Tag Archives: kid friendly

Five Cheese Mac

27 Jul

One of the many fabulous dishes America welcomed with me when I first arrived here nearly 13 years ago, is a bubbly & cheesy mac straight out of a hot oven.

Sure, there are oven-baked cheesy noodle dishes in Belgium too, but they’re falling dramatically short from the cheesy, creamy deliciousness I’ve enjoyed on this side of the Atlantic. For starters, Belgian macaroni and cheese dishes lack flair and creativity, in my opinion. Almost as if nobody cared to explore the culinary possibilities of this American staple. Overall, I think American cuisine gets a bad wrap in Europe due to all the sub-par hamburger chains and cheap fast food joints that are being lobbied as a slice of ‘real’ American life. It’s entirely false, and I’ll come right out saying that I’ve enjoyed some amazing cooking & food here. So to whomever put mac ‘n cheese on the culinary map, I thank thee! (Oh, and a special thank you shout-out to Vermont extra-sharp white cheddar, Maine lobster, Alaskan king salmon, Georgia peach cobbler, Boston cream pie, Mississippi mud pie, California avocados, Texas BBQ, Missouri’s St. Louis style ribs, Hawaii’s macadamia nut crusted mahi mahi & pupus, New York cheesecake… Yeah, I rest my case).

Over the years, I’ve played around with many mac ‘n cheese recipes I found online, but I finally settled on my own creation below, which is more of a grown-up mac and has bit more depth of flavor. I hope you enjoy it as much as my family & I do.

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FIVE CHEESE MAC
(Adapted from a variety of recipes I found online)
For the cheese sauce:
– 1 quart of milk
– 1/2 cup of flour
– 8 Tbsp of good quality butter
– 1/4 cup of buffalo hot wing sauce (*)
– 6 oz of Brie, sliced with rind on
– 12 oz of Gruyere (or Swiss cheese), grated
– 6 oz of extra-sharp white cheddar, grated
– 6 oz of mild cheddar, grated
– 4oz of blue cheese, crumbled
(*) I shamelessly stole this idea from the Hard Rock Cafe in Hollywood! It gives the sauce a bit of a kick in the pants.

Make a simple bechamel sauce, by melting the butter in a pan and adding the flour. Cook for a minute until flour & butter are one, then add milk and stir until all lumps are gone. Bring to a simmer and stir until the sauce thickens. When thick, remove from heat and incorporate all cheeses into hot sauce. Add buffalo wing sauce and season with salt & pepper to your liking. Add a pinch of nutmeg.

For the mac ‘n cheese:
– 12 slices of thick cut bacon
– 1 cup of breadcrumbs or crushed corn flakes (I use corn fakes because they add a nice touch of sweetness)
– 2 Tbsp of melted butter
– 2 boxes of elbow macaroni or cavatapi, or another kind of small pasta noodle.
– 3 Tbsp of finely chopped fresh rosemary (optional)

Heat oven to 400F. Lay bacon slices out on a foil-lined baking sheet, bake in the hot oven for 15-20 minutes until browned and crisp. Set aside and let cool slightly until your are able to crumble the bacon by hand. Turn oven down to 350F.

In the meantime, bring large pot of water to a boil and cook pasta according to box instructions until “al dente”.

Drain cooked pasta and place in a large oven dish. Pour cheese sauce over it and crumble bacon all over the top. Fold sauce and bacon into the pasta, then sprinkle the top with the breadcrumbs or corn flakes and drizzle melted butter evenly over the top. Sprinkle top with chopped rosemary. Bake for 45min or so until it’s bubbly and the top layer has crisped.

So good!

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!

Swedish Meatballs

22 Jul

The arrival of Swedish furniture giant Ikea not only brought us colorful & cozy Scandinavian home décor… but, more importantly, ‘kottbullar’! These tender morsels of beef & veal, in their creamy sauce and fruity lingonberry compote, sing their sweet siren song every time I happen to drive by the store alongside the 405 freeway. As soon as I see Ikea’s blue & gold logo in my line of sight, I feel a bubble of giddy excitement well up inside me and I nearly always feel compelled to pull off the freeway and stock up on a little bit of Europe in my otherwise American world. There’s something happy & cheery about Ikea, if it weren’t for the hoards of shoppers crowding the place on a daily basis.

Meatballs have long made their mark on Belgian cuisine as well. I think this is mainly because they pair so well with the warm fruity compotes you often find stewing in old-fashioned Belgian kitchens. I remember as a little girl, ‘omoe’ or grandma would brown up a batch of little meatballs and serve them with a sweet warm cherry sauce and chunky mashed potatoes. I have fond memories of those times, partly because grandpa would stuff his cheeks like a chipmunk and tell us stories in critter voice, much to the chagrin of grandma who felt it was not proper to indulge in such foolishness whilst having dinner. Occasionally, he’d lose a meatball and then all bets were off. Grandma would put an abrupt end to the silliness and grandpa would quickly follow suit for the sake of marital bliss and prompt us to be quiet and finish our plate. These moments of unbridled silliness never lasted long, but they shaped my memory of my beloved grandpa, who earned a PhD in biochemistry and was a professor emeritus at the renowned University of Ghent and super-cool kitchen table magician on weekends we visited. I think his world was filled with so much intellectual conversation and academic seriousness, that he enjoyed regaling his grandchildren with plain old silliness. Bless his soul in heaven.

As I got older and started paying my own bills, I developed a special affinity for the Swedish meatballs Ikea sold at bottom dollar. The recipe remains a bit of a mystery as so many Swedes have their own family recipe that was handed down from generation to generation, but below is my take on this beloved dish.

