Tag Archives: winter

Hearty Polish Sausage & Beans

11 Sep

I consider myself to be a resourceful person. My ‘creative thinking’ ability was evidenced at a young age, when I once received a homework assignment from my strict Catholic school, with the instruction to listen to the Pope’s Easter mass & speech and fill out a 100 item questionnaire about it. Faced with the horror of having to sit through 4 hours of televised prayer in Latin – on Sunday no less! – I told my teacher that our TV was of a communist brand and that therefore we weren’t able to tune into the channel in question as our airwaves were censored by the Russian Orthodox Government. I think I should have gotten an honorable mentioning for such creativity, but instead I got to copy the “Ten Commandments”… 25 times!

I entirely blame my mother for this kind of quick-witted creative thinking. After all, she was a pro at it herself and she was known to smite the nonsensical ways of the strict Catholic establishment on a routine basis. As an example, when she was hired by the private convent school in question, the bearded dragon head nun made it clear to her that she was expected to wear a long, calf-length skirt & stockings, and to refrain from engaging the girls in any scandalous or improper activity such as, but not limited to: cartwheels, splits, summersaults, exercises that required us to spread our legs, headstands or anything else that could potentially expose the Lord to juvenile indecency. Since it proved futile to reason with the clergy about the scholastic curriculum of a physical education class, my mother creatively taunted the school’s ridiculous policy and showed up for her first day on the job wearing a long skirt… with a snazzy pair of shiny red metallic Adidas sweatpants underneath!

Creativity and independent thinking ranked high on our mother’s list of virtues she deemed necessary in life. She made sure our little brains were exercised daily, and she made it a point to teach us to think outside the box and to never accept nonsense as suitable answer or solution.

I’ve had to be creative with our food budget on many occasions, but when I came home to a virtually empty fridge yesterday, it gave culinary creativity a whole new meaning. With payday still 3 days away, I took a quick gander in our pantry and figured I could manipulate a recipe for Polish sausage & beans I saw on Pinterest a little while ago. The result was a hearty & flavorful stew of tomatoes, peppers and kielbasa, and it received two thumbs up from all of us.

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Hearty Polish Sausage & Beans
(Adapted from a Pinterest recipe)
– 3 15oz cans of your preferred beans (*)
– 1 Polish sausage or Kielbasa
– 1 large red bell pepper
– 1 large green bell pepper
– 2 medium yellow onions
– 2 Poblano peppers
– 6-8 cloves of garlic, crushed and chopped finely
– 1 28oz can of crushed tomatoes
– 1 Tbsp of sweet Hungarian paprika
– 1/4 cup of fresh dill, chopped
– 1/4 cup of fresh parsley, chopped
– salt & pepper to taste
– 2 Tbsp of extra virgin olive oil
(*) You can use any beans you like, but I prefer a combination of white cannellini beans, black beans & pinto beans.

Drain and rinse beans under cold water, set aside.

Chop peppers and onions into large dice. Crush garlic with the back of your knife, and chop into fine pieces. Slice kielbasa into small rounds.

Heat olive oil in a heavy pot, and sauté peppers, onions and garlic until beginning to soften. Add crushed tomatoes, paprika, dill, parsley, salt & pepper, and simmer until vegetables are soft.

Add kielbasa and beans, and allow to simmer until everything is warmed through. Serve over brown rice or with a crusty loaf of bread.

Butter-braised Savoy Cabbage with Speck

16 Aug

Yesterday, my new Facebook friend Linda V. K. asked me if I knew what ‘wirsing’ means in English? While the word ‘wirsing’ is actually German for a lovely dish of butter-braised Savoy cabbage, the dish is decidedly Belgian in nature. Belgium is a land of country cooking & hearty food, and what could possibly be more country than cabbage?!

Whenever I see cabbage, I am instantly reminded of the frosted-over cabbage fields sprawled out over the western Flemish farm belt. The fields stretch for miles on end and are planted in perfectly straight rows, with dirt pathways cutting through the geometrical pattern like goat trails. Lone farmers tend to their crops with their weathered hands clad in woolen fingerless gloves, their rosy cheeks glowing like red beacons of life on the otherwise desolate, bleak fields. I used to cycle alongside these fields on my way to or from school, often pulling my sweater’s sleeves over my hands to give my fingers some relief from the icy morning fog that blankets these lands in Fall & Winter. I’m sure my mother’s ‘Don’t forget your gloves!!’ must have echoed a million times through our hallway.

