Rozijnenbroodschoteltje met appel

Several weeks ago, I made a batch of raisin bread, rozijnenbrood, to enjoy, give away, and store for later use. Raisins and currants have the tendency to absorb moisture from the bread, so after a few days the bread tends to get a little dry. Fortunately, it toasts well, and there is a certain bliss in having a warm, toasted slice of raisin or currant bread, with a little bit of "good" butter, spread across the top, and if so desired, a slice or two of aged cheese. There is little less that comforts the soul on a blistery, cold day like today! 

There are also other ways of using up old bread, like in today's dish: a bread pudding, or broodschoteltje (bread dish), made with raisin bread, apple, eggs, milk and sugar. In my search of traditional recipes, I frequently come across dishes that use up "restjes", leftovers, from the previous day. Any meat left from the Sunday dinner will be served as a cold cut, in a huzarensalade, or turned into croquettes the next day. Vegetables are repurposed into salads or soups, and bread is turned into wentelteefjes (French toast) or broodschoteltjes. From having lived in other countries and among other cultures, I know that this is not unique to the Dutch, but I do think that we take a particular pride in being thrifty, or zuinig

And we have plenty of sayings to support being thrifty: in Limburg they say "dae twieë zwegelkes noeëdig heet um zien piêp aan te staeke, weurtj noeëts riêk" (he who needs two matches to light his pipe, will never be rich), in de Achterhoek it's said that "dunne plekskes sniën, is ' t behold van de wörste" (cutting thin slices preserves the sausages), and in Zeeland, "oans bin zunig" (we are thrifty). This last one even inspired various margarine commercials in the 80s.

Well, I'm not from Zeeland, but I do like to be zuinig or deliberate in my spending, so this morning I am using up the rest of the rozijnenbrood to make a bread pudding. If you don't have rozijnenbrood, just use regular old bread and add a handful of raisins. Don't have an apple? See if you can scrounge up a pear, or use dried fruits like apricots. Even dollops of the last of the strawberry jam will make a great addition: just have fun with it! As they say in de Achterhoek: "Wa’j ow spaort veur de mond, is vake veur de katte of de hond" - what you save for your mouth, often ends up being for the cat or the dog. A great encouragement to look through the cupboards and fridge to see what can get used up, in true Dutch fashion.

Rozijnenbroodschoteltje met appel

8 thick slices raisin or regular bread (about 500 grams)
1 apple, cored and cubed
1 tablespoon (15 grams) butter
2 cups (500 ml) milk
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla 
1/3 cup (65 grams) sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon (optional)
Pinch of salt

Cut the bread into cubes and mix with the apple. Butter a casserole and add the bread and apple. In a bowl, add the milk and the eggs and beat them until all of the egg has been incorporated. Mix in the rest of the ingredients. Heat the oven to 350F/175C. In the meantime, on medium heat on the stove, warm up the milk and stir until it starts to thicken a little bit, about eight to ten minutes. Do not let the milk get to a boil, as the egg will curdle.

Pour the hot milk over the bread and apple mix. If you want a bread pudding with a crispy top, do not mix, otherwise give it a stir or two so that all the bread is covered. When the oven is up to temp, place the casserole on the middle rack, and bake it for 40-45 minutes or until golden.

Serve hot. I like to add a pat of butter or a splash of heavy cream, but it doesn't need it (then again, neither do I, but there you have it :-).

Gestoofde prei

This is going to sound so foreign to anybody who lives in Europe, but for the longest time I was unable to find prei, leeks, in the grocery store here in the US. Granted, I live in a rural area and am nowhere near a large city, but even when shopping in the capital of the state, I was not able to find any. It's only since a few years that they make an appearance, and at that still a spendy one: three stalks will near $4 easily. 

