One of the drawbacks of living abroad is missing out on favorite foods. Sometimes it's not the food itself as much as the memory or the experience of eating it, and with whom. One such foods is "friet zuurvlees", a portion of french fries covered in a thick, sweet and slightly tangy beef stew. As soon as the smell hits me, I am transported back to two different places in time: one place is my grandma Pauline's small kitchen in Blerick, and the many, many times we sat at her table and ate this dish. The other place is, oddly enough, the Waterlooplein flea market in Amsterdam, where on Saturday mornings my friend Andy and I would often hit the patatkraam, a small stand that sold sodas, ice creams and french fries, to get a portion of zuurvlees with our fries.
Finding zuurvlees in Amsterdam is a treat in itself, as the tangy, sweet and tender beef stew is a traditional dish from the south of the Netherlands, more specifically from the province of Limburg. Traditionally made with horse meat, the current versions more than often uses beef instead.

Any southern frietkraam worth its name will offer "friet zuurvlees", preferably a homemade zuurvlees. Especially the city of Maastricht is famous for it, so as soon as the opportunity arose I took off to the Markt where I was told I could get a fantastic sample of my favorite food. Well.......not so much. The sauce was thin and riddled with dark specs, which I have yet to identify, and the flavor was off: not sour, not sweet.....it just tasted like a canned, watered-down version of the real stuff.

So, I figured it was time to hit the pots and pans again and make grandma Pauline's zuurvlees: nice chunky pieces of beef, and a thick gravy that clings to every golden french fry on my plate. Yum!!

2 lb (1 kg) beef chuck roast, cubed
1 large onion, peeled and sliced
1/2 cup (125 ml) white or red wine vinegar, or red wine
2 cups (500 ml) water
2 bay leaves
5 black peppercorns
2 cloves, whole
2 tablespoons (30 grams) butter
1 tablespoon appelstroop
2 slices ontbijtkoek

Put the beef in a non-reactive bowl, place the slices of onion on top and cover with the vinegar or wine and the water. Add two bay leaves, the peppercorns and the two whole cloves, cover and marinate for at least four hours, but preferably overnight. Make sure to stir the meat once or twice during this time so that all pieces have an opportunity to marinate.

Separate the meat from the marinade, and remove and discard the peppercorns. Pat the beef chunks dry with a towel, and salt and pepper them. Melt the butter in a Dutch oven and brown the meat. Drain the onions and brown with the meat, then add the marinade. Bring back to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer until the meat is tender, a good hour or two.

Now stir in the appelstroop, break the ontbijtkoek in pieces and add it to the sauce. Slowly simmer until the ontbijtkoek has dissolved. Taste, and adjust the seasonings if necessary.

Serve hot over a plate of homemade patat and enjoy!


Last week's recipe was hopjesvla, and I received great feedback on the blog, on Facebook and through email. Thank you all for your positive reactions, it looks like there are many vla-lovers out and about! Vla triggers childhood memories, as it is a comforting dessert, and one that is solidly engrained in Dutch culture. If you have been near, into, or grew up with Dutch cuisine, you have probably heard of, or even tasted, vla. It is the ultimate Dutch dessert.

But not everybody likes coffee, the predominant flavor in hopjesvla, so when I said I also tried a recipe for vanillavla, the requests came flying in. This is so easy to make, and tastes great. You probably  have all the ingredients at home already so let's get started! If you leave out the vanilla pod, you have the basic recipe for a simple vla: a great excuse to experiment with your favorite flavors. 

1 vanilla bean
2 1/2 cups milk
3 tablespoons cornstarch
3 tablespoons sugar
2 egg yolks
1 tablespoon of vanilla extract
1 drop of yellow food coloring (optional)

Bring the milk to a simmer in a heavy saucepan. Slice the vanilla pod in half, lengthwise. Scrape the seeds from the pod and add both seeds and pod to the simmering milk. Leave it on a slow simmer on the stove for about ten minutes. Remove the pod.

