My Balcony Garden – Week 3

7 May

Er, in case you couldn’t discern from the title of this blog, I live in Amsterdam. If you’ve never visited, let me tell you that living space is at a premium. We live in a 55 square metre apartment on the first floor. We have a 4×1.5 metre balcony that (lucky for me) is south-facing.

As a Canadian gal, I grew up having a vegetable garden in our yard. It’s so satisfying to grow your own food from seed.

This is the fourth year that I’ve had a balcony garden. The weather obviously is the deciding factor on how my plants grow. Last year, it was gorgeous here until August, and then it rained non-stop. The lack of rain and no sun stunted (or ruined) my strawberries, peas, and carrots. The fail-safes (lettuces, tomatoes and herbs) were fine.

This year I’ve got: rainbow chard, cascading cherry tomatoes, beets, Asian lettuce mix, raspberries and herbs (cinnamon basil, regular basil, flat-leaf parsley and oregano).

Rainbow chard - a good choice for the balcony.

I don’t know how or why and I don’t want to question it too much but we’ve had one helluva spring. And by “helluva”, I mean, the entire month of April has been not only sunny, but extreme above-average temperatures for this time of year. Last year in mid-April I was wearing my winter jacket still. This year? It’s been 24-27 degrees. Unbelievable!

Here’s how the weather’s been on the balcony garden:

Maximising space on the balcony is always a challenge and a compromise. Not ALL plants can be grown in pots successfully. I’ve opted for easy growers (lettuces and herbs) in hanging grow bags (which I got at Hema if you’re in Amsterdam) and wall-mounted pots + larger pots for the beets, swiss chard and raspberries. When the tomatoes grow their first true leaves, I will transplant them into a large bucket, which will be modified so that the tomatoes grow upside down.

I’ll post more on that soon.

Getting Ready for Queen’s Day!

28 Apr

Queen’s Day is the biggest holiday in the Netherlands. It happens on 30 April every year and Amsterdam gets an influx of more than a million visitors in just that one day. The city centre shuts down, and residents across the city chalk out turf on the sidewalk to reserve the space for their mini yard-sale, bar, cookery stand, or whatever else their heart fancies.

Grant and I are doing our stand for the third year in a row. Last year it was cocktails, the year before it was cupcakes and cocktails, and this year, it’ll be the same.

Because I’ve got my cupcake company to promote now, we’re going all pro. I’ve been making signage:

Nomzilla's getting ready for her big day

And we’ve got our booze purchased for our delicious “Queen B” cocktails:

Tonight, I’m baking 24 royal wedding themed cupcakes for an order, then on Friday after work, I’m baking 160 chocolate, vanilla, and lemon cupcakes.

EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEP – that’s a lot of work to do.

Celebrating Baby Axel with a Baby Brunch!

5 Apr

Two of our very dear friends and fellow Canadian expats here in Amsterdam recently had a beautiful baby boy. I wanted to host a little brunch for them while her lovely mother was in town, and luckily the weather last weekend cooperated.

On the brunch menu:

The Almighty Canadian Caesar (the ultimate brunch cocktail)
Roasted vegetable tart
Roasted and sugared grapefruit
Nikki’s awesome fruit salad (thanks Nikki!)
Homemade English muffins
Rhubarb and apple compote
Toasted rye with lemon creme fraiche and smoked salmon
Bacon and sausage
Torta Mimosa
Rotolo alle Nocciole


For those Amsterdam-dwelling expats that miss a freshly toasted English muffin slathered with butter, I implore you to make your own. It’s really easy and so satisfying. The recipe I used uses a food processor, but you can do this perfectly well without one. Instead of pulsing the yeast/sugar/water, just mix it and let it rest and just use a good ol’ wooden spoon to do the rest. Everything else stays the same. Check out: 2 Stews: English Muffins recipe


(I stupidly did not take any photos of my beautiful Italian cakes – duh.)

The brunch was really lovely and it was small enough (11 of us) to make for a very relaxed afternoon. Luckily the grey skies cleared and we were able to sit outside and eat. Oh, and did I mention the fantastic onesies we made for baby Axel?

One of us (oh, me) made a onesie dedicated to the greatest fake band on the planet, Surprise! Snow Leopard? Truck Stop.

Grant did a particularly well-crafted onesie:

It was a lovely afternoon, and boy do we love baby Axel!


Congratulations to Axel’s lovely parents, Rochelle and Maarten!

A name change

26 Mar

Hi guys,

Just wanted to let you know that I changed the name of the blog (as you can see). The reason is that I recently launched a little cupcake (ad)venture here in Amsterdam. Meet “Cupcakes by Nomzilla”:

I’m now selling my cupcakes online: www.cupcakesbynomzilla.com

So, you see…the name of this here blog, it’s sending a mixed message. I don’t really want to kill anything, certainly not with a cupcake!

So be patient with me, because one day very soon (like, today), you’re going to come back here (I hope) and see a different blog title. But I’m still here, same old me.

xo

Amanda

Macarons – Easier than you think!

25 Mar

I was meandering around Paris this past October with one of my dearest friends, and I made sure to pick up a giant box of macarons while we were there. I ate some there (probably more than I should have) and oh, so carefully brought the rest back to Amsterdam to share with my boyfriend. Since then, I’ve been wanting to have a go at making them myself.

