and drop large spoonfulls of batter in the pan. Cook for about 1 minute until the edges are set and the surface is covered with bubbles. Flip the pancakes and cook for another 30 secs.
Serve with a knob of butter and maple syrup.

Try this:
Serve with cinnamon sugar instead of butter and maple syrup.

(recipe from 'The I Love Elvis Cookbook')


Black Forest muffins

A variation of this recipe that my dad and I came up with recently while discussing baking... (he's a closet chef disguised as a docker :-) )

What you need (12 muffins):

225g self-rising flour
1,5 tsp baking powder
125g caster sugar
4 tbsp cocoa powder
50g dark chocolate sprinkles (or a chopped up piece of dark chocolate)
1 egg
225ml milk
75g butter, melted
approx. 100g stoned cherries from a jar, drained and roughly chopped
pinch of salt
2 tbsp cherry jam or jelly

Pre-heat the oven at 220C (200C fan oven). Grease a muffin tin or line with cupcake liners.
Sift the flour with the baking powder, sugar, cocoa powder, and salt, stir in the chocolate sprinkles and make a dip in the middle.
In another bowl, beat the egg with a fork and stir in the milk and melted butter. Pour into the dip of the dry mixture, add the chopped cherries as well and mix the batter with a fork until just mixed.
Spoon the batter into the muffin tin and bake for approx. 20 mins. Let cool for a few mins, take the muffins out of the tin and let them cool on a wire rack.
Melt the jam (or jelly) in the microwave or on the stove. Brush some melted jam on top of each muffin and let cool completely before serving.

If you want to go all-out, add some kirsch (real or flavouring) to the batter and serve the muffins with some whipped cream.


Grandma's meatballs

How is it, that your grandma's cooking somehow always tastes better than your own??
Anyway, this is how my grandma used to make her classic meatballs...

What you need (for 6 large meatballs):
800g ground beef
2 eggs
salt & pepper
freshly grated nutmeg
ground paprika
200g butter

Melt the butter in a large pan. In a bowl, mix the ground beef with the eggs, breadcrumbs, salt, pepper, nutmeg and paprika and shape into 6 balls. Fry the meatballs in the pan until browned, then add water and let them simmer for a while, with the lid partly covering the pan.
Serve with potatoes and veg, or sliced on a sandwich.