How different it is in the Netherlands! I am probably exaggerating a tiny bit, but just about anybody has a stalk or two of prei in their cart, sticking out of their shopping bag, or tucked underneath the snelbinders, those rubber straps on the rear rack of the bicycle. I did a quick search on the main Dutch grocery store website, and 2 stalks of leeks are 1 euro. One euro!!! Oh, the envy.... :-)

Prei features prominently in our cuisine: it's a key ingredient for many soups, casseroles, or as a main vegetable, like today's dish. They are considered a tasty vegetable that's valued for their fiber, nutritional content, and low-calorie profile. Not surprisingly then, leek agriculture in the Netherlands is a significant part of the country's vegetable trade, with the Netherlands being one of the key players in international leek trade alongside Belgium. 

The Netherlands produces between 90,000 and 100,000 tons of leeks per season, starting from late February or early March until the end of July or early August, ensuring a year-round availability that includes both summer and winter varieties. The main areas for leek growing is primarily in the North Brabant and Limburg regions, with more than half of this production destined for export. Well, I don't know where they're exporting it to, but it certainly isn't to my little corner of the world! 

One of the main reasons why I am so utterly pleased to finally have leeks within reach is because I absolutely love, love, love braised leeks. Because we grew up in Limburg, leeks were just about everywhere, and my grandma used to make these delicious leeks, braised in butter, with white wine and capers. It's such a simple dish, but so very satisfying! Leeks can also be served in a cream sauce, with béchamel, a cheese sauce, or sautéed with bacon. This is just one of the many ways. 

Makes four servings.

Gestoofde prei
3 large leek stalks
4 tablespoons (55 grams) butter
1 bay leaf
1 heaping tablespoon capers
1/2 cup (125 ml white wine)
1/2 cup (125 ml vegetable stock)

Cut the root ends off the leeks, and the darkest of the dark leaves at the top. (Don't discard them, but wash and slice them thin, and use them for soups, omelets or in casseroles). Cut the stalks into 3 inch pieces. Rinse under running water (if they're very sandy, cut in half lengthwise). Melt the butter in the pan, and add the leek stalks. Don't let them brown, but turn them over every two to three minutes until they start to soften a little bit. Add the bay leaf, capers, wine, and stock, bring to a simmer, turn down, cover with a fitting lid, and let them braise for about fifteen minutes. Check with a fork to make sure the leeks are tender and soft. Taste the sauce and see if you need to adjust the salt level. 


Gebakken Kaasplak

The other day, I was rummaging around in stacks of 1950's women's magazines looking for dinner ideas, as I often do. I love to see what dishes the men and women of my mom's and grandma's time prepared and ate. Sunday meals were certainly more elaborate as they appear to be nowadays, I would say, starting with a soup, then a main course (potatoes, meat and vegetables), and ending with a (dairy) dessert. Whatever was left of the meat, was frequently served the next day sliced for lunch, cold, with bread and pickles, or transformed into a new dish, often a casserole, or hot snacks like kroketten. Rice or elbow macaroni was cooked once, and a portion kept aside to turn into desserts for the next day, and vegetables that were left went into the soup, stamppots, or pan-fried until crispy. Nothing was wasted! 

On days that meat was not on the menu, I frequently saw something else in its stead: gebakken kaasplak, fried cheese slice. Recipes among the different magazines varied a little bit, so I ended up creating my own. I think it's my new favorite! 

It's a simple yet delicious dish made by breading a thick slice of cheese and frying it in butter until it's golden and crispy on the outside while remaining soft and melty inside. Pick your favorite cheese, and go for it! You can serve it as a meat substitute with dinner, as a hamburger substitute on a roll with fresh lettuce, tomato, pickles and onion, or as a snack with a dollop of mustard. 

Here in the US, cheese can be found pre-sliced, so-called deli-style. Each square is approximately 3.5 x 3.5 inches (8.5 x 8.5 cm), and weighs about 1 oz /28 grams each. Do not use floppy American cheese slices for this, but select sturdy Sharp Cheddar, Aged Gouda, or Pepper Jack slices. 

Gebakken kaasplak

8 square slices deli style sliced cheese
2 eggs
1 cup panko or breadcrumbs
4 tablespoons (55 grams) butter
Whole grain mustard

Lay out the cheese slices. Spread a teaspoon each of mustard on four slices and top each with a second slice. Beat the two eggs in a shallow dish. and pour the breadcrumbs in another shallow dish. 

