Saturday, December 31, 2011

Sneeuwballen

The end of the year is celebrated in Holland as it is in so many other countries: friends and family gather, with good food, lovely drinks and with a certain sense of excitement about the change of the year that will happen at midnight. It's virtually the same in many other places in the world, but what sets the Dutch apart is the food that we eat to celebrate the event with: deep-fried goodies such as oliebollen or deep-fried dough balls (presumably the predecessor of the American donut), deep-fried apple slices (appelbeignets)and many other goodies that are available from stands around town or made at home that help us slide into the new year with a greasy grin and a full belly.

One of those golden, deep-fried beauties that shows up in every older Dutch recipes cookbook is the so-called "sneeuwbal", or snowball. A deep-fried (what else?) puffy ball of dough, studded with raisins and candied fruits, filled with whipped cream and dusted with powdered sugar, used to be standard fare for the New Year's celebration, cozily sharing a platter with the formerly mentioned oliebollen and appelbeignets. In later Dutch cookbooks, the sneeuwballen are no longer mentioned.

And I am *not* surprised! This is the third year I try to make these things and I've just about given up. For some reason I just can't get them to puff up in the hot oil and instead of snowballs, I get lumps. Ugly, squishy, heavy, oily lumps, no matter how low I turn the heat. So, as so many times before, I re-read all the recipes in the cookbooks, went back online, and re-read every possible online snowball recipe to see what I could have missed. I just about started to suspect that nobody had actually ever made these themselves but just copied the recipe ad nauseam, until I came across a short video from nobody else but Cees Holtkamp. Yes, that Cees Holtkamp, possibly the most famous patissier in Holland.

And guess what? Instead of deep-frying them, he bakes them, just like Bossche Bollen or bananensoezen. He must have had no luck with frying them either, is my guess. (Just kidding, Mr. Holtkamp, just kidding!!) So if Cees bakes them, so can I! Problem solved and pride a tad less damaged. Here we go!

Sneeuwballen
1 cup of water
4 tablespoons of butter
1 cup of flour
4 eggs
Pinch of salt

1 tablespoon of candied fruit mix
1 tablespoon of raisins

16 oz of heavy whipping cream
2 tablespoons of powdered sugar

Bring the water, butter and salt to a boil. Pour the flour in and stir until the flour comes together in a ball, and clings to the spoon. Take the pan off the stove and stir in the eggs, one at a time, until the dough is shiny and has absorbed all the egg. Carefully fold in the candied fruit mix and the raisins.

Preheat the oven to 375F. On a silicone mat or on parchment paper on a baking sheet, place large heaps of batter, or pipe them. This will make 12 medium size puffs or 6 large ones.

Bake them for twenty five minutes or until golden and puffy. In the meantime, beat the whipping cream stiff with four tablespoons of powedered sugar. When the puffs have cooled, fill a pastry bag with a star tip with the whipped cream, insert the tip in the bottom and fill the snowballs up with whipped cream.

Sprinkle with plenty of powdered sugar and serve.


Wishing everybody a wonderful, healthy and fun filled 2012!

Gelukkig Nieuwjaar!!!!!!



Thursday, December 22, 2011

Appelstroop

Appelstroop, or apple syrup, is one of those condiments or ingredients that make Dutch food Dutch. Spreadable like a thick molasses, appelstroop is made from reducing apple juice with other sugars until it thickens into a dark, gooey, thick syrup. A variety of products exist: rinse appelstroop is made from appels and sugarbeets, delivering a sweet and slightly tart (rinse) flavor, a sweeter stroop made with apples and pears (where pears contribute to a higher sugar content) and one that's consumed further down south which is an apple/pear/date stroop. All three delectable for using on toast, pancakes or rabbit or beef stews.  


Appelstroop
3 cups of apple juice or apple cider
1 cup of sugar
2 tablespoons of dark molasses

Stir the sugar into the apple juice and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer for the next twenty minutes. When the liquid has been reduced to about half, start monitoring the temperature with a candy thermometer. As soon as the syrup has reached 235F, take the pan off the stove. Let it cool, stir in the molasses and serve with the pancakes. This appelstroop, when still warm, is not as thick as the commercial product but will thicken when refrigerated. The flavor is very close to the original. Makes one cup.

Kerstkonijn

Traditional Christmas diners in Holland tend to follow a certain pattern: a shrimp or seafood cocktail to start with, followed by a soup (either clear or cream), the main dish accompanied by wintery vegetables like red cabbage, Brussels sprouts, potatoes in some way, shape or form and finished with ice cream and fruit or stewed pears with hangop. Past diner, coffee with bonbons is served and sometimes even a small "borrel", such as Dutch gin, or something sweeter for the ladies.
Nowadays, this pattern can vary. As we've become more casual with festive holidays, some people replace the whole dinner rigmarole with their favorite foods. In some of the forums online, many have confessed to just making boerenkool met worst, a typical Dutch kale and mashed potato dish with kielbasa. And why not? Christmas is after all what you make it. But in traditional settings, and on the menu of Dutch restaurants that offer a multiple course diner on Christmas Day, you'll find a similar pattern as the one described above. The main course is often wild, or game meat: venison, deer, or smaller game like hare or rabbit.

Rabbit for me is the ultimate Christmas dish. For as long as I can remember, Christmas dinner consisted of a sweet and tangy rabbit dish my grandma Pauline used to make. It was something we all looked forward to, every year, as it's usually not a dish that's served any other time of the year. We all used to gather at her home in Limburg and on Christmas morning, that sweet tangy smell would emanate from the kitchen, and all would be well.

