Sunday, March 31, 2013

Eén ei is geen ei.....Vrolijk Pasen!

"Een ei is geen ei, twee ei is een half ei, drie ei is een Paasei!" goes a famous Dutch children's verse. We're celebrating Pasen, Easter, this weekend with plenty of deviled eggs, Paasbrood, Paashaasjes or even a beautiful Paastaart, an Easter cake, complete with advocaat

Not to be outdone by anyone, we celebrate Easter for two days. Today is Easter Sunday, or First Easter Day, Eerste Paasdag. Families get together for breakfast or brunch, complete with wonderful bread selections, omelets, smoked salmon and watercress, or get together later today for an Easter dinner, although that is usually not as common. Lamb, although appreciated, still does not have a prominent place on the table as it does in other countries during this time of year.

And as the world gets back to work and resumes normal life tomorrow, The Netherlands celebrates Second Easter Day, or Tweede Paasdag. Where most stores and businesses remain closed, Second Easter Day is seemingly THE day to go furniture shopping. The large furniture stores, meubelboulevards, are open today to the shopping public. Some of these are all set up for today: playgrounds for the kids and a tearoom or lunchroom for mom, to make it gezellig

In the meantime, prepare some Dutch-style deviled eggs with all those colored eggs you made earlier today. We've ventured away from the standard yolk-mustard-mayo filling and created some new, but familiar, flavors. 



                    Vrolijk Pasen!!




Gevulde eieren
4 eggs
Water

Place eggs in a saucepan and cover with cold water, so that the eggs are covered by an inch. Bring to a boil, boil for two minutes. Cover and turn off the stove. Leave for 15 minutes. Uncover, pour off the hot water and "scare" the eggs by running cold water over them. Let the eggs sit in cold water for ten minutes, then peel. 

Fresh eggs are hardest to peel, so use the older eggs in your fridge for boiling! 

When the eggs are peeled and cooled, cut them in half lengthwise and remove the yolk. Mix up your favorite spices with the yolks, add some cream or mayonnaise to make it dollop-able and fill the eggs. Chill and present on a pretty plate. Following are some favorites that may please the Dutch palate:

Saté Deviled Eggs: mix 2 teaspoons of regular or salty creamy peanut butter for every four yolks and 1 1/2 teaspoons of sweet chili sauce. Mix well, fill the eggs and top with a drizzle of chili sauce.

Sweet Curry Eggs:  add ½ a teaspoon of hot curry to four yolks, a tablespoon of coconut milk and minced yellow raisins.

Seafood Eggs: chop eight small salad shrimp with four yolks, mince a little piece of celery fine and mix it in with a teaspoon of mayonnaise and freshly ground black pepper. Top with a dollop of caviar or a whole shrimp. 



*These recipes were first published online for IWJ here

Monday, March 25, 2013

Chocoladevla


 Some foods don't need a lot of explanation, like today's vla. It's chocolate, and it's vla. It's good. You can eat it as dessert, all by itself. You can stir it with vanillevla and mix it up. You can use it as a dip for fresh bananas. It's comforting, enticing, yummie and chocolatey. And it's vla.

And if there's something we love for dessert, it's vla, a pourable sweet pudding, available in over fifty flavors. The rectangular vla cartons look much like the American quart sized milk cartons, and will appear on the table after dinner. If you're fairly  new to the table, people will probably give you a clean bowl. If you're family, whether blood-related or not, you will probably pour your vla of choice on the plate in front of you, the one that you just finished eating your main course of. A good reason to finish your plate!

You will find vla in the dairy section of the grocery store. There are seasonal vlas, like an apple-cinnamon for the Fall, or a fruity lemony one for the Spring. There are fufu-fancy ones and there are the run-of-the-mill vlas, like today's chocolade vla. Together with vanilla, hopjesvla and raspberry, it's probably one of the most popular flavors and bound to show up on a Dutch dinner table sooner than later.