When kicking off our snow-covered boots and darting over the frigid garage floor in our socks, the warmth of the kitchen and the aroma of butter-braised cabbage and browned sausage felt like the culinary equivalent of sitting by a warm hearth. In my post about braised red cabbage, I already proclaimed my love for the deep purple vegetable, but dark green Savoy cabbage was never all that popular. It’s a universal phenomenon for kids to dislike leafy green vegetables, and Belgian youth is no exception to this. I remember Bert & I used to heap butter and some of the sausage’s pan drippings over the green cabbage, to make it more palatable.

The recipe below is for Linda. As promised, it’s imported directly from a trusted source in small rural Flemish village. Photo courtesy goes entirely to Belgian celebrity chef Jeroen Meus.

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BUTTER BRAISED SAVOY CABBAGE WITH SPECK
(Adapted from a recipe by Jeroen Meus)
– 1/2 head of Savoy cabbage (or green cabbage)
– a small pinch of sodium bicarbonate, to retain the cabbage’s bright green color during cooking (*)
– 8 slices of thick cut bacon, chopped into small pieces
– ground nutmeg, to taste
– salt & pepper, to taste
– 3 Tbsp of good quality butter
– ¼ cup of heavy cream
(*) This is completely optional but safe and flavorless! Sodium Bicarbonate is similar to Alka-Seltzer, for instance, or other stomach acid drugs. You only need a little bit for a whole pot of water, and it will not affect the flavor of the dish, nor is it unsafe to use. Sodium Bicarbonate ensures that the bright green color of cabbage is preserved in the cooking process, as otherwise the cabbage turns into somewhat of a drab brownish green. Many restaurants use this trick to preserve the bright green color of many green vegetables.

For an authentic flavor, you will need a head of Savoy cabbage (see picture below), and you will also need 2 large pots or Dutch ovens.

Start with filling one of your pots with water and bring to a rolling boil. While the water is heating, clear tough ‘older’ leaves from the outside cabbage and discard (or compost!). Cut cabbage in half, reserving one half for later. For the other half, cut the hard core out of the middle and cut that half in half again, so you end up with 2 quarter cabbage parts. Slice each cabbage quarter in very thin strips.

When the water is boiling, add a pinch of sodium bicarbonate to ensure the cabbage retains its bright green color. Add chopped cabbage, and simmer (blanch) for approx. 3-4 min until cabbage is crisp tender. Pour cabbage into a colander, and drain very well.

In the second pan, add 1 Tbsp of butter and brown bacon pieces until crisp, approx. 10 minutes. Reserve a few bacon bits for garnish. Add well-drained cabbage and sauté for 2-3 minutes more until cabbage is soft and well combined. Fold 2 Tbsp of butter and cream into the braised cabbage, and season with salt, pepper & ground nutmeg to taste. Sprinkle reserved bacon bits over the top and serve with browned sausage or you favorite protein.

Another Belgian classic! Enjoy!

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Wine Braised Cabbage with Plums & Bacon

14 Aug

The other day, I discovered a smoked turkey sausage in the back of my fridge. With ‘it’ being far removed from my much more popular non-processed food corner, I didn’t even catch its presence until famine set in and I nosied around in the fridge for a quick dinner idea, or shall we say, in a desperate attempt to save myself a trip to the grocery store. And there it was. Sitting proudly in the ‘man corner’ of the fridge, right next to the hot dogs and beer. I’m usually pretty good with keeping a detailed inventory of our fridge’s contents in the back of my mind, you know, in that special lobe that keeps track of all practical things, but that darn sausage snuck up on me. I’m not ‘big’ on things that have an unnatural and/or freakishly long shelf life, but with our finances seriously strapped these days, a sale on $5.00 smoked sausage goes a long way…

Just like Velveeta, I believe there’s a place for kielbasa in this world as well. However, when I bought that sausage, I must have not been entirely sure where exactly that place was. Come to think of if, this is probably why it ended up on the ‘man shelf’ in our fridge in the first place. Then, as per divine intervention, I remembered: ‘Rookworst met rode kool’! Braised red cabbage and sausage is not only popular in Belgium, but in Holland as well. Although our northern neighbor traditionally opts for braised kale or ‘boerekool’, rather than red cabbage. Either way, braised cabbage is everywhere in the lower lands and many a Flemish child grows up on that stuff.

With my flavor palette a bit more refined these days, I fancified my vocabulary this cabbage a little bit. Rather than braising it traditionally with just bits of apple and vinegar, I opted for a more flavorful combination of red wine, dried plums and bacon.