Grandma Pauline is no longer with us, so we're all spending our holidays elsewhere. Since I'm spending Christmas at home this year, here in the United States, I wanted to make sure I found some rabbit to keep the tradition going. Several years ago it was more difficult to find, but slowly our meat selections are changing: goat, lamb and also rabbit are now easier to find than before. Call around to some of your local butchers to see if someone carries rabbit. 
Ofcourse rabbit during Christmas conjures up images of sad little children and eating pets. Youp van 't Hek, a Dutch comedian, once wrote a song called Flappie, about a boy whose rabbit went missing on Christmas Day. Father urged him to stay away from the shed and later, during Christmas dinner while serving the meat, callously remarked that Flappie was found after all. The next day, the little boy urges his mom to stay away from the shed when she comes looking for her husband. A recognizable story (the rabbit part), especially during the difficult war times, with a gruesome twist.

So yesterday, I was in my kitchen cutting up this animal. It was a little unnerving because neither the head nor the tail was on this pink carcass. Enough for my mother to venture the thought that perhaps it was cat after all: it was not unheard of during the war years to buy "rabbit" in the stores and have a diminishing feline population at the same time. These pieces of meat were called "roof rabbits" among the people in the know...... Anyway, back to the bunny. The main meat on the rabbit is going to be the legs. The front legs are easily cut as they are not attached to the main body. Cut the saddle (the rabbit bacon) on the side, and remove the rib cage and the pelvis. Cut the hind legs off, just like you do with a chicken, half the loin part and you're good to go. 

For those of you that have never had rabbit....it tastes a little bit like chicken. Seriously.

Christmas Rabbit
1 medium sized rabbit, approx. 3 lbs
2 cups of water, divided
2 cups of red wine vinegar
2 bay leaves
10 black peppercorns
3 cloves
1 large size onion, peeled and sliced thin
3 tablespoons of butter
1/3 cup of brown sugar or appelstroop
1 tablespoon flour
1/3 cup of water
salt
pepper

Cut the rabbit up. Make sure you remove small bones or splinters before cooking the meat, they can be nasty.

Add the water, vinegar, bay leaves, peppercorns, cloves and slices of onion to a large bowl and add the pieces of meat. Cover and refrigerate overnight.

The next day, take the meat out of the marinade and pat it dry with some paper towels. Heat two tablespoons of butter in a Dutch oven and quickly brown the meat on all sides. Remove from the pan, brown the onions and add the meat back in. Pour the marinade over the meat but keep the peppercorns behind, they are a pain to remove once the sauce is made. Bring to a boil, turn low and simmer for about 30 minutes. Remove the meat from the pan, scrape all the brown bits from the bottom of the pan and add the appelstroop or brown sugar and the second cup of water if needed. Bind the sauce with a tablespoon of flour and 1/3 cup water, taste and adjust with salt and pepper. Add the meat back to the sauce and simmer for another hour or until the meat is tender to the point where it falls off the bone.

Serve with boiled potatoes or pommes duchesse and red cabbage. Zalig Kerstfeest, everyone!


Sunday, December 18, 2011

Kruidnoten

Several seasonal events are announced by the arrival of traditional foods on the supermarket shelves. Chocolate eggs mark the beginning of the Easter season, and Vlaggetjesdag is initiated by the catching of the first herring. But nothing prepares us for this month of December, with its Sinterklaas, Christmas and New Year celebrations, as the smell of speculaas from the bakeries and the sight of pepernoten at the store.  Peppernuts show up as early as mid-September, three full months before the good-hearted Saint Nicholas has even set foot on shore. And with it, also appears another event: the yearly, and sometimes heated, discussion on the difference between peppernuts and spice nuts.

Pepernoten (pepper nuts) and Kruidnoten (spice nuts) are very different from each other: pepernoten are the chewy, taai-taai-esque square pieces of brick that break your teeth, kruidnoten are the round, crunchy peppery speculaas-type cookies that Zwarte Piet throws around. Throwing pepernoten is not encouraged!

Until recently, the difference between kruidnoten and pepernoten was clear to everyone. But, as the edibility of the pepernoten became more and more challenging, and the crunchy tenderness of the kruidnoten gained terrain, pepernoten became the new name for kruidnoten. Still with me? Even packaging, marketing and nowadays the common user calls it pepernoten, except for the purists. And they are very vocal about it!

When I first wrote an article on this treat for Dutch the magazine, the editor emailed me back and asked whether the recipe I was submitting was for kruidnoten or pepernoten. Good question, and I am glad he asked. I called it pepernoten, but the recipe was clearly for kruidnoten.

Anyway....if you choose to share these and call them pepernoten, you'll know soon enough whom of your friends is a peppernut purist. You've been warned!! :-)

Kruidnoten
1 cup of self-rising flour
¾ cup of brown sugar
1 egg
1 teaspoon of ground aniseed
2 teaspoons of cinnamon
1 teaspoon of white pepper
1 teaspoon of salt
½ teaspoon of ginger
2 tablespoons of butter

Knead everything together into a stiff dough. You may have to add a tablespoon or two of water if it's too stiff. Wrap and rest the dough in the fridge, preferably overnight but at least for a couple of hours to let the flavors blend.

Roll small pieces of dough into little balls and place them on parchment paper or a silicone mat on a baking sheet and slightly press them down. Because of the self-rising flour they will puff up a bit.

Bake them at 400F in about 15 minutes until nicely browned. Let them cool on a rack. Mix with chocolate coins, and hard candy to make an excellent "throw mix" for Zwarte Pieten!




Sunday, December 11, 2011

Borstplaat

You know that the special holiday season, starting with Sinterklaas, is approaching when a series of traditional sugary sweets start showing up in the local bakeries, with coffee at work or if your best friend shows up with "iets lekkers" (something tasty) in a small bag at your appointed tea time.

