For a food blogger who says she doesn’t like to bake much, I seem to be baking up a storm with the gorgeous Rhubarb & Almond Cake a couple of days ago and now a banana bread. However, 4 bananas were quickly ripening in my fruit bowl. I eat a banana each morning with breakfast but don’t much like them once they are very ripe … so if they reach that stage, for me there’s only one thing to do with them – bake some banana bread!
If I baked a ‘cake’ for my kids for tea for when they came home from school, it was most often a banana bread and I’m still using the same Katie Stewart recipe from 1990! I’ve even made the mix into muffins. I tried a ‘Delia’ recipe recently for a change but didn’t like it so much, so back to Katie I went. She was queen of cooks when I got married in the late 1970s and I had a number of her books, which are still on my shelves and became very worn through much use. I stuck rigidly to her recipe for years and years. For one, cake recipes are less tolerant of being experimented with than savoury dishes. But anyway, it was just a great recipe as it was – with walnuts (or pecans) and sultanas in the mix along with the bananas. However, because I now often share my cakes with Jonathan and Lyndsey, I take into account that Lyndsey doesn’t like sultanas or raisins; my other daughter-in-law Rachael doesn’t either. So a bit of experimentation is required. I made a banana bread recently, leaving out the sultanas and adding some orange and lemon zest along with the walnuts and that worked brilliantly. But when I came to share a piece with Freddie I wondered if giving a baby (albeit it one who’s now only 3 weeks off a year) walnuts was OK … He loved the cake and I made sure he didn’t get any big bits of walnuts. When I came to decide what to put in the cake today, and thinking about what goes well with banana, chocolate seemed a great idea. Thus, at the end of the preparation, I chopped some dark cooking chocolate into chunks and added them. It worked really well!
- 225g (8oz) plain spelt flour
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- 100g (4oz) butter, soft
- 100g (4oz) light muscovado sugar
- 2 eggs
- 450g (1lb) bananas (weight with skin on)
- 50g (2oz) chopped dark chocolate
Heat the oven to 180C/Fan 160/Gas 4. Grease a 1lb loaf tin and lay a strip of baking parchment along the bottom and up over the side edges.
Sift the flour into the bowl with the baking powder. I always buy spelt plain flour now, not just because it’s healthier but because it has a great flavour compared to ordinary plain flour. Now add the soft butter (please don’t use margarine!), sugar and the two eggs. Whisk it all together with an electric beater until well blended and light and fluffy. (Katie takes more time doing this stage by stage in the original recipe, but this all-in-one method works just fine.)
Now mash the bananas with a fork, add to the mixture and beat again until the banana is blended in well. Now chop 50g dark chocolate with a sharp knife into small pieces (about ½cm cubes).
Add the chocolate to the cake mix and fold in gently. Transfer to the prepared tin.
Bake in the oven for 1 hour. It should be nicely brown on top and shrinking very slightly from the edges. I checked mine with a small sharp knife to see it was cooked through. Leave to cool a little in the tin for 10 minutes.
Then transfer to a wire rack to finish cooling. Now, if you can possibly wait a day or two before trying this, banana bread does benefit from a little bit of ‘maturing’. But then who can resist the wonderful smell of freshly baked banana bread? Certainly not me! I just had to cut into it and have a slice with a cup of tea this afternoon.
I shall take half over to Jonathan and Lyndsey’s tomorrow, but I’ve also discovered banana bread freezes well and that if I cut it into slices, slipping a piece of greaseproof paper between each slice, then wrapping the whole in greaseproof paper and then foil, it freezes really well. I can then take out separate slices when I fancy some. It also toasts well, so I might slip it into the toaster and then spread some butter on top. Indulgence! But a little bit of indulgence is a good thing. And while, of course, lots of cake isn’t good for us, I feel this is a slightly healthier cake than some. And most importantly of all, it’s absolutely delicious. I shall definitely be adding the chocolate again.
I had a slice of delicious rhubarb & almond cake from Your Bakery in Whitton last week and thought I really must try making some myself. So when I saw an assistant carrying a tray of packs of fresh rhubarb in Waitrose yesterday, I couldn’t resist following and claiming a pack for my basket.
My ‘forced’ rhubarb came from Yorkshire – just as it should. The forced rhubarb from Yorkshire is so famous and respected that it was even awarded an EC Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) in 2010. This means it must be grown within the 9 square mile Rhubarb Triangle in West Yorkshire. Rhubarb is actually a vegetable although we tend to think of it as a fruit. It originates, rather surprisingly, from Siberia in Russia, so obviously likes a cold climate. Its leaves are poisonous and it is the stalks we eat. As a child, we had the outdoor variety growing in our garden and I have vivid memories of having fun pulling the stalks from the ground and my mother would make a rhubarb crumble. The stalks of the outdoor variety become quite thick, tough and stringy as they get bigger; the stems more acidic than the forced variety.
