Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Gehaktballen met jus

Woensdag Gehaktdag! "Wednesday is ground meat day". It used to be the marketing slogan for the butchering trade during the fifties and sixties, and even now, on many a Wednesday you can find children standing on a little stool at the kitchen counter, helping make dinner by learning how to roll meatballs in their little grubby hands, and sneaking small bites of the seasoned raw meat when the adult is not looking.

Why Wednesday? Presumably because the butcher would butcher harvest on Monday, cut on Tuesday and process all the leftovers into ground meat on Wednesday. Whether that's entirely true or not, I don't know, but it sounds plausible.

Broodje Bal
Dutch meatballs are a couple of sizes up from the average American spaghetti meatballs. Slowly simmered in their own jus, these carneous clods are versatile, easy to make and affordable, and one of those typical dishes that are somehow associated with "gezelligheid", grandmas and wintery dishes. Gehaktballen can be served in many ways: as your main protein with one of the various stamppots, by itself on a piece of bread, broodje bal, with a good lick of mustard or ketchup, or sliced and deep-fried with onion and served with peanut sauce, the famous bereklauw... The gehaktbal will endure practically any kind of culinary treatment: it's all good.

Preferably made with half-om-half gehakt, fifty percent beef and fifty percent pork, these meatballs will also do fine with an 85/15 (eightyfive percent meat, fifteen percent fat) ground beef. Too lean a meat will not do much for their flavor, you need some fat for the simmering and the jus. Since quite a bit of water is added at the simmering stage, the meat itself will have lost some of its calories, in case you were minding your diet.

Gehaktballen met jus
1 lb of ground beef, preferably 85/15 or half beef, half pork
2 slices of white bread
1/2 cup of milk
2 shallots or one small onion
1 egg, beaten
1/2 teaspoon of nutmeg, ground
1/2 teaspoon of salt
1/2 teaspoon of black pepper, ground
2 tablespoons of prepared mustard

2 tablespoons of flour
4 tablespoons of butter

Mince the shallots or small onion. Add the meat to a bowl, mix in the shallots, the egg, the mustard, nutmeg, the salt and pepper and knead a couple of times. Cut the crust off the bread, soak it in the milk and add it to the meat. Dispose of the rest of the milk.

When the mixture has come together, divide it in four equal pieces. Roll each piece into a ball, roll the meatballs throught the flour and set aside.

Heat the butter in a Dutch oven and sear the meatballs on all sides until brown. Lower the heat, place the cover on the pan and let them simmer for a good twenty minutes, then turn them over in the grease and simmer for another ten. Add 1/2 cup of water to the pan, cover and simmer for another twenty minutes. Remove the meatballs from the pan, add 1/2 cup of beef stock to the pan and stir to loosen up all the meaty bits from the bottom of the pan. Taste and see if you need to adjust salt/pepper or bind the jus a little bit with cornstarch or flour, you decide.

Meatballs made one day ahead somehow always taste better the next day. Serve one meatball per person, and add a generous spoonful of jus on their potatoes for some good old-fashioned prakking.


Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Zakdoekjes

It's not that I don't have enough recipes to write about Dutch baked goods (I have at least another two years worth's of weekly posts!), it's that sometimes I can't pick. So many recipes are wonderful and exciting, but the limitation of time, product availability and sometimes a last minute change of plans dictates what gets published.

This weekend I had planned on making a slagroomtaart, a light cake with whipped cream and fruit. It's a delightful cake, traditionally served at birthday parties or other festive occassions. But I received a booklet in the mail this week, Drentse Pot, about typical foods from the province of Drente, and while browsing through it, I came across a recipe for zakdoeken. Zakdoeken (handkerchiefs) or buusdoukies in the Drents dialect are, in this case, not of the cloth kind, mind you, but a lovely, crunchy yet light waffle. The slagroomtaart went out the window ofcourse, because how can you resist a cookie with such an interesting name? I have never spent much time in Drente, so I was eager to try it out. And I am sure glad I did!

This cookie is sweet, crunchy, crisp and light, and shows beautifully. You will need a waffle cone maker style of waffle iron, like you use for stroopwafels. Watch out when folding the warm waffle, it will be hot!

Zakdoekjes
1 stick of butter
1 1/2 cup of sugar
2/3 cup of water
2 cups of flour
Pinch of salt
2 tablespoons of vanilla essence

Melt the butter and set aside. Warm the water and add the sugar, stir until the sugar is dissolved. Cool the water and add the egg, beat it well, then stir in the flour and the salt. Mix everything to a nice, smooth batter (no lumpies!). Now pour and stir in the melted butter until it is fully incorporated into the batter. Finally add the vanilla and stir.