Enamel-chipping sweet, borstplaat is one of those traditional candies. Fabricated purely from sugar and water, and sometimes a splash of heavy cream for good measure, borstplaat is one of the sweetest confections around. And, honesty dictates me to say, also one of the most addictive ones. Thankfully, it only shows up around the holidays, so you get your fill, vow to never, ever eat another piece of borstplaat again and after about a week wait impatiently wait till next year until you see those innocent-looking, cute little figurines or sugar hearts in the bakery's shop window again......

Thankfully (or not, as the case may be), this sweet candy is easy to make at home. Furthermore, it allows you to be creative with flavors, shapes and dimensions, so the sky is the limit. Traditional tastes encourage strawberry, coffee and a lighter cream flavor, but as soon as you have the hang of making this lovely sweet, you can pull out all stops and go for gold: how about banana flavor, almond, chocolate, caramel, peppermint, coconut? The grocery store offers many varieties of flavorings, natural or otherwise, that you can stir in and make your own personal batch of borstplaat. Try flavored lemonade powders, coffee creamers or basic materials such as instant coffee or Dutch cocoa powder.


The molds used in the photograph are old-fashioned borstplaat molds that belonged to my grandmother Pauline. The metal mold is held together by a small pin: after the sugar cools, you remove the pin, carefully separate the legs of the heart and the candy un-molds from the metal. As it takes a while for the candy to set, it is not easy to push it out of the mold without it breaking.

If you cannot find these molds, try using silicone candy molds, or pouring the borstplaat on a slightly buttered piece of parchment paper, let it set until almost hardened and cut out shapes with cookie cutters. It takes a try or two to know when the borstplaat is still soft enough to be cut but not too hard to break, so don't be afraid to give it a try. And if you miss the deadline, no worries. Break the borstplaat into edible chunks and call it good, it's all about the flavor!

Borstplaat
1 cup of white sugar
3 tablespoons of milk, water or heavy cream
Flavoring
Butter
Molds
Parchment paper

Lightly grease the molds and set them on top of slightly greased parchment paper on a baking sheet. Heat the sugar with the milk, water or heavy cream in a saucepan. Bring to a boil and stir until the sugar gets "woolly", about five minutes. Dip a fork into the mix; if the sugar forms a sheet on the tines, it's ready to be poured.

Take the sugar off the stove, mix in two drops of vanilla extract, stir and count to five. Now pour the hot sugary mix into the molds. Let it rest for thirty minutes, then carefully see if you can tip the molds on the side so that the bottom can cool and dry. When the candy feels hardened enough (it is difficult to say how long it takes as each kitchen is different, but give it a good another thirty minutes), carefully take the pin out of the mold and separate the sides. If you use silicone molds, see if it will allow you to unmold at this time without breaking. If not, eat the evidence and wait a little longer for the other ones :-)

Let the candy cool on a rack until dry. Keep in a jar or tin that closes well: extreme moisture will make this candy crumbly and soft.






Sunday, December 4, 2011

Slagroomtaart - We vieren feest!

Hieperdepiephoera!! We're celebrating today's 100th post on The Dutch Table with an authentic Dutch slagroomtaart, or whipped cream cake. The name itself already suggests reckless abandon, from a Calvinistic perspective, but what can I say? Today is a special day and in good Dutch tradition, any reason is a good excuse to bring out the coffee, some cake and enjoy the company of friends.

Slagroomtaart is THE birthday cake par excellence. It has a very light and airy batter, and is hard to find outside of the Netherlands. It's an easy cake to bake, and a fun one to decorate. Traditionally you will find fruits and chocolate on top, and nougatine, candied nuts, on the side. Since those last ones are hard to find here in the United States, we're making them, it doesn't take long.

Slagroomtaart
For the cake:
4 eggs
3/4 cup of sugar
3/4 cup of all-purpose flour
1/4 cup of corn starch
Chocolate, fruits for decorating

For the whipped cream
2 cups of heavy whipping cream
1/2 cup of powdered sugar

For the nougatine
1 cup of dry roasted peanuts
3/4 cup of sugar
3 tablespoons of water

Preheat the oven to 320F. Butter and flour a 9 inch spring form.

Beat the four eggs and the sugar at high speed until it's tripled its volume and is light yellow, full of air and falls off the beater in a thick ribbon. Sift the flour and the corn starch together and carefully fold it into the airy batter. Pour it into the mold and place it in the oven. Bake for about 30 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean when inserted in the center.

Let the cake cool.  In the meantime, chop the peanuts into small pieces or pulse it several times in the food processor. Take a heavy bottomed pan, and add the sugar and the water. Bring it to a boil and keep stirring until the sugary mixture caramelizes and has a nice, dark golden color to it. Remove from the stove, add in the chopped peanuts and stir them quickly, making sure all the peanuts are coated. Spread the thick layer on a piece of parchment, a marble top or a silicone mat and let it cool. When cooled down, you can use a rolling pin to break it into small pieces, leaving you with caramel coated peanut pieces.

Whip the cream with the powdered sugar and transfer half of it to a piping bag with a big star tip.

Slice the cake in half lengthwise. Spread a generous amount of whipping cream on the bottom half and replace the top. Now cover the rest of the cake in whipping cream with a spatula, making sure you don't miss any spots.

Balancing the cake on the palm of one hand, cup a handful of nougatine in the other hand and apply it to the side of the cake. Rotate a bit and press some more onto the side until the cake is covered. This takes a bit of practice and maybe an extra set of hands.

