Making mud pies

Well, not really. But in Dutch, we call these biscuits “zandkoekjes”, which literally translates to sand biscuits. Probably because of the crumbly texture. So it’s not that big a leap to mud pies. Really, it’s not. Sand. Mud. Biscuits. Pies. Really.

They’re incredibly easy to make, so this time I’m going to do things slightly different and add a video!

Ingredients

Makes about 16 biscuits

  • 100 grams of self-raising flour
  • 75 grams of cold unsalted butter
  • 50 grams of granulated sugar
  • pinch of salt

Math wizards will realise that you can easily adapt the amounts, as long as you keep to a 4:3:2 ratio.

Preparation

Wash your hands with cold water so they’re clean and COLD. Put all the ingredients into a bowl. Cut the butter into cubes. With a knife, not a fork. Ahem. Then “pinch” the butter with your fingertips to mix it with the sugar and flour. Keep on pinching until it starts clumping together. Take small lumps of dough and place them on a baking sheet. Flatten them with your hand. They don’t need to look perfect.

Place the sheet into a preheated oven at 170 degrees Celsius.

After two minutes they look like this.

Sand biscuits 2 minutes

After four minutes they look like this.

Sand biscuits 4 minutes

After seven minutes they look like this.

Sand biscuits 7 minutes

After nine minutes, they’re done.

Sand biscuits 9 minutes

Might be a bit shorter or longer depending on your oven, so keep an eye on how brown they are. You want slightly brown edges but not much more. Refer to the picture if you’re unsure.

They will come out still a bit soft, so let them cool down on the sheet for about 2 (if you’re hungry) to 15 (if you can wait that long) minutes. Enjoy!

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The Salad Variations

Fried chicken salad

200 grams of chicken breast
75-100 grams of lettuce
4 cherry tomatoes
100 grams of cottage cheese or mozzarella
1 tablespoon of olive oil


This is how I clean chicken breast. I cut off a lot of weird bits, as shown on the left of the first pic. Then dice it into pieces of about one inch, as shown on the right. It’s hard to do this because it seems so wasteful, but part of my “Life As An Adult” motto is that it’s more wasteful to throw out food because I can’t eat it due to ickyness. So. I simply don’t buy meat everyday. And when I do, I’m allowed to cut off the weird bits.

Next, I put a bit of olive oil in a frying pan, just enough to cover the bottom, add chicken pieces, and put it on a medium to high heat. Basically just high enough to make spluttering noises but not so high that there’s oil flying everywhere.

Then I ignore the pan for a while and start sorting out the lettuce. See, the thing is that I really like this mixed bag, but they’ve started putting too much onion in it and that’s smelly and awful. So I pick out all the actual leaves. I can do that, I’m an adult now. Even if it takes 10 minutes.

Which, incidentally, is about the time needed for the chicken pieces to become nice and brown and crispy. Put the lettuce in a bowl and stir the chicken to get it to brown on the other side as well. Be careful of oil splatters.

Next, I want to add the cottage cheese to the salad, but as it turns out the best before date was about a week ago. Yay executive function! Disregarding that, I rely on my awesome autistic senses to taste if it’s gone off. Oh, actually it has. Yay autistic senses! So I use some mozzarella instead, diced into small bits.

Then I slice the cherry tomatoes into quarters. The chicken should be completely done by now so I add everything to the bowl, then add some extra virgin olive oil as a dressing. I don’t use store bought dressings, because vinegar and sugar and lots of crap. This salad doesn’t need it.

You can leave out ingredients or add others if you so wish (cucumber!). That’s the great thing about salads. You can add whatever you like. Except if you don’t like lettuce, then you might have a problem. But even then, fried chicken bits with tomatoes and cottage cheese is pretty yummy as well.

Endive and orange salad

4 endives
4 oranges, peeled and sliced
a small handful of walnuts
3 slices of blue cheese
1 tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil


So, endives. Also called chicory sometimes. It’s a very popular vegetable in the Netherlands. I don’t really like it when it’s cooked. But raw? Yum. I have this thing for bitter tasting stuff. If bitter is your thing as well (there’s a reason chicory root is used as a coffee substitute), then you’ll probably like this salad.

Anyway. Clean the endives, remove any outer leaves that look shrivelled or brown. Slice into small strips, about half an inch wide. I cut off the tip here because it was green, basically the more green the more bitter, but there is a limit to what I can take. After I’ve sliced up the endives, I take out the inner core which is a bit tough and again, very bitter.