We generally think of ‘forced’ as not good when it comes to food and usually (unless you’re a fan of foie gras!) that is true and forced fruit and vegetables tend to have less flavour. However, with rhubarb it’s completely different. The forcing – growing the rhubarb in the dark – results in a much more delicate and pleasant flavour. The method was developed in the early 1800s. Rather than the greenish stems of the outdoor variety, forced rhubarb has wonderful bright, rose-pink-red stalks. However, even this more delicate variety still needs to be cooked before eating and because it’s very sour it also needs to be sweetened.
- 400g rhubarb cut into 2cm slices
- 150g butter
- 150g golden caster sugar + extra 2 tablespoons
- 2 eggs
- zest of 1 orange
- 200g ground almonds
- 100g plain (I used spelt for extra taste) flour
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- about 2 tablespoons flaked almonds
First of all, wash and trim the rhubarb and then cut into 2cm slices. Put in a bowl with the extra 2 tablespoons sugar, mix to coat all the rhubarb, and then leave for 30 minutes for the rhubarb to macerate.
Preheat the oven to 180C/160 Fan/Gas 4. Now make the cake base. Put the butter and sugar in a large bowl and whisk until light, pale and fluffy. Now add the eggs one at a time – with a little flour if it looks as if the mixture is separating – and also add the orange zest.
Next add the flour, sifted with the baking powder, and the ground almonds. Beat until everything is blended in nicely. Then stir in the rhubarb, scraping in any juices.
Transfer to a greased and lined 22cm springform cake tin. Sprinkle over the flaked almonds.
Bake for 1hr 15 mins until nicely browned and firm to touch. Remove from oven and allow to cool in the tin before transferring to a rack.
This is very much a dessert cake and you can serve it warm, though I left it until cold to eat at suppertime. Once cold, I transferred it to a cake stand and sifted over some icing sugar.
Come suppertime, it made a fabulous dessert with a generous spoonful of Greek yoghurt on the side.
Wow! It was fantastic. Very moist, full of flavour; a simply gorgeous cake. It was a lovely way to use rhubarb, which is still a fruit/vegetable not available all year, so you need to make the most of it when it’s available. I’d combined a couple of recipes I found on the internet and it had come out really well. And it was very easy to make. It would be a great dessert for entertaining to make in advance. I’m all for easy entertaining and making as much as possible ahead of guests arriving.
The sun was back for my final day in Amsterdam and as my flight home wasn’t until early evening, I had most of the day to enjoy all my favourite things in the city. There was only one direction to head and that was to the Jordaan. After breakfast, I checked out of the hotel but got them to look after my suitcase for the day. I headed out and cut through to Prinsengracht from the Rijksmuseum. First of all I wanted to go to Elandsgracht where in a toy shop window I saw lots of Miffys yesterday – but it was closed on Sunday. Miffy – the little Dutch rabbit from Dick Bruna books – is a childhood institution and I wanted to buy one for Freddie. It turned out the shop didn’t open until 1pm – common on Monday – so I’d just have to go back after lunch. But the wonderful cheese shop, Tromp, that I discoverd last year when I stayed nearby, was open. That was where I’d buy some gorgeous old Gouda to take home.
It’s the most wonderful shop. I was given a taste of a 2½ year Gouda and a 3½ one. The older the cheese, the stronger and nuttier it is. A young one just a few months old would be creamier and mild. I chose the 2½ year one: nicely nutty but not too strong for me. I bought three pieces (2 for presents) and the lady in the shop vacuum packed them individually for the journey back to London. My cheese bought, I wandered further down Elandsgracht to the bakery I also found last year.
I’d purposely had a small breakfast so I had room for a croissant here with morning coffee. I also had freshly squeezed orange juice.
There were such tempting breads and biscuits that I would have liked to bring home but I had to leave room in my small cabin-sized suitcase for Miffy! I headed back down the road towards Prinsengracht again, passing an organic butcher.
It’s a wonderful road and must be a great place to live. As I passed by Westerkerk, I could see a long queue outside the Anne Frank House even though it was early. There is always a long queue, except at night.
I was happy wandering in the sunny weather for some time and enjoying the pretty canals and houses of the Jordaan – it’s such a special place.
Nearly always in view was Westerkerk, every quarter hour sounding its uniquely Dutch bells.
At lunchtime I returned to my favourite Cafe ‘t Smalle for lunch.
I just love this cafe. It’s quite touristy in the sense that you’ll find it in all the guide books, but I always find it wonderfully laid back and friendly at lunchtime and their soup is the best you’ll find.
