Posted in Recipes

Video: Risotto with Cepes

I love Dailymotion because it has videos such as this one — how to make risotto with cepes (a type of mushroom). I make risotto all the time and am not intimidated by it. People think it’s so difficult to make. The only secret is patience. You have to stand over the stove and keep stirring at low heat, keep adding liquid little by little. It’s tiring but worthwhile. And you have to use good ingredients.

Click here to see the risotto video (in French):

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Posted in Recipes

Lemony apple cake

I don’t know what inspired me to bake today. It’s very warm here in Amsterdam and working in the kitchen is not the most logical thing to do. But I just felt like baking!

I used Granny Smith apples, although you can use Bramley apples as well (they’re even better). Use fine crystal sugar (also known as caster sugar) for the cake and for sprinkling on top before it goes in the oven, use dark muscovado sugar.

Before you do anything, pre-heat the oven to 160 degrees centigrade (fan oven) or 180 degrees centrigrade (gas oven). Get a springform cake pan and either line it with wax paper or grease it with butter and lightly sprinkle the sides and the bottom with flour. This will keep the cake from sticking. Now get to work.


225g butter
450g Granny Smith or Bramley apples
Juice of 1 lemon and finely grated lemon zest
225g fine crystal sugar
3 eggs
225g self-raising flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
25g ground almonds
1 tablespoon dark muscovado sugar


1. Peel, core and cut the apples into 1 centimeter pieces. Squeeze the juice of one lemon over them and mix well. Set aside.

2. Using an electric hand whisk, cream together the fine crystal sugar, butter and lemon zest in a bowl until they are mixed very well and the mixture is soft. Slowly beat in the eggs, one at a time and add some flour after each egg. Mix well.

3. Sift the remaining flour and the baking powder into the butter-sugar-egg mixture and mix well. Fold in the almonds.

4. Drain the apple pieces well. You don’t want the cake to be too moist. Fold the apple pieces into the batter and mix well.

5. Spoon the batter into the cake pan and sprinkle the muscovado sugar on top before putting it into the oven. Bake for 1 hour.

6. To ensure the cake is done, insert a toothpick or skewer into the center of the cake. If it comes out clean, then the cake is ready to come out of the oven.

7. Let it cool for 10 minutes. Serve with either vanilla ice cream or creme fraiche on the side. Sprinkle cinnamon powder over the ice cream and cake right before serving.

Posted in Recipes

Couscous with lamb and chickpeas

couscous.jpgThis is a very delicious and easy dish to make. It’s enough for four (hungry) persons and with the couscous, can be quite filling. If there are only two of you, it should last for about 3 dinners. You can adjust the spiciness by adding more (or less) cumin and paprika. Serve with harissa (a spicy chilli paste you can buy at Moroccan or Tunisian shops).

  • 500g lamb shoulder steaks (cut in cubes; no bones)
  • 2 tablespoons of olive oil
  • 2 small onions, chopped
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 4 tablespoons of tomato paste (puree)
  • 1/2 tablespoon ground cumin
  • 1/2 tablespoon paprika
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 750 ml beef stock
  • chickpeas – 2 cans of 425g each
  • 300g chopped tomatoes
  • lots of coriander (cilantro) – at least 4 tablespoons
  • lots of flat leaf parsley – at least 4 tablespoons

Cut the excess fat from the lamb steaks; chop the steaks into small cubes. Heat the oil in a large saucepan. Stir fry the garlic and onions until the onions are soft (5 min). Add the lamb and saute until light brown.

Add the bay leaf, paprika and cumin. Cook until fragrant. Add the tomato paste and stir for 2 minutes. Add the beef stock, stir and bring to a boil.

Drain the chickpeas and add to the saucepan, followed by the chopped tomatoes, coriander and parsley. Sti and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for 1.5 to 2 hours.

Right before you eat this, make the couscous. Place a small amount of couscous in a large shallow bowl and spoon the lamb mixture on top. If you want it more spicy, mix in some harissa.

Posted in Recipes


I like to have tapenade in the fridge at all times so if there’s no food in the house, I can just get a good loaf of bread from the local bakery and enjoy a decent meal. Here’s my recipe for tapenade.

