Tuesday, June 24, 2008
All Hail the Queen!
What do you need?
2 or 3 small to mid-sized zucchini (or courgettes, as they're known over here)
herbes de provence (provençal herbs; a mixture of herbs used very often to season meat and vegetables in the Provence region of France)
1. Slice the zucchinis into pieces of about 5mm thick.
2. Put them on a large oven tray or plate and drizzle an ample amount of olive oil all over them, while making sure both sides of the slices are covered in oil.
3. Season them with a substantial amount of herbes de provence and salt and leave them to absorb the flavors for a while. I would suggest to let them rest for about an hour, however, I prepared them on site, about 10 minutes prior to throwing them on the BBQ and they tasted great!
4. Grill the zucchini slices on the BBQ for several minutes (medium indirect heat setting), until they're slightly brown in general, and have dark brown grill marks. Serve them immediately.
These go very well with grilled chicken and veal. You could even put them on a burger!
Saturday, June 21, 2008
If you step inside a frietkot or friterie, you'll find an amazing range of accompanying meats and condiments, which go very well with your portion of fries. You have several kinds of sausages such as cervela, lookworst (garlic sausages), curryworst, mammoet etc. Also popular are the boulet (a large cold meatball), vogelnestje (bird's nest; a large meatball with a boiled meatball inside and served in tomato sauce), saté, fried pieces of chicken and many many more. In terms of sauces and condiments, a whole new branch of fritsauzen or fries sauces has evolved over the years. While the most popular accompanying sauce is still (egg-based) mayonnaise, there are now so many sauces to put on your fries that I'm not even able to list them all. There's ketchup, curry ketchup, curry sauce, mammoet sauce, samoerai sauce, pickles (one of my favorites, similar to the British picalilly but not as sweet and packs a bit more sour flavor), stoofvleessaus (the sauce of the Flemish beef stew), white beans in tomato sauce, andalouse sauce, etcetera,...I think you're catching my drift.
As a frying oil, you should use a vegetable-based oil, which is able to handle the high heat for extended periods of time. In the past however, fries were fried in beef or horse lard, however that's rarely still used (I must admit I'm curious as to how fries fried in beef lard would taste). Either way, remember that whatever oil you use, it will have important consequences for the final taste of the fries. Make sure not to use the same oil endlessly! You should limit the number of times the oil is used to 10 times, as the oil breaks down a little every time it's heated up, which then affects the taste.
To serve two people you'll need the following:
1. Peel the potatoes, removing any eyes or protuding parts which might prevent the fry-cutter from working smoothly. Put the peeled potatoes in cold water to rinse them and let some of the starch leave the potato. This will make the fries less sticky and more crispy.
3. Wrap up the uncooked fries in a towel, thoroughly drying them off. Keep them wrapped up in this towel during the entire first round of frying. Turn on the deep-fryer and heat up the oil to 170°C for the first fry.
4. Put a handful of raw fries in the oil and cook them for about 7 to 8 minutes (after having done this for several times, you'll be able to tell when they're ready to come out simply by listening for a specific tone of sizzles coming from the oil). They will be slightly fried on the outside, with a slightly darker yellow exterior. In either case don't fry them till they're golden!!!! Stir the fries wel when they're in the oil. Use a large, flat ladle with large holes in it.
Don't put in too many at once, as you'll cause the oil to cool down considerably, and you'll end up with cooked fries instead of fried ones. Also, the fries will absorb more fat when cooked to a soggy state.
6. When all the table guests are ready for the fries, turn up the heat on your deep fryer to 190°C. Again, take only a handful of the pre-fried fries and put them in oil. Fry them for about 2-3 minutes, while giving them a good stir. Once they've reached a light-golden color, take them out of the oil and put them in a bowl with kitchen paper. Toss them around a little bit before serving.
Thursday, June 19, 2008
Monday, June 16, 2008
What do you need?