Then I cut the oranges into segments.

Once I’ve done that, I add some walnuts, about five of them broken into small pieces. Say a small handful.

For the blue cheese, I’ve chosen a Rochebaron this time, because it’s not extremely pungent and has a very creamy texture, a bit like brie. But sometimes I use a more pungent one like Danish Blue as well. I cut this into small cubes. Not too much or it will completely dominate the salad.

Finish with some extra virgin olive oil as a dressing, together with the juice from peeling and slicing the oranges. Same goes for this salad, play around with ingredients you like and leave out things you don’t like. It’s all good.

Oranges are not the only fruit

So I made an endive and orange salad for dinner yesterday, and I thought it would be a nice excuse to show you how to clean oranges the professional way, ending up with those pretty little segments without skins. I didn’t figure out how to do this until I was 32, and my mother still doesn’t get it. But it’s pretty awesome.

Orange peelThe type of orange doesn’t matter. I always buy what we call “juicing oranges”, because oranges that are meant to be held in the hand while eating them tend to be less juicy (because of messiness). And I like juicy.

So yeah, this is going to be messy. If you have sensory difficulties with dirty and/or sticky hands, keep the tap running so you can rinse your hands whenever you need to.

First sliceFirst, you need to cut away the white rind. It takes some getting used to, but if you start with cutting the “top” of the orange off, you can see exactly how thickly you need to peel this baby. I always peel the oranges over a bowl, so I can catch the juice as well. I did mention that this is going to get messy, right?

Once you have gotten all of the white rind off, you can hold the orange in one hand and take a sharp knife to slice close to the white “divider” thingie.
Second sliceThis is actually the skin of one of the segments. Don’t worry about slicing very closely to the “divider”, you’re going to end up with different size segments anyway because nature is chaotic like that. So just slice somewhere next to it and don’t worry about not getting it right the first time.

Third sliceNext, you’re going to do the exact same on the opposite side of the segment. So because I’m right-handed, first I slice on the right of the “divider”, then I move to the right and slice on the LEFT side of the next “divider”. (I’d really appreciate suggestions on how to call these, by the way. Divider sounds idiotic). If you’re left-handed, it’s probably easier to mirror this.

Once you’ve made those two slices, you can simply lift out your orange segment with a flick of your knife.

Then you can move on to the next segment, again making a slice right of the “divider”. You can see the thickness of the segment skin in the picture.

Orange leftoversKeep on working your way down through all the segments, and keep rinsing your hands if you need to, because they’re going to be covered in orange juice.

If you used the same trick as me, doing this above a big bowl, you’re going to end up with:

  1. About 7-9 pretty orange segments without skins
  2. A big bowl of juice
  3. A weird flowerlike orange leftover thing!

I will do a follow-up post for the endive salad, which is also pretty awesome but I know most people hate endives.

Rainbow soup

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So I decided to make rainbow soup today.

It’s not actually called rainbow soup. I just like it and it’s got a lot of colours so that’s why.

I don’t really feel like doing an official recipe so I’m just going to show how I made it.

Starting with about two handfuls of green beans.

I hate green beans when they’re stringy or have big beans inside or are gigantically overcooked. Other than that I quite like them.

If you want to make sure they aren’t stringy, there’s a trick to cleaning them. If you sort of use the knife to pull the tip of the bean towards you while cutting, you can get the string to come with as well. I hope the picture sort of shows that.

It’s really hard to take a picture while holding a green bean in one hand and a knife in the other.

I cut the beans into small pieces, probably around 1-1.5cm. I guess that averages out around 0.5in. Does it matter? Not really.

Then there’s the big pot of chicken stock. Two litres. I’m lazy and I always use ready made stock from jars. It’s just so much easier.

I prefer jars to making stock from cubes because this way I can just put it in the pot without thinking about it. I do add plenty of water because I don’t usually like very salty food.

This is called a lombok. It’s a chili pepper used in Indonesian cooking. I’m not actually cooking Indonesian food this time but it’s the most common pepper available in the Netherlands. I think it’s a variation of the Cayenne pepper.

I like lomboks because they’re spicy but not insanely so. Plus they have an awesome red colour.

This one is about the size of my hand.

There’s a couple of ways to clean chili peppers. I prefer cutting them lengthwise and then scraping out the seeds and interior.

The more of the orangey interior (seed ribs) you remove, the milder the taste will be. Today I’m not interested in sniffles so I’m removing most of the insides.

