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Jozefa’s Chocolate Mousse

2 Aug

Hershey’s chocolate syrup. Blech!

Not to trample on an American staple, but telling me that this overly sweet and unnaturally flavored syrup tastes like ‘chocolate’, is like telling me that fried pork rinds are wholesome. I fully comprehend the nostalgia behind Hershey’s syrup and, just like Velveeta, I believe there’s a place for it in our culinary repertoire, but let chocolate mousse not be part if it. OK?

Alright. I’ll come right out saying that I’m a bona fide chocolate snob. I’m Belgian, you can’t hold it against me, really. I’ll take Swiss chocolate as a close second, and San Francisco’s Ghirardelli as a third, if all else fails and I’m at imminent risk of turning into a brooding murderous harpy during that time of the month. If it’s any consolation, British Cadbury ranks right down there with Hershey’s as well in my book. Don’t get me wrong: I love America. I will defend America vehemently in cultural debates with my European friends. I love baseball, Texas BBQ and bull riding. Just not American chocolate.
I think one of the worst chocolate experiences I’ve had in this country was a chocolate mousse I ate at a little bistro in Morristown, NJ several years ago. It wasn’t per se horrible but it definitely wasn’t ‘chocolate’ what my taste buds were concerned. And it certainly wasn’t anything like the chocolate mousse my grandma used to make, but then again, Jozefa set the bar way high.

With my hips arbitrarily expanding from a size 12 to a size 16 at the mere sight of dessert in the blink of an eye, I try to watch what I eat but let me be clear: there’s a time and a place for everything, and dessert is no place to skimp on butter, cream and/or sugar. As a matter of fact, I’d rather not have dessert at all if I can’t have the full fat stuff. My grandma understood this too and her chocolate mousse would have earned her a ribbon from the Pope. It’s that good! So without further ado, I must bring her genius into this world and spread the love.

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JOZEFA’S CHOCOLATE MOUSSE
(My grandma’s recipe for a perfectly delicious chocolate mousse!)
– 8 oz of good quality semi-sweet dark chocolate (the higher the cacao %, the better!)
– 1.5 cups of heavy whipping cream
– 6 eggs, yolks & whites separated
– 3.5 oz of sugar

Melt chocolate ‘au bain marie’, aka a double boiler, until completely liquid. In the meantime, beat egg yolks and sugar into a firm, light pale foam. Add liquid chocolate to the yolks, and fold everything together by hand.

In a clean & oil-free bowl, beat the egg whites into stiff peaks. Then gently fold the egg whites into the chocolate mixture by hand, making sure not to break the air bubbles in the egg whites too much. Do this slowly and gently, until everything is well combined.

In a bowl, beat cream until fluffy but still runny. Don’t overbeat, or you’ll end up with stiff whipped cream! You want the cream to be fluffy and somewhat airy, not stiff. Fold cream into chocolate mixture by hand. Divide over 6 bowls and place in refrigerator for at least 6-8 hours to stiffen.

HELGA’S GROWN-UP HAZELNUT AMARETTO MOUSSE
(Adapted from my grandma’s chocolate mousse recipe above)
– 4 oz of good quality dark chocolate
– 4 oz of gianduja chocolate (*)
– 1 cup of heavy cream
– 3 Tbsp of Amaretto liquor
– A splash of pure hazelnut extract (or hazelnut liquor like Frangelico)
– 6 eggs, yolks & whites separated
– 3 oz of sugar
(*) Gianduja is a firm, Italian chocolate bar made from ground hazelnuts and milk chocolate. You can usually find bars of gianduja chocolate at your local Italian delicatessen. If you cannot find gianduja chocolate, replace it with Nutella, but drop cream down to 3/4 cup.

Melt all chocolate ‘au bain marie’, aka in a double boiler, until completely liquid. In the meantime, beat egg yolks, amaretto, hazelnut extract and sugar into a firm, light pale foam. Add liquid chocolate to the yolks, and fold everything together by hand.

