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Brussels’ Waffles

26 Jul

A thing that always makes me chuckle a bit inside and silently go pffft!, is when my American friends ask me about ‘Belgian’ waffles… It’s not that there’s anything wrong with that question, nor do I mock the inquisitor, it’s just that there’s many different kinds of waffles and for a Belgian, there’s no such thing as a ‘Belgian’ waffle. For starters, there’s the ‘Liege’ sugar waffle with crunchy bits of pearled sugar baked into them and usually served gooey & hot, then there’s the ‘vanilla’ variety which has more of a dry, crumbly tea cake consistency and is frequently sold pre-packaged in the grocery store, or the ‘Stroopwafels’ you find near the border with Holland, which are traditionally filled with a buttery caramel… just to name a few. But for the sake of good cross-cultural understanding, I can tell you that the traditional ‘Belgian’ waffle, adored by so many, is actually a yeast waffle from the city of Brussels.

Airy, fluffy and light on the inside, they’re browned to a buttery crisp on the outside, with just enough sweetness & crunch to please every palette. As a regular pitstop on our way home from the ‘Museum of Natural History’ or the ‘School Museum’, it’s exactly the kind of waffle my grandpa would look forward to when he’d ring the bell & we’d step off the busy tram. He’d eagerly grab it with both hands, skillfully balancing the sugared whipped cream on top, and bite into it with such gusto, that his custom-made pearly whites would cling to the deliciousness the minute he’d pull the waffle out of his mouth, and we’d snort with laughter. Not that that ever happened! Carry on.

‘Brusselse wafels’ rose to fame (pardon the pun) because of one special guest appearance: YEAST! Yeast dough is like the Ella Fitzgerald of all pastry doughs: jazzy, smooth and easy to digest. Think about it. It’s no surprise that doughnuts made with yeast are 10x more delicious than the ones who aren’t… Krispy Kreme? Anyone?

Here’s an homage to a true Belgian classic. (Fixodent not included…)

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BRUSSELS’ WAFFLES
(from grandma’s handwritten recipe booklet…)
– 3 farm fresh eggs, yolks & whites separated
– 12 oz of warmed milk, preferably whole
– 3/4 oz of fresh yeast (or 1 packet of dry active yeast)
– 12 oz of sparkling water, room temperature
– 16 3/4 oz of self-rising flour (approx. 3.5 cups), sifted
– 5.3 oz of good butter (approx. 10.5 Tbsp)
– a pinch of salt
– 1-2 Tbsp of sugar

Heat waffle iron until it’s piping hot!

Seperate egg whites and yolks in two bowls, and set aside.

Warm milk and combine with yeast and sugar. Allow to bloom for 10 min.

Lightly beat yolks and add warmed milk and yeast. Beat until incorporated, then add sparkling water and stir gently until well-combined. Sift flour directly into the milk mixture, beat with an electric mixer until all lumps are smoothed out.
Melt butter in a small sauce pan and beat egg whites into stiff peaks. Pour melted butter into batter and gently fold in stiffened egg whites by hand, and add a pinch of salt as well. Set batter aside for 20-30 minutes, so yeast can work and batter has time to rise.

When the batter shows bubbles an appears “alive”, you’re ready to start baking!

Make sure to butter all sides of your waffle iron, regardless of whether it is non-sticker not. Pour 1/3 cup of batter per waffle, and allow waffle to brown completely. Every waffle iron is different, so it’s a bit hard for me to say how long this will take with your machine. You want the waffles to be crisp and brown on the outside.

Serve with powdered sugar, brown sugar or whipped cream for an authentic Belgian treat… or go a bit crazy and add crisped bacon, ham or cheese to the batter for a hearty salty & sweet combination!

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Melanie’s Promised Lasagna

26 Jul

Belgians are gregarious people by nature. We enjoy mingling with friends & family in our local cafés, and we love food & drink as much as we enjoy engaging in theatrical debates about the linguistic & political divide in the country. Most of this bickering takes place over a few pints of ‘Maes Pils’ or ‘Leffe’, and the more freely beer flows, the better we seem to understand each other. Heated arguments nearly always end in boisterous laughter and an amicable pat on the back, and a family size paper pack of mayo-laden French fries is never far away. While it’s widely known for Italians to visually paint their verbal language with dramatic hand gestures & body language, you’ll find similar story-telling antics in Belgium. For instance, mom has always been exceptionally talented in adding depth to her words with dramatic facial expressions and colorful hand gestures. I’ve secretly pondered if perhaps she isn’t part Italian, a belief that was reinforced by her uncanny ability to cook a mean spaghetti.

