Friday, September 5, 2014

Back in the kitchen


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There’s always a recovery process when I return from weeks on the road: getting back into the 5:2 regimen, regular exercise, and a reasonable bedtime. I don’t eat out often when I’m home in Poole or Maastricht, staying faithful to making breakfast and dinner.  But that doesn’t mean that I’ve given up trying new recipes or learning different techniques (or, in the spirit of Lebovitz' My Paris Kitchen,  getting friendly with my local butcher, baker, and fishmonger in Ashley Cross).

Two recent experiments are particularly worth sharing.

DSC07787 (1300x959)When I need a light summer dessert, I turn to panna cotta as an alternative to winter’s chocolate fondant. The recipe uses gelatin leaves for thickening, though, derived from animal collagen and not to everyone’s taste.  So I’ve been experimenting with alternative thickeners,  Vegeset and Xantham gum, before settling on agar powder from the Oriental food store.

The recipe uses three gelatin leaves, which suggests that two teaspoons of agar powder works.  However, the panna cotta set rubber-hard, so I cut the agar by 1/3.  This wasn’t enough, the forms slumped across the plate.  I’m finding that about 1.7 grams, a packet with a bit shaken off from it, gives just the right set. 

The other trick is to dissolve the agar in thoroughly in a quarter cup of boiling milk: the agar clumps if it isn’t well-blended and can precipitate onto the bottom of the molds.

Finally, it’s nice to make a less processed coulis for the topping:  berries heated with a tablespoon if sugar and juice of half a lemon, then simmered to thickening.  I’ve been adding a splash of white wine and cooking only until the berries burst, skipping the straining, and get a more interesting result.

The Times published a complex recipe for Indian Butter Chicken a few weeks back, and a rainy Sunday was perfect for giving it a try.

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It actually turned out to be less stress than it looks: the spices and chicken go together quickly in the  morning, then into the ‘fridge for a few hours.  The rest is an exercise in progressive one-pot cooking that is all chopping, stirring, and tasting over the course of an hour. 

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Served over rice with bread, salad, and a good wine, it’s a fun group meal.  It also ages amazingly: like meat loaf, it seems to get better over the next couple of days.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Amsterdam overnight

DSC08374 (1300x959)My core legal and banking activities still base in Amsterdam, 2 hours train ride from Maastricht, but the ride north is always a welcome break.  In this case, the visit started with a dusk flight capping a Director’s Meeting in Hungary, but  the t’huis feeling returned on landing, seeing fading Dutch light reflected from the wet fields and incandescent greenhouses.

My colleague signed us up for a night in an AirBnB apartment ear the Centraal Station: the scruffy suite turned out to be a block off the Red Light district along a busy back street of bars and head shops.

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No matter, the late summer evening was warm and still, the strolling crowds good-natured, and the borrel conversations  (bierje en bitterballen) were relaxed and insightful.

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The morning light, the reflections in the canals while strolling across town to the accountant’s offices, was exceptional.

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We arrived 10 minutes late for meetings, but who wouldn’t understand?

Saturday, August 30, 2014

200 years a Dutch nation

WP_20140830_002 (1300x734)The Netherlands celebrates its 200 year anniversary in Maastricht today.  It feels a bit strange to say that: so many of the stories of the Golden Age (and a lot of the city-core buildings) are much older.  But the Kingdom as it currently exists started with independence from the French at the Prince of Orange’s return in November 1813 and his investiture in September 1815. 

We’re in the middle of a 2-year celebration of that founding, and the Royals are visiting Maastricht for a day of celebration. The Dutch King and Queen are being joined by Belgian and Luxemburg royals (the Kingdom was all one country uniting the Netherlands and Belgium 200 years ago) and the Federal President of Germany.

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Plans begin this afternoon with a musical fashion show, “Everything Flows”, in the Markt Square in front of City Hall.  A lecture on Dutch foreign policy follows (lending some balance?), leading to a lavish dinner and musical theater on the Vrijthof this evening.

‘No sign of favorite son Andre Rieu on the agenda.  But Pruvenemint, the annual food fair, is also filling the Vrijthof this weekend (and the royals are dropping in for a full ten minutes to sample the food), so it will be a busy evening in the city center.

The military has set up a staging area outside my apartment along Kesselskade, communications trucks and tents, armored vehicles alongside police and emergency responders. 

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They all compete for space and attention with the cafes, spilling tables out across the street and along the river, drawing crowds that security folks would hold at arms length.  A warm rain drizzles over the entire assemblage, huddled beneath tarps and umbrellas and eying one another across the glistening street.

DSC08178 (975x1300)I was up early to wander the venues, looking for a pastry and a coffee and a good seat.

It’s been an uncharacteristic month away from these pages, I know.  But I needed a vacation to focus on various bits of life that needed attention and to recharge my thoughts.

Thanks to those of you checking in to see what was up.  Business and life are going well: no major issues to report.  I’m looking forward to sharing stories, photos, ideas (and the occasional biertje) with you all once again.