To serve three to four people:
550 gr of ground beef
450 gr of ground pork
250 gr of breadcrumbs (no crust, only the dry inner white part)
1 kg of sour cherries preserved in their own juice
3-4 tablespoons of sugar
3 tablespoons of water
1-1,5 tablespoons of potato starch
1. Take a big casserole and put the ground meat in it. In total, there should be about 1 kg of meat, but make sure that there's a little more ground beef in the whole than ground pork. The pork gives a lighter flavor to the beef and also adds some fat, again adding to the overall taste. But you shouldn't use too much pork, otherwise the meatballs will get too greasy.
2. Add the breadcrumbs, the eggs, salt, pepper and nutmeg. If the meatballs are too sticky, or too "wet", add a bit more crumbs. To make the breadcrumbs, leave a couple of slices of white bread out to dry, and after a couple of days break them up into crumbs.
3. Use your hands to mix all the ingredients, so that you get one homogenous mass.
4. Roll the meat into balls of about 3 to 4 cm in diameter.
5. Boil water in another casserole. When the water is boiling add the meatballs, and boil them for about 10 minutes. When boiled, pour away the water and leave the meatballs to cool down.
In the meantime, get started on the sour cherry sauce. You could also make the sauce first, and leave it to cool in the fridge, as I for example prefer my sauce to be cold. But it works equally well when the sauce is still warm. When the sauce has been prepared, fry the meatballs in a frying pan with a litte butter. When they all have a dark golden look, they're ready to be served.
6. To make the sauce, pour the contents of the jar of preserved cherries in a small casserole. Add the 3 (or four, or two, depending on how sweet you want it to be; my grandmother makes it really sweet, whereas my mother prefers to keep some of the cherries' natural sourness). Boil the mixture for about 5 minutes and then leave it to cool down while you mix the water and starch.
7. Mix the potato starch with the water. Add it to the cherries, to thicken the sauce. Again, here you can add more or less starch, depending on how thick you want your sauce to be. Briefly boil the thickened sauce again (for 2-3 minutes).
Serve each person about 6 meatballs, and pour an ample amount of sauce on each plate. Serve with a couple of slices of white or whole grain bread.
Sunday, June 15, 2008
300 gr of meat to create the stock, preferably a piece of shank (beef)
4 large stalks of celery
2 large leeks (only use the white part)
2 mid-sized carrots
(optional) 2 tomatoes
1. Fill a large casserole with water and add the the shank (with bone and the oh so important marrow). Often this soup meat is eaten afterwards (it's delicious cold with some mustard, and it also goes very well with the fried young potatoes described in a previous post.), and if you do wish to eat it afterwards, it's preferable to add the meat to the water once the water has reached its boiling point. If you don't plan on eating it, you can add the meat to the water from the beginning. Leave the meat to boil for about an hour (depending on the meat) so that the meat has been thoroughly cooked. Remove the meat from the casserole. Keep the stock boiling.
2. Finely chop up all the vegetables, the carrots let's say about 0,5 cm thick whereas the celery and leeks can be anywhere between 0,5 and 1 cm. The tomatoes can be cut into larger chunks, as otherwise they would desintegrate rapidly.
3. First add the sliced carrots and leave them to boil for about 15 minutes. Then add the chopped celery, and boil for another 10 minutes. Finally, add the leeks, macaronis and tomatoes. Leave this to boil for another 5 minutes and then turn off the fire.
4. Serve hot, with little meatballs; Belgians put little meatballs in almost all their soups. They even voted tomato soup with meatballs to be their all-time favorite dish! These meatballs are made with ground beef and pork, breadcrumbs and eggs. I will put up the full recipe for making these small ones as well as the standard, larger ones tomorrow.
Saturday, June 14, 2008
What do you need ?
This serves two people:
0,5 kg of white asparagus
2 to 3 eggs
80-90 gr of butter
20 g or a good handful of parsley (depending on your taste)
Let's get cooking!