Turn on the waffle iron, and bake one waffle at a time with approximately 1/4 cup of batter. This depends on how liquid your   batter is, how large the baking surface is etc. so just measure out an amount and see what the result is. If there is too much batter and it runs off the sides, take less. If your zakdoekjes are more like miniature cookies, pour a little bit more.

Pour the measured amount of batter on the hot waffle iron, close and bake. When the waffle is done, open the lid and quickly fold the cookie in half, and then again in half, as if you were folding a handkerchief. Place it on a cooling rack, where it will crisp up into a nice, sweet, crunchy cookie.

Makes approximately twenty cookies.


Wednesday, February 9, 2011

On the practice of prakken....


Table manners are an important reflection of upbringing and common courtesy. Both hands above the table, no leaning on your elbows, no talking and chewing at the same time, no stuffing your mouth full or taking a sip while you still have food in your mouth....for those of us that were raised in Holland, these rules for board behavior sound probably very familiar.

Not all eating etiquette, however, transposes well into other cultures. Whereas in America most foods are served to be consumed with only a fork, the Dutch use both a fork and a knife to eat: the fork firmly lodged in the left hand, the knife in the right. The fork (vork) is used to spear the food and bring it to the mouth, the knife (mes) cuts a piece of meat, vegetable or potato as needed. Open-faced sandwiches are cut into neat little squares, fruit is skillfully severed into edible pieces. It's all very polite and educated and, the Dutch, we innerly scoff a little bit at those people that still eat sandwiches with their hands, peel oranges with their fingers and scoop up rice with a fork.

Mash those potatoes well
But do not be deceived by such haute haughtiness. Because behind closed doors, when we are alone, we subject the food on our plate to a practice so abhorrent, so abominable that even the most barbarous barbaric would drop its jaw in disgust. This is the practice of prakken. If you are familiar with Dutch cuisine, or have read the articles on this blog, you know that it suggested to always have "jus", pan gravy, with the meat when you serve potatoes. Why? Because this fatty fluid is the key to prakken.

Now what the heck is prakken? Prakken is having a beautiful plate of steaming, perfect globes of crumbly boiled potatoes, over which you drizzle hot, greasy pan juice and then brutally attack with a fork, mashing the potatoes, sometimes even mixing in the vegetables, and reducing it to a soft pulpy state. Why do we do this? I have no clue. But it tastes good.


Add enough pan gravy

As young children, when we just start to eat solids, our food is often prakked for us, sometimes with sweet applesauce mixed in to mask the taste of liver, Brussels sprouts or whatever else we tend to dislike at that age, and to make it more palatable. Perhaps that's why we still prak, I don't know. But mashing your boiled potatoes, mixing it with the gravy of the meat and having the slightly sweet, savory flavor of those mashed potatoes is a whole new experience. A more grown-up, and socially acceptable prakked food would be a stamppot, of which we have many varieties. But the home-made, plate-local prak is praktically, no pun intended, illegal, forbidden and most certainly "not done". And that is what makes it so sweet........

So prak away. At home, that is. Just not when you've been invited to dinner at some new friend's home. Or if a potential new employer invites you to a lunch interview. I know you'll be tempted when you see the gravy from the meat dripping onto the plate and slowly making its way towards the potatoes, but prakken is just not done. At least not in public!




Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Roze koeken

Recently, I had the opportunity to spend some time with friends from Holland. It doesn't happen very often since most of us live in other states or countries, and it's not too frequent that we all are in the same place, at the same time. After the typical kissie-kissie greeting (three kisses on the cheek, left-right-left), we sat down, poured coffee, brought out the cookies and shared the latest news. And it's never too long before we start talking about food. "Hey, I found this great Gouda cheese online, I'll send you the link", "We have someone selling stroopwafels at the farmer's market. It's not exactly the same but it's good enough". "I'm really going to miss the Dutch store in town when we move, they even sell hagelslag.". Anyway, you get the drift.

The Dutch tend to be adventurous travelers, and you'll find us pretty much scattered across the globe and far away from home. We love to be out and about, but sometimes we do miss our food! So we sat, sipped coffee, and reminisced about culinaria neerlandica. After I brought out a big platter with suikerwafels and gevulde koeken, we started talking about cakes and cookies. I mentioned the ones that I had baked and listed, out loud, the many that I had yet to try. Everybody joined in calling out the ones they liked, we all went "ooh" and "aah", because they're all so good. But when I mentioned "roze koeken", pink cakes, I noticed that the exclamations were a little longer and the eyes sparkled a little more.

