Monday, July 25, 2011

Kletskoppen

Sometimes this whole Dutch food mapping quest throws me a curve ball. Ever since I was a child, I remember these crispy, sweet cookies to be flavored with peanuts. Heck, I even thought that the name for it, kletskop* (bald head), was because of the glabrous goobers rising above the flat surface of the cookie.

But when looking up kletskop recipes in my collection of cookbooks, I noticed that the ingredients consistently listed almonds. Either ground or chopped almonds, but no peanuts. I consulted some of the Dutch friends that were online whether they remembered kletskoppen with peanuts or almonds, and all but one remembered peanuts. On top of that, last Christmas when I spent some time in Holland I bought an array of cookies (gotta love the extent of research I do for this blog!!) and I distinctly remember the kletskoppen having peanuts.

What to do, what to do? For authenticity's sake I would use almonds, since that seems to be the official version, but for memory's sake I'm more inclined to go with peanuts, seeing as how that's what seems to be the "right" cookie. So I made both. And I definitely favor the peanut one, if only for the fact that it makes the cookie bulkier and nuttier.

If you are allergic to nuts, make the cookie by itself or substitute the nuts for chocolate chips, raisins etc....If someone else along the line changed almonds to peanuts without telling any of us, you are more than welcome to make this cookie your own!

*Kletskop can also mean "chatterbox". Where the name comes from is unclear but the city of Leiden seems to claim kletskoppen as their own.

Kletskoppen
4 tablespoons of butter, room temperature
1/2 teaspoon of cinnamon
1/4 cup Spanish peanuts
1/2 cup of brown sugar, tightly packed
1/3 cup of flour

Cream the butter with the sugar and the cinnamon. Add flour one tablespoon at a time until it's all absorbed. Fold in the peanuts and preheat the oven to 400F. Place the rack right above the middle position.

The dough should be slightly sticky but easy to work with. If it sticks too much, add a little bit of flour or refrigerate the dough for ten minutes, then try again. Test one cookie by rolling a little piece of dough into a marble. Line your baking sheet with a double lining of parchment paper or with a silicone pad. Put the dough marble on top and slightly flatten it with the palm of your hand. Bake for five minutes. The dough will spread significantly because of the high sugar/fat content but will burn just as quick so keep an eye on it.

Take the tray out of the oven, let the cookie cool for a minute or two, then carefully transfer it to a cooling rack. It will harden as it cools. Did it spread too much? Add half a tablespoon of flour and mix it into the dough. Did it not spread enough? Add half a tablespoon of water. Try again. Once you have the right result, roll the rest of the dough into marbles and bake. Check after five minutes to make sure they're not burning, remove and after cooling for a minute or two, transfer them to a cooling rack. Store in a cookie jar, as humidity will soften these babies up in no time!



Makes approximately 20 cookies. This is a fantastic cookie to go with a cup of coffee or tea. Because of its crispness, it lends itself beautifully to more than just a treat with your daily beverage of choice. Add texture to your puddings with a crisp kletskop or use two cookies for an ice cream sandwich!

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Kroketten

Market sign announcing the "one
and only" Van Dobben Kroket  on
a roll
The most popular posts on this blog tend to be either sandwich-related or fast-food related: the broodjes post scores high, as well as the bitterballen and the frikandellen posts. The latter scores high on a list of its own, the Top Ten of Favorite Snacks (http://snacks.toptien.nl/), and is closely followed by the ultimate deep-fried gravy stick, the meat kroket.

Companies such as Van Dobben and Kwekkeboom, both food establishments in Amsterdam, are famous for their meat kroketten and have been offering this fried delicacy since the mid 1940sEach has their own following, and discussions about which kroket is superior is ongoing. Patisserie Holtkamp, one of the more sophisticated baked goods shops around town, also showcases kroketten, or in their case, croquetten, but has embraced a more varied flavor assortment: veal, cheese, sweetbreads/truffle and lobster. The Holtkamp shrimp croquet is their best-selling item. 

Holtkamp's Shrimp Croquet
Kroketten started as a great way to use up leftovers: Sunday's roast, or meat used to make soups, ended up in the meat grinder, then folded into a creamy thick gravy, after which it was refrigerated, rolled into logs, breaded and deep-fried to a beautiful golden bar. Meat kroketten are usually consumed with a good mustard, either by themself or on a white roll.

The cookbook from the Amsterdam Home Economics School, Kookboek van de Amsterdamse Huishoudschool, in its tenth edition from the 1940s, mentions a variety of croquetten: meat but also potato and shrimp, fish, sweetbreads, cheese and even macaroni. The spelling was fancier (the "c" and "q" were replaced by the more common "k" in later years) which also implied a more sophisticated presentation: according to the book, croquetten were to be deep-fried until golden, stacked in a pyramid-shape and served on a starched napkin with fried parsley for decoration.

Wow. Well, nowadays the meat kroket is usually served in a less charming manner: in a triangular paper cone or simply out of the wall on a paper tray, with no fried parsley or starched napkin in sight. And you'll be hard pressed to find a sweetbread kroket or a macaroni kroket in any of the establishments for supplying fatty foods such as the neighborhood snackbars or Febos.