1. Peel the asparagus, removing the harder skin on the outside
2. Once you've peeled and cleaned them, bring the asparagus together into a bundle, and bind them together using a piece of string (one which can be used for cooking purposes, free of chemicals etc).
3. Put the bundle of asparagus in a casserole with cold, lightly salted water and bring it to a boil. Boil the asparagus to the point where they still have a bit of a bite. If you boil them too long, then you'll end up with mushy, soggy asparagus... Take them out of the water and place them on a towel, allowing the excess water to be soaked up by the towel.
4. Coarsely chop the parsley.
5. Boil some water, and hard-boil the eggs. Some people add a dash of vinegar, however this is optional. Once boiled, take out the eggs and start peeling them when they're still hot. Crush the peeled eggs using a fork.
6. Melt the butter.
7. Combine the melted butter, eggs and parsley and mix them well. Add salt, pepper and nutmeg to taste.
Now place the asparagus (about 5 per person) on a plate, and pour the butter sauce over them. Place a little bit of freshly chopped parsley on top. Serve immediately!!
Friday, June 13, 2008
As this is my first Belgian food post, I thought it would be a good idea to give a short descriptive introduction into Belgium's food. This actually led me to do some culinary soul searching as I had never thought about Belgian food in this way before. I had always taken my own country's food for granted, never really stopping to wonder why there weren't any Belgian cookbooks alongside the endless rows of cookbooks of more internationally established cuisines, such as the French, Italian, and Spanish ones (to name a few). Only now that I have had the opportunity to savor an ever-growing number of dishes from all over the world, am I beginning to see that our little country’s cuisine deserves to be recognized as a full, rich and delicious kitchen as well. Part of the explanation lies in the fact that Belgian culinary tradition is still mainly an oral one as indicated earlier. For over five decades, there’s only been one essential Belgian cookbook, of which each family owned a copy; “Ons Kookboek” by the “Boerenbond” (Our Cookbook written by the Farmer’s Union). Only in the past decade and especially in the past three to four years, has there been an increase in the number Belgian cookbooks available in bookstores. This may have to do with the recent institutional crises that the country has experienced, which has brought some people to search for a unifying Belgian identity. I can only applaud such initiatives.
However, the cookbooks produced so far are still focused on the internal Belgian market, which doesn’t exactly help the promotion of Belgian food abroad, where Belgian cuisine all too often equals Belgian chocolate, waffles, endives, beer and sprouts. Although these products are delicious and Belgians are very proud of them, there are so many more delicacies to be explored and savored by foreigners! As far as I know, only one good Belgian cookbook has been written; “Everybody Eats well in Belgium” by Ruth Van Waerebeek. You can find this book on Amazon.com.
But what exactly is the Belgian kitchen? How could one describe Belgian food? I have often heard the Belgian food being described to foreigners as “cooked with the same quality and finesse as the French cuisine, while it is served with German generosity”. That is essentially what it comes down to; Belgian food can be characterized as a combination of German, Dutch and French cuisines, with the French influence clearly being dominant. This isn’t all too surprising, when one takes into account that the regions which nowadays constitute Belgium have been overrun by and been under the control of foreign powers on countless occasions. The Romans, Germans, Spanish, Austrians, Dutch and especially the French, all left their marks on the country’s culture and culinary traditions. Even today, the country remains a meeting point of the two main European cultural groups: it sits astride on the barrier which separates the Flemish, who have a Germanic culture, from the Walloons, whose culture is of Romanic origin.
Belgian food is still deeply ingrained in its medieval traditions; the recurrent use of spices such as saffron (Pass it please!!!), nutmeg, the abundance of vinegars, condiments, mustards, almonds and dried fruits, they all lead to typically medieval contrasting tastes such as sweet-salt (for example red cabbage with sweet apples served with salted bacon), sour-salt and sweet-sour. This all reminds us of the region’s rich history as an economic center, when its ports of Brugge and later Antwerpen saw all those exotic spices being bought and sold within their walls.
