Hallee, it's hachee day!

Hachee (hash-ay) is one of those old-fashioned dishes that pops up on the table the moment the temperature outside drops to "colder than dirt". Looking out the window and seeing snow, I knew it was time for a good old "stick to your ribs" kind of meal, and hachee is just the ticket!

November 15 is National Hachee Day in the Netherlands. The stewed beef dish has been around since the Middle Ages, where its main function was to use up all the pieces of meat that needed to be used up, combined with a bunch of onions, some leftover red wine and set to simmer on the back of the stove. It's such an easy and yet grateful dish to make, and a favorite of the Dutch. Cubes of beef, stewed in a sauce flavored with onions, bay leaf, vinegar, juniper berries and pepper corns, pair perfectly with creamy mashed potatoes and red cabbage or, if you're in the mood, try the stew over a plate of golden fries....patat stoofvlees is a favorite snack!

This is a great dish to prepare in a Crock-Pot. Throw everything together in the morning, turn it on low and go on your merry way: when you come home, dinner will be ready! For this dish, I tend to use chuck pot roast, or a bottom round or rump roast: it's a cheaper cut of meat that will benefit greatly from this cooking method.

Hachee
2 lbs of beef, cubed
1 tablespoon of butter
3 large onions, peeled and sliced
1 tablespoon of flour
1/2 beef bouillon cube, or homemade beef bouillon
4 cups of water
3 bay leaves
3 cloves, whole
4 juniper berries (optional)
8 pepper corns
3 tablespoons of apple cider vinegar or red wine
Salt
Pepper

Melt the butter in a Dutch oven and quickly brown the cubed beef. Add the onions and stir in with the beef until the onions are translucent. Sprinkle the flour over the beef, crumble the bouillon cube and add with four coups of water to the pan. The meat has to be almost submerged. Add the bay leaves, cloves (I stick them in a piece of onion so I can find them again), juniper berries if you want and the pepper corns, then stir in the vinegar or the wine. Bring to a slow boil, then turn down the heat, cover and simmer for a good two hours.

Try a little piece of meat to see if it's tender to your liking. Remove the meat onto a plate, adjust the sauce with salt and pepper or a little vinegar if you like it more tangy and reduce slightly. Add the meat back in, stir to cover, and serve with mashed potatoes and red cabbage, or over a plate of rice.


To make it really Dutch, don't forget the "kuiltje" (pothole)
in your mashed potatoes for the gravy!

Jodenkoeken

The Dutch have a huge cookie culture. The shelves in the grocery store are loaded with sugary breads, cookies, tarts and every other product that can be eaten with a cup of coffee or tea. It is said that the Dutch will only offer you one cookie with your hot beverage, as they are so tight-fisted, but I have yet to experience that. Most hosts just leave the cookie jar on the table and invite you to help yourself.

A traditional Jodenkoeken cookie can.
Beside the coloring, flavors and shapes of the cookies, the most memorable are without a doubt their names: bokkepootjes (billygoat's legs), kletskop (bald head or chatterbox), Weesper moppen (blobs from Weesp), Arnhemse meisjes (girls from Arnhem), ijzerkoekjes (iron cookies), lange vingers (long fingers) or kattetongen (cat tongues). Another cookie with a huge following is the so-called "jodekoek" or Jewish cookies.

The story goes that Davelaar, a cookie baker, bought a bakery from a retiring Jewish baker in the early 1920. The bakery was famous for these large, sweet and buttery cookies and Davelaar continued to bake them, selling them in metal cookie cans and charging a deposit. During the seventies, the name of the cookie was considered not-politically-correct and Davelaar changed it for the export cookies, but never did for the national market. To this day it's called "Jodekoek" or Jewish cookie.

The size of the cookie is most remarkable, it measures a whopping 3.5 inches across. Not very impressive for an American cookie, but most certainly for a Dutch one. The ingredients are few but come together wonderfully as a sandy, buttery cookie: do make sure you use top quality ingredients.

Jodekoek
1 stick of butter, room temperature
1/4 cup of sugar
1 tablespoon milk
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
pinch of salt
1 cup of self-rising flour, packed

Cream the butter and the sugar. Add the milk, the cinnamon and the sugar. Knead the flour into the mix, blending all the ingredients. Wrap in foil and refrigerate for an hour.

Preheat the oven to 350F.

Dust the counter with flour and roll the dough thin, about 1/4th of an inch or less. Cut out the cookies with the help of a canning ring for widemouth jars, it's the right size. Place the cookies on parchment paper on a sheet pan and bake for approximately 15 minutes until golden brown. The last few minutes you may want to keep an eye on the cookies as they "over-brown" rather quickly.