Place the cake on a serving tray or pedestal and pipe big rosettes all around the outside rim, and another smaller circle in the middle. Fill the rest up with smaller rosettes or ribbons, however you see fit.

Dry off the decorating fruit (pineapple slices, kiwi, strawberries, maraschino cherries, mandarin oranges.....), and start making up the cake. Usually each rosette receives a piece of fruit, or every other one. Add the chocolate (balls, fans, sprinkles....) for a finishing touch and ready is your cake!!!

Best chilled and eaten the same day, with a cup of hot coffee and in good company. I know I'm in good company with all of you, so I'm helping myself to a large piece. Thank you all for these fantastic first 100 posts, there are many more to follow!!



Sunday, November 27, 2011

Bakleverworst

My grandpa Tinus always loved old-fashioned, hearty farm food: liverwurst, blood sausages, balkenbrij.... all those wintery, solid foods that for many of us belong to a different era. It is food that is not readily available at the butcher shop or grocery store anymore, except for a few artisan butchers that still take pride in producing local, traditional, old-fashioned products. But the other day, I ran into a lady of Dutch descent who told me that each year, she and her sisters make balkenbrij, another one of those offal dishes, for Christmas, at home. Much to the horror of everybody else, but they love it and enjoy the process of making and baking it.

The old days of home hog butchering and using up all the goodies is far removed from many of us, and we flinch at the thought of grinding up livers, chopping up kidneys or stirring buckets of blood into flour in order to make bakleverworst, balkenbrij or Dutch boudin, bloedworst. But there is nothing wrong with reaching back to the cooking of our grandparents, or great grandparents. Their cooking was honest, solid, and tasty. Remember, they didn't have all the fancy entertainment options we have nowadays, so food was something everybody looked forward to and was often a source of bringing people together.

One of those by-product foods is liverwurst, or leverworst. The Dutch like their leverworst and purchase it in a variety of options: as a soft, spreadable Braunschweiger-like leverworst for the lunch sandwich, a harder and sliceable ring-shaped leverworst as a cold snack, or in chunks and pickled in huge vats of vinegar (zure leverworst) and available from your local patatkraam or neighborhood fry shop. A not so familiar one is the bakleverworst, a solid liverwurst that you cut in thick slices, dip in flour and fry up in some butter. It's good eaten cold, after being fried, or warm on a slice of bread.

Embrace your inner grandparent and decide that this winter you are going to venture out and try some of these old traditional dishes from long ago. They are easy to make, and easy to keep.

Bakleverworst
2 lb pork liver
2 lb pork shoulder
5 slices of thick sliced smoked bacon
1 onion
1 tablespoon salt
2 teaspoons ground cloves
2 teaspoons ground white pepper
1 bouillon cube
1/2 cup flour

Bring a large pot with water to a boil, add the bouillon cube or stock and lower to a simmer. Cut the liver and meat into cubes and simmer in the stock for fifteen minutes.

Grind the meat, batch for batch, in a food processor or meat grinder. Depending on whether you want a coarser grind or finer grind, you may have to put the meat through several times. I processed it twice to get a finer texture.

Chop the bacon into small dice and mix through the meat, add the spices and the flour. Mix together. Add a tablespoon of cooking liquid at a time to get a mixture moist enough to be malleable but still solid.
Measure out about 22 oz per sausage, a little bit more or less doesn't matter, just make sure they all have the same weight.

Place a piece of plastic food film on the counter, form the sausage and place it in the middle, lengthwise. Now take the ends of the film and tighten them up, rolling the sausage back and forth on the counter, until it's the right shape. Tighten a knot on each end, cut off the remaining film and wrap in another piece of food film, now wrapping it width-wise. Finish with wrapping each sausage lengthwise again, tying off the knots (see picture) and cutting the remaining film.

Bring a large pan with water to a boil, and place the sausages in the water. Make sure that all wrappings are watertight. Leave it simmering for an hour, remove and shock the liverwurst by placing it in a tray with ice cold water. Let it rest until cold (thirty minutes), unwrap and pat each sausage dry. Rewrap, and refrigerate or freeze for later use.

The next day, slice thick slices from the refrigerated liverwurst, dip them in flour and fry them brown and crispy on the outside. Butter a slice of bread, add the bakleverworst and yum!!! Good old fashioned winter food, love it!!





Sunday, November 20, 2011

Bruine Bonensoep

"I don't pray for brown beans," little Bart said, pulling his plate away when his mother tried to serve him his dinner. Young Bart Bartels is not alone: few like the brown beans served as a vegetable because of its mushy texture. But put these tan pulses in a soup and you'll find that the texture contributes to a hearty, thick, wonderful stew. The typical Dutch brown cooking beans called "bruine bonen", or in Bartje's dialect from Drenthe, "bruune boon'n", are not available in the United States unless home-grown or purchased from a Dutch store.

Bartje was the main character in two books written by the author Anne de Vries, during the mid nineteen thirties. Bartje is a young boy who lives in a rural village in the province of Drenthe, in Holland's north-east. Brown beans were standard fare for the poor and during one episode, he refuses to say grace, as he's sick and tired of eating them. Needless to say, this earns him some spanking!

You will not encounter such rebellious behavior at the table when you serve this brown bean soup. If you're not able to find any, this soup will also work well with pinto or pink beans.

Bruine Bonensoep
2 cups of beans, dry
1 bay leaf
1 medium size onion, peeled
3 cloves, whole
1 leek, sliced
2 sprigs of fresh thyme
1 small onion, diced
1/2 cup of diced celeriac root
2 potatoes, peeled and diced
1 carrot, peeled and diced
1 handful of celery leaves, chopped
2 tomatoes, diced
4 slices of bacon, diced
1 Kielbasa or 10 smokies
Salt
Pepper

Wash, rinse and soak the beans the night before in sufficient water. The next day, drain, rinse and add to a cooking pot with enough water to cover the beans. Poke the cloves in the whole peeled onion, take the bay leaf and the thyme and add these items to the pot. Cover and bring to a boil, then turn down to a simmer and cook the beans until done. This may take up to an hour or two, depending on the age of the beans.

