Category Archives: Food

Garden center dining and other odd, but charming, culinary locations

It used to be novel ingredients. Now it’s a novel location that can really clinch an establishment’s success. And why not? I am not usually one for fads, trends, anything that seems oh-so-fashionable one minute and then unbearably passé the next. But I have always adored eating in slightly eccentric, atypical locations. It adds so much to a meal. Food which might be good can be transformed into something fantastic by the unusual setting.

The latest trend to hit the chilly aisles of Britain is dining at garden centers. Spoiling your garden with flowers and your friends with lunch has suddenly become big business. It sounds terribly pretentious, I know. But it combines two incredibly relaxing activities; browsing greenery and sipping a glass of wine with lunch. Other unbeatable locations include parks, beaches, museums and trains. Anywhere which inspires the imagination, either with beautiful architecture, natural scenery or the interest piqued by people watching, makes a great spot for lunch. This is most likely something to do with the fact that our absorption in the tiny details of our surroundings makes us slow down, appreciate our food and just ‘be’ for a while. This is quite the opposite of many cafés and other eating establishments, where the aim seems to be to get the customer in and out as quickly as possible surrounded by the clamor of hundreds of screaming children and topped off by astronomical prices.

What parks, museums and trains have in common is that they are relatively uncrowded (unless you’ve picked the Tate Gallery on a bank holiday weekend). Glancing around what is supposedly one of London’s most glamorous dining spots the other week, I was reminded immediately of a zoo. Surely this is not the aim. Whatever happened to tranquility? This kind of classy, yet casual, peace and quiet abounds in places like Italy and France. Perhaps what I am really lamenting then is a lack of sunshine, or the lack of a Mediterranean attitude. But whatever the reason, I am a big fan of eating in unusual places. (I did go through a stage once of eating large amounts of chocolate in bed, simply for the reason that I could. It wasn’t great for the sheets though.) A great restaurant experience is unbeatable, and I wouldn’t forsake my favorite spots for the world. But if there’s one trend that looks set to continue it’s the chaos of modern city life: something I don’t want to tarnish my lunch with just yet.

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World city, world cuisine

Generally speaking, I do not miss my old home city of London. Polluted, desperately overcrowded, eyewateringly expensive and a tad pretentious are all descriptions which come to mind. However, one thing I do miss is the huge variety of world cuisine available on every street corner- from Vietnamese to Indian, Lebanese, Mexican and Thai, it’s all there. I am not alone in missing these foods. Out of the many expats who call the Netherlands their home, nearly all of them share the same longing for a good tortilla or an authentic green curry.

Now, don’t get me wrong: there aren’t many countries in the world who can boast such perfect frites, or who prepare asparagus so well. Few countries are so versatile in their ability to take other cuisines and mould them in unique and original ways. There is an abundance of excellent modern European cuisine to be found here, along with Indonesian and more recently Japanese establishments. This is a nation of food lovers and more to the point, a nation of fanatic travelers. A long standing joke among my group of friends is that no matter where in the world you go, you will inevitably come across a Dutch person.

So it is beyond my Dutch and expat friends alike why there is such a lack of quality ethnic cuisine here in Nijmegen. The golden rule is, it does not, and in fact should not, be too pricey. Nothing is guaranteed to get a Brit or American so wound up as an ethnic food court, where you might find a plate of Korean Kimchi or a Mexican Empanada for as little as two euros. These places are often unbelievably diverse and contain upwards of a hundred stalls. This is good for the local economy, good for consumers and quite frankly, we need one in every major city. Urgently.

This is about much more than mindless consumerism. It is about making your mark as a world metropolis, exploring the culinary delights that other cultures have to offer, or at the very least getting yourself out of a dull and repetitive eating routine. A highly trusted source once told me that Nijmegen scores more highly for shop diversity than any other city in this country. So if there are any budding restauranteurs out there reading this, please provide us expats with some real culinary excitement- and let’s add the same level of diversity to this much loved city’s dining options.

Do you judge people by their groceries?

Chuckling to myself over the latest installment of Saveur.com’s Recipe Comix, one scene in particular caught my eye. It’s the bit where the wonderfully random and witty Dorothy Gambrell is taken by surprise at the idea that people might not be judged by the contents of their shopping trolleys. And when I say this caught my eye, what I actually mean is that it pricked my conscience and prompted a guilty, silent confession. I am one of Those People.