In a clean & oil-free bowl, beat the egg whites into stiff peaks. Then gently fold the egg whites into the chocolate mixture by hand, making sure not to break the air bubbles in the egg whites too much. Do this slowly and gently, until everything is well combined.

In a bowl, beat cream until fluffy but still runny. Don’t overbeat, or you’ll end up with stiff whipped cream! You want the cream to be fluffy and somewhat airy, not stiff. Fold cream into chocolate mixture by hand. Divide over 6 bowls and place in refrigerator for at least 6-8 hours to stiffen.

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!

Vanilla Crepes

20 Jul

Who doesn’t like crepes? They’re a culinary hit no matter where you find yourself in the world. I believe crepes are originally French, but they’re very much a staple in Belgium as well. Millions of breakfast tables are adorned with a steaming stack of hot, buttery crepes every day, and an equal number of eager wee little fingers clumsily spread butter, jam or sugar on them as we speak. Crepes or ‘pannekoeken’ are not just for children, though. As a matter of fact, many Belgians will often gather with friends or family at their local coffee shop or ‘koffiehuis’ on dreary grey afternoons, and catch up on life and kids over a steaming hot cup of coffee and a freshly baked crepe or crispy waffle. It’s as much part of everyday life in Belgium as it is to run your car through any kind of drive-thru here in America.

Crepes are easy to bake, albeit a bit finicky and perhaps an acquired skill. Despite of what kitchen supply stores want you to believe, you actually do not need any sort of specialty crepe-making equipment. My grandma Jozefa used a regular pan, and her recipe has long been praised as the standard in crepe-baking.

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VANILLA CREPES
(adapted from a recipe by my omoe Jozefa)
– 7 oz of pastry flour or self-rising flour
– 4 eggs
– 2 cups of whole milk
– 3/4 oz of butter
– 2.5 oz of white sugar
– 2 vanilla beans

Melt the butter and combine with flour, eggs, milk & sugar. Split vanilla beans and with the tip of a knife scrape out the seeds. Add vanilla seeds to batter. The batter should be a thick liquid, that can easily be swirled or poured.

In a non-stick lightweight pan, heat a teaspoon of peanut oil until your pan is very hot. Depending on the size of your pan, pour about 1/3 cup of your batter in the pan and immediately swirl it around so you get an even, thin coating. Use a bit less for smaller pans, a bit more for larger pans. You want to achieve a thin pancake or crepe.

Crepes cook quickly, and you’ll notice tiny bubbles appear on the top within a matter of 1-2 minutes. When you see these tiny bubbles or air holes, it’s time to flip your crepe and cook the other size. Loosen the edges and use a spatula to flip your crepe, or go ‘pro’ and try to flip it in the air.
Don’t be alarmed if your first crepe came out a mess. Every Belgian knows the first one is always a dud!

Serve with butter, sugar, honey or jam. They’re delicious hot or cold.

Blind Finches

19 Jul

OK, so the title of this dish is a bit odd, but let me make it perfectly clear that we’re not actually eating blind or headless birds here. There. I’m glad we cleared that out of the way.

Blind finches or ‘vogeltjes zonder kop’ (isn’t Dutch a romantic language?), are tender rolls of seasoned ground beef & veal or pork that are enveloped in a jacket of thinly sliced beef. They’re the Flemish equivalent of Italian ‘Braciole’, really. Usually seared in a hot pan & browned to a crisp on the outside, blind finches are then left to braise in a hearty concoction of brown beer, onions & thyme. Served with mashed potatoes, this dish is Belgian comfort food at its best.

My older brother Bert & I absolutely loved it, and the dish was a frequent request in mom’s weekly menu rotation… that is, until Satan Bert – in a sly effort to secure a larger portion of the beloved dish for himself – successfully convinced me that I was actually eating blind, headless dead birds, and – for good story-telling measure – would add drama by describing in detail how the fated birds would often cry for their feathery friends when captured. It left a serious mark on my sensitive wee little soul and I hated ‘vogeltjes zonder kop’ from that day forward… I think we went a couple of weeks of me stubbornly snubbing blind finches, but mom caught on pretty quickly that Bert’s mischievous hand was in this and set the record sraight.