When the beans are done, dispose of the onion, cloves, bay leaf and thyme sprigs. Take out two cups of cooked beans. Purée the rest of the beans. You may have to add some water or stock if the soup is too thick at this point. Add the remaining fresh vegetables and the bacon to the soup, and simmer for another twenty minutes. Add the kielbasa or the smokies after that until they're hot, and stir in the two cups of beans you've set aside earlier. If you're using kielbasa, remove it after ten minutes, slice it in thick chunks, then return the meat to the soup.



Taste, adjust with pepper and salt if needed, and serve hot with thick slices of whole wheat buttered bread. 

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Koffiebroodjes

Coffee and pastries, pastries and coffee.....there is always a good reason to sit down, enjoy a cup of coffee and select a pastry to compliment the beverage. The Dutch love their pastries, sweet rolls and slices of cake, and a sticky, sweet, raisin and pudding filled koffiebroodje is a favorite of many. Koffiebroodjes, or coffee rolls, as they are called, are covered with a sweet glaze. Sometimes the glaze is a powdered sugar base, sometimes an apricot jam one. This recipe showcases the latter.
Koffiebroodjes are available at local bakeries and supermarkets. With all the variety there is to chose from, the koffiebroodje has a little bit of an old-fashioned feel to it, but it doesn't make it any less appetizing. Instead of using pastry cream, I used a ready-to-use box of vanilla pudding. For a pastry cream recipe, look here.
Usually eaten at 11:00am on the coffee break or visit with the buuf, the neighbor lady, koffiebroodjes are easy to make, and great to share!
Koffiebroodjes
1/3 cup of raisins
1.5 cup of milk, lukewarm
2 teaspoons of active dry yeast
3.5 cups of flour
1/2 stick of butter, room temperature
5 tablespoons of sugar
1 splash of vanilla
1 teaspoon salt
1 egg
For the cream
1 package of French vanilla pudding
1/3 cup of sour cream
For the glaze
2 tablespoons of apricot jam
1 tablespoon of warm water

Soak the raisins in warm water and set aside. Proof the yeast in the milk. Mix the flour with the sugar, then add the proofed yeast and milk, and mix together. Add the salt, the egg, the butter and the splash of vanilla and knead together into a supple dough. Cover and proof until doubled in size.

In the meantime, mix the pudding with half the required amount of liquid on the package. Stir in the sour cream.
Roll the dough out into a square, 12 x 12 inches approximately. Spread the vanilla pudding on the dough, leaving all sides uncovered. Sprinkle the raisins over the pudding. Now take the furthest end of the dough and roll it up towards you. Place it seam down and divide the roll into equal slices, of about an inch to an inch and a half wide.

Place the slices, cut side down on a silicone mat or parchment paper on a baking sheet. Cover and proof for at least twenty minutes or until the dough is puffy. Heat the oven to 350F and bake the rolls golden brown in 25 minutes or until done.

Mix the apricot jam with the warm water and brush the rolls when they come out of the oven. Brush them again when they've slightly cooled. Serve warm if possible.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Slavinken

Slavink, loosely translated as beat finch or lettuce finch, is one of the several ready-to-prepare foods that are available at the butcher store or in the meat department of a grocery store in Holland. It is also one of the more traditional meat options for lunch or dinner.

Slavink is a variation on the blinde vink, or blind finch, another meat product. Why these birds were chosen to name these products is not entirely sure, although it is thought that the size and roundness of the product reminds one of a small bird. Okay. It is true that in medieval times, out of sheer hunger, people would eat any bird they would catch, and I am sure finches were among the bounty, but more money could be made with selling the songbird to more affluent citizens.

To this day, vinkenzettingen, or finch singing competitions, are held in parts of Flanders, Holland and parts of Germany and France. The amount of songs the birds sing in an hour are counted and whomever had more songs wins. In the early days of these competitions, the birds would have their sight taken away to keep them from getting distracted and stop singing. This would be done rather cruelly. Later on, the cages would be "blinded" instead.

Another, more plausible explanation is the fact that the slavink was created by butcher Ton Spoelder, third generation butcher who opened a butcher store in Laren in 1951. Ton Spoelder decided, with Dutch practicality, that the cost of meat would reduce greatly if customers would come to the store to purchase their meat instead of having a fleet of young delivery boys running all over town. His innovative ideas were not only applied to store management, but also to developing new products, one of which was the slavink. It is thought that the name is an abbreviation of "slager's vink", butcher's finch.

Either way, you'll much prefer this meatroll to a itty-bitty feathery finch on your plate. The slavink, nor blinde vink, at the butcher's is not a bird: it is a small meatroll, wrapped in either bacon (slavink) or veal (blinde vink).

You can use bacon or pancetta for the slavink: the bacon used in Holland is not smoked so unless you can find fresh pork somewhere, select a bacon that is not overly smokey for best practices. I like to use a thicker sliced bacon and pound it flat between cling film to make the wrapping easier.

Slavinken
8 oz ground beef
8 oz ground pork
5 slices of bacon
2 tablespoons of bread crumbs
2 tablespoons of milk
Salt
Pepper
Nutmeg
1 tablespoon of butter

Mix the ground beef with the ground pork, and season to taste with the salt, pepper and nutmeg. Knead in the breadcrumbs and the milk, and divide into five equal portions. Roll into small logs, approximately 3 1/2 inches long.