When forced to linger impatiently in a supermarket queue, what else is there to do apart from inspect the spoils of someone else’s weekly shop? The other day, for example, I was standing behind a middle aged woman who was loading up on Euro Shopper beer, frozen frites (which in a country famous for their fries is quite unforgivable) and to top it all off, about a kilo of salami. Don’t get me wrong. I am not a judgmental person by nature, but I couldn’t help but beam proudly at my own selection of fresh blueberries, smoked salmon and organic eggs. But then I started to wonder. Has it gone too far? Have we begun to define ourselves more and more by what we put in our shopping baskets? Do we reveal more about ourselves than we think by our choices of fresh vs. frozen, organic vs. processed, and economy brands vs. premium?

Decades of very clever marketing by the sustainable food lobby would have us think that the answer is yes. This is clearly acknowledged in Gambrell’s comic strip when we are told that “real food is for organic superstores, certain ethnic markets and young urban bicycle enthusiasts”. In other words, if you are astute enough to choose these products, you are buying into a lifestyle, or at least a certain set of values. It is as if you are saying, I care enough about the environment, the local economy, my taste buds and my waistline to purchase bread for three times the price. So much so, in fact, that I have consciously begun to scorn those who buy regular bread. Oh dear.

Quite clearly, I am an avid believer in healthy and sustainable eating. But note to self: let’s try to tackle the root of the problem before we start judging other people’s food choices in future. I have no doubt that were the economic scales tipped more in favor of fresh, healthy produce, then that is what the majority of us would buy. But the fact is, buying fresh produce is prohibitively expensive, while processed food remains a bargain. In the current economic climate, it isn’t hard to see why people are making ‘bad’ choices. Until we start pressuring the right people to stop making irresponsible pricing decisions in supermarkets, we might want to remember that ‘sustainable’, ‘fresh’ and ‘organic’ produce is a privilege enjoyed by relatively few to the detriment of many.

London eats

Last weekend, in which I spent three days eating in London on the premise of visiting family and friends, was fantastic. In the years since I left, this sprawling, hectic metropolis has now become home to some surprisingly delicious, high quality and most shocking of all, affordable culinary delights. Shocking in the sense that London is famous for its extortionate restaurant prices, long tarnished by its reputation for providing no real middle ground between cheap, greasy fast food and high end luxury.

So imagine my delight when, exhausted from endless shopping, I stumbled upon Le Pain Quotidien, the café that sets the benchmark for all other cafés as far as I’m concerned. Remember my earlier article about the perfect brunch spot? Well this is it. The menu is so delightfully simple (boiled eggs on toast, blueberry pancakes, smoked salmon quiche with homemade pastry, as well as a wide selection of melt in your mouth pastries) and to be quite frank, faultless. Everything was incredibly fresh, the staff were friendly and though my European readers may be shocked to learn I paid £25 for breakfast (two rounds of smoked salmon on toast with coffee and enough croissants to feed an army), this is what counts as affordable in the English capital. I was more than happy to part with my money however, for such high quality fare. Many establishments do not shy away from charging far more for food of inferior quality.

That was breakfast. Lunch was much cheaper but if anything, even more delicious. Ranoush, widely acclaimed as the place to go for Lebanese food in London, did not disappoint. An enormous spiced chicken wrap with fresh yoghurt, mint and garlic dressing was a measly £8, served with a freshly squeezed glass of mango juice and followed by a pot of mint tea (the baklava was complimentary- top marks for flawless hospitality).

Finally, the day ended on a high note with crab and avocado salad and a good bottle of Prosecco, courtesy of that hallmark of supermarket quality, Marks and Spencer. Very unfashionable to mention supermarkets at this point, I know. But any British expat who loves good food laments not being able to shop here. The place practically screams elegance and refinement.