But then. The blogs. The horror stories. Book after book on the “best” way, the “true” way, the “authentic” way of creating the perfect macaron. I was intrigued by a post on Foodgawker from BraveTart called “Macaron Mythbusters”.

Motivated by the astute myth-busting and with a renewed sense of confidence, I decided to have a go. Cold egg whites, no resting once piped…and you know what, it worked!

Vanilla macarons with dark chocolate ganache

The shells had a smooth top, with the airy and chewy texture that makes a good macaron melt in your mouth. Not all the macarons came out with the lovely little feet, and they had little hats on top because I didn’t have the correct piping tip, but still, pretty good for a first try!

A pretty plate of heaven

So BraveTart, you were right! Thanks for debunking the anxiety and fear that comes with making macarons. I’m excited to make more!

Happy Paddy’s Day! Seamus O’Shaughnessy Cupcakes!

17 Mar

Happy St. Patrick’s Day or Happy Paddy’s Day – those are the only two acceptable ways of saying or spelling it. Thanks to my jaunty Irish friend, Fergal, for the clarification.

To celebrate, I concocted the mother of Irish-inspired cupcakes. Meet -The Seamus O’Shaughnessy!

Triple threat: Baileys, Jameson and Guinness

The cake is drunk with Baileys. I actually subbed the entire quantity of milk with Baileys. I split the batter and tinted half of it green, and then swirled it together. The frosting is a Swiss Meringue Buttercream – BUT instead of regular butter, I used butter that I had browned and re-chilled. To add another Irish dimension of flavour, I infused the frosting with a Guinness (stout) syrup.

The cupcake is topped with a green fondant pot, filled with buttercream, and topped with bright gold sugar. Finally, the cupcake is drizzled with a Jameson whisky syrup.

three amigos

I was making them to bring to work. Unfortunately I had a bit of a mishap this morning and tripped getting on my bike. Hence, the cupcakes arrived in a slightly disheveled state, but they were wolfed down anyways:

bike fail

Happy

Lush Vanilla Panna Cotta with Orange Sauce AND Pine Nut Brittle

6 Feb

To end our vegan feast, I served a Vanilla Bean Panna Cotta with Orange Sauce and Pine Nut Rosemary Brittle.

Vegan.

Also from the fantastic book, The Conscious Cook by Tal Ronnen.

Now, if you want to make this, you’re going to have to do some work in advance. Tal says that to make the cashew cream, you need to soak the cashews overnight. I’ve made cashew cream several times and only soaked the cashews for three hours…you get the same result. So, about midday at the latest, start soaking your cashews. The pannacotta needs to sit in the fridge to set for about three hours.

Thick Cashew Cream (a.k.a. any respectable vegan’s secret weapon)
2 cups raw whole cashews
water

Thoroughly rinse the cashews in cold water. Then put in an airtight container, cover with water, and set aside for three hours. After three hours, pour into a blender and puree until smooth. Pass through a fine mesh sieve to remove any bits, and you will be left with silky-smooth cashew cream that is SO TASTY.

The Panna Cotta
1.5 tsp agar agar flakes
1/3 cup boiling water
1/5 cups thick cashew cream, thinned out to achieve a whole milk consistency (3/4 cup cashew cream + 3/4 water)
I cup plain unsweetened almond milk
1/2 cup caster/granulated sugar
1/2 tsp sea salt
1/2 vanilla pod, split and seeds scraped or 1 Tbsp vanilla bean paste

ingredients

Put the agar agar in a small bowl and pour the boiling water over top. Leave for 5 minutes to thicken.

In a medium saucepan, add cashew cream, almond milk, sugar, salt and soaked agar agar. If using fresh vanilla, add the seeds now and the emptied pod. Whisk constantly over medium-high heat until a foam starts to rise up in the pan. Then reduce to low and simmer for three minutes. If using vanilla bean paste, add it now.

Pour the mixture through a fine-mesh sieve and then into ceramic ramekins. The recipe says it makes six, but I had bigger ones, so it made four.  Let it set in the fridge for at least 3 hours.

Orange sauce
1 cup freshly squeezed orange juice
1 Tbsp orange zest
3 Tbsp firmly packed light brown sugar
4 Tbsp Earth Balance or vegan butter
1/4 tsp sea salt
2 Tbsp Grand Marnier

Combine everything but the liquor in a small saucepan, bring to the boil, then reduce to a medium-low heat and simmer for 15 minutes, or until reduced by half. Remove from heat, stir in the Grand Marnier, and then pour through a fine mesh sieve.

Rosemary pine nut brittle
1 cup caster sugar
2 Tbsp Earth Balance or vegan butter
1 Tbsp Agave syrup
1 tsp sea salt
1 cup pine nuts, toasted
2 tsp finely minced rosemary

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Gently stir together the sugar and 1/4 water. Add the Earth Balance and the agave syrup and then bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Do not stir, let the sugar caramelize and when it starts to turn a golden amber colour, bring it off the heat, stir in the rosemary, salt and pine nuts using a heat-proof rubber spatula, and then pour it onto the baking sheet, spreading it out using the spatula. Let rest for an hour and then break into shards.

To serve, run a knife along the inside of the ramekins to loosen the Panna Cotta, and tip upside-down onto a plate. Pour over the warm orange sauce, place some shards of pine nut brittle, and garnish with mint.

Lush.

an impressive vegan dessert