Mix the cornstarch with the sugar and the egg yolks to a thick paste, stir in the vanilla extract. Add a tablespoon of warm milk to the mix, stir and repeat, as you want to bring the egg yolks up to temperature. Add a couple more tablespoons of warm milk, then stir everything into the saucepan. Bring up to heat, keep stirring until the vla thickens, about two minutes. (Taste to see if it's sweet enough or vanilla-ey enough, if not add a little bit more sugar or vanilla extract. Be careful though, it's hot!!!)

Take the saucepan off the stove. If you must have a supermarket yellow vla, stir in the drop of food coloring. If not, pour the vla a bowl and cover the top of the custard with food film: you don't want a thick skin to form as it cools. Let it cool, preferably overnight. Stir the vla with a spoon before serving. If it's too thick, add a tablespoon of milk at a time until you reach the right consistency. Enjoy it by itself, mixed with tangy yogurt or with fresh fruit. Lekker!


Vla is a dairy dessert that is so engrained in the Dutch kitchen, that you will find at least one or two packages of vla in every refrigerator. It's traditionally the most favorite dessert to finish a meal with, often poured into the same dish you were served your main course on (and some will say that the savory gravy leftovers on the plate will add that extra little "something" to the sweet vla), and eaten with a spoon.

Most often, people will have two or more favorite vlas: with a selection of over twenty flavors, it is easy to find several that you like. The most common flavors are of course vanilla and chocolate, but others like caramel, blanke vla (with a flavor that nobody has yet been able to define, it is simply called "white vla" or "blank vla", depending on how you interpret it), lemon, raspberry...you name it. Seasonal vlas include stoofpeertjes vla, or apple/cinnamon for the fall, and lighter ones, mixed with yogurt for the summer or spring.

But vla has always been one of those desserts that I didn't want to try and make at home: after all, how can you approach the flavor that has been carefully (and chemically) defined in dairy factories all over the country? Newer cookbooks don't mention vla anymore, but digging deep into the early and mid last century cookbooks brought up a few recipes. And I am so glad I did: it turned out to be much easier than I expected and definitely an improvement over any store-bought vlas!

Vla is, as far as I can tell, a typical Dutch dessert, and seemingly one of "recent" discovery. The cookbook of the Haagsche Kookschool from 1895 does not mention any vla: the closest recipe is one for vanilla sauce, but another cookbook, the Nieuw Praktisch Kookboek, first published in 1906 gives recipes for chocolate vla, vanilla vla and even almond vla. Hurray, the vla has been invented!!

And luckily for us, the coffee flavored candy Haagse Hopjes had been invented by then as well, so that the combination of flavor and dessert was just a matter of time......

1/2 cup sugar
2 cups milk
1/2 cup strong, black coffee
2 teaspoons instant coffee (optional)
3 tablespoons corn starch
2 egg yolks

Heat a saucepan with a heavy bottom and add the sugar. Watch carefully as the dry sugar turns liquid and slowly colors golden. Monitor your heat carefully as sugar will go quickly from golden to burnt!

Mix the coffee with the milk and stir well to dissolve the instant coffee granules. When the sugar has caramelized CAREFULLY pour half of the milk in the pan. The sugar will seize up and harden, but by stirring and bringing the milk up to a slow boil, the caramel will soften and eventually dissolve. Continue to stir.

In a separate bowl, mix the cornstarch with the two egg yolks and slowly add in the remainder of the coffee and milk. Now take a tablespoon of hot milk out of the pan and add it to the mixture, stir well and add another one. Do this three more times so that the egg/cornstarch mixture is up to temperature. Take the pan off the stove, and carefully stir in the egg mixture. Return the pan to the heat, and slowly bring up to boil, all the while stirring.