I'm, quite honestly, not sure why. Of all the cakes and cookies we have, the roze koek is possibly the least enticing one, skill-wise or ingredient-wise. No elaborate kneading, twisting and rolling needed as with the bolussen. No intricate web of nutmeg, white pepper, cinnamon, cloves and ginger to make a flavorful speculaas. The roze koek has content-wise very little to offer in complexity: butter, eggs, flour and sugar. I mean, don't get me wrong, you can't hardly mess up butter and sugar, but it's nothing unique or special. They do have something going for them, though, something very un-Dutch: a bright pink, almost neon, frosting! Hot Barbie pink, neon Peptobismol tones....just check the pictures and you know what I mean. 

My own theory is that, from all the Dutch cookies, this is the most extravagant one, and with our Calvinistic upbringing, the excitement of biting into a roze koek is like rebelling, it's almost akin to sin. There, that rhymes. The cake itself is buttery, sweet and tender: the pink icing mixed with berry juice adds a slight tang and creaminess to the whole. Definitely worth a try!

Roze koeken
2 sticks of butter, room temperature
1 1/2 cup of sugar
1 teaspoon of lemon zest
4 eggs
1 3/4 cups of all-purpose flour

For the icing
6 heaping tablespoons of powdered sugar
2 tablespoons of red raspberry juice
Red food coloring optional
Milk, optional

Cream the butter with the sugar. Add one egg at a time and beat until it's been fully absorbed by the mixture before adding the next one. Finally, fold the lemon zest and the flour through the mix until you have a pourable thick batter or scoopable dough.

Spray or grease a muffin pan (I used large muffin pans, which made 8 cakes total) and fill each cup half-full. With a wet spoon flatten the top. Bake the muffins in a 390F oven until they are golden, about twenty minutes.

Take them out of the pan, cool on a wire rack. If the muffin domed during baking time, cut this off to have a flat surface.

Mix the powdered sugar with the berry juice and stir well. You may want to add a drop of red food coloring if you are looking for that hot pink. Stir it well, add some milk if it gets too thick, and then ice the cakes with the hot pink sugary coating. Let the icing dry, then serve with coffee or tea. Feel terribly sinful for a couple of bites and then have another cake!


Thank you Lien for the great recipe, and thank you Ferdinand for the beautiful mugs!

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Gevulde Koeken

Gevulde koeken are the Dutch equivalent of the American chocolate chip cookie: if there's only one cookie to be had, this will be the one. A favorite of many, it is often associated with ice skating, gezellige afternoons drinking tea with friends and, in my particular case, with traveling by train. Practically each train station in the Netherlands has a small kiosk where you can buy cookies, magazines, coffee, and hot snacks. If the station is really small, most often you can still get a cup of coffee and a cookie. And if wherever you are getting on the train is so small you can't even find that, there will be a chance to buy a refreshment on the train. And I bet you that even that refreshment cart has gevulde koeken......

The Dutch usually don't travel by train for just a hop, skip and a jump. Within the cities, you usually travel by tram, bus, metro or bike. To reach other places, for example if you want to go from Amsterdam to Maastricht, you would travel by train unless you had a car. This last activity usually goes paired with, sometimes undeserved, grumbling towards the Nederlandse Spoorwegen (Dutch Railroads). Not all trains run on time, all the time. Especially this winter, with the huge amounts of snow and the incredibly low temperatures, train travelers were often confronted with delayed trains, missing connections or no trains at all. But look at the gorgeous view when the sun comes out!

But back to the cookie. Gevulde koek, or filled cookie, is a crumbly, buttery, tender dough with an almond filling. The almond decorating the cookie is a dead giveaway. First you taste the cookie, then a sweet, slightly moist almond filling hits you and it's just heaven. Together with a hot cup of coffee (try Douwe Egberts sometime, a Dutch coffee brand and a national favorite), it is a combination that soothes travel irritations, whether you're going anywhere or not.

Gevulde koek
For the dough:
2 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup of sugar
1 scant teaspoon of baking powder
pinch of salt
1 tablespoon of cold water
1 3/4 stick of butter

For the filling:
1 cup of almond paste*
2 tablespoons of sugar
1 egg white
2 tablespoons of water
1 teaspoon of almond essence

For brushing:
1 egg yolk
1 tablespoon of milk
8 sliced or whole almonds

Mix the dry ingredients and cut the butter into the dough, until it has the consistency of wet sand. Add a tablespoon of ice cold water and knead the dough into a cohesive whole, making sure all the butter is well mixed in. Pat into an oval, cover with plastic film and refrigerate while you make the paste.