Enjoy with a cup of hot tea, coffee or hot chocolate.

Hete Bliksem

 In this quest to investigate, research and write about the culinary traditions of my country, I stumble across some very interesting details. For one, I think there is nary a thing a Dutch person wouldn't add to a dish of mashed potatoes: we have mashed potatoes with carrots (hutspot), mashed potatoes with kale (boerenkool), mashed potatoes with sauerkraut, a whole array of mashed potatoes with greens and today I am making mashed potatoes with apple.

Boerenkool
The potato was first introduced in the Netherlands in the early 1600's but was not officially recognized as fit for human consumption until 1727. Since then, the country has been producing a large variety of potatoes such as Eigenheimers, Bintjes, Alphas, Irenes, Gelderse muisjes. As with other agricultural products, Holland is one of the market leaders regarding the export on potatoes.

The traditional meal in Holland consists of the Dutch trinity: meat, vegetables and spuds. Most traditionally boiled, potatoes can also be served fried or mashed. One of my favorites are pan-fried potatoes: boil some extra potatoes the day before, chill them, then slice the next day and fry in some butter in a skillet until they are golden brown and crispy. Yum!

Hete Bliksem
Today's dish is called "hete bliksem" or hot lightning. Not entirely sure what generated the name. Some say it's because the high amount of liquid in the mash: the dish stays hot longer than other types of mashed potatoes. That is true, there is no additional milk needed to mash these potatoes and apples into a smooth consistency and it does stay warm longer. Other names for this savory and sweet potato dish are "heaven and earth" referring to the source of apples (heaven) and potatoes (earth), or "thunder and lightning".

The key is to use a mixture of sweet and tart apples, 2 parts potato, 1 part apple. Jonagolds, Braeburns and Jonathans will do well by themselves as they possess both flavors.

Hete Bliksem
8 large potatoes
4 apples (2 sweet, 2 tart)
4 slices of salted pork

Peel and cube the potatoes and place them in a pan with just enough water to cover them. Peel and core the apples, cut in halves and place on top of the potatoes, top with the slices of salt pork. Cover and bring to a boil, then simmer for twenty minutes or until potatoes are done. Remove the pork, pour off the water (save some) and mash the apples and potatoes to your liking, lumpy or smooth. If it's too dry, add a tablespoon at a time of the cooking liquid. Taste. Adjust with salt and pepper if needed.

Slice the pork in narrow strips, mix in with the mashed potatoes and serve. Good with a lick of mustard.


Pasteitje met ragout

As Calvinistic as we are, bent on not having too much of anything and claiming that "being normal is crazy enough", we are set on extending the Christmas celebrations over two days instead of one. First Christmas Day is December 25th, Second Christmas Day is December 26th. And if you are part of those families that also celebrate Christmas Eve, that makes it two days and a half.

Christmas Eve is traditionally the night where you dress up, go to evening mass (even those that are not raised in the church will often attend) and upon return to the house round off the celebrations with hot chocolate and, how else, a bread meal with luxury rolls.

First Christmas Day is a formal dinner day and a day that is generally celebrated with family only. If you are invited to someone's home on First Christmas Day, and you are not family or in any way related, it is quite an honor! This is also the day that will determine where you stand, family-wise. In trying to keep the peace between families and in-laws, children often switch back and forth between families on 1st and 2nd Christmas Day: one year you will celebrate dinner at your parent's on the 1st, the next year it's at your significant other's parents. Being invited, or visited, on 2nd Christmas Day almost automatically classifies you as 2nd class family member......

Second Christmas Day is much less formal. It's when the leftovers are eaten, and everybody runs around in their "house suit", sweats and jammies, hanging in front of the TV or going for long, wintery walks to get some fresh air. Friends will sometimes come over for a drink and a chat, and a less formal dinner (not leftovers!!).

So many of these traditions are slowly changing but one of the standard items on Christmas Day is this appetizer or starter for the meal: a puff pastry cup filled with a chicken and mushroom gravy. It is so seventies, but it is one of those dishes that is comforting, filling and familiar at the same time.

I had some chicken leftover from last night's dinner club. It's getting close to Christmas and all of a sudden I had a hankering for a pasteitje met ragout.......You can also use leftover chicken from your Sunday roast. 

Pasteitjes, puff pastry shells, can be found in the store, in the freezer section. If you can't find them, make your own shells out of a sheet of puff pastry, or serve the ragout with rice or on bread.  

