Tag Archives: beef

Cottage Pie with Root Vegetables

28 Aug

In exactly 44 days, my mom will land at Los Angeles Int’l airport. It’s an event the Farklepants’ household is already mentally preparing for, if nothing else, than to cross off the days on our kitchen calendar to see precisely how much more time we have left to bring the cleanliness & organization of our apartment up to military Cecilia’s standards.

It’s no easy feat. My mother, bless her heart, is a densely woven tapestry of arduous self-imposed rules & regulations, enforced daily by a deep, unrelenting desire for order & control. Flying by the seat of your pants, which is pretty much the mantra in our house, is something my elderly mom has a hard time coping with. She unwittingly, and with the best of intentions, attempts to smash & stuff our souls into her daily mold of how things ought to be, and at times this collides with the chaotic habits of my free-thinking creative family. She also takes planning and organization to uncharted heights. You know, the kind of heights Martha Stewart can only dream of reaching with her hand-carved & antiquated Scandinavian pinewood ladder.
On the other hand, underneath that regimented ice cap of self-imposed order and control, hides the woman that walks into a grocery store in Spain and buys a box of cat food by pointing her index finger into her wide-open gaping mouth and speaking the words ‘meow meow’. The same woman who has mastered the art of overly dramatic Japanese Kabuki-style facial expressions to anything that she finds a) odd, b) inappropriate, c) silly or d) all of the above (*)… It sometimes brings me to the brink of embarrassment, evoking a sheepish smile and a spontaneous “I’m sorry, she’s not from around here” response.
(*) Per example, she once addressed an unassuming diner waitress with a Maori battle cry when the poor woman came around to kindly refill her beverage and caught my mother off-guard. You see, Cecilia doesn’t believe in wasting any food or drink (and isn’t that a good Christian virtue?!), so even though she is full, her own set of imaginary rules mandates that she MUST finish whatever is presented to her. Also… she did NOT want any ice in her drink!!!!

This year, since our apartment is at full capacity and my mom fully expects me to lodge her in my house regardless of that fact, I tapped into my professional travel network & award points and was able to conjure free lodging for an epic 7-day road trip through the Southwest USA. It’s an adventure we’re both excited for, if it weren’t for my car having trouble with its right front wheel all of a sudden. We don’t even have enough money to make it through the month at times, let alone that I’m now having to face a dreaded trip to the mechanic, so he can take a look at it and tell me it’ll be $637.41 or so to fix it… Hurray! Let me write you a check. Right. This. Minute. I’m not sure what I’m going to do. I guess God will take care of that predicament in due time. Note to self: have faith.

If our financial situation was a person, it would probably be a circus freak. Maybe even the Elephant Man. Or Quasimodo. I picture this is what mom went through as well as a single parent with a delinquent ex-husband. I pretty much spend my entire days worrying in anxiety biting every penny in half, whilst scouring Pinterest in search of hearty rib-sticking meals that cost mere pennies. Our protein-plan exists out of chicken & kielbasa, and the occasional ground beef. We haven’t had ribs or a juicy roast in a good long while, and steak & fish have vanished off of our menu entirely due to their price tag. The thought of Thanksgiving & Christmas dinner currently gives me the willies. Pray that by then, we’ll be blessed by the hand of the forces that may.

Mom cooked a lot of ground beef recipes, and I do too. One of my beloved cheap(er) dinners is ‘Cottage Pie’. It’s flavorful, hearty and it feeds my family of 3 hungry men + yours truly for pennies on the dollar. To add bulk, I use a gaggle of root vegetables that caramelize slowly, which gives the whole dish another depth of flavor that I find very tasty. The recipe below fills my large 15’ Lodge cast iron pan + a smaller oven dish, and it typically feeds us twice.

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COTTAGE PIE WITH ROOT VEGETABLES
(a la Hungry Belgian)
For the beef mixture:
3 lbs of ground beef, at least 15% fat
1 onion, diced
2 rutabagas (or 2 small), diced
3 carrots, diced
2 parsnips, diced
1 celery root, diced
3-4 ribs of celery, diced
4 cloves of garlic, minced
1 6oz can of tomato paste
A handful of thyme & rosemary tied together in a bundle
A few dashes of ‘kitchen bouquet’ browning liquid or Worcestershire sauce
3 Tbsp of flour
1 16oz bottle of Stout beer or a dark beer of your liking
Salt & pepper to taste

I use a Dutch oven to cook the filling, but you can use any heavy large pan. Start by dicing the vegetables into even dice so they all cook at the more or less the same speed. Mince the garlic and have everything ready to go.