I chose perhaps Amsterdam’s most famous and popular soup: pea and ham. Oh it was glorious! Thick and just the most wonderful flavour. It came with the traditional accompaniment of rye bread topped with ham. I also had a small draught Heineken with it – the local brewery! I was so happy and relaxed sitting there that I then ordered tea so I could go on sitting there and reading my book. In Holland when you order tea the hot water is put in a cup and the you’re given a box with lots of different teas to choose from.
Of course – being me! – I couldn’t leave Amsterdam without a final slice of apple pie. I therefore headed a bit further up Prinsengracht to the most famous apple pie in the city at Winkel, by Noordermarkt. I first discovered it with the family about 20 years ago by chance. We were passing one morning and saw a long queue stretching outside and everyone was emerging to outdoor tables with plates of apple pie. Of course we had to try it too and were suitably awed. When I went back there a year or two ago, I wasn’t so sure about their well-cooked, softer apple filling to other pies with clear apple slices with bite. Their pastry is more cake-like too. But then I tasted it again today and if it’s a little bit different – and served warm – it’s really absolutely gorgeous!
What a way for a food lover to finish a weekend in Amsterdam. It was an enormous piece but then I had a long walk back down almost the entire stretch of Prinsengracht to the hotel. Oh, and of course I had to stop at the toy shop again to buy Miffy, who was nicely packed for the flight home!
The last evening in a favourite place on holiday should be filled with favourite things. We all like a good ending so for me, a last evening isn’t a time to try out new places but to go back to the best I know. There was no contest. I’d known exactly where I’d go on my last night even before I arrived! Favourites places are so subjective: my kind of favourite isn’t necessarily going to be yours but if you’ve read this blog before, you’ll know the kind of places I like. I like informal; I’m more cafe society than high-end luxury and formality. This is partly money – I can’t afford very posh restaurants, other than maybe as an occasional treat. But more than that, I like relaxed places with a gentle happy buzz. But of course I also want to eat great food.
I’ve written about De Reiger Cafe-Restaurant before. It embodies all that is good about the term ‘gastro pub’ – top quality restaurant food in a relaxed pub-like atmosphere.
I just love the place and definitely wanted to make it back there this trip so saved it for the end. I even managed to get my ‘usual’ window table looking out on to the Jordaan world outside.
I chose a gorgeous duck confit terrine served with toasted brioche to begin.
My main was fabulous but less adventurous as it was exactly what I had a year ago. Despite some tempting specials offered, the venison with red cabbage, a baked pear and duchesse potato was too good to resist.
I chose the special dessert of chocolate and banana cake with creme anglaise to finish. The cake was wonderfully light and tasty and it was so prettily presented.
It was a leisurely meal. I’d eaten quite early and was in no hurry. I’ve noticed people do eat early here and the restaurants open early; De Reiger at 5pm. When I eventually left I made my way through familiar back streets of the Jordaan to the only place I could go to next.
My daughter Nicola and I discovered Cafe Chris two years ago by chance, cutting through back streets towards our hotel after dinner on our first night. We peered inside. Someone came out and told us it was very good. So we went in. Although I rarely drink gin at home, I love to drink the Dutch oude – old – variety as a digestif whenever I’m in Amsterdam. It’s always served in a small liqueur glass and filled right to the brim. You can’t pick the glass up at first and have to lean forward to sip. Not ladylike at all!
Cafe Chris opened in 1624 making it the oldest cafe-bar in the Jordaan and one of the oldest in the whole of Amsterdam. It’s a wonderful little bar full of lively characters. It’s just the most brilliant place to end an evening – especially on my last night of this trip.
After the glorious sunny weather yesterday, I woke to grey skies and drizzle. It had been forecast and fortunately the rain was light but I still needed an umbrella as I set off from the hotel this morning. It seemed a good day for visiting a museum or two. Staying in the Museum Quarter suddenly seemed fortuitous. Except I didn’t fancy the big major museums nearby – the Rijksmuseum or Van Gogh – that I’ve visited before. Thus I decided to head over to the Southern Canal Belt area to see something new: the Museum Willet-Holthuysen, a 17th century canal house on Herengracht that has been a museum since 1895 when Mrs Willet-Holthuysen bequeathed it to the city in her will. There is a more famous house, Van Loon, nearby but I visited that once before and my guide book promised this ‘new’ one was full of beautiful objects.
It was very quiet as I made my way through deserted streets, even though it was nearly 10am. I knew the museum didn’t open until 11am but thought I’d find it and then have a coffee in a cafe and read for a while. However, open cafes seemed thin on the ground this damp Sunday morning – or any I fancied going in. As I made my way along Herengracht I found another museum – and this one was open! The Tassenmuseum Hendrikje opened at 10.00. Now I’d seen this museum dedicated entirely to handbags listed in my guide, but it didn’t seem quite my thing. However, once found, it seemed an ideal way to escape the damp weather while I waited for the other museum to open. And it had a cafe!