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WINE BRAISED CABBAGE WITH PLUMS & BACON
(A “Hungry Belgian” original…)
– 1 small head of red cabbage, shredded thinly or chopped finely (+/- 1.5 lbs shredded)
– 2/3 cup of good quality red wine + more for soaking (*)
– 2-3 shallots, chopped into small dice (or 1 medium size red onion)
– 10-12 dried plums, slivered
– 2 small pears, peeled, cored & diced
– 2 sticks of cinnamon
– 2 cloves
– 1 laurel leaf
– 4-5 slices of thick cut bacon, sliced into small slivers
– salt & pepper, to taste
(*) The age-old adage is: if you don’t like the wine for drinking, don’t cook with it either!

Soak plums in a bit of red wine to soften them. Place a large heavy pot or Dutch oven over high heat and brown the bacon until crisp. Remove from pot and set aside.

In the bacon fat, brown shallots until translucent. Then add shredded cabbage with wine, pears, spices and salt & pepper to taste, and fold so everything is well combined. Cover the pot and braise over medium-low heat for approx. 45 min until cabbage is soft. Add plums, and simmer 10-15 min more to allow most of the liquid to evaporate. Remove cinnamon, laurel leaf and cloves, and add bacon bits back in.

Serve braised cabbage alongside your preferred choice of crisp browned sausage links.

Cajun Pumpkin Soup

11 Aug

Fall is by far my favorite Season. There’s several things I like about Fall, but the biggest charm for me is that all vegetables that remind me of a stormy day in Belgium are in season: parsnips, pumpkins, rutabagas, turnips… And, you get to spice everything warmly because ‘t is the season. Sadly, Southern California has only two seasons. The difference between the two being that in Fall & Winter you may need to take a sweater with you, you know, for when the sun sets… what with temperatures dropping below 65F and all.

Every October, when the last residual heat of September slowly ebbs away, I’m excited to start feeling the crisp chill in the beach air and occasionally hear the sound of rain pounding my apartment’s roof. I confess that I didn’t like rain when I lived in Belgium. Rainy days would turn into soggy weeks, then into months, and eventually you’d start wondering if you should start building an ark and save yourself?! It’s only after several months of dry heat and blistering sun that I learned to appreciate a cool, wet day. Fall in Southern California is bliss. Day time temperatures remain a steady 60F-70F, and evenings get cool enough to cuddle with my beau and sip on spiced wine without risking a hot flash. An added bonus is that with 60F, we can still crack our windows open just a smidgen, and let the earthy smell of the damp beach sand & wet wooden boardwalk permeate our humble home.

It’s on these days that the soup below tastes fantastic. Decades ago, when my brother still lived in Amsterdam and mom & I would drive up for a weekend visit, he would frequently invite us for dinner at a restaurant called ‘The Louisiana Kitchen’, off of the Ceintuurbaan in the heart of the city. At the time, I was already thinking about relocating to the USA and eventually, my brother bought me the Cajun bistro’s cookbook as a parting gift. I’ve since adapted the recipe to my own preference, but the base recipe comes out of the book.

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CAJUN PUMPKIN SOUP
(Adapted from a recipe out of ‘The Louisiana Kitchen’ by Rob Van Berkum & Andre Numan)

– 8 cups of chicken broth
– 35 oz of cubed pumpkin
– 2.5 cups of good quality dry sherry
– 1.5 cups of heavy cream
– 3 large shallots, diced
– 3 ribs of celery, chopped
– 2 Tbsp of Cajun seasoning + more for the shrimp
– a pinch (or two) of cayenne pepper
– a cup of sliced or chopped mushrooms (any kind)
– 1 lbs of large scampi-size shrimp
– 5 slices of bacon, cooked & crumbled

Place a large soup pot on the stove over high heat. Add a splash of olive oil, and saute the chopped shallots & celery until translucent and starting to brown. Douse with sherry, and cook for a minute or so to burn off some of the alcohol. Add chicken broth and chopped pumpkin, and bring to a boil. Let simmer until pumpkin is soft and cooked through.

In the meantime, saute sliced mushrooms until browned and cooked through. Set aside.

Cook bacon, drain or pat dry and crumble. Set aside.
Shell & devein shrimp, toss in a bit of olive oil and grill in a 450F oven with a sprinkling of Cajun seasoning until done , approx 10 min.

When pumpkin is soft, blend the soup until smooth and velvety. Add cream, 2 Tbsp of Cajun seasoning, grilled shrimp, bacon and browned mushrooms and warm through in the soup. Season with salt & pepper, and add a pinch or two of cayenne pepper for a bit of heat.

Ladle in soup bowls, sprinkle with a bit of parsley and serve with corn bread.

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!

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.

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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