Start by heating up your pan over medium-high heat. When hot, add the ground beef and a few dashes of browning liquid, and crumble while browning. When it’s all browned, take it out of your pan and set aside. Drain some of the fat, but leave some so we can caramelize the vegetables in it.
Turn the heat down to medium-low, add all of your diced vegetables (excl. garlic) and let them slowly caramelize a bit for 30 min or so, stirring regularly to achieve an even browning.

When vegetables are browned, add beef back to the pan and turn heat to medium-high. Add tomato paste and brown the tomato paste with the vegetables & beef for 2-3 minutes. Then sprinkle a few tablespoons of flour over the lot, and brown another 1-2 minutes. Your pan will be cruddy on the bottom, but don’t worry, this crud adds a ton of flavor!
When mixture appears well browned, after 3-4 minutes, add beer and scrape all of the tasty bits off of the bottom of your pan over medium-high heat. Add minced garlic, rosemary & thyme bundle, then add salt & pepper to taste. Turn heat to medium, and let the mixture reduce & thicken for another 20-30 minutes. If too thick, add some water or beef broth. If too thin, keep simmering and I promise it will reduce further. When it’s done, take rosemary/thyme bundle out of the pan and allow the mixture to cool a bit.

For the cheddar mashed potatoes topping:
5 lbs of Yukon gold potatoes
4-6 Tbsp of butter
Approx 1-1.5 cups of milk
1 cup of grated white cheddar
1 tsp of grated horseradish (not horseradish sauce!) (completely optional)

Peel, cube & boil potatoes until soft. While the potatoes are cooking, warm the milk & butter in the microwave until melted & combined. Add salt & pepper to milk mixture, per your preference.
When potatoes are soft, drain them and mash them as usual. They will be lumpy, which is what I like best. Add warmed milk mixture to mashed potatoes a little a time, until you achieve a soft but form mash and the milk mixture is well-incorporated. You may have to use a bit more or less.
Add grated cheddar & horseradish (if using), and fold until blended. Your potato mash should be firm and not too soft.

Butter or grease your oven dish(es) and spread all of the beef mixture on the bottom(s). Top the beef with the mashed potatoes to fully cover the beef layer. My personal cottage pie math is, is that I like to have 2/3 beef mixture and 1/3 potatoes on top. You can do half/half, it’s whatever you prefer, really. With a fork, make a few lines or crimps in the potato layer, so that when it brow in the oven, you’ll get crispy edges on those ridges. Alternatively, you can also pipe your mashed potatoes on top of the beef mixture ‘duchesse’-style.

Bake in a 375F oven for approx. 30-45 min until the edges of the potatoes are well browned. Serve hot, with a pint of Guinness and an Irish joke or two.

Bon appetit!

Picadillo Cubano

22 Aug

I’ll come right out and say that I knew very little about ethnic food whilst growing up in my small, rural neck of the woods. My mom would sometimes experiment with ethnic food, such as that time she prepared ‘babotee’. OMG!. Babotee!. I think my brother & I are still mentally scarred from that one. Funny enough, I have no memory whatsoever of having eaten anything exotic after the babotee disaster, so I’m thinking that that African devil even struck a nerve with mom. We didn’t have much money and food was never wasted, and that was both a promise as well as curse since you knew that when something didn’t turn out quite well, we’d still be eating it! Babotee was right up there with canned bananas.

Anyway, my first ‘real’ exposure to exotic cuisine was when I went to the ‘Polé Polé Festival’ in Gent (Belgium) with a few friends and enjoyed my first Mojito and roast pork. One of the things I probably miss most from Belgium, are the sultry Summer music festivals and their colorful posters that were haphazardly tacked on wooden telephone poles & announcement boards across town. The featured bands usually hailed from Northern Africa, Central & Latin America and flamenco heartbeats like Spain & Portugal. The band names alone were enough to lure us out of our rural shell: Radio Tarifa, Youssou n’Dour, Ojos de Brujo, Cesaria Evora… The sound of African drums and the exotic smells that wafted over the concert meadow, took us far away from the sugar beet fields & farms surrounding our houses. And when the heat became too much for the atmosphere and the torrential downpour of a typical Belgian thunderstorm came rolling in, we’d all huddle in the festival tents and it felt like a tropical vacation. It’s precisely there, in that oppressive hot tent, that my love for global music and world cuisine was born. My friend also found love for Ntibanoboka from Burundi there… but we shall say no more.