Place one side of the bacon on one end of the log and wrap the bacon around it. Leave the ends exposed. Roll the meat a couple of times with the palm of your hand to tighten it up. After you've done all five rolls, cover and refrigerate for about thirty minutes.

Retrieve the slavinken from the fridge about ten minutes before you are getting ready to cook them. Melt the butter in a frying pan. Place the slavinken carefully in the pan. Cook them on low-medium heat to avoid scorching the bacon. Turn them around, carefully, and cook the other sides, until all side are golden brown.

Remove the meat rolls from the pan, return it to the stove and stir in half a cup of water or a tablespoon or two of tomato ketchup, scraping the bottom of the pan to loosen up all the crunchy bits.

Serve with boiled potatoes and a vegetable. Pour some of the pan gravy over the potatoes so they mash nicely.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Pannenkoeken met appelstroop

Previously published in Dutch, issue 1

Fall is a significant time for the Dutch, especially if you’re at the age where you are still going to school. Holland’s summer vacation is fairly short ( if you get to have any summer at all) and before you know it, you’re back in the schoolbanken, agonizing over homework, teachers and hoping your bike hasn’t been stolen while you were in class. 

Thankfully Fall brings a well-deserved break, in the shape of a highly coveted one week vacation called herfstvakantie, or fall vacation. School’s out during that time and families undertake one last fun activity before the winter weather kicks in and reduces outside life to a minimum.  

Herfstvakanties are usually spent outside the home, weather permitting, on a day trip to a theme park such as the Efteling, a weeklong visit with grandma and grandpa, or a trip to the North Sea islands. But regardless of where you go, or with whom, you know that at least once during that week you are going to get treated to that typical Dutch kids favorite: pannekoeken!

Thin, flavorful and as-big-as-your-plate pancakes are a special treat, especially for kids, and are often the food of choice for children’s birthday parties or special occasions. Whole restaurants, called pannekoekenhuisjes (pancake houses), are dedicated to just that: offering a large variety of pancakes and toppings to please everybody’s tastebuds. The décor of these restaurants is usually rural Dutch: lots of white and red checkered tablecloths, big wooden tables and chairs and with an overall farm-feel to it.

But pancakes are not just for kids. For adults, pannekoeken also are a traditional Dutch meal: studded with chunks of apple, pieces of bacon or covered with a layer of melted aged Gouda cheese, these large flapcakes are a quick and affordable substitute for an evening meal. Unlike in the United States and Canada, pancakes are not part of the breakfast tradition in Holland and are more suited for dinner. Whereas kids usually prefer the batter made with white flour, recipes for grown-up pancakes will often mention buckwheat, whole wheat or a mixture of both.

The most traditional choice is pannekoek met appelstroop, pancake with apple syrup, a tangy dark sugary spread made out of apple juice. The dark stroop is spread over the whole surface of the pannekoek, after which it is rolled up and either eaten as a wrap, or cut into bite size pieces and consumed with knife and fork. Other popular toppings are peanut butter, chocolate sprinkles, jam, powdered sugar or just plain. As the batter does not contain any sugar, the pancake can be eaten either as a savory option or as a sweet one.

Keeping Dutch tradition, most people will usually eat a savory pancake first, followed by one with a sweet topping. Often, slices of apple or bacon will be fried and then incorporated into a pancake, or chopped preserved ginger or fresh fruit is stirred right into the batter.

Pannekoeken
3 cups of self-rising flour
2 teaspoons of salt
2 eggs
6 cups of milk, divided
1 stick of butter, divided

Stir the flour and salt together, and then add three cups of milk and the eggs. Beat until the batter is smooth and thin with the remaining milk. Melt six tablespoons of butter and stir this into the pancake batter. You are looking for a pourable batter.

Heat a 12 inch skillet, add in ½ tablespoon of butter. As soon as the butter is melted (but not browned), take the skillet off the stove, pour in half a cup of batter and swirl the skillet so that the whole bottom surface is covered with a thin layer. Put the skillet back on the stove, and carefully bake the pancake until the surface is dry. Then flip or turn the pancake over and cook the other side.
Stack the pancakes as you go and cover them with a clean kitchen tea towel while you bake the rest. Serve with a variety of toppings, both sweet and savory, such as peanut butter, cheese, jam, fruit jams, bacon or sugar. Makes about ten large pancakes.

Appelstroop
3 cups of apple juice or apple cider
1 cup of sugar
2 tablespoons of dark molasses

Stir the sugar into the apple juice and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer for the next twenty minutes. When the liquid has been reduced to about half, start monitoring the temperature with a candy thermometer. As soon as the syrup has reached 235F, take the pan off the stove. Let it cool, stir in the molasses and serve with the pancakes. This appelstroop, when still warm, is not as thick as the commercial product but will thicken when refrigerated. The flavor is very close to the original. Makes one cup.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Karnemelkpudding

Holland is dairy country par excellence. Much of that lactic largesse is reflected in its vast assortment of cheeses ofcourse, a product so closely associated with The Netherlands that its inhabitants are often referred to as "cheese heads" or kaaskop. But the dairy domination does not stop at the cheesemonger. Besides yogurt, ice cream and chocolate milk, the dessert section at the grocery store holds a huge variety of puddings, pourable custards (vla), drink yogurts, cream cheese, mousse and bavaroise, all made with delectable Dutch milk.

The pourable vla is a typical Dutch product, with the consistency and mouthfeel of yogurt but without the tang, and served in over twenty flavors: vanilla, chocolate, caramel, strawberry, banana, raspberry, apple-cinnamon, coffee....you name it. We'll do a separate chapter on vlas alone one of these days!