Pasteitje met ragout
For the pasteitjes:
2 sheets of puff pastry
1 tablespoon of flour
1 egg, beaten

Dust the counter with flour and thaw the sheets. Cut eight circles out of the pastry dough. Out of four of these circles, press a smaller circle from the middle. Wet the full circles with a little bit of water, place the rings on top and brush the whole pastry with egg. Place the cut outs on the side, poke them a couple of times with a fork so they don't puff up too much, and brush as well.

Bake on a sheetpan in a 425F oven for ten to twelve minutes or until golden and puffy. Cool on a wire rack.

Ragout
1 tablespoon of butter
2 chicken breast
1 large onion, peeled and sliced
3 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
1 small can of mushrooms (or one cup of fresh mushrooms, sliced)
2 1/2 cups of white wine
2 1/2 cup of warm water
1 chicken bouillon cube
2 bay leaves
Sprinkle of thyme

For the gravy
1/3 cup of flour
4 tablespoons of butter

If you have time, marinate the chicken breast the night before in a bowl with the wine, water, onions, bay leaves, thyme and crushed garlic cloves. 

Heat the olive oil in a Dutch oven, add the sliced onion and the garlic cloves and sauté until translucent. Dry the chicken, cut it into large cubes, season it with salt and pepper and quickly sear it on all sides.Add the wine, the warm water, the bouillon cube and the mushrooms and bring to a boil. Turn down the heat, add the bay leaves, a sprinkle of thyme and pepper and simmer for at least 25 minutes, covered.

Take the chicken out of the stock. The meat should be tender enough that you can pull it apart with two forks. If not, return to the pan and simmer longer.

In a different pan, melt the butter, stir in the flour and quickly make a paste. Add a ladle full of your cooking liquid to the sauce and stir until it's absorbed. Do the same with four more ladles, until you have a nice pan full of gravy. Now add the meat to the gravy. Taste and adjust the flavor with salt and pepper if needed.

Carefully place the pasteitjes on a plate, fill with ragout, sprinkle with some parsley if you want and serve!


Honingkoek

Breakfast is always a treat in Holland. The amount of cold cuts is amazing, the cheese is fabulous and the large variety of breads always makes it difficult to choose from. If you're not in the mood for bread, you can pick a Dutch rusk, beschuit, a cracker or a large slice of Dutch "breakfast cake" or ontbijtkoek.

Ontbijtkoek is a cake-like quick bread, soft, sweet and with a variety of spices and flavors. The enticing mix of cinnamon, ground cloves and nutmeg is the basis for a large variety of different breads: ontbijtkoek is also known as peperkoek if it also contains a snuff of white pepper, honingkoek if it has an additional amount of honey, gemberkoek if the cake is studded with candied ginger or kandijkoek when the top of the cake is covered in sugary pearls.

Not all ontbijtkoeken are solely consumed for breakfast.  The koek can be sliced and eaten by itself, dry, or improved with a dab of real butter as a snack, or with a cup of coffee. Children will often get a slice to hold them over until dinner, and a popular game at birthdays and national celebrations is "koekhappen", cake nipping. Thick slices of ontbijtkoek are individually suspended on a larger rope, so that they dangle right above the heads of the, sometimes blindfolded, children. Adults on either side of the rope will lower the koek until right above the children's heads who, in order to get a bite out of the cake, have to jump up and nip at the delicacy. First one to finish the koek is declared the winner! The Dutch company Peijnenburg, famous for its koeken, uses koekhappen in most of their commercials: this one is still my favorite!

This morning I was in the mood for honingkoek. It's an easy cake to bake, it fills the house with lovely smells and it's a perfect afternoon snack for later. If you have all the ingredients, this cake can be on your breakfast table in the time it takes you to get the newspaper, make a pot of coffee and toast the bread.

This recipe is for an 8 x 4 inch loaf pan: double the recipe and you'll be able to bake two (save one in the freezer for later!), or bake a larger koek in a 9 x 5 loaf pan. If you do, stick to one egg, and increase your baking time to 50 minutes.

Honingkoek
2 cups of self-rising flour (250gr)
1/2 cup of brown sugar (75 gr)
1 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground aniseed (optional)
1/4 tsp ground cloves
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
Pinch of salt
1/2 cup of honey (75 gr)
1 cup of milk (120 ml)
1 egg

Grease an 8 x 4 cake pan. Preheat oven to 350F. Add all the dry ingredients to a bowl and mix together. Set the mixer on low and add the wet ingredients, one at a time. Scrape the sides of the bowl once or twice. Mix until you have a smooth batter, approx. 2 minutes. Pour the batter into the pan, bake for 30 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean. Let the ontbijtkoek cool on a wire rack, then slice and serve with butter. Best saved in a plastic bag at room temperature, will keep for several days.