Dip one of the stacked cheese slices in the egg, turn it over to coat the other side, and lift it out of the egg. Let it drip, and then coat the cheese with breadcrumbs on all six sides. Repeat with the rest of the cheese. 

Heat the butter in a frying pan. Dip the breaded cheese in the egg again, then again in the breadcrumbs and put them in the frying pan, repeating until all four cheese patties are in the pan. On medium heat, fry all sides of the cheese patties until golden brown, about five minutes. Serve warm.


"Er was er eens een suikerbeest" starts a sweet poem by famous Dutch author Annie M.G. Schmidt, about an animal made of sugar, a suikerbeest. "Suikerbeestjes", small sugar animals, are an old-fashioned Dutch confectionary, particularly associated with the celebration of Sinterklaas. These sweets are made in various shapes and colors, resembling small animals, and are crafted from sugar. 

Historically, suikerbeestjes were quite expensive due to the high cost of sugar, which had to be imported into the Netherlands. However, with the discovery and cultivation of sugar beets in the country, the cost of sugar and subsequently suikerbeestjes decreased significantly. Nowadays, they have lost against factory made sugary candy, and only a few professionals and home cooks will engage in the tradition. 

And it's not an easy feat either: the boiling sugar is poured into traditional wooden molds that are held together with clamps, and left to cool. As you can imagine, these sugar creatures can be quite fragile. In Schmidt's poem, the suikerbeestje's mom warns him and says "Pas dus maar op dat je niet breekt", be careful that you don't break.  

Well, I don't have the wooden molds, but I did want to make something sugary for Valentine's Day, especially since "suikerbeestje" can also be a romantic name for a lover. Valentine's Day is celebrated in the Netherlands, but it's a relatively new tradition that only gained popularity in the mid-1990s, influenced by the spread of American culture. 

I picked two types of sugary confections, both associated with Sinterklaassuikerbeestjes and borstplaat - and decided to try both. I used a heart-shaped silicone, heat resistant mold. The suikerbeestjes turned out to be hard as a rock, which is the intention I guess, and were just too big of a lump of sugar - they would do great with a smaller silicone mold, and in the shape of an animal to honor its name. The borstplaat was softer, more tender to the palate, and was perfect for nibbling on while drinking a cup of coffee - and ultimately won out. Borstplaat can be described as similar to fudge but differs in its consistency, being flatter and more brittle. The main ingredients in borstplaat are sugar and cream. 

The sugar can be enhanced with flavoring and food coloring. Be careful when pouring the sugar as it is incredibly hot, and allow the candy to sit overnight before removing it from the molds. If you live in a humid environment, it is probably of the essence to consume these as soon as possible, as the sugar will attract moisture. Makes 6 hearts.


For suikerbeestjes 
1/2 cup (100 grams) white sugar
1/2 cup (50 grams) powdered sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla essence or extract
3 tablespoons water

For borstplaat
1 cup (200 grams) white sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla essence or extract
3 tablespoons milk, water or heavy cream

Optional: edible glitter or sprinkles

Place the silicone mold on a solid surface, for example, a cutting board, so that you can easily move it out of the way while the sugar sets up. If you want to  use edible glitter or sprinkles, add a pinch to the bottom of each shape. 

Use a pan with a thick bottom, and make sure that the pan is tall enough to allow for the volume to double or triple. Mix the sugars with the vanilla and the liquid in the pan, and bring to a boil on a medium hot stove.  Stir frequently, until the sugar has dissolved. Continue to stir as the sugary syrup starts to bubble up and become "woolly", displaying a white, bubbly surface (see picture). 

Stir for three or four minutes, and then dip a fork in the hot sugar. Lift the fork up. If the syrup coats the tines of the fork without dripping off, it's ready to be taken off the stove. In the photo on the right, you can still see sugar crystals so it needs a few more minutes. 