But one dairy product does not usually jump out at anybody for its mouthfeel, for its flavor or even for its innovative character: it's the slighly snubbed, often overlooked karnemelk, or buttermilk. The slightly sour taste, the viscosity of the milk and sometimes even the smell, will put many off.

Karnemelk is the milk that is left over after the cream has been removed for butter. It's slightly sour and a little thicker than milk and is most often used for baking with: the slight acidity is an excellent trigger for a leavener such as baking powder. In the older days, buttermilk was used as a beverage and for the poorest of people, as a substitute for meat gravy on their potatoes. In the more rural areas of Holland you will still find that some older farmers pour buttermilk over their potatoes before they prak, or mash, them.

From probably those same days stems an old-fashioned dessert called buttermilk pudding, or karnemelkpudding. Easy to make, the hardest part is going to exercise the patience to wait until its ready to eat: the pudding requires a minimum of four hours in the refrigerator, and even better overnight. It's a creamy, airy, slightly tangy with a sweet undertone pudding and goes very well with sweet fresh fruit such as strawberries or for a more wintery dish, try a jar of sweet dark cherries to pair this dessert with.

Karnemelkpudding
1/2 cup of sugar
1/4 cup of water
2 envelopes of gelatin powder
2 1/2 cups of buttermilk
1 cup of heavy whipping cream
2 heaping tablespoons of powdered sugar

Add the sugar and the water to a small saucepan and stir, over medium heat, until the sugar has dissolved. Take it off the stove, sprinkle in one envelope of gelatin powder until the powder has dissolved and slowly pour in the buttermilk. Stir until everything is well mixed and set it to the side to cool.

In a separate bowl, whip the cream with the sugar and the second package of gelatin powder until stiff peaks form. Fold the whipped cream in with the buttermilk until they are blended. Rinse a pudding form (either a large one, or several small ones) with cold water and pour the pudding mix into the mold. Cover with plastic film and refrigerate for a good four to five hours minimum, better overnight.

To remove the pudding from the mold, set the mold in a pan with hot water for ten seconds, then tip over on a plate. Decorate with fresh or canned fruit.


Sunday, October 16, 2011

Gerookte Makreel

Mackerel and I don't have the best of relationships. My first encounter with this fatty finned food was while fishing one day on the North Sea, many years ago. It was cold, it was windy and trying to get those slippery fish off the hook while they void their vent on you is a hassle and a half. Not my idea of a fun afternoon, mind you, and I venture to say not the mackerel's either.

Last week, many years after our first date, we met again, mackerel and I. Not anywhere near the North Sea, but in the freezer department of a local grocery store. There it was, immediately recognizable by its distinct silver and dark blue pattern, but slightly less agitated than last time. Well, quite a bit less agitated actually, because it was frozen stiff.

The Dutch traditionally don't smoke many of their foods for preservation or flavor: rookworst (smoked kielbasa), rookvlees (thinly sliced smoked sandwich meat, made from either beef or horse), rookkaas (smoked cheese) are just about it. But visit any fish monger worth his weight and you will find smoked mackerel, smoked eel and smoked herring (bokking) as part of the assortment. Whether as a sandwich filling or as a fatty snack by itself, both mackerel and eel are Dutch favorites when it comes to fish.

Fatty fish are great sources for Omega-3 fatty acids and two portions a week are said to do you much good. Both eel and mackerel are fatty fish and a little bit goes a long way. A one pound mackerel will probably serve three to four easily. Do serve it with either a bread and butter pickle or a pickle spear, to cut through the fat.

*Caution: fatty fish are much more prone to spoilage. As soon as the fish has thawed, gut it and put in in a salt bath, per recipe's instructions. The salt will flavor the meat but also kill any possible pathogens. Brine it for at least three hours, or even better if you can leave it soaking overnight in the fridge.

For this dish you need a smokehouse or smoker. I purchased a Little Chief smoker and used apple chips to smoke the fish. Keep the temperature at an even 150F for the duration of the process: mackerel should be ready in about an hour and a half.

Gerookte Makreel
2 mackerel
Salt
Water
4 handfuls of apple chips

Thaw the fish in the refrigerator, or in the sink under running water. In the meantime, prepare a salt water solution (1 cup of table salt on sixteen cups of water) with enough water to cover both fish.

Lay the fish on its side, and cut open the belly with a short sharp knife from the vent to the gills. Carefully reach inside and pull out all the organs and the digestive tract. Cut out the gills. Rinse out the cavity and the head, and lay the fish in the salt water brine.

Keep the fish submerged in the brine for at least three hours, but if you can brine them overnight in the fridge, even better. The next day, rinse the fish and pat them dry. Insert a sausage hook (I used the metal hooks from a bungee cord) into the back of the head of the fish. 

Fire up your smoker. In the meantime, hang the fish somewhere where they are covered, out of the elements but with some kind of airflow. A small fan might just do the trick. Smoke does not penetrate into wet meats, so the drier the fish, the better the smoke flavor.

Hang the mackerel in your smoker, put the lid back on and get smoking! Mackerel has a distinct flavor of its own and apple will give a tender, non-dominant smoke flavor to the fish, but you are welcome to experiment with any other flavors, or stick to your favorite.

Remove the mackerel when they're golden and done, roll them separately in aluminum foil, and let them rest for an hour. If you want to eat them warm (and who doesn't!!), cut off the head and the tail, and carefully break open the fish by inserting your thumbs into the belly cavity. Remove the spines and the skin, and break the remaining meat into large chunks.

Serve as such, on a buttered roll with a pickle, or cold on some crackers as a snack or appetizer.