Belgians tend to attach enormous importance to the quality of the ingredients used in their cooking. Long before the great chefs of the world chanted in chorus that high-quality ingredients are “key” to great cooking, Belgians (and others obviously) had already realized and consequently applied this knowledge to their everyday cooking. Belgian cooking usually doesn’t mix a great number of flavors to create highly complex palettes (although such complex dishes do exist), but rather it will use several key ingredients and bring their inherent flavors to the fore. Hence, you must have high-quality ingredients, as there’s nothing to hide poor quality ones with. A typical example is a dish which is very popular this time of year, namely young potatoes with cured ham, demonstrates this very well. There are two (yes, only two) pivotal ingredients: fresh, young potatoes and cured ham, either salted or smoked. Once the young potatoes have been boiled, they are sliced and fried in a frying pan, with either good butter or for the waistline-conscious, with a neutral vegetable oil, such as sunflower seed oil. When they’ve reached a light brown color on at least one side, they’re served with several slices of good cured ham, and a green salad. As you can see, you must have good ingredients to start with or otherwise your entire dish is ruined. Typical dishes such as this one, give a correct image of the honest, rustic kitchen that can be seen as the Belgian kitchen.
A true reflection of their love of all things delicious and mouthwatering, is the sheer quantity that the food is served with. If you ever have the opportunity to take part in a Belgian family dinner, or a large family party, such as a birthday party or “kermis” (fair) parties, then you’ll see why we are called the Burgundians of the North. Tables will be filled to the edge with main dishes, side dishes, condiments, sauces, beers and wines. Trust me, if you’re a guest at one of these parties, the most common question you’ll be asked is “Are you sure you don’t want anything more? You’re full? Nonsense, have some of this…” Even a simple Sunday morning brunch or evening dinner (depending on the family), will feature pistolets (a round, golden-colored bread roll), sandwiches, wholegrain bread, raisin bread, and several pastries. To go with the bread, you’ll be able to choose from different types of hams, salami, paté, sausages, americain (raw ground beef mixed with herbs and a sauce – a Belgian favorite), chicken in mild curry sauce, chocolate paste and the list can go on and on. Suffice it to say, you will not leave the table feeling hungry!
Friday, June 6, 2008
What do you need?
1 large, ripe watermelon
1 bottle of vodka (you can also try it with other spirits, I found amaretto to be a pretty funky mix...)
Lay it on me!
1. Cut a small hole in the watermelon, big enough to fit your funnel. Try to get it right from the start, so that you can use the piece you cut out to plug up the hole afterwards. Place the funnel in the hole.
2. Pour about a glass of vodka into the funnel, and let the watermelon absorb it. Do this several times a day, for two days. Remember to plug up the hole each time you have poured some vodka in. I also suggest you turn over your melon from time to time, to avoid the vodka from sinking to one side.
3. Once you' ve poured the entire bottle of vodka into the watermelon (or less or more, depending on how strong you want it to be or how drunk you want your guests to get), cut it up into large chunks and serve it right away!!
Watch the expression of your guests!
Thursday, June 5, 2008
This version is the basic one and my favorite one, but I've also had it enriched with parsley, little cubes of pecorino cheese, carrots, capers and artichoke hearts. I even had one with anchovies once, but I prefer this basic recipe. Either way, it's a great way to use those last remaining slices of the leftover white bread.
If you wanna try some really funky alternative versions of this traditional dish, check out Heidi's 101 Cookbooks Blog at http://www.101cookbooks.com/archives/spring-panzanella-recipe.html
What goes in it?
500 g of old, somewhat stale white bread (you can do it with ciabatta, but it'll work better with Italian-style farmer's bread or what the Italians call pane casalingo)
5 ripe tomatoes2 red onions
a large handful of fresh basil leaves
6 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil
salt and pepper
1 tablespoon of red wine vinegar
This will serve about 4 or 5 people.