Once off the heat, stir down the sugary mixture, until all the big bubbles have gone - this will ensure a nice, solid candy. Stir in a drop or two of food coloring if you wish, and stir until you have the desired color. Carefully pour the hot sugary mess into the molds. 

The sugar will set pretty quickly on the outside, but the inside will still be scalding hot, so don't be fooled. Allow it to sit in a safe place for several hours or overnight to set up. 

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Breakfast is always a little bit of a feast in the Netherlands, especially on the weekends, when there is a bit more time to prepare something special. Our breakfasts are certainly not for the indecisive. Are you going to go for white soft rolls or crunchy ones? Beschuit, toast, or knäckebrot? White, brown or volkoren bread? Not to mention having to choose between the vast amount of toppings, sweet or savory, cold cuts, cheeses, eggs.....or are you skipping bread altogether and prefer a big bowl of pap, porridge? The breakfast table holds a dazzling array of choices, and is such a treasure trove of delights - worth taking time for.

The only thing I think we can all agree on is that savory comes first, and sweet comes last - but even that unwritten rule is sometimes hazy: where does a slice of bread with cheese and jam, or peanut butter and hagelslag fall? Is it all-in-one, or does it come after the savory and before the sweet? And is three slices of bread too much for our Calvinistic genes? Interesting things to ponder while enjoying a cup of coffee or tea, and another slice of something good :-)

One of the breads that always makes the breakfast table a little bit more festive and special is a pillowy loaf of raisin bread, rozijnenbrood. A sweet dough, flavored with just a hint of cinnamon, and juicy, sweet raisins all throughout the loaf. This bread is good with just a lick of butter, or topped with a slice of aged cheese. It can also be used as a base for wentelteefjes, or broodschoteltjes

Don't be alarmed by the large amount of raisins that go in the bread: they will all fit! For this recipe, I rinse the raisins in warm water, let them sit in the warm water for a few minutes, then set them out to air dry for a couple of hours. I want them somewhat plump-ish on the inside but not overly saturated, and dry on the outside. 


2 cups (250 grams) raisins
1 3/4 cup (250 grams) all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons (25 grams) sugar
1/2 teaspoon (4 grams) salt
1/8 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 cup (125 ml) water or milk, lukewarm
2 teaspoons (8 grams) active dry yeast
3 tablespoons (40 grams) butter, softened
1 egg, beaten

Rinse the raisins in lukewarm water, and set them out to air dry. 

Mix the flour, sugar, salt, and cinnamon in a bowl. Sprinkle the yeast on top of the lukewarm water or
milk and let it stand for five minutes, or until it's frothy, then mix it in with the dry ingredients. Knead, either in a machine or by hand, until the dough more or less comes together, then add the butter and most of the egg (keep two teaspoons behind for brushing the top). Continue to knead the dough until you have  cohesive whole, about three to four minutes. Pat the dough into a ball, cover and let it rise for a good thirty minutes, or until about not quite doubled in size. 

Dust the counter with a little bit of flour, pat the air out of the dough, and put a handful of raisins on top. With the use of a scraper, or a floured hand, fold the dough over itself, incorporating the raisins. Repeat this until all the raisins have found a spot in the dough. 

Shape the dough into an oval loaf, grease a 8 x 4 inch (20 x 10 cm) loaf tin, and place the dough inside. Cover and let rise at room temperature until the dough peeks over the top: about an hour, but depending on the actual temperature of the room, this may take less - just keep an eye on it. When ready, brush the top with the remaining egg.

Heat the oven to 350F/175C and bake the loaf, in the middle, for about fifteen minutes, then place aluminum foil over the top to keep it from browning too fast. Bake for another twenty minutes, or until golden brown*. The internal temperature should measure 185F/85F and rising (meaning that the digital thermometer reaches the temperature pretty quickly and continues to rise beyond that). 

Pull the bread, let it cool in the tin, and remove it when it's lukewarm. Let it cool down on a rack before cutting. 

 * I don't follow the "bread is done when it sounds hollow when you tap it" because I don't know what "hollow" sounds like to anybody else, so I temp the bread with a digital thermometer.