Every respectable butcher in Belgium sells pre-assembled blind finches that are ready to be sautéed, but the concept remains elusive in my Californian neck of the woods. The recipe below includes instructions on making the beef roll-ups yourself, just in case in you can’t find them at your local butcher or grocery store.

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BLIND FINCHES
(as per Cecilia, my mother)
For the blind finches:
– 1 lbs of ground beef (93/7) + 0.5 lbs of ground veal or pork, for 6 individual finches
– 6 pieces of thinly sliced sirloin, to wrap the finches in (*)
– 1 shallot, finely chopped
– 1 clove of garlic, minced
– a handful of chopped parsley
– salt & pepper, to taste
– kitchen twine
(*) You can ask your butcher at the grocery store to thinly slice a sirloin roast for you into aprox. 3×5 inch slices, or approx. the size of a small taco-sized tortilla. Keep in mind that you just want to be able to wrap your rolls of ground beef in them, so the slices should be thinly cut so you can easily fold them and wrap them.

Melt 1-2 tbs of butter in a heavy pan (cast iron works best here) and sauté the garlic and shallots until translucent and soft. Set aside and let cool until able to handle with bare hands. Don’t wash pan, we’ll be using it later! In large mixing bowl, add ground meats, parsley and chopped shallots, and mix until well combined. Add salt & pepper to taste.
Lay out thin slices of sirloin, and divide ground beef evenly over each piece. Roll them up (like a mini-burrito) into tight little cylinder-shaped bundles and tie together with kitchen twine so they don’t fall apart whilst cooking. Salt & pepper the outside, to taste.
It goes without saying that you can pretty much put whatever you like in the ground meat mixture, I’ve cooked them before with some diced pancetta in them too…

For braising:
– 1 to ½ bottle of smooth dark beer (no IPA’s or other ‘bitter’ tasting beers!)
– approx. 1 cup of beef stock
– 2 small onions, diced or chopped
– 2-3 sprigs of fresh thyme, chopped
– 1-2 bay leaves
– 2 tbsp of butter
– 1 tbsp of cooking sherry

In the same heavy pan that you browned the shallots in, heat butter until pan is very hot but the butter is not burning! Quickly brown finches on all sides, being careful not to break the integrity of your bundles. When browned on all sides, douse the pan with the beef stock and beer, and scrape some of the browned bits off the bottom of your pan.
Add the chopped onions, thyme & laurel leaves, and cover the pan. Braise for approx. 20-30 min. until the meat is cooked through.
Remove finches to a plate or serving dish and cover with aluminum foil so they stay hot (or move to a warm 100F oven). Add 1 tbsp of flour + 1 tbsp of cooking sherry to pan sauce, and cook for a few minutes more, allowing the sauce to thicken. Pour sauce over the finches and serve hot with mashed potatoes, stoemp and/or roasted root vegetables.

Flemish Cocktail Sauce

14 Jul

Yesterday, whilst browsing for dinner ideas at our local market, we happened to walk past the fresh seafood display, when Scott stops dead in his tracks, points at the iced trays of salad shrimp and says: “Should we pick up some of these for shrimp-boy?!”, shrimp boy being one of the selfish opportunists we adopted from the shelter. Ever since we introduced his feline highness to his kitty-cocaine, he’s seriously addicted. And for only about $4.00/lbs, how could we resist?

Seeing those bright pink, plump little salad shrimp, jogged my memory and brought me back to sweltering Belgian summer days and shrimp-filled cold tomatoes with cocktail sauce. “Tomattes Crevettes” they were called, and they tasted delicious in the oppressing 90F degree heat that would occasionally envelope our garden patio during Summer.