After that I’m cutting them into small strips.

I’m mostly doing it for the colour.

Then it’s on to the tins.

Crispy mais. I don’t know what’s so crispy about it. It’s just maize kernels. Or corn kernels. You know what I mean. There’s a picture.

I always make sure to buy the kind without added sugar. Seriously. Maize is sweet enough already. Silly people.

I drain off the water in the tin before adding the contents to the chicken stock.

It’s starting to look pretty.

Green, yellow, and red.

I had to put in quite a bit of effort to get this picture. The maize kept sinking to the bottom of the pot. And as with the green bean and the knife, it’s a bit hard to take a picture while stirring soup with a really big ladle and making sure the pot stays in place.

The sacrifices I make for this blog.

Another tin!

Diced tomatoes. No idea why this tin is in English, since it’s actually a Dutch brand.

This step in the preparation might be a leftover from when I didn’t eat tomatoes. What I do is I take the diced tomatoes and rinse them about a thousand times till I only have the bits of tomato meat left and no juice.

Fresh tomatoes are not an option (even though I actually like those now) because the skins peel off in a nasty way and peeling them beforehand is a lot of effort.

I might try peeled tomatoes but I’d have to rinse those as well. And they feel icky when you’re cutting them up.

So rinsed diced tomatoes it is. Rinse rinse rinse. Not much left when I’m done rinsing.

Without the juice the soup doesn’t become a red cloudy mess either. We want rainbow soup, not tomato soup.

(Oh, on a side note: at my supermarket they have like half an aisle filled with different types of tomatoes. It is 100% impossible for me to pass it without starting to sing “Let’s call the whole thing off” softly to myself).

Time to clean and dice the chicken breast.

Yeah, I know you can get pre-diced chicken breast. But I’m very particular about icky bits in my chicken. I’ve learned how to eat (and love) other parts of grilled chickens, but breast definitely needs to be skin and tendon free. So usually I prefer buying a whole breast and cleaning it myself. I’m better at it than their machines.

You don’t want to know how often I find bits of bone.

Potatoes next. (Potayto! Potahto! Let’s call the whole thing off!)

I use a specific potato breed called “Eigenheimer” from Friesland. The Dutch have a thing about potatoes. But any fluffy, starchy potato will do.

What I want is for the bits of potato to become soft and crumbly when I eat them. But they shouldn’t be dissolving while still in the soup. I don’t want thick starchy potato soup.

So now we’ve got our pot of chicken stock, filled with green beans, chili pepper bits, maize kernels, diced and rinsed tomatoes, diced chicken breast, and diced potatoes.

Let’s go and bring that mother to a soft boil.

I usually aim for about 30 minutes. The chicken and potatoes need plenty of time to cook.

While the soup is softly bubbling to itself, I’ve got time for my favourite part.

Coriander. Cilantro.

I love it. A lot of people hate it.

That’s ok. Autistic people know everything about “irrational” dislikes of food so nobody here is going to force anyone to eat something they don’t like.

I’m just going to make you look at it.

Pretty green leaves. So pretty.

And now I’m going to take my big-ass knife and destroy the pretty green leaves.

Chop chop chop!

Well, I’m not that fast. This is a really sharp knife and I still can’t feel the tip of my left ring finger from where I cut into it with this same knife in January. So… proceed carefully. But thoroughly.

I need very finely chopped coriander.

Because I’m going to make meatballs! And my experience with not-so-finely chopped coriander is that it’ll end up everywhere (plate. frying pan. hands) except inside the meatballs.

Lean ground beef. Seasoned with some fresh black and white pepper and a pinch or two of salt (I use literal pinches. Like what I can pinch between my thumb and first two fingers). Again, I’m not that fond of salt but you can add more if you want.

Next, I add the coriander, a small egg, and some bread crumbs.

The egg and bread crumbs are purely optional, I only add it because the meatballs turn nice and brown when frying with a bit of egg in the mix, and it makes it a bit easier to roll the balls and not have them fall apart in your hands or while frying.

But it does make everything a lot ickier to touch. So I can understand if you skip this part.

Knead the meat until it starts feeling like bread dough. If it’s still really sticky and slippery, add some extra breadcrumbs. You literally want a bread dough feel. That’s the easiest for rolling the meatballs.

(This feeling is not applicable when not using egg and breadcrumbs. Then you’re on your own. I’m so mean).