African, Caribbean & Latin cuisines are the type of culinary exploration that I haven’t really ventured into yet. I can follow a recipe, of course, but it’s not like I can add a little bit of this & a little bit of that and come up trumps. I have little to no understanding of flavor combinations in exotic cooking, yet I love mostly all ethnic food that I’ve eaten at small family-owned hole-in-the-wall type eateries as well as fancy restaurants. Now that our finances are seriously strapped and firmly rooted in the chicken & ground beef realm of things, I miss going to our favorite restaurants. Havana Mania in Inglewood, CA is no exception. I love that Cuban place. Not only do they serve the meanest mojito’s there, but the owner usually welcomes us with a broad smile and open arms, as though we’re his long lost relatives finally returning home. And it doesn’t matter if we haven’t been there for months, he still greets us like we were there just yesterday. I like that kind of gregariousness.

Yesterday, I figured I’d try my own hand at Cuban cuisine. I still had 2 lbs of ground beef in the fridge, and I remembered eating a beef dish at one time called ‘Picadillo Cubano’. It’s a delectable concoction of ground beef that is slowly braised in white wine, with capers, olives & raisins. It’s usually served over white rice, with black beans and fried plantains on the side, but it turns out it’s also often used as a filling for empanadas. Some add potatoes to it, other don’t and it seems to be the topic of many debates about authenticity. Personally, I think it’s one of those dishes that has local flair and varies depending on whom you ask… Either way, it’s seriously delicious and we cleaned off our plates in record time. As an added bonus to the fantastic flavor, it’s very budget-friendly and a breeze to make. Gloria Estefan’s nana was right on the money with this one.

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PICADILLO CUBANO
(as per Gloria Estefan’s nana)
– Approx. 2lbs of ground beef, the fatty kind (any ground beef with at least 15% fat)
– 1 medium-large onion, finely diced
1 large green bell pepper, finely diced
3-4 cloves of garlic, minced
1 tsp of cumin
1 tsp of ground dry oregano
1 8oz can of tomato sauce
1 ½ cups of dry white wine
2 bay leaves
2 Tbsp of capers (optional)
½ cup of ketchup
½ cup of raisins
½ cup of green pimiento-stuffed olives
Salt & pepper to taste
Olive oil for browning

In a large heavy pan with lid, brown the beef over medium-high heat until crumbled, stirring occasionally. Remove beef from pan and set aside, and drain all but 2Tbsp of the grease.

Add diced onions, bell pepper and minced garlic to the pan. Sauté over medium heat until onions turn translucent, stirring frequently. Sprinkle oregano & cumin over the vegetables, and give it a quick stir for another minute or so. Then add reserved beef and all of the remaining ingredients to the pan.

Cover the pan and allow beef mixture to simmer for 30-40 min, removing the lid for the last 5-10 min.

Serve beef stew over rice, alongside black beans and fried plantains for a true Cuban experience.
This dish goes great with a mojito, or two…

Greek Stuffed Eggplant

26 Aug

Don’t these look pretty?

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Eggplant always look appealing to me. They’re so visually stunning in their gorgeous deep purple jackets, and whenever I see them flirting with me like that, I instantly want to buy a dozen. But then I find myself stumped for ideas of what to do with these beauties, since I haven’t gotten much farther than Baba Ganoush or ratatouille, and the stuffed eggplant recipes I’ve tried before all sort of came up kinda ‘blah’… like Miley Cyrus’ performance at the VMA’s last night.Right?! Good Lord!

Until recently, stuffed eggplant weren’t our thing. That is, until I saw a recipe for moussaka I had clipped back in the day when people still clipped recipes out of magazines using scissors. The horror! Either way, I made a note to my foodie self that I should make moussaka again soon, but since I have to cut back on carbs and starch, what with Satan playing tricks with my blood sugar lately, I was trying to think of a way to do this sans potatoes… and then BINGO!, it totally dawned on me I could simply make the meaty deliciousness and stuff that directly into an eggplant. It was a stroke of genius that I completely credit to the glass of Pinot Grigio I enjoyed in my other hand. So much for the blood sugar thing, but hey, Rome wasn’t built in one day either.

These turned out really good and I think we’ll have them in regular rotation. And if you wanted to make this vegetarian, you could totally replace the meats with a whole grain like quinoa, or whatever it is you fancy instead of meat.