The lady in reception who greeted me was so elegant and enthusiastic that I immediately felt this might be a fun thing to do. And so it turned out to be the case. For a woman who tends to buy a new handbag, use it for every occasion until it falls apart, then buys another one … well, I was remarkably delighted by this collection. I was told to begin upstairs on the 3rd floor and work my way down, moving from 16th century bags to contemporary 21st century ones.
Many of the handbags were exquisite. There was excellent information accompanying them too, charting the history of the handbag, through to the advent of the steam train in the 19th century making travel easier along with examples of suitcases and travel bags. There were the famous too, from a special bag made for Hillary Clinton in the image of her cat …
… to Alexander McQueen:
I really enjoyed the exhibition. Coming out, it was still grey and wet but fortunately only a short walk to the Willet-Holthuysen. This museum was about appreciating the house in its heyday and seeing the furniture and room layouts as they would have been.
I was less impressed by this than all those beautiful handbags. There seemed something very soulless about this former home, now museum. Yes, there’s some historical interest, but there was nothing inspiring about it. I came back out into Herengracht.
I was at the far, bottom end of the canal and a little further down was the Amstel, the wide river shrouded in mist. Nearby I found a cafe for lunch (it was in my guide book) and it looked typically Dutch and just the place for a bowl of soup as a light but warming lunch.
Cafe Langereis turned out to be OK but not special. In a city where fabulous hearty bowls of homemade soup that fill you up at lunchtime can be easily found, theirs was pretty mediocre and served with a miserable piece of toast. I was left hungry enough to have to order some bread and cheese after. However, it was a pleasant enough place to relax for a time, reading and sipping some lovely draught Leffe, before the walk back to the hotel. I walked along Herengracht until it was time to turn down towards the Rijksmuseum. I love walking along these beautiful ‘grachts’, even in the rain: Herengracht, Prinsengracht and Keizergracht. A ‘gracht’ is a city canal with houses on both sides. I left their peace for the busy shopping area around the Leidesplein and back to the Museum Quarter for a quiet time in the hotel before heading out this evening, my last night, in search of a good supper.
Serendipity. For the travelling foodie there are few more delightful experiences than finding a great new place to eat by chance. I’d grazed quite a lot on the food tour today, although not actually eaten a meal and had mainly tasted rather than eaten what was put before me. But how hungry was I? What kind of supper did I fancy? I scoured my little Lonely Planet guide but couldn’t see anywhere I fancied nearby. Thus I set off deciding to just head up Prinsengracht towards Jordaan and look out for somewhere that took my fancy. If I didn’t see anywhere, then once I got as far as Westerkerk there’d be places I knew.
When on the lookout for somewhere to eat, a place that’s full is going to be a better bet than an empty one. Though of course they might not have a free table! Any stickers in the window showing they’re recommended by TripAdvisor, Hardens, Michelin or whatever means they’re worth a look too. On a dark night on an Amsterdam canal seeing anything much can be a challenge. One certainly can’t resort to a guide book as you won’t be able to read it – unless, unlike me, you’ve worked out how to use the torch on your iPhone.
Even though it was a very dark stretch of the Prinsengracht, something about Cafe Het Molenpad stopped me in my tracks. By this time I was halfway to Westerkerk. Yes there were a few stickers on the window but what attracted me was the warm inviting look inside. I read the menu displayed at the front. A set menu of 3 courses for €27.50. And it all looked great. I went inside and received a friendly welcome and was given a prime table by the window overlooking the pretty canal outside. It was perfect!
The menu was so inviting I found it hard to choose but finally settled on a starter of Chicory, Radicchio, Mackerel mousse and Pomegranate. While I waited for it to arrive, the waiter brought me a glass of Sauvignon Blanc and as I sipped it, I marvelled at the wonderful view from my window.
The starter was brilliant. I loved the bitter freshness of the salad leaves and the mackerel had a strong enough flavour to take it; all this was topped with sweet pomegranate seeds. For my main I’d chosen mussels. I love eating mussels here, or in Belgium or France, where they come with frites.
The frites came with mayonnaise – in UK you nearly always have to ask for it. There were two sauces to accompany the mussels – a curried one and tomato – but I like my mussels simple. If they are good – and these were wonderful: tender and sweet – they don’t need anything with them. There was a tempting choice for dessert and I went with Poached pears with Gorgonzola, walnuts, thyme and honey.
Of course I didn’t NEED a dessert, but it was a 3-course menu and how could I resist? And I had – according to the pedometer on my iPhone – walked 14km today! And I was so happy sitting there with the lovely food, warm and buzzing atmosphere, friendly service and a great view, that I wanted to stay as long as possible. Thus I odered a coffee and an oude genever – old gin – that I love to end the day with when in Amsterdam.
What a great way to end a lovely day. And Cafe Het Molenpad is now definitely on my list of favourite haunts in Amsterdam!