Take a bit of meat about the size of your thumb and roll it between your palms in a circular motion until you get a ball.

I always try to minimise amount of washing up, so I usually put the meatballs directly into the frying pan. Not heated up yet. Just a little bit of olive oil to prevent them from sticking to the pan and a small pat of butter (about thumb size) for the nice frying action later on.

Repeat lots of times until you run out of meat.

Then turn on the heat underneath the frying pan and fry the meatballs until they turn brown, on a high to medium heat. Depends on how much it’s splattering. I don’t like splatter, it always ends up on my hands and then I have burns and that hurts.

Turn off the heat under both pans (yes, the soup was still softly boiling, remember?) and add the meatballs to the soup. Again, try to avoid splatter. Boiling soup is hot.

What do you mean, accident prone? I only have cooking mishaps about once a month or so.

And it’s so worth it.

Look. RAINBOW SOUP!!!

Rijsttafel

This is not going to be an actual recipe, but a description of a fairly typical Dutch thing called “Indische rijsttafel”. I’m not going to spend a lot of time describing what it is because there’s plenty of resources available for that. What I am going to spend some time on is explain why “rijsttafel” is a picky eater’s idea of heaven.

Eating out is always stressful for someone who has trouble deciding what he or she wants. This is not just “being difficult”, it’s the difference between a snapshot decision for a neurotypical person and an overwhelming multitude of equally valid choices for an autistic person. How do you decide? It’s not that easy. And what if you hate whatever you ended up choosing because everyone was staring at you and waiting for you to make up your mind? The social rules governing complaints about food are another minefield that’s nearly impossible to navigate.

This is why I love rijsttafels. In Dutch Indonesian restaurants, you sit down, someone decides how much money you’re willing to spend per person, there might be a few extra questions about what kind of rice everyone wants (white, yellow, fried, or sticky – easily solved by just getting every kind) and that is it. Next thing you know, there’s about 40 different dishes being served out. You can be as picky as you like and simply start by eating some rice, then if you feel confident or relaxed enough, try a very small spoonful of whatever looks non-threatening. THIS IS HOW EVERYONE EATS RIJSTTAFEL. It’s awesome.

So in case you ever get the chance to eat at a Dutch Indonesian restaurant, I thought it would be nice to show you some of the dishes that you may encounter.

Nasi Putih Nasi putih White rice. Think that’s fairly trigger free with regards to texture and taste. Unless you don’t like rice.
Nasi Goreng Nasi goreng Fried rice. Usually contains bits of egg (with omelet texture) and fairly easy to spot bits of cooked ham and leek. Can contain other things as well. Took me years before I could eat it, too many different textures going on.
Nasi Kuning Nasi kuning / koening Yellow rice. My favourite. Slightly sweet coconut taste but dry, not sticky.
Lontong Sticky rice cakes. You don’t see them very often. Fairly mushy, tastes of white rice and water.
Daging rendang Daging rendang Looks terrible, but it actually tastes brilliant. Slow cooked beef in a creamy lightly-spiced sweet coconut sauce.
Daging Smoor Daging semor / smoor Another one that looks terrible but isn’t. Slow cooked beef in a sweet-spicy soy sauce.
Daging rudjak / roedjak Slow cooked beef in a thick spicy sauce.
Daging Bali Daging bali Slow cooked beef (noticing a theme here?) in a very spicy sauce (made primarily with crushed chili peppers)
Satay Sateh / sate You guessed it, satay. Comes in several different forms, although the most common is chicken (ajam) with a medium spicy peanut sauce. Texture of the sauce is usually very smooth.
Sateh kecap / sate ketjap Same as above but instead of peanut sauce, it’s served with a spicy-sweet soy sauce, a bit sticky. Much nicer in my opinion.
Telor Telor Means egg. Can come in several varieties like “Telor Sambal Goreng” (the most common one, a spicy currylike sauce). I can’t stand hard-boiled eggs so I avoid them.
Sayur Lodeh Sayur lodeh / sajoer lodeh Several different vegetables lightly boiled in coconut milk. Usually contains cabbage, green beans, carrots, and bean sprouts. Sometimes also tofu or tempeh. I like it but wouldn’t recommend it if you don’t like slippery veggies.
Sambal Goreng Boontjes Sambal goreng boontjes My favourite vegetable dish ever. Green beans in a sort of coconut / chili pepper stew. But the green beans should still be chewy instead of mushy. Sometimes they get it wrong and then I’m really disappointed.
Atjar Pickles. Atjar tjampoer is mostly cabbage and carrots, and atjar ketimoen is mostly cucumber. Vinegar which means I stay away from it, so no idea what it actually tastes like.
Tempeh goreng A pressed soy bean product. Cut in small pieces and fried in a spicy sauce. Very peculiar, sort of sticky texture, spicy and sweet taste. I really like it.
Krupuk / kroepoek Prawn crackers. Can be a bit odd at first because the air bubbles in the crackers sort of suck on your tongue. OK, that sounds weird. But it is actually quite a funny feeling. Like cheese puffs.
Seroendeng / serundeng Toasted shredded coconut with sugar and spices
Pisang goreng Battered and deepfried banana. Nothing wrong with that.
Spekkoek Cake made out of extremely thin layers of vanilla and a sort of spice cake batter. Moist and sweet, but not overly so. Texture is almost like pancakes. If you are not so sure about wanting to try Indonesian food, at least try this. It’s spectacularly yummy and it’s a lot of fun trying to peel the layers apart even though other people will think you’re weird for doing that. But who cares. 😉