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SWEDISH MEATBALLS
(adapted from a recipe by Jeroen Meus)

For the meatballs:
– ½ lbs of lean ground beef
– ½ lbs of ground veal (or lean ground pork)
– 1 egg, yolk only
– ½ cup of breadcrumbs, soaked in 2-3 Tbsp of milk until just moistened through
– 1 Tbsp of allspice (or a combination of cinnamon, nutmeg & ground cloves)
– 2 shallots, very finely chopped
– salt & pepper
– beef broth, for boiling the meatballs before browning them

Take a large bowl and place the ground meats inside. Chop the shallots very finely and sauté in a little bit of butter until they turn translucent. Add the sautéed shallots to the bowl with the ground meats.

Add allspice and egg yolk to the meat mixture, and combine well. Add soaked breadcrumbs, and combine until everything is well incorporated. Add salt & pepper to taste.

Bring beef broth to a boil and drop 1.5-inch rolled meatballs into hot broth. Cook for approx. 4-5 minutes until done, and set aside on a plate. Once the meatballs are done, they’ll automatically float to the top.

In a heavy skillet, melt a few tablespoons of butter and quickly brown meatballs to a crispy golden brown, approx. 3 minutes.

For the creamy sauce:
– 4oz of heavy cream
– a splash of cognac (or cooking sherry)
– salt & pepper to taste

In the pan with the browned bits of the meatballs, add a hefty splash of cognac and ignite. You can do this with a match or – if you have a gas stove – by tilting your pan into flame, being careful not to spill the liquid. Stand back, as your pan will become enflamed for a few seconds.

Stir and scrape all the flavorful browned bits from the meatballs from the bottom of the pan, then add the cream and reduce the brown sauce a bit until it thickens. Add browned meatballs and toss to coat in the sauce.

Serve with mashed potatoes and a spoonful of cranberry sauce.

Swedish Meatballs

22 Jul

The arrival of Swedish furniture giant Ikea not only brought us colorful & cozy Scandinavian home décor… but, more importantly, ‘kottbullar’! These tender morsels of beef & veal, in their creamy sauce and fruity lingonberry compote, sing their sweet siren song every time I happen to drive by the store alongside the 405 freeway. As soon as I see Ikea’s blue & gold logo in my line of sight, I feel a bubble of giddy excitement well up inside me and I nearly always feel compelled to pull off the freeway and stock up on a little bit of Europe in my otherwise American world. There’s something happy & cheery about Ikea, if it weren’t for the hoards of shoppers crowding the place on a daily basis.

Meatballs have long made their mark on Belgian cuisine as well. I think this is mainly because they pair so well with the warm fruity compotes you often find stewing in old-fashioned Belgian kitchens. I remember as a little girl, ‘omoe’ or grandma would brown up a batch of little meatballs and serve them with a sweet warm cherry sauce and chunky mashed potatoes. I have fond memories of those times, partly because grandpa would stuff his cheeks like a chipmunk and tell us stories in critter voice, much to the chagrin of grandma who felt it was not proper to indulge in such foolishness whilst having dinner. Occasionally, he’d lose a meatball and then all bets were off. Grandma would put an abrupt end to the silliness and grandpa would quickly follow suit for the sake of marital bliss and prompt us to be quiet and finish our plate. These moments of unbridled silliness never lasted long, but they shaped my memory of my beloved grandpa, who earned a PhD in biochemistry and was a professor emeritus at the renowned University of Ghent and super-cool kitchen table magician on weekends we visited. I think his world was filled with so much intellectual conversation and academic seriousness, that he enjoyed regaling his grandchildren with plain old silliness. Bless his soul in heaven.

As I got older and started paying my own bills, I developed a special affinity for the Swedish meatballs Ikea sold at bottom dollar. The recipe remains a bit of a mystery as so many Swedes have their own family recipe that was handed down from generation to generation, but below is my take on this beloved dish.

20130722-193259.jpg

SWEDISH MEATBALLS
(adapted from a recipe by Jeroen Meus)

For the meatballs:
– ½ lbs of lean ground beef
– ½ lbs of ground veal (or lean ground pork)
– 1 egg, yolk only
– ½ cup of breadcrumbs, soaked in 2-3 Tbsp of milk until just moistened through
– 1 Tbsp of allspice (or a combination of cinnamon, nutmeg & ground cloves)
– 2 shallots, very finely chopped
– salt & pepper
– beef broth, for boiling the meatballs before browning them

Take a large bowl and place the ground meats inside. Chop the shallots very finely and sauté in a little bit of butter until they turn translucent. Add the sautéed shallots to the bowl with the ground meats.

Add allspice and egg yolk to the meat mixture, and combine well. Add soaked breadcrumbs, and combine until everything is well incorporated. Add salt & pepper to taste.

Bring beef broth to a boil and drop 1.5-inch rolled meatballs into hot broth. Cook for approx. 4-5 minutes until done, and set aside on a plate. Once the meatballs are done, they’ll automatically float to the top.

In a heavy skillet, melt a few tablespoons of butter and quickly brown meatballs to a crispy golden brown, approx. 3 minutes.

For the creamy sauce:
– 4oz of heavy cream
– a splash of cognac (or cooking sherry)
– salt & pepper to taste

In the pan with the browned bits of the meatballs, add a hefty splash of cognac and ignite. You can do this with a match or – if you have a gas stove – by tilting your pan into flame, being careful not to spill the liquid. Stand back, as your pan will become enflamed for a few seconds.

Stir and scrape all the flavorful browned bits from the meatballs from the bottom of the pan, then add the cream and reduce the brown sauce a bit until it thickens. Add browned meatballs and toss to coat in the sauce.

Serve with mashed potatoes and a spoonful of cranberry sauce.

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.

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