The vla will thicken in the next two to three minutes, and will be ready to take off the stove when it "gloops" i.e. air bubbles will come to the surface and instead of disappearing will leave small holes in the vla, making a "gloop" sound. That's the best I can describe it!

Pour the vla in a bowl, cover with plastic film to avoid the formation of a milk skin, and refrigerate until cold.

To achieve the pourable consistency, you may need to add a tablespoon or two of cold milk to the vla and stir it well before serving.


Awwww.......it looks like the Elfstedentocht will have to skip another year. Again. The last time the Eleven Cities Tour race was skated (is that a verb?) was in 1997, and was won by Henk Angenent, a fine Brussel Sprouts grower from the province of South Holland. He finished the 200 kilometer race in 6 hours and 49 minutes and many a Dutch man, or woman, has been eager to beat his record since. But it looks like the weather is not cooperating this year either, so another year goes by without the excitement of Holland's largest speed skating event. Thankfully, there are still plenty of dishes from our northern regions to explore, so here we go!

The province of Friesland is proud of its province and its beautiful waterways, and it shows. As a matter of fact, the whole country is taking a larger interest in its own beauty, and several fantastic magazines dedicated to either outdoor living, backyard farming or covering certain regional areas have appeared on the store shelves.

During my visit this last January I came across one of those magazines, a beautiful publication called Noorderland. It covers the most northern region of the country, the provinces of Friesland, Drenthe and Groningen to be exact. Their winter photography of traditional Dutch landscapes was breathtaking, but what really got my attention was a gorgeous picture of a poffert. (Yeah I know, big surprise huh....what can I say!? I love Dutch food!!). The magazine itself was no longer on the shelf, but the editorial team was so kind as to send me a backcopy for which I am very grateful. Thank you, Noorderland!

The poffert, or boffert, is originally a northern dish. Not clear on whether it's originally from Friesland or Groningen, the poffert can also go by trommelkoek (tin cake) or ketelkoek (kettle cake), and is usually eaten as a meal, not as dessert or a coffee cake. It's heavy, thick and a real stick-to-your-ribs kind of baked good, but at the same time a fantastic and sweet discovery.

The Frisian cookbook "De Welkokende Vriesche Keukenmeid" from 1772 mentions the poffert and declares that the poffert is "zeer geschikt om op reis mede te nemen" (very suitable for traveling). And we're not surprised: besides being sturdy, it also holds well and becomes even better tasting after a day or two. Not to mention, whomever you will be visiting will be pleased to receive a slice or two!

While researching this recipe, I came across many different variations, as one can expect for a recipe that's been around for several centuries. The earlier mentioned cookbook adds six eggs to a pound of white flour, half a pound of melted butter, a spoonful of rosewater, a spoonful of yeast and some water. A later recipe adds raisins and apples. Other cookbooks suggest lining the cake pan with strips of bacon, then pouring in the batter so it becomes a more savory dish.

What most recipes agree on, though, is that the cake was meant to substitute a meal. No sugar is added to the initial batter, but the slices of bread cake are served with syrup, and if desired, some butter.

1/4 cup dark raisins
1/4 cup golden raisins
3 each dried apricots
3 each dried figs
1 tablespoon preserved ginger
2 cups self-rising flour
3 egg yolks
3 egg whites
1 cup of milk
2 tablespoons butter, melted
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons ground almonds (optional)
2 tablespoons brandy
2 tablespoons panko or breadcrumbs

For serving: pancake syrup, cinnamon sugar, powdered sugar

Soak the raisins in half a cup of water. Chop the apricots, figs and ginger and add them to the raisins, set aside to soak.

Add the flour to a mixing bowl and add three egg yolks, the milk, the butter and the salt. Mix well. Whip the egg whites in a separate bowl until stiff, and fold them in with the batter. Lastly, drain and squeeze the dried fruits, then fold them into the batter, together with the brandy.

