Hachee with beer and apples.

Hachee with potatoes and bread.Oh, the Dutch. My grandmother had a few ideas about the Dutch, and she mostly wasn’t right. But she wasn’t entirely wrong, either, and despite marrying into a bunch of them the mysteries of the Dutch didn’t begin to become apparent until recently, until this past summer when I started trying to really understand Dutch culture. Let’s just say that I’m starting to wonder how many of Nick’s quirks are the result of nature and not nurture.

One of these quirks is an inability, or perhaps unwillingness, to give a straight answer. I ask a question, I get a short story the answer isn’t even hidden within. It is literally beside the point: the point is over here, and I am now meant to do something with this other thing, these twelve oral paragraphs about something seemingly unrelated. I thought it was just Nick, who is prone to rambling and finding ways to bother me, but this might be cultural. You see, my next project is Dutch cookery and Google help you if you want to try to understand the origin or fundamentals of any Dutch recipe.

Every Dutch recipe is unlike every other Dutch recipe because everyone’s Dutch grandmother made everything different and better than everyone else’s Dutch grandmother and no one’s really written any of it down, not precisely.

(Maybe it’s not the Dutch who are at fault, here; maybe my issue is with grandmothers?)

Fortunately, I am a stubborn jackass and if something seems impossible, that’s my cue to jump in and shout SEE? I TOLD YOU I WAS ON TO SOMETHING. (Maybe I need to re-evaluate my life a little bit. This current approach is often more exhausting than it is satisfying.)

Hachee with potatoesSo in the meantime, it has taken a little longer than I’d planned to begin posting Dutch recipes, because there is a lot of learning, and a lot of trying to understand the whys of a dish before sorting out the hows. What follows is one I’m really happy with; it’s a recipe for hachee, which is a stew of beef and browned onions with apple for sweetness and acidity and very simple spices. The result is a slightly sweet, deeply savoury dish I’m certain you’ll want to make all winter.

Do you have Dutch recipes, and do you want to share them? I’d love to see (and make) them, so please email me!

A few notes:

  • Dutch bacon is not like North American bacon, in that it is not smoked. If you can find salt pork, use that; it’s inexpensive, and you can often get away with buying just a small piece at a time. If you can’t find it, bacon is fine and the stew will still be delicious.
  • I recommend using chicken stock instead of beef stock, as chicken stock is milder and doesn’t get in the way of the other ingredients – I found the beef stock was too much, and sort of did away with the subtler notes the apples brought to the pot; low-sodium or homemade chicken stock is best.
  • For apples, I chose a slightly sweet, slightly tart, firm-fleshed variety of apple – use the kind of apple you’d bake into a pie.
  • Serve hachee over mashed or boiled potatoes, buttered egg noodles, or steamed or boiled and buttered red cabbage. A heel of crusty brown bread on the side will make a good sop.

Hachee (Dutch beef stew)

  • 1/4 lb. bacon or salt pork, finely chopped
  • 1 tbsp. butter
  • 2 lbs. beef chuck, cubed
  • 2 lbs. onions, halved lengthwise and thinly sliced
  • 3 tbsp. all-purpose flour
  • 2 tbsp. molasses
  • 2 tsp. coarse salt
  • 1 tsp. ground black pepper
  • 1/2 tsp. ground nutmeg
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 12 oz. / 355 mL amber or brown ale (nothing hoppy)
  • 2 lbs. firm-fleshed apples, peeled, cored and cut into wedges approximately 1/2-inch thick
  • 4 cups low-sodium or homemade chicken stock
  • 2 tsp. apple cider vinegar

In a Dutch oven or other heavy pot, brown bacon over medium-high heat, stirring frequently, until fat has rendered and the bacon is crispy, about four minutes.

Scoop the bacon out and reserve. Working in batches, brown the beef in the accumulated bacon fat. As your beef browns, scoop it out and set it aside.