Now crumble up the almond paste and beat it with the rest of the ingredients until it's foamy and thick. If you think it's too runny, add a tablespoon of flour, but not more. Look at the picture of the filling to see how thick it's supposed to be - thick enough to pipe and to stay put.

Set your oven to 350F and turn it on. Take the dough out of the fridge, cut it in half and roll one half out, to about 1/8 of an inch thick. Cut out out eight circles. I use the canning ring for a wide mouth jar, it's approximately 3 inches across. Roll the other half out and cut another eight circles (or more of course!). Place one huge heaping teaspoon of almond paste mix in the middle of one dough circle, place a second circle on top and carefully seal the edges. You can do this with a fork or by gently tapping it with your finger on top and to the sides.

When all are done, place them on a parchment lined baking sheet or on a silicone mat. Beat the egg yolk with the milk and brush the top of the cookies, then place an almond on top. Bake for about thirty minutes or until golden.

Let them cool a little bit and enjoy this typical Dutch treat!



*If you don't have access to canned almond paste, you can easily make your own by processing two cups of slivered raw almonds, adding 1/4 cup of sugar and three tablespoons of water to make it into a thick paste.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Stokvis

Stokvis, or stick fish, not to be confused with fish stick, is a dried piece of cod. Fresh cod is caught, cleaned and stuck on a stick and left to dry in the cold Northern wind. Several months later, you have a dried up, leathery, rock-hard piece of fish. The main reason to dry fish is, ofcourse, to preserve it, often up to a year. In order to make the fish palatable again, it needs to be soaked for at least 24 hours in water to soften the tissue, refreshing the water every six to 8 hours. 

Who in the world would want to eat that? I'm glad you asked. Stokvis is quite popular in a variety of cultures: northern countries such as Norway and Sweden, southern regions like Portugal and Spain, and ofcourse Holland, or the Netherlands are all countries that regularly integrate the delicate flavor of this dried-up finny food into their daily meals.

Stokvis is hard to find in the United States but the salted bacalao, known in Dutch as klipvis, available in the seafood department of larger grocery stores, will do just fine for this purpose: the only difference between one and the other is that bacalao has been salted extensively and the skin, tail and bones have been already removed. Soaking and refreshing the water becomes even more important in this case.

Up until the Second World War, stokvis was very popular in Holland. It was very affordable and the high amount of protein provided a very nutritious meal. The lengthy prepare time and the characteristic smell made it eventually an unpopular dish. Nowadays, it is one of the more expensive foods to consume, but it has never reached its pre-war popularity.

Stokvis is traditionally served on New Year's Day in various provinces, like Friesland and Zeeland. Steamed white rice, boiled potatoes, fried onions, a lick of mustard and warm creamy buttersauce are side dishes to the fish. It doesn't sound like much, and the color combination is terrible (white, yellow, brown, yellow and beige....not appetizing!) but once you mix the buttersauce in with the rice, mashing the potatoes and mixing in the onions, it all of a sudden becomes a very honest, almost heartwarming meal and most certainly worth the effort.

Stokvis
1 case of cod
Plenty of water
1 cup of white rice
4 potatoes, peeled and quartered
1 onion, peeled and sliced
1 stick of butter
1 tablespoon of cornstarch
White pepper to taste

Soak the cod in cold water for 24 hours, refreshing the water every eight hours or according to instructions on the box. The fish doesn't take long to cook once it's soaked so time it accordingly. Both rice and potatoes usually take about twenty minutes, that's enough for the fish to be ready.

Boil rice per instructions (usually one cup of rice on two cups of water, bring to a boil, cover, simmer for twenty minutes) as well as the potatoes (add enough water to a pan to cover, add a teaspoon of salt, bring to a boil, cover and medium boil for twenty minutes or until done).

Fry the onion slices in one tablespoon of butter until golden. Set aside. Melt the rest of the butter in the pan but do not brown. When it's warm, add half a cup of water, bring back up to temperature. Add the cornstarch to a little bit of water, mix and stir into the warm sauce. Stir until it thickens and makes a nice creamy sauce.

When all is done, place a  piece of fish on a plate and surround it with rice and potatoes. Pour the warm buttersauce over the rice and potatoes, add some fried onions on top and sprinkle some white pepper to taste. Add some mustard if you wish and enjoy your meal!