The best thing is that it's so easy to make. Some milk, a bit of corn starch and good old-fashioned Van Houten cocoa powder and sugar is all this takes. The making of the vla takes less than ten minutes, but it's the waiting until it's cooled off that takes the longest....unless you eat your vla hot!

Chocoladevla
1/3 cup cocoa powder
1/4 cup corn starch
1/3 cup sugar
Pinch of salt
2  1/4 cup milk

Stir the cocoa powder, corn starch, sugar and salt together in a bowl. Add a cup of milk and whisk until all lumps are gone. Bring the rest of the milk to a low simmer, add the chocolate milk to the pan and stir together. Keep stirring while the milk comes to a boil, and boil it for a good one or two minutes, or until the mixture starts to thicken. Pull off the stove, pour in a bowl or container. Cover the surface of the vla with plastic food film to avoid a "skin" forming.

Cool in the fridge. Stir before serving.


Sunday, March 17, 2013

In The Dutch Kitchen.....

For the longest time, the Dutch kitchen was considered practically non-existent in the food world. And, quite honestly, we will not be dominating the culinary covers of  those big food magazines any time yet. No hot features in Saveur, although I still think it was a huge faux pas to omit us here. Food and Wine doesn't talk much about Dutch cooking, and neither Bourdain nor Ottolenghi have spent much time trying to master the intricacies of the frikandel or philosophize on the practice of prakken.

But that's okay. We've gone from sheer opulence during the Golden Age where our cuisine was predominantly influenced by the French, to a practically austere kitchen as part of the Protestant and Calvinist ideology. Food was not to be a source of pleasure, of identity or joy, but was meant for simple sustenance. I personally believe it allowed us to focus on other areas where we could contribute in a different way: science, literature, travel, music, technology......

Still, throughout the ages, in country kitchens, in humble homes, we have ultimately managed to create a kitchen that defines us, and that has become part of our identity. We've gathered a wealth of regional products and produce that is unique to our country and slowly but surely, we're learning to enjoy it and to add it back into our culinary repertoire. Most importantly, we're allowing ourselves to be proud of it, and that is saying something.

Last year, I contacted the National Bureau for Tourism and Conferences in The Netherlands. Their website, www.holland.com is the main site for world travelers to learn about our country, our national treasures, habits and history. People all over the world use it to plan trips, pick out sites to see or simply travel to our beautiful country from the comfort of their own home. I praised them on every aspect of the site, but then asked them why they were not spending any space on Dutch recipes, on Dutch cooking and on our local cuisines. I offered to write for them, they accepted, and the first series on recipes and short introductions is now live:
http://www.holland.com/us/Tourism/Interests/Food-Drinks/Dutch-recipes.htm

Excited? You bet! Proud? Quite! I have been on this quest to bring more focus and attention to the Dutch cuisine, and I feel that this is another great step in the right direction. Time to celebrate! 

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Tosti Hawaii


It's been one of those weekend where you run errands, you run from one side of town to the other, and finally you run ragged. And when you finally plof down on the couch, you realize that it's time for dinner. But you don't feel like peeling potatoes,  you haven't really given the vegetables any thought and you forgot to pull the meat out of the freezer. So what is one to do?! Calling out for pizza is not altogether too common yet in the Netherlands and thinking about pulling out of that parking space in front of the house that you circled the block ten times for is out of the question. So what will it be? Yep, tosties!!!

Grilled ham and cheese sandwiches are probably as popular in Holland as in any other country that has bread and cheese as a staple. Tostis (a tosti by itself is usually ham and cheese) or tosties are a standard go-to snack when a sandwich just will not do. They are on the menu in cafés, offered in any broodjeszaak or sandwich shop around town and tend to be a favorite in many households. There are about as many variations as there are people in the country: first comes the selection of the bread (wheat, white or anything in-between , then the type of cheese (young, mature, old, Leidse or foreign cheeses like Brie or Camembert), a selection of meat (ham, salami, roast beef....you name it), everybody in the family has a favorite combination. 