Let's get cookin'
1. Take a large bowl or cooking pot and fill it about halfway with cold water. Place the slices or pieces of old bread in the water and leave them to soak for about 10 minutes.
2. Remove the bread from the water and tear it up into rough pieces and squeeze out the water with your hands. Now, break up the pieces into large morsels and put them in a large pot. Make sure that the morsels of bread are almost completely dry.
3. Cut up the tomatoes into eights (or quarters if the tomatoes are quite small, the aim is to avoid having slices which are either to thick or thin) and remove the seeds from the inside. Cut the onion into thin slices (rings). Also, cut up the majority of the basil into long slices, but leave some leaves to decorate the dish with later.
4. Add the tomatoes, basil and onions to the bread. Use your hands to mix all the different ingredients.
5. Add salt, pepper and olive (about 4 of the 6 tablespoons). I tend to add quite a bit of salt and pepper, as the bread, oil and tomatoes soak up a lot of the salt. Softly mix all the ingredients.
6. Leave the salad to rest for about half an hour in the fridge. Afterwards, right before serving it, add the wine vinegar and the remaining two spoons of olive oil. Decorate the salad with the remaining leaves of basil.
A feast for both eyes and tastebuds!!
Wednesday, June 4, 2008
What do you need?
1 or more garlic cloves (depending on how strong you want it to be)
1 measure of milk
2 measures of high quality olive oil (extra virgin if possible)
1. Peel the cloves of garlic and put them in a bowl together with the milk. You can decide the amount of milk yourself, just make sure to add the double of that amount for the olive oil.
2. Using the mixer (handheld) chop up the garlic and mix it with the milk.
3. Once you'ved mixed the garlic and milk completely, slowly add in a little bit of oil. Keep on adding the oil, little by little. You will see the alioli get thicker and thicker. Once in a while stop pouring in the oil for a minute, but keep on mixing. You must not complete this process hastily!! If you do, your sauce will not stiffen up and you'll end up with a runny sauce far less alluring to the eye.
4. Add the salt (according to your own taste).
5. Once the sauce is thick and stiff enough so it'll hold a shape, then you're done. Taste to check of you've added enough salt, if not, add a little more.
Now just toast some bread and put some of your homemade alioli on it! You'll also be able to keep this type of alioli a little longer than the egg yolk variant.
Catalans will also often mix alioli in with their fidéua, making an already delicous dish even more heavenly (and even more heavy!....I've never been able to finish an entire plate on my own). You can find a good recipe for fidéua on Nuria's Spanish Recipe blog as well.
Tuesday, June 3, 2008
4 large cloves of garlic
1 teaspoon of chilipowder or fresh peppers
Chinese cabbage or iceberg lettuce or spinach
any type of instant Thai noodle soup
1. Peel and clean the cloves of garlic. I like my garlic taste strong so I put in four or even five cloves, but you can adapt this to your personal tastes. Put them in the mortar and add the teaspoon of chilipowder or a fresh spicy pepper. Again this can be adapted to your personal taste as I love spicy food... Crush the cloves and chilipowder, so that it becomes a thick, red paste.
2. Pour vegetable oil in a wok and heat it up. Once it's hot, add the garlic and chili paste. Stir for about a minute and then add the seasonings and oils which are included in the instant noodle package. Continue stirring for about another 5 minutes.
3. Add the noodles, along with a little bit of water, to soften up the noodles. Leave it to cook/ leave the noodles to soften. Once they've softened up a little, give them a good stir, in order to mix them thoroughly with the paste and seasonings. After stirring them, leave for another minute or so, to let the noodles absorb all the flavors.
5. Serve the noodles with fresh iceberg salad, spinach or Chinese cabbage. This adds a touch of freshness and it puts out the fire in your mouth a little bit...