That was a great day for food. Establishments like these have restored my faith in London’s ability to compete to be the best food capital in the world, something I would have scorned two years ago. Many continental European readers may dismiss the high prices as snobbish, excessive, and a sign of the mentality that got Britain into such serious financial problems when things went wrong. But I applaud the inventiveness, creativity and in some cases, consistently high quality of London’s cafés and restaurants. If the quality is there, many Londoners reason, the idea of ‘what’s worth it’ changes. I enjoy being able to feed my imagination with the vast array of choice on offer, and sometimes lament the lack of such choice elsewhere. Then again, such elaborate, pricey creations are only justified if the quality is there. New York wins hands down in this respect. No matter what your budget, you will feast like a king in the big apple. I’m curious, though, if my nostalgia for my one time home city is clouding my judgement. What do you think? Does London deserve all this praise, culinarily speaking? And which other cities merit closer attention?

Wafer thin appetizers

We all enjoy a good carpaccio. But why not give these classic wafer thin appetizers a unique twist with fish, fruit or vegetables? Brimming with more variations on carpaccio than you could possibly imagine, this app will never leave you short of inspiration!

Discover your slicing skills with the Carpaccio Cookbook+. This app is packed with 80 mouthwatering recipes to enjoy with your friends, you can take your time with app- there’s more than enough to keep you busy!

You can browse through the recipes one by one or use one of the filters to quickly select your favorite type of food.

Unsure of the cooking methods? Just click the video button and find out for yourself by watching one of the easy to follow preparation videos. These have been added to some of our specially selected recipes.

Ready to get started? Use the cooking mode which presents all the information you need, so that touching the iPad when cooking is minimalized.

In the mood for some fun reading during cooking? Just flip through the amazing special topics or tips and tricks that are either connected to a chapter or even a specific recipe, so you can give them a twist!

Having a hard time planning a date with your friends? Use the FoodInvites to plan a gettogether with a friend, date or group of friends!

Breakfast: love it or hate it, it really is the most important meal of the day

A strange and unfortunate thing has happened to me recently. I have begun to hate breakfast. Once my favorite meal of the day, a much loved reason to get out of bed every morning with a smile on my face, it has well and truly lost its appeal. I now firmly side with those who swear the very thought of breakfast makes them queasy, lasting without proper sustenance until the 11 o’ clock coffee and croissant break.

But you can’t ignore science. Skipping breakfast may feel like a good idea at the time, but the reality is, you are forcing your body to revert to starvation mode. It panics, thinking it doesn’t have access to food and using up precious energy reserves. Concentration doesn’t last long. Patience becomes ever more fragile. Even positivity takes a nosedive. All because we ask too much of our bodies in the morning.

I also don’t think it can be a coincidence that I used to be a very capable, optimistic, ‘what does the day hold in store for me today’ kind of person. Horribly annoying, yes, but full of boundless energy and enthusiasm for the tasks that lay ahead. I’m lucky these days if I can even prepare my coffee in the morning without splashing it all over the walls or some such similar catastrophe occurring.

So I have vowed to be kind to myself and drastically reboot my whole morning routine. I am determined to greet each day with optimism and efficiency again. I’ve given myself a whole week to slowly readjust; no smoked salmon and scrambled eggs for me just yet. Wish me luck, and let me know what does it for you in the morning. I’ll need some inspiration to make this work!

Summer evenings with friends!

Remember all those lovely, warm summer evenings spent with friends and family. Gathering around a large table with an abundance of delicious dishes. My summer favorites include all kinds of salads. Hot and cold, fruits and vegetables, there is only on condition and that is they have to be freshly made. No tins, bags or frozen foods, but fresh, crispy and full of vitamins! That’s why I’m sharing my favorite Food4Friends salad with you. Enjoy!

Avocado salad with oranges and cashews (serves 4): 

2 ripe avocados, thinly sliced
2 oranges
50 g (1.75 oz) cashews
2 eggs, hard boiled for 5 minutes, then peeled and mashed
½ tbsp white wine vinegar
2 tbsp nut oil
juice of 1 lemon
50 g (1.75 oz) mixed lettuce
4 tbs crème fraîche
salt and pepper

  1. Remove the peel and white pith from the oranges. Separate the segments, capturing the juice.
  2. Combine the vinegar, oil, lemon and orange juice. Add salt and pepper to taste. Toss with the lettuce.
  3. Arrange the lettuce over the plates. Top with the crème fraîche and the slices of avocado and orange. Sprinkle with the nuts and hard boiled egg. Add a little salt to taste.