Usually the buck stops here but others go even further. A Tosti Hawaii is, ofcourse, a ham and cheese grilled sandwich with a slice of pineapple, which is my favorite. There is a Tosti Kaas Ui (cheese and caramelized onion), Tosti Kaas Champignon (with, you guessed it, cheese and sautéed mushrooms) and so on and so forth. Slices of tomato or cucumber are also often added to the tosties.

So the easiest thing to do is to pull out the tosti-ijzer (a small countertop tosti making machine, much like a George Foreman grill) which just about any Dutch family has. Some kitchens have them permanently located on top of the counter, others will have to dig it out of a cupboard, but most homes do have one. Grab all the breads out of the broodtrommel, the bread box, retrieve several cheeses from the fridge, raid the produce pantry or groentela, produce drawer, in the fridge, and have everybody make their own tosties

And after the savory tosties come, naturally, the sweet ones. So a tosti with apple and cinnamon, or one with  banana and strawberry jam, another using up the pineapple slices from the Tosti Hawaii that someone ate earlier......it's a great way of using up those last pieces of cheese, sandwich meat or lick of leftover jam that needed to go. Quick and easy, and yet such comforting food! 

Tosti Hawaii
2 slices of bread
4 slices of cheese
3 slices of ham
2 slices of canned pineapple
Butter or mayonnaise*
Ketchup

Arrange the cheese, ham and pineapple between the slices of bread. Melt a tablespoon of butter in a non-stick skillet and place the sandwich in the middle of the pan on low heat. When the bottom side of the sandwich is golden brown, carefully flip it over. Continue to fry until the other side is now golden brown too. Remove from pan. Cut in half, dip in ketchup and eat. Eat hot! 

*If you don't have, or want to use butter, slather the outside of the bread slices liberally with mayonnaise and fry the sandwich in the pan. Use real mayo, not salad dressing!





Saturday, March 2, 2013

Gebakken aardappelen


This text was published previously in Dutch, the mag.

You would think we had invented it ourselves, this vegetable, with as much as we like it. Ask any Dutch person what a typical Dutch meal consists of, and they’re bound to mention the potato. Whether they’re boiled, fried, mashed, it seems to matter not. We just love our taters! But if you think these nutritious aardappels, earth apples, were originally from our clay fields, you’re wrong. Well, partially wrong.

The potato, via a long way from South America, was first introduced in Holland in 1593, when botanist Carolus Clusius brought them to the gardens in Leiden from where they expanded to Groningen and Amsterdam. The potato back then was not grown for its capacity to feed many, but almost as a medical curiosity and was considered to have curative powers. It wasn't until the early 1700's before any serious growing of potatoes took place, and not for human consumption but as animal fodder.

We had to wait until the 1880's before the potato was considered edible. It has never reached that status of super-food or fancy fare, but managed to provide sustenance for many of the less fortunate population. And just like with carrots, the ingenuity of the Dutch and the desire to improve the product, lead to a large variety of new types of potato from our home soil, of which the Bintje is probably the most famous one.

The Dutch kitchen has never been the same since. The warm evening meal more often than not contains potatoes. Evening snacks and Saturday evening take-away consists often of French fries. If we've boiled too many potatoes the day before (and some will do it on purpose), they’re sliced and fried in butter the next day, sometimes tossed with sautéed onions and bacon, and served alongside a green salad. So don't be shy, peel and boil a couple of potatoes extra, slice and fry them in butter the next day, toss them with sauteed onions and bits of bacon and you're set for the evening!

Gebakken aardappelen
6 boiled potatoes (preferably boiled the day before and refrigerated overnight)
2 tablespoons butter
1 small onion, diced
4 slices thick cut bacon, diced

Cut the potatoes into thick slices. Heat the butter in the pan and fry the diced bacon. Remove the bacon when slightly crispy and add the slices to the grease. Make sure each slice touches the bottom of the skillet. Turn to low and slowly fry the potatoes until golden. Flip them over to the other side. You may have to do several batches.

When the potatoes are golden on both sides, quickly sauté the diced onion in the grease, and toss it with the bacon and the potatoes.  Season with salt to taste, and serve hot.