I think one of the biggest food-disappointments I’ve experienced when I first moved here, was undoubtedly cocktail sauce. I remember first seeing it on the menu at a seafood joint in New York City and sharing my excitement with a few co-workers at the time. I had only been in the country for a few weeks, and seeing something familiar that reminded me of home somehow made me happy. When the bowl of iced shrimp made it to our table, I was confused about the dipping sauce and thought perhaps the kitchen staff made a mistake. It wasn’t the creamy, salmon-colored deliciousness that hugs your taste buds, but a harsh, slightly acidic bright red tomato sauce. I could discern horseradish, which seemed even stranger to me, but I was assured by my colleagues that this was indeed cocktail sauce. In the thirteen years I’ve been blessed to live here, I never touched American cocktail sauce ever again.

Below is the “Flemish” version of this beloved seafood dipping sauce.

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FLEMISH COCKTAIL SAUCE
– 3.5 oz of heavy cream
– 4 tbsp of mayo
– 1 tbsp of ketchup
– 1 tbsp of whiskey
– a few drops of Tabasco

Whisk cream by hand until slightly fluffy but still runny. Gently fold in ketchup & mayo until well combined. Add whiskey & tabasco sauce, and stir into a smooth sauce. Garnish with a basil leaf. Serve with cold seafood or raw vegetables.

Brussels Sprouts with Pancetta & Shallots

12 Jul

Behold: spruitjes!

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Don’t hate! ‘Spruitjes’ are without a doubt the most misunderstood vegetable in this world. Their cabbagey deliciousness is completely under-appreciated, in my humble opinion. The problem with ‘spruitjes’ is that most people who label them the fruit of Satan, don’t buy them fresh. For purists like me, that’s strike #1. Worse yet, the misunderstood sweetlings are then dropped into a pot of salted water and boiled until there’s no sign of life left in them. Strike #2!

Spruitjes are truly delightful when cooked the right way. You simply *must* buy them fresh on the stalk, when they are still happily clinging to the mother ship. Slice them off individually with a sharp knife and remove all of the darker loose leaves. What you really want, is the lighter green darlings that are hiding behind those loose outer leaves. Trim the fibrous bottom a bit, so you have a nice looking, handsome sprout. Et voila, you can hardly go wrong from here…
(As an added bonus, you’ll end up with a mighty green light saber when all of this is done, not that we ever indulge in anything Star Trek in this house)

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BRUSSELS SPROUTS WITH PANCETTA AND SHALLOTS
(in the manner of The Hungry Belgian)
– 2.5 lbs of Brussels sprouts (+/- 1 large stalk)
– 1/4 lbs of pancetta, cubed into fine dice
– 1 shallot, finely diced
– 4-5 sprigs of fresh thyme, chopped
– 2 tbsp of butter
– juice of 1/2 lemon
– salt & pepper, to your liking

Slice the little cabbages off the stalk as listed above. Take the cleaned & trimmed fresh sprouts, and slice each one in half or in quarters, depending on the size. You can also leave them whole, it’s up to you.

Chop the fresh thyme finely.

In a heavy pan, such as cast iron, cook the pancetta until beginning to brown. Remove and set aside. Melt butter in the remaining pan drippings and cook shallot until softened and translucent. Add sprouts and cook over medium heat for approx. 6-7 min, until they are bright green, beginning to brown and somewhat soft. You want your spruitjes to still have some ‘bite’!
Add 2/3 of the chopped fresh thyme and pancetta back in the pan, stir and cook for an additional 1-2 minutes. Season with salt & pepper to your liking, and sprinkle fresh lemon juice & remaining fresh thyme over the top.

Please don’t hate. Try these, they’re delicious!

Belgo-American Beef Tartare

9 Jul

Literally translated, ‘Filet Américain’ means American Filet of Beef. But don’t be fooled. Filet Américain is not ‘just’ filet of beef, it’s tender raw beef that has been minced or ground very finely, blended with a delectable selection of spices, and bound into a heaping mush of savory deliciousness with mayo and egg yolks.