Once you have browned all of your beef, add the butter. Once the butter has melted, add the onions and reduce your heat to medium. Brown the onions until mostly caramelized and reduced in volume by about two-thirds; this should take between 15 and 20 minutes, and you should stir them regularly.

When onions are brown, add beef and bacon back to the pot. Add flour, and stir to coat pot contents thoroughly. Add molasses, salt, pepper, and nutmeg, and stir again. Add the bay leaf.

Add the beer to the pot, scraping the bottom of the pot as you do to scrape up any browned bits. There will be browned bits, and they will make this stew what it is. Add the apples, and then the chicken stock.

Reduce heat to medium low, and simmer, uncovered, for two and a half to three hours, until sauce is has thickened and meat is tender.

Before serving, add apple cider vinegar and stir. Taste, adjusting seasonings as needed. I serve this sprinkled with a bit of fresh parsley, for colour.

Advertisements

Taco fried rice.

The first time I ever heard about taco rice I didn’t have much information to go on other than “yeah, duh, that sounds amazing. I would like to have that now, please.”

As usual, I wasn’t entirely paying attention and when it came time to try making it for the first time, I missed a few essential details.

Taco rice is one of those magical, confusing dishes that results from a bunch of ideas all jumbled up and served on one plate. It’s origin is Japanese – Okinawan, specifically – with influence from a bunch of taco-craving American GIs based on the island. It came up in the most recent episode of Anthony Bourdain’s Parts Unknown, and it was only then that I understood. Says Bourdain: “This unholy, greasy, starchy, probably really unhealthy delight, a booze-mop-turned-classic, caught on big time.”

Taco fried rice baseIn short, what I thought was taco rice was not taco rice at all. Taco rice is a layered thing – spiced, fried ground meat on top of white rice, with lettuce and tomatoes and cheese on top of that. Taco fried rice is unholy in its own way, the kind of thing you would make if you were drunk in your kitchen late at night, or if it was the 1950s. It’s exotic! Except it’s not.

It’s comfort food and you should be comfortable when you eat it.

So, here’s my misinterpretation of taco rice. What is authenticity anyway?

Taco fried rice

(Makes 4 servings.)

  • 3 tbsp. canola oil
  • 1 onion, finely chopped
  • 3 celery stalks, halved lengthwise and then diced
  • 1 red bell pepper, diced
  • 1 jalapeño pepper, seeded and finely chopped
  • 6 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 1 cup corn kernels (fresh or frozen)
  • 1 lb. ground pork
  • 1 tbsp. chili powder
  • 2 tsp. ground cumin
  • 2 tsp. smoked paprika
  • 1 tsp. ground black pepper
  • 1/2 tsp. ground coriander
  • 1/2 tsp. dried oregano
  • 2 tbsp. soy sauce
  • 1 tbsp. rice vinegar
  • 3 cups cooked rice
  • 2 cups prepared salsa (either homemade or store-bought)
  • 1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro

In a large pan or Dutch oven over medium heat, saute onion, celery, bell pepper, jalapeño pepper, and corn until colours have brightened, about two minutes. Add garlic and cook for another two minutes, stirring occasionally until veggies have just begun to soften.

Crumble the ground pork into the pan. Add chili powder, cumin, paprika, black pepper, coriander, and oregano to the pan, and stir, breaking up the pork with a wooden spoon as you go. Cook for about five minutes, until pork is cooked through and the pan appears dry on the bottom.

Add soy sauce and rice vinegar, and stir to combine. Add rice. Stir again.

Add salsa, and stir. Cook for another three minutes, until most of the liquid in the pan has disappeared. Taste, adjusting seasonings as needed. Stir in cilantro and serve with accompaniments.

