Dutch macaroni.

Not to rush the end of summer (I would never!), but I’m getting pretty excited for fall dinners, leggings-based outfits, 60 per cent less boob sweat, and a little cookbook launch party I hope you’ll attend if you’re in Vancouver. (I hope we can get to Winnipeg, Toronto, and elsewhere – stay tuned! If your local bookstore, pannenkoekenhuis, or licorice parlour wants to talk boeterkoek and bitterballen, drop me a line!)

In the meantime, while the temperature has dropped slightly ahead of another summer heatwave, I’m in the mood for macaroni. This recipe, a family friendly Dutch weeknight dinner not unlike American Goulash or a fancy take on Hamburger Helper, is a one-pot weeknight staple for us; I use whole wheat macaroni in mine because no one here seems to notice and, you know, fibre.

Dutch macaroni

(Makes 6 to 8 servings.)

  • 1 lb lean ground beef
  • 1 tsp kosher salt
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 1 red bell pepper, diced
  • 2 carrots, peeled and diced
  • 2 celery stalks, diced
  • 3 garlic cloves, roughly chopped