There you have it, my American friends. Before you collectively shout ‘FOUL!!’ and bombard me with various FDA warnings about eating raw beef and eggs, please allow me to ease your anxiety and assure you that I was spoon-fed Filet Américain from the moment I grew teeth, and live to tell about it… I’m not alone either. Millions of Belgians feast on Filet Américain every day. It’s practically written into our Constitution… thou shalt eat Filet Américain on thy lunch bread every day! It’s a National staple. A cornerstone in the Belgian lunch food pyramid.

Served atop crusty bread and topped with capers, pickled gherkins (‘cornichons’) or diced raw onions, it’s like the Cadillac of all beef tartare.

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FILET AMÉRICAIN
– 8 oz of very lean beef (*)
– 3 tbsp of ‘Kewpie’ mayo (**)
– 2 tsp of mustard (see homemade mustard here)
– 1 egg yolk
– 1 tsp of paprika powder
– ½ tsp of salt
– ½ tsp of black pepper
– ¼ tsp of sweet curry powder
– 10 drops of Worcestershire sauce
– pinch of cayenne, to taste

(*) buy good quality beef, as beef is the star in this recipe. It doesn’t have to be an expensive cut of beef, but it needs to be extra lean and preferably ‘prime’. I use beef eye round.
(**) Kewpie mayo is a Japanese mayo that is richer, more yellow and more ‘sour’ than regular mayo. If you can’t find it, use regular mayo and add a few drops of lemon juice

In a food processor, mince all ingredients together until a nice, even consistency forms. You want a gooey looking spread. Et voilà, you’re done.

If you don’t own a food processor, like me, select a piece of beef you like and ask your butcher to grind it fresh for you. They do this without any qualms at my grocery store. You can also buy extra lean pre-ground beef, but freshly ground beef takes the cake, as who knows when exactly that package of ground beef was actually ground?! Right?

Whisk the egg yolk, mustard and mayo together. In a bowl, add whisked eggs, mayo & mustard to the beef and blend well. Add all spices and Worcestershire sauce in the beef mixture, and combine until a smooth even consistency forms. Season with salt & pepper to taste, and add some cayenne pepper to your liking.

Spread this on top of your bread of choice. Top with capers, little pickled cocktail onions or diced raw onions… and prepare to go to beef heaven.

** In the unlikely event you have leftovers, you should know that this recipe should be stored in an airtight container in the fridge for up to max. 48 hours only.

Twisted Mashed Potatoes (Stoemp)

8 Jul

If there was one thing my brother & loved when we were kids, it was ‘stoemp’. Mom would make it quite often, as we lived on a single-mom budget, and it’s one of those dishes that pack a ton of deliciousness on a few pennies.

Stoemp (pronounced ‘stoomp’) is a delightful mash of creamy potatoes and any vegetable your kids will eat you fancy that can be mashed with the potatoes. It’s often prepared with carrots in Belgium, and served alongside juicy browned sausage, with the buttery pan drippings drizzled over the mash. It’s pure awesomeness, believe me.

Now that I’ve outgrown my ‘Bunny & Friends’ dinner set, I still enjoy a good potato-vegetable mash. Not only is it a bit lighter and healthier, I feel that it gives plain ole mashed potatoes a more interesting flavor. It’s ‘feel good’ comfort food without fearing the immediate expansion of your hips.

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CAULIFLOWER, LEEK & FENNEL MASH
(makes enough to feed a family of 6… or your husband)

– 1.5 lbs of yellow potatoes
– 1 medium size head of cauliflower
– 3 leeks, sliced thinly
– 1 medium fennel bulb, very finely diced
– 3-4 tbsp of butter
– 1/3 cup of fresh thyme leaves
– salt & pepper to taste
– Pecorino-Romano cheese, grated (for topping, optional)

Cut cauliflower and pull florets apart. Discard outer green leaves and rough stems. Soak florets in a bath of salty water for a few minutes, to entice all bug friends to vacate the cauliflower NOW. Cut potatoes into chunks, roughly about the same size as the cauliflower florets so they cook evenly. Put potatoes and cauliflower into a large pot, and bring to a boil. Simmer until done and easily mashed.