Spray some baking spray into your poffert pan (if you don't have a poffert pan, you can use a bundt or angel food pan and cover the top with aluminum foil). Add the panko or breadcrumbs and toss them around in the pan until all sides, and the little pokey part in the middle, are covered. Do the same with the lid. Tap out the remainder of the breadcrumbs. Carefully pour the batter into the pan and close with the lid. Only fill the form to about 75% of its capacity, as the batter will tend to rise.

Insert the pan into another pan with hot boiling water, but keep the water level at about an inch, an inch and a half,  below the rim of the poffert pan. Put a trivet on the bottom of the pan so that the surface of the poffert pan does not immediately touch the bottom of the water pan. Put something heavy on top so that the poffert pan doesn't float or tilt. Add hot water as needed.

Keep at a rolling boil for an hour. Remove from the pan, carefully (watch out for steam!!) remove the lid and insert a food thermometer or skewer to see if the cake is done. If the skewer comes out clean, the cake is done. If not return it to the water pan and continue to boil for another twenty minutes.

When the cake is done, replace the lid and put the pan in a 375F oven, middle rack for another ten to fifteen minutes. This will brown the panko and the outside of the poffert.

Tip the pan on a cookie rack, cool until warm, then slice and serve with syrup, butter or cinnamon sugar. If you feel adventurous, tie on some skates and get to practising, the next Elfstedentocht might be just around the corner!!


Skating has been on the brain of every Dutch person, voluntarily or not, for the past several weeks. And not just any kind of skating. The air was pregnant with possibilities of another Elfstedentocht this year, and as it always goes, the whole country goes into skate frenzy.

The 200 kilometer ice skating event travels along the waters of eleven Frisian cities, all connected through waterways. But skating is no new pastime for the Dutch: for centuries they've tied skates on and whisked away on the ice, sometimes out of need, but mostly for pleasure.

During the 17th and 18th century, that pleasure part did not only limit itself to slipping and sliding on the ice on a set of iron blades (for the rich) or sharpened large animal bones (for the not-so-rich): as rules and regulations were only applicable to the land, during cold winters and frozen waters, small shacks would appear on the ice. These temporary settlements provided opportunities to strengthen the inner self with hot alcoholic beverages that were taxable and subject to law on the mainland but not on the ice. Other small buildings were constructed to help one lose one's hard earned money in gambling pits or to brave the cold and harsh conditions for eh.....visits of a more carnal nature. Go figure.

But back to the first shack. Called koek-en-zopie's (cookies and hootch), these huts sold cakes and cookies, and something called zopie. The word zopie allegedly comes from the word soopje, which may have been derived from the word zuipen (to imbibe). Regardless, a recipe for the tipple resides online so there was no excuse to not try it out.

Nowadays, koek-en-zopies sell split pea soup, hot chocolate and gevulde koeken, but no more zopie which is a shame, because it was actually quite good and easy to make. So tie on your skates (or tie one on without!) and get to cooking: the Elfstedentocht may be near!

3 12 oz. bottles of Michelob Amber Bock (or another type of bock beer)
1 cinnamon stick
2 cloves, whole
2 slices of lemon
1 cup brown sugar
2 eggs
4 tablespoons rum

Bring the bock beer, with the cinnamon stick, the cloves and the lemon slices to a boil, then turn the heat down and simmer for fifteen minutes. Whip the brown sugar with the eggs until foamy.

Carefully add a tablespoon of  the warm beer to the egg mixture and stir. Do this five more times, then take the beer off the stove. Remove the cinnamon stick, the lemon and the cloves. Carefully stir the rest of the beer into the eggs, in a tiny stream. Make sure the eggs don't curdle, and keep stirring. Pour everything back in the pan, and return the pan to the heat, but do not let the mixture boil, just warm it up and keep stirring until the beverage thickens a bit and gives the drink a smooth, velvety texture.

Stir in the rum, and serve hot with a dollop of whipped cream and a pinch of cinnamon.