But let that not stop us! Today we're making meat kroketten. The meat was first used to draw a beef stock for a vegetable soup, then shredded. You can also use leftover roast beef. If all you have is a pound of raw chuck roast or some other simmer meat, place the meat in a saucepan, add eight cups of water, half an onion, two peeled carrots and two chopped sticks of celery. Bring to a boil, then cover and simmer for two hours. Skim the broth, discard the vegetables and cool the meat.

Make sure you bread the kroket on all sides: one small crack and the filling will spill out into the fryer and cause a mess. You can also use this mixture for bitterballen. Once you get the hang of it, experiment with your own flavors. Leftover bbq beef? Go for it. A vegetarian version with a mushroom medley? Awesome! Just because Kwekkeboom, Holtkamp and Van Dobben come up with all kinds of flavors, doesn't mean you can't :-)

Kroketten
1 lb beef, cooked and chilled
1 cup milk
6 tablespoons flour
1 tablespoon of chopped parsley
1/8 teaspoon of dried thyme
1/4 teaspoon of ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon of salt
2 tablespoons of butter
2 eggs
1 cup panko or breadcrumbs

Shred the cooked meat and chop fine in a food processor, or by hand. Melt the butter in a pan, and stir in the flour. When the flour has soaked up all the fat, slowly pour in the milk while continuing to stir. The flour will thicken the milk and turn into a thick, creamy gravy. Stir at least one or two more minutes after the sauce has come together to get rid of some of the flour taste. Now add the tablespoon of chopped parsley, the pinch of pepper and salt and finally stir in the chopped meat. If the gravy is too thin, add another tablespoon of flour. Too thick? Carefully add a tablespoon of milk or broth to the mix and stir.

Spread this meaty mix on a baking sheet or a shallow plate, let it cool for about thirty minutes, then wrap and refrigerate it overnight.

Remove the roux from the fridge. Sprinkle some flour on the counter, divide the mixture into six equal pieces and roll each piece through the flour. Shape into tight logs, approximately 4 inches long and 1 inch wide. Your main concern will be to have kroketten approximately the same size. Wrap and refrigerate, while you prepare the rest.

Place three deep plates in a row. In the first one, put flour, the second one 2 beaten eggs, the third one, one cup of panko or breadcrumbs. Take the kroketten out of the fridge. With your dominant hand, lightly roll the kroket in the flour, then through the egg (make sure you cover the whole surface!) and finally through the breadcrumbs. Check to see that each area of the log is covered. Set aside while you repeat with the rest of the kroketten. Wrap and refrigerate while you heat up the oil.

Heat your fryer oil up to 375F. When it's ready, place one or two kroketten at a time in the hot oil and fry them until golden. This will take anywhere from 3-5 minutes. Take them out of the oil and let them drain on a couple of paper towels to get some of the fat off.

Serve hot. With or without fried parsley or a starched napkin, but do not forget the mustard!

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Groentesoep met balletjes


One of the many perks of writing this blog is receiving and responding to emails from readers. Some of you comment on the articles, others reminisce about the memories a dish brings back, and yet others ask for a specific recipe. Soup must be in the air, so to say, as several requested "soep met balletjes", soup with meatballs, this last week.

Holland's cuisine knows many soups, from the sturdy thick split pea soup to a brothy, light, appetite-arousing groentesoep, or vegetable soup, like today's recipe.  A standard item in groentesoep are, besides the vegetables, these so-called soup balls, or soepballetjes. Not the big softball-size meatballs, or gehaktballen, that the Dutch serve for dinner, but bitesize balletjes the size of marbles. 

The meat used for these fleshy globes is "half-om-half", half pork and half beef. The fattiness of the pork makes sure that the meatballs stay juicy and tender, and the beef adds body and flavor. Omas, or grandmas, usually had a "pannetje soep" on the back of the stove, simmering, and many of us associate soup with Sunday afternoon visits to grandma's house. Soup is still a favorite starter for an evening meal or a Sunday lunch, and an easy and affordable dish to feed a family with.

Practically any kind of soup will benefit from these soepballetjes, whether they're stock-based or thick, puréed soups. You may consider rolling enough to freeze so you can have them at hand at any moment. Just a thought!

Today's soup is a simple vegetable soup: use either store-bought bouillon cubes to make the eight cups of stock, or make your own. Select a variety of chopped vegetables (typical Dutch soup vegetables are leeks, cauliflower, carrots and celery) or, if you're in a pinch, even a bag of frozen stir-fry vegetables will do.

Groentesoep met balletjes
8 oz of ground pork
8 oz of ground beef
1 tablespoon of panko or breadcrumbs
1/4 teaspoon of nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon of salt
1/2 teaspoon of ground black pepper
8 cups of bouillon stock
2 cups of vegetables

Mix the meats with the breadcrumbs, the salt, pepper and nutmeg until well blended. Roll small meatballs the size of a marble.

In the meantime, heat the bouillon stock to a slow boil. Add the fresh vegetables and simmer for a good twenty minutes. Put several soepballetjes at a time in the bouillon, wait ten seconds, then add some more, until they're all in the soup. The meatballs are done when they start to float, within a minute or two.

Taste the soup, adjust seasonings as needed and serve warm. This is one of those soups that improves with time, so feel free to make a large pot!




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