In the meantime. Cut the dark green tops off of the leeks, and slice off bottom root. Slit each stalk in half lengthwise and rinse under cold running water, separating the layers a bit, to remove any dirt. Dry stalks with paper towels, and slice them into thin rings or strips.
Cut green stems, top and bottom root off of the fennel. Slice bulb into thick slices and finely dice each slice into small pieces like you would an onion.

Melt 1 tbsp of butter in a pan and sauté fennel over medium-low heat. When fennel is starting to soften (+/- 4-5 min), add leeks and continue to sauté until vegetables are soft, slightly browned and caramelized.
Sprinkle thyme leaves over vegetables, and sauté an additional 2 minutes to release the flavor of the thyme.

Mash cauliflower and potatoes with 2-3 tbsp of butter, add leek & fennel mixture, 1 clove of minced garlic and salt & pepper to your liking. Use a wooden spatula to combine everything together.

Sprinkle some grated Pecorino-Romano cheese & thyme leaves over the top and serve hot.

Gentse Waterzooi (chicken stew from Ghent)

6 Jul

If chicken ‘n dumplings had a Belgian cousin, it would surely be “waterzooi”. While waterzooi doesn’t come with puffy buttermilk dumplings, it ranks just a high on the creamy comfort food scale. Once you sop a piece of crusty French bread in its yolky broth, you’ll understand why this dish became a National treasure.

Translated from Dutch, ‘waterzooi’ means ‘to simmer in water’… The dish was historically nothing fancier than a simple fish boil with readily available fish like cod & perch, and potatoes. As rivers and ponds became more polluted and fish populations diminished, chicken made its debut in this classic charmer.

Today, the city of Ghent reigns unchallenged in waterzooi-land. Located in the Northwest corner of Belgium and only a short drive away from the North Sea, Ghent has placed waterzooi on the culinary map. Hundreds of restaurants each boast their own variation of the dish, all vying for the attention of the oodles of tourists that roam this picturesque city in search of waterzooi.

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GENTSE WATERZOOI
(Adapted from a recipe by ‘Restaurant De Karmeliet’)

– 1 whole chicken, quartered
– 3 stalks of celery
– 1 leek
– 3 carrots
– 6 firm potatoes (like Yukon Gold)
– 1 bunch of parsley
– 2-3 sprigs of thyme, leaves only
– 2 eggs
– 1 cup of heavy whipping cream
– 6-8 cups of chicken stock
– 2 tbsp of butter
– salt & pepper, to taste

Heat chicken stock and add chicken, let simmer for approx. 20-30 min on a low-medium fire until the chicken is done. Set aside.

Cut celery, carrot and leek into very fine strips (‘julienne’). Dice potatoes into rough chunks.
Take a large enough pan so all the broth and chicken will eventually fit, and sauté the vegetables and the potatoes in 1-2 tbsp of butter over medium heat.

In the meantime, take chicken out of the stock and peel off the skin, discard the skin.

Add peeled chicken to the vegetables & potatoes. Sift the stock to eliminate any impurities the chicken left behind, and add to pot with chicken, vegetables and potatoes.

Add 2/3 of the cream into the pot, and simmer another 10-15 min. Season with salt & pepper, to your liking.

In a separate bowl, add remaining cream and 2 egg yolks. Whisk together and gently add a bit of the hot broth one spoon at a time. This is called ‘tempering’. Keep whisking as you introduce the broth, to make sure your egg mixture won’t scramble. Keep adding broth until you reach a warm temperature. When the egg mixture is warm, take pot off the stove and gently drizzle and stir the egg mixture in the pot.

Ladle in shallow soup bowls, and sprinkle chopped parsley & thyme leaves over the top. Make sure to serve some French bread on the side, as the broth will have you yearning for more!

Flemish Beef Stew (Stoverij)

5 Jul

‘Stoverij’ or Flemish beef stew is Belgium’s response to chili cheese fries. It’s hearty, stick-on-your-ribs food that feels like a warm hug on a cold winter’s day. “…but it’s Summer?!”, you say, well nothing screams Summer more than fries & stoverij from ‘t frietkot!