Saturday, October 8, 2011

Beschuit met muisjes

I'm in such a celebratory mood! A new magazine has seen the light, a new publication dedicated to all things Dutch, and I've just received the first issue. To celebrate this new "birth", I'm enjoying a cup of coffee and two beschuit met muisjes while reading Dutch. I'm especially pleased because the publisher accepted my article for publication, a full four page feature with recipes and pictures!

In Holland, the birth of a child is celebrated with beschuit, a twice baked white roll that is as brittle and fragile as a new-born baby. Depending on the outcome, these rusks are buttered and sprinkled with pink muisjes if it's a girl, and blue muisjes if it's a boy. As it's usually either one or the other, only those two color variations exist for the sugar coated aniseed muisjes, or "mice". That is, unless you're royalty. In that case, the beschuit will be covered with orange muisjes, to represent the Dutch royal house, the Oranges.

Beschuit has been around since the early 1400s: the then bishop of Utrecht is said to already have enjoyed the twice baked bread. During the 1600s, the city of Wormer made a name for itself with its beschuit, a finer table bread, and more delicate than its sturdier sister, the scheepsbeschuit or hardtack, that was produced for the seafaring population of that area. The popularity of both had, at one point, over 150 grain mills delivering the flour needed to produce all those beschuiten.

Nowadays, beschuit is still a favorite breakfast bread: it requires skill to butter the rusk without it breaking in three or four pieces and plenty of tourists has wondered why on earth the Dutch bother with something so dry and brittle if there are so many other breads to choose from.

But beschuit is one of those foods that triggers memories: softened with warm milk and sugar it becomes grandma's lammetjespap (lambs porridge), crushed to fine crumbs it holds together that lovely schoenlapperstaart (cobbler's pie) or those famous Dutch meatballs, and if you were sick as a child, a cup of weak tea and a dry beschuit would sometimes be the only food you were allowed to eat.

Unfortunately beschuit is no longer baked by artesan bakers such as the ones in Wormer or Jisk, but large companies such as Verkade or Bolletje have included beschuit into their assortment of baked goods. Verkade started baking beschuit during the last part of the 19th century. Baking was considered a man's job but the beschuit was so brittle that Verkade started employing (unmarried) women to pack the rusks, as their hands were more slender and their packing skills more gentle than the burly beschuit bakers.

Making beschuit at home takes some time, but it's worth to do. You can vary with whole wheat flour, add sesame seeds or sprinkle cinnamon sugar on top for a sweet version. For the baking, use straight edged ramekins that are five inches across and 1.5 inches high.

Beschuit
4 tablespoons of butter, room temperature
4 tablespoons of sugar
1 cup of milk
2 eggs
3 3/4 cups of flour
1 scant tablespoon of baking powder
1 scant tablespoon of active dry yeast
1 teaspoon of salt

Cream the butter and sugar. Mix the flour, baking powder, yeast, and salt in a bowl and add to the creamed butter. Add the milk and the eggs and knead everything into a pliable dough, about five minutes.
Let it rest in an oiled bowl, covered for fifteen minutes, then divide into 3.5 ounce pieces. Roll and rest under a towel while you prepare the ramekins.

Preheat the oven to 350F. Spray each ramekin with cooking spray. Place the dough balls on a baking sheet, cover each one with a ramekin and let the dough rise for about 30 minutes. Place the sheet on the middle rack and bake for twenty minutes, leaving the ramekins in place. Retrieve the baking sheet, remove the ramekins, turn the beschuit over and bake for another ten minutes.

Now, cool the beschuit until cold to the touch and slice the bread lengthwise in two. Place cut side up on the baking sheet and return the rusks to the oven, lowered to 325 to dry and lightly brown.

This will take another ten to fifteen minutes, but keep an eye on the bread.

When they're golden and dry, remove, cool and enjoy!!



Saturday, September 17, 2011

Tomatensoep

Holland has quite a history with tomatoes: at first deemed only a decorative fruit, the tomato was considered poisonous until they figured out that the tin plates on which they served them caused the toxins. It quickly moved from show-apple to love-apple, celebrating the presumed afrodisiac powers this fruit of the nightshade family might have.

All those steamy thoughts quickly disappear when you realize that the tomato soup has become one of those industrialized, run-of-the-mill soups that are available anywhere and everywhere. Tomato soup is standard on menus, is available from automated soup dispensers and is sold in large family-sized cans. No tomato proud of its heritage would want to end up in a can like that....

But this time of year is a fantastic one to revive tomato soup from its sordid past, if only temporarily. Gardens are flooded with large, juicy, ripe, sunkissed tomatoes all over, just plain begging to be used up for a homemade, honest, honorable tomato soup. In Holland, tomato soup is traditionally served with soepballetjes and a splash of heavy cream. Best yet, you'll have this soup on the table in less than thirty minutes!

Dutch Tomato Soup
2 lbs of ripe tomatoes (use a variety for more complex flavor)
1 chicken bouillon cube
8 cups of hot water
1 small onion or shallot
1 tablespoon of butter
3 sprigs of fresh thyme
2 bay leaves
Salt

Peel and chop the onion or shallot and sauté it in the butter. Cut the tomatoes up in small pieces and after the onions have become translucent and released its fragrance, add the tomatoes and simmer for the next ten minutes. Pour the hot water over the top, add the chicken bouillon cube, the bay leaves and the fresh thyme, bring it up to a boil, then cover and turn down the flame to simmer for the next twenty minutes.

Remove the bay leaves and the stem sprigs, then puree the soup. Taste and adjust with salt if needed. Pour into bowls, add a tablespoon of evaporated milk, milk or sour cream to each and stir.