Monday, July 21, 2008

Skipping across the Atlantic pond

As I'm typing this post, I'm actually in the middle of packing my belongings into two huge suitcases and getting ready to go on a long trip. I'm moving to Philadelphia, USA to attend law school there and put a final touch on my formal education. I've been told that there's lots of international food to be savored in Philly, and hence I'm looking forward to sampling the different opportunities there. I (again) will be absent for a while, but I hope to continue this blog as soon as I get settled into my new life across the Atlantic!


Thursday, July 17, 2008

Mussels + Fries + Beer = Heaven

I'm back! After more than a week of silence, I finally managed to get my act together and tell you about that single dish that's been on my mind since March. Every year, I, and several million other Belgians along with me, anxiously await the arrival of the mussels season. The official start for me and my family is the mussel fair in one of the neighboring villages, which I usually visit several times in a row with friends and family. It's very much a communal happening, maybe even somewhat of a ritual, to go there and wait for a substantial amount of time, just to get a taste of that first succulent mussel. And it was definitely worth the wait this year. Absolutely delicious... A signature Belgian dish, which again demonstrates the relative simplicity of Belgian recipes and the painstaking attention for the quality of the ingredients used. The version explained here is the "Flemish-style recipe", but mind you, there are many variants to this standard recipe: mussels with curry, mussels provençals, with white wine, with beer (one of my favorites is mussels cooked with Duvel, a blond, specialty beer). Regarding the mussels, Belgian always use the Dutch Zeelandic mussels (Zeeuwse mosselen), of which Belgium is the largest importer. I'm not sure these are available elsewhere, so you could try to use other ones, but bear in mind that the quality of the mussels is an absolute determinant of the final dish's taste. If you would like further information on Zeelandic mussels, please visit this site (Dutch).

What do you need?

1 kilo of "Zeeuwse" (Zeelandic) mussels

1 large onion

1 large stalk of green celery (more if they're thinner)

1 bundle of parsley

1 laurel leave

lots of pepper and a little bit of salt


1. Wash and clean the mussels.

2. Slice the onion in rings into slices between 0.5 - 1 cm thick.

3. Slice the celery into slices about 8mm thick.

4. Coarsely chop the parsley

5. Take a pot large enough to hold one person's portion and make sure to put a little bit of water in it (enough to cover the bottom). (you could also add a light beer or white wine)

6. Put some mussels in the pot, enough to cover the bottom with one layer. Next, a layer of onion, celery and parsley. Cover that layer with another layer of mussels and keep on going until the entire cooking pot is filled up. Don't forget to put the laurel leave in one of the middle layers.
7. Finally, add salt (but be very careful; there's already enough salt water in the mussels and pepper to your own liking (I personally like a somewhat stronger peppery taste).

8. Put the mussels on a high fire and cover the pot with a lid. Cook the mussels until the water rises to the edge of the pot. Remove the lid, and add half a teaspoon of natural vinegar. Cover it back up and shake the mussels so as to spread the vinegar throughout the pot.

9. Put the pot back on the fire and cook the mussels until the water rises to the edge for the second time. Now check whether the mussels are thoroughly cooked (the shells should have opened). Normally they should be ready after the water has risen twice, but check them just to be sure as there may be some stubborn ones in the bunch.

Serve them in the casserole with either fries or buttered white bread on the side. Belgians eat the mussels with a special mussel dip sauce, made with mayonnaise, mustard, parsley, chives and sometimes light yoghurt

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Green Quesedillas

Finally, the temperature has exceeded the 25°C mark on the thermometer here in Belgium. Today a "brisk" 29°C (I'm melting...) was noted. This obviously calls for some tasty and colorful food to accompany such wonderful weather! And seeing as how it's already hot enough, you don't want to spend to much time toiling at the kitchen stove.... Therefore, I decided to whip up a batch of delicious quesedillas! You all know the standard cheese quesedillas? Well this is the veggie take on that recipe. Again, easy, fast, tasty and full of color. Perfect for some outdoor lunches!

Mind you, I love to prepare this dish in advance, to have it later on after I come back from a night of partying. Great early morning-afterparty food!

What do you need?

To serve two people:

1 small red bell pepper
1 small yellow bell pepper
(optional: 1 small green bell pepper)
100 gr of mild cheddar cheese (freshly grated)
4 to 6 mexican flour tortillas (medium size)
50 gr of freshly chopped chives
50 gr of freshly chopped cilantro
(optional: 1 spicy red pepper)

Y ahora, amigo? Como lo cocinamos?

1. Chop the cilantro and chives.

2. Dice the bell peppers, into little cubes of max 1cm in diameter.

3. Grate the cheddar cheese.

4. Mix all the ingredients in a big bowl. Make sure the cheddar has mixed evenly with the vegetables. You may want to add a little bit more of grated cheddar cheese, if you think more is needed to make the two tortillas stick together.

5. Scoop about 4 tablespoons of the veggie-cheese mix onto a tortilla. Spread it out evenly, so that the entire layer is about 1cm thick. I sometimes put a little bit of cheese on the edges, to make the edges of the tortillas stick together even better.

6. Place a second tortilla on the first one with the mix. Press down gently.

7. Heat up a frying pan, but do not add any oil of butter. Just heat it up and when hot, place the tortillas in the frying pan and cook one side till dark brown and crispy. Then turn it over and do the same for the other side. You'll see that the cheddar has melted and will act as glue between the two tortillas and veggies.

8. Cut the tortillas into quarters and serve with spicy salsa mexicana.

Que a proveche!!