Belgian towns are dotted with small food stalls (think: semi-permanent ‘food truck’) that sell French fries and all the accompaniments: curry wurst (frikandel), meatballs (boullette), fried spring rolls (loempia), shrimp or chicken croquettes (garnaal of kippekroket), and of course the traditional Flemish beef stew (stoverij or stoofvlees). You know you’re in for a treat at your local “frietkot”, the minute you smell the frietjes (fries) baking in bubbling hot oil, filling the air with giddy anticipation of that first bite of fried food heaven.

Next to “frietjes”, beer is king in Belgium. Belgians learn how to cook with beer the minute they’re old enough to hold a ladle. It’s a rite of passage. After all, with over 71 different types of beer brewed and 350+ house labels to choose from, it’s the national drink of choice. When I left Ghent in late 1999, the country that is roughly the size of Rhode Island boasted 18 actively operated ‘national’ breweries and a few dozen local artisanal breweries for good measure. As I recall, pretty much every village had at least one ‘Trappist’ or ‘Catholic Benedict’ abbey where one could purchase abbey-brewed beer directly from the monks themselves. They each created their own flavor pallet, using age old brewing methods passed on for decades. The trifecta of beer-cheese-bread has long been an abbey’s bread & butter, so to speak.

Flemish beef stew is traditionally served over hot & crispy French fries, but it’s equally as delectable with a few torn hunks of grainy bread. The meat is so tender and the sauce is so sweet, you’ll come back for seconds… and thirds. Just don’t forget to enjoy a nice full-bodied beer with it, it’s practically a mortal sin if you don’t.

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FLEMISH BEER STEW or ‘Stoverij’
(adapted from a recipe by Piet Huysentruyt)

– 2 to 2.5 lbs of stew meat (I prefer chuck shoulder meat)
– 2 large onions, cut in half and sliced into not-so-thin strips
– 16oz of dark beer, more or less
– 2 tbsp of dark brown sugar, heaping (or ¼ cup of molasses)
– 1 whole clove
– 1 small clove of garlic, minced
– 2 laurel leaves
– 3-4 sprigs of rosemary
– 2-3 sprigs of thyme
– 1-2 slices of brown bread, liberally spread with 2 tbsp of mustard
– a splash of balsamic vinegar
– a few tbsp of olive oil
– 1-2 tbsp of butter
– salt & pepper to taste

1. Take a small piece of cheese cloth and tie the rosemary, thyme & cloves in. You’ll want to be able to remove it from the stew easily later on.

2. Cut the meat in roughly 1-inch size cubes. Salt & pepper like you would a steak.

3. In a large Dutch oven, heat the olive oil and brown the meat over medium heat. It’s best to do this in batches, as you don’t want to overcrowd the meat. Overcrowding means the meat won’t brown, it’ll rather steam and you don’t want this. You want a nice crispy brown edge on each piece of meat. Set each batch of meat aside. Don’t be alarmed by the brownish ‘crud’ that forms on the bottom of your pan, and definitely don’t try to get rid of it… This is where a lot of the flavor forms.

4. When all meat is browned, turn up the heat a bit and pour a splash or two of the beer in the pan. Scrape the bottom of your pan to loosen the browned bits the meat formed.

5. When most of the bits are loosened and starting to dissolve in the beer, add the butter and the sliced onions & minced garlic, and continue to cook until the onions are turning translucent.

6. Add the remainder of the beer, browned beef, cheese cloth with herbs and the sugar, and cook over low heat for 2-3 hours until the beef is fork tender. Place slices of mustard covered bread on top of the simmering stew. They’ll slowly dissolve and thicken the stew some.

7. Keep the lid off of your pot. Once you have reached the desired thickness of the sauce, only then place the lid on the pot.

8. when the stew is ready, remove the cheese cloth wrapped herbs and laurel leaves, add a splash of balsamic vinegar and stir.

Enjoy!

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