  • 500 g green or black olives, depitted and ground in a food processor
  • 1 piece of citron confit (preserved lemon), finely chopped
  • 1 clove of garlic, finely chopped
  • 40 g Sicilian capers
  • 12 anchovies, finely chopped (optional)
  • dash of sherry vinegar
  • salt
  • cumin
  • olive oil

Place the ground olives, garlic, citron confit, capers, anchovies, dash of cumin, sherry vinegar and salt in a large bowl and mix thoroughly. Place in a glass container, cover with a bit of olive oil and store in the fridge.

Posted in Recipes

Spaghetti con pomodorini: a quick delicious pasta dish

90741680_61e48ac75f_m.jpgSpaghetti with cherry tomatoes is my favorite pasta dish for when I don’t feel like cooking (because it’s hot or I have no time or I’m just lazy). It’s critical to use the best olive oil you can find, plus fresh basil (grow your own if you can) and for the cheese, either real Parmigiano Reggiano or bufala mozzarella. If you are keen on using mozzarella but cannot find the buffalo milk version, use cow milk mozzarella as a desperate substitute.

About olive oil

tradizionale_p.jpgFor really good olive oil, I use extra-virgin oil from Frantoio di Santa Téa (Tuscany) or from Castelas AOC de la Vallée des Baux de Provence. The Castelas oil won the Concours Général Agricole 2006 Médaille d’Or from the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries in France. It is nearly as pungent as the Frantoio oil, which is still my favorite. It is typical of Tuscan extra-virgin olive oils – bitter and strong – so perfect for fresh pasta dishes, salads and bruschettas.

Larousse Gastronomique on olive oil:

There are two main grades of olive oil: extra-virgin and olive oil. Extra-virgin olive oil is unique among the cooking oils in that it is made directly from the fresh juice of the olive fruit . . . Extra virgin olive oil is virgin olive oil with less than 1% acidity . . . Olive oil varies in flavour from light and delicate to strong and pungent; it may be sweet, bitter or peppery. In general, the olive oils of Spain and France tend to be less aggressive than those of Greece or central Italy. However, northern Italy, Sicily and Crete may also produce lighter styles of oil.

A word on Parmesan cheese

Parmigiano Reggiano is the only kind of “parmesan” cheese you should use on pasta dishes. Everything else that calls itself parmesan is a betrayal. Larousse Gastronomique on parmigiano reggiano:

The true DOP Parmesan cheese (parmigiano reggiano) is manufactured from 15 April to 11 November in the province of Parma and also in the provinces of Bologna and Mantova . . . It takes at least one year to mature to quality as vecchio (old); the best, called stravecchio (very old), takes more than three years . . . It is always preferable to grate the cheese just before using it.

What about wine?

Andy Abramson, wine guru and tech expert who posts on this blog, recommends a Chianti, not a Riserva, but a regular, fresh, youthful one, perhaps a Morellino di Scansano, which is a great value. If you want something more rustic, try a red from Sardegna, such as the very nice and interesting CANNONAU DI SARDEGNA.

The Recipe

  • lots of olive oil
  • four cloves of crushed garlic
  • cherry tomatoes (as many as you want) chopped in half
  • basil leaves (tear the leaves)
  • small hot red chili pepper cut in half
  • grated parmigiano reggiano cheese; or mozzarella cut into tiny blocks
  • salt and pepper
  • fresh spaghetti (self-made or store bought)

In a large deep bowl, pour olive oil (enough to generously coat the pasta) and throw in the crushed garlic. Using a fork, press the garlic vigorously into the oil to make the oil very garlicky. Take out the garlic. Throw in the cherry tomatoes and the red pepper, followed by 3/4 of the basil leaves, and if using mozzarella, the tiny blocks of cheese. Let stand for 30 minutes to one hour.

Cook the fresh pasta in a large pan filled with boiling water. Note that most fresh pastas cook very quickly (4 minutes). When the pasta is cooked, drain it and immediately throw it into the bowl with the olive oil mixture. Mix well.

Sprinkle the grated parmigiano (if you are not using mozzarella) plus salt and pepper to taste. Add the remaining torn basil leaves on top.

To find out how to make fresh pasta, go to the Fresh Pasta recipe.