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GREEK STUFFED EGGPLANT
(Adapted from a recipe for moussaka)
– 4 medium eggplant
– 2 onions, diced
– 1 small red bell pepper, finely diced
– 2 Roma tomatoes, seeded & diced
– 8 oz of ground pork
– 1 lbs lean ground lamb (or beef)
– 1.5 Tbsp of ground cinnamon
– 2 Tbsp of fresh oregano, chopped finely
– 1 clove of garlic, minced
– 1/3 cup of toasted pine nuts
– salt & pepper, to taste
– olive oil
– Parmesan cheese, for garnish
– freshly chopped parsley, for garnish

Preheat oven to 400F.

Cut eggplant in half, and with a spoon, scoop out flesh. Set ‘shells’ aside on a lined baking sheet.

In a heavy bottom pan, heat a splash of olive oil over medium-high heat. Add chopped eggplant, garlic and onions, and sauté for 5 min until beginning to soften. Add diced bell pepper and cook for a few min longer.

Add meats and crumble whilst cooking in the vegetables. Add cinnamon, oregano and salt & pepper to taste. Add a pinch of cayenne for more heat, if desired. Simmer for 5-10 minutes until meat is browned.

Fold toasted pine nuts and diced tomatoes into meat, and scoop mixture into hollowed eggplant to form a little dome in each one.

Cook eggplant in hot oven for approx. 20-30 min until crisp browned and heated through.

Before serving, sprinkle with some freshly grated Parmesan cheese and parsley over the top.

Smakelijk!

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.

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.

Moroccan Spiced Meatloaf

8 Jul

I love the warmth and intense flavors you find in most ethnic cuisines. There’s something really homey about the scent of cinnamon, cardamom and cumin.

When I lived in Belgium, my humble 3-story house (commonly referred to as ‘the shoebox’ by a good friend of mine) stood in the beating heart of the Moroccan neighborhood in Ghent. Even though it’s been well over a decade since I called the ‘Jasmijnstraat’ my home, the inviting scent of that neighborhood is engraved into my olfactory system. I still remember stepping off the crowded tram after a long day’s work, and being greeted by the smell of roasted spiced meats and freshly baked sesame breads. I would often take the tram 1-2 blocks further, just so I could walk the extra few blocks home and pass by all the Moroccan bakeries & grocers. I loved that neighborhood. I’ve met some of the friendliest people there.

Even though our language-gap was roughly the size of the Mediterranean, my neighbors ‘Faisal & Mohammed’ welcomed me with traditional Moroccan hospitality when I moved into the neighborhood: mint tea & baklava. I didn’t catch on until much later that Faisal actually did not speak any Dutch and only spoke very broken French, but we shared a love for great home-cooked food. We frequently found common ground at the local spice vendors & small fresh produce markets, where she would often point and smile at me to indicate what the best flavor deal of the day was. As time went on, she would regularly send over her jeans-clad kids with dishes that were so delicious, that I may or may not have licked them clean. I plead the fifth.

Faisal & Mohammed, while very traditional in their Moroccan culture, loved & embraced Western culture, and married the best of both worlds. The recipe below is adapted from Faisal’s take on meatloaf. Don’t be alarmed by all the spices, it makes for a delicious meatloaf!

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MORROCAN SPICED MEATLOAF – served approx. 6 people
(adapted from a recipe by my former neighbor Faisal)

– 2 tbsp of olive oil
– 1 medium-sized carrot, grated
– 1 large rib of celery, diced very finely
– 6 green onions
– 1 clove of garlic, minced
– 1 lbs of lean ground beef
– ½ lbs of ground pork (or add ground lamb or more beef instead of pork )
– 1 tsp of salt
– a dash of cayenne pepper
– ¼ tsp of black pepper
– 1 ½ tsp of ground cardamom
– ½ tsp of ground cumin
– ½ tsp of ground cinnamon
– ¼ tsp of mace
– ¼ tsp of ground ginger
– 1 cup of breadcrumbs
– 1 large egg, whisked
– ¼ cup of milk
– 1 cup of curry ketchup, divided (for a basic homemade curry ketchup recipe, look here)

Heat the oven to 350F. Lightly grease a 9x5x3 loaf pan. In a skillet or saucepan, melt the butter with the olive oil. Sauté the grated carrot and the celery until softened. Add green onions and garlic and sauté for 1 minute longer. Let cool slightly.

In a large bowl with hands, thoroughly combine the beef, pork, salt, peppers, spices, bread crumbs, egg, 1/2 cup of ketchup, and the milk. Stir in the sautéed vegetables until well blended.

Pack into the prepared loaf pan and bake for 1 hour. Spread the remaining 3 tablespoons of ketchup over the top of the loaf and bake for 15 minutes longer. Let rest for 5 minutes before slicing.

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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