Taco fried rice with toppingsAccompaniments:

  • Shredded cabbage
  • Sliced tomatoes
  • Diced avocado
  • Thinly sliced jalapeño peppers
  • Shredded cheddar cheese
  • Hot sauce, such as Tapatio or Cholula

EarthBites and Spaghetti alla Carbonara

atung

Last week, the folks from Rocky Mountain Flatbread, one of my favourite local pizza places (and a kid-friendly spot to boot!) invited me to sit in on a cooking class with Alex Tung, a Vancouver-based chef with international credentials and a flair for all things Italian. Given that it was a rainy Thursday and there were plates of pasta a chef would make for me while I watched, it didn’t take much convincing. Chef Tung made three dishes: a luscious pomodoro sauce over a fresh pasta he likened to Italian udon, a fregola dish with clams and fresh tomatoes, and Spaghettoni alla Carbonara, a version of which is described below.

The class was part of a fundraising initiative on behalf of EarthBites, a local program that teaches children in schools about food and nutrition. It’s an issue that’s timely and particularly pressing for urban kids who may not have access to gardens at home.

Every year, EarthBites goes into schools to teach thousands of kids how to grow and cook their own healthy meals. The children are instructed by a dedicated team of urban growers, nutritionists and entrepreneurs who are passionate about engaging children with the food they eat.

You can support EarthBites (and maybe learn something new!) by participating in one of their “watch and learn”-style cooking classes with local chefs, including Top Chef Canada contestant Dawn Doucette, and Chopped Canada winner Alana Peckham. Classes run through the fall; visit their website to learn more. I love getting a few chef-tested recipes to play with at home, so between that and the food and the cheffy banter, this was a winner for me.

To whet your palate, here’s a recipe for Spaghetti alla Carbonara from the class I took with Alex Tung (pictured above), an award-winning French-trained chef with a passion for Italian cooking. If you can’t find guanciale, available in Italian delis and specialty stores, use pancetta or bacon. If you can find smoked hog jowl, it’s comparable (but smoked, which guanciale is not), and generally a bit cheaper. In Vancouver, Buy Low Foods often has smoked hog jowl for around $3.50 per, which – at about a pound per piece – I generally can make work for two meals.

While we’re on the topic of kids and food, you might like to know that this dish was picky-eater approved. The kid practically inhaled it, and requested it for lunch the next day, even though he hates cheese and everything else that is savoury and delicious. Dear Alex, I love you.

Spaghetti alla Carbonara

(Adapted from a recipe by Chef Alex Tung. Makes 4 servings.)

  • 1/2 lb. guanciale (or pancetta or bacon), diced
  • 1 lb. spaghetti
  • 3 whole eggs plus 3 egg yolks
  • 1 cup finely grated pecorino romano cheese (slightly cheaper grana padano also works well here)
  • Salt and ground black pepper to taste

In a large pan over medium heat, cook diced guanciale until crispy and until fat has rendered, three to ten minutes depending on the size of your dice.

Meanwhile, heat a large pot of generously salted water to a boil. Chef Tung insists that it must taste like sea water; he is right. Cook pasta according to package instructions, about seven to nine minutes until al dente. Between the salted pasta water, the pork and the cheese, it’s likely that you will not need to season the dish with any additional salt.

While your pork and pasta work their magic on your stove, beat eggs and egg yolks in a small bowl. Add cheese, and whisk to combine. Set aside.

If your guanciale cooks quicker than you expected, remove it from the heat but leave it in the pan to keep the rendered fat liquid.

When pasta is ready, scoop out about a cup of the cooking water. Drain the pasta, then return it to the pot but do not return the pot to the stove. Add the guanciale and its rendered fat (like, all of it), stir, then add the egg mixture, stirring well and quickly. Stir in the water, about a quarter of a cup at a time, until the pasta is coated in an satiny sauce.

Taste. Does it need salt? Add salt.

Scoop the pasta into bowls, then sprinkle liberally with black pepper. Serve immediately.

Learn more about school programs and adult cooking classes at earthbites.ca.


EarthBites_logo_header_200This post wasn’t exactly sponsored, but I did get to take the cooking class for free. No one told me what to say, but I think the assumption was that I would say something good? I don’t know. Maybe no one should ever assume that of me. I can be a real jerk.