Which brings me to Italian food… Italian cuisine is celebrated everywhere in the world and Belgium is no exception to this. Our people embrace pasta and Parmigiano Reggiano like no other, and our towns are dotted with colorful red/white/green pizzerias and rustic trattorias. We didn’t get to eat out very often, but during town festivities or family gettogethers, when the ever-watchful eye of mom wasn’t so watchful, we’d gorge on Italian wedding cake and forbidden fruit cream soda like there was no tomorrow. Italian food has always been a sultry lover of mine. Despite my best New Year’s resolutions, I can’t seem to resist its salty cheeses, wine-cured meats or dreamy pastas… It’s no wonder then that I sometimes ‘go to the mattresses…’ in my small apartment kitchen, and bake lasagna from scratch, leaving the kitchen looking like a bloody scene out of ‘The Godfather’. The tomato-mess is well worth the army-size supply of lasagna we end up, as I haven’t quite mastered the art of portion control just yet.

Half a year ago A little while ago, I brought lasagna leftovers to the office and shared them with my colleague Melanie F. It was amore at the first bite. She’s asked me for the recipe ever since, but has been patiently waiting for my procrastination to die down naturally. In talking about my blog the other day, she jokingly reminded me I still owed her that recipe, so I crossed over to the pimp-side and promised her I’d post it if she’d become a follower on my blog… Yeah. I’m that cheap, y’all. So without further ado, here’s Melanie’s promised lasagna recipe…

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MELANIE’S PROMISED LASAGNA
For the meat sauce:
– 1 large carrot, grated
– 2 shallots, grated
– 2 ribs of celery, grated
– 2 28oz cans of crushed tomatoes
– 1 8oz can of tomato paste
– 12 oz of chianti (or any dry red wine)
– 1 lbs of ground beef (extra lean)
– 1 lbs of Italian sausage, casings removed (hot or sweet, but I prefer sweet)
– 1 large onion, finely chopped
– 6 small cloves of garlic, pressed or minced
– 1.5 cups of fresh basil, chopped
– salt & pepper, to taste

In a large heavy pan, sauté the grated carrot, celery & shallot (aka ‘mire poix’) until fragrant and beginning to brown. Add garlic and sauté for a minute or so longer so the garlic has time to release its flavor a bit. Add chopped onions and brown until translucent and soft. Add the meats and brown until crumbled and mostly done. Add tomato paste and brown 2-3 minutes longer until tomato paste gets a deep brownish red color. Douse with half of the chianti and let reduce until most of the wine has evaporated. Add crushed tomatoes, rest of the chianti and salt & pepper, and simmer without the lid until all of the watery liquid has evaporated and you achieve a thick sauce. Fold chopped basil in the sauce and season with salt & pepper to your liking.

For the creamy béchamel-like sauce
– 2 15oz tins of ricotta cheese
– 2 cups of milk
– 2 Tbsp of butter
– 2 Tbsp of all-purpose flour
– pinch of nutmeg
– pinch of cayenne
– salt & pepper

Melt butter in a sauce pan. When butter is melted, add flour and cook for 1 minute until an even ‘paste-like’ consistency forms. Slowly incorporate milk and bring to a boil over medium heat. Sauce should start thickening fairly soon when milk simmers. When béchamel sauce is ready, stir in a pinch of nutmeg, salt & pepper to taste. Take pan off of the stove, and add 2 tins of ricotta cheese. Fold until you get a thick, creamy, pudding-like consistency. Salt & pepper to taste.

Building the lasagna:
– 2-3 boxes of lasagna noodles, par-boiled & drained (or use the ‘no-cook’ kind)
– 3 cups of Parmesan cheese + Pecorino Romano, freshly grated by hand

Heat oven to 375F. Butter a large deep oven-pan. Spread a few Tbsp of the meaty tomato sauce to coat the bottom & prevent noodles from sticking to the pan, and place a layer of noodles on top of the sauce. Overlap the noodles’ egdes slightly. Then, evenly spread a thick layer of the ricotta/béchamel sauce over the noodles (careful not to shift the noodles too much) and sprinkle liberally with grated cheese so the cheese covers most of the béchamel sauce. Top with an equal layer of the meaty tomato sauce, then add another layer of cooked noodles on top of the tomato sauce. Repeat this process 2 more times until your dish is full (+/- 3 layers) and you finish with a top layer of tomato sauce. Simply sprinkle grated cheese directly on top of the tomato sauce, and bake in the oven for approx. 45-60 minutes until heated through and cheese on top is bubbly and brown.

Serve with crusty bread and a nice glass of Chianti.

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