Simple non-icky vegetable soup

I used to be a very picky eater. Very. Between the age of 9 and 14 I only ate unsweetened yoghurt with granola (but only if it wasn’t too crunchy), spinach (but only if it was finely chopped and no cream added), toast with a kind of carpaccio (but only very thin slices without obvious rims of fat or sinews), and toast with margarine and semi-sweet chocolate sprinkles. I gradually branched out, but by the time I was an adult, the list of things I simply wouldn’t eat was still a mile long.

Only after I moved out and learned how to cook for myself did I start to appreciate foods that I’d never in a million years thought I’d like.

Example: onions. Horrible slithery things. I could always tell them apart from the rest of the food, even in a stir-fry or a stew. Soup was even worse. They seemed to float to the surface, waiting until I put my spoon in, and then ambushing me so I could never have a spoonful of soup without an onion in it.

When I no longer had someone putting onions in my food and telling me I wasn’t allowed to pick them out, I could relax and start to experiment with onions. First by cutting them in really really really tiny pieces. TINY. Cutting up one small onion easily took me 30 minutes. But that was ok. Nobody was staring at me. Nobody was making me eat it. If I didn’t like it, I could throw it out. The pressure was off.

And I found I actually quite liked onions. When they weren’t slithery.

To honour non-slitheryness, here’s my first recipe. It’s a very simple lightly creamy soup with not too much going on, taste or texture wise.

The main problem here is the beef ragout. This is not ragu, as you can probably tell from the picture. It’s a mixture of beef stock, flour, and gelatine. I have no idea whether it’s available in other countries. The reason I added it is to make the soup a bit thicker and creamier so that the contrast with the texture of the vegetables won’t be as big. So you can also use another thickening agent like cornstarch if you have no idea what beef ragout is.

Ingredients

  • 1.5 litres (6 cups) of normal tap water
  • enough powdered stock for 1.5 litres (6 cups) of stock (in my case, 3 tablets)
  • 400 ml (1.5 cups) of beef ragout OR thickening slurry
  • 0.5 courgette (zucchini)
  • knife
  • whisk
  • 2 litre (2 qt.) soup pan

Preparation

If you are going to use a different thickening agent, prepare this first.

  1. Take the soup pan, add the water, and bring it to a boil.20130731_175851
  2. Dissolve the powdered stock in the boiling water. This takes about 5 minutes.
  3. Turn the heat low and add the ragout or slurry.
  4. Stir a bit. Don’t worry about lumps. Keep it simmering on a low heat.
  5. Cut the courgette in slices (as in the picture above).
  6. Stack a couple of slices and cut them in strips. Repeat until all the slices are cut.
  7. Get the whisk and vigorously beat the soup to get rid of lumps.
    If you’re clumsy like me, you might want to turn off the heat first and let the soup cool down a bit before whisking.
  8. Whisk some more. You really don’t want any lumps.
  9. Add the strips of courgette.
  10. Heat up the soup for 2 more minutes. The courgette should be warm but not cooked.

Serves about 4 people. Nice with toast or bread sticks.

The idea behind this soup is that the courgette stays firm instead of becoming gooey and slithery. Also, the strips are easy to see and don’t ambush your spoon. Courgette doesn’t have a very overwhelming taste and the texture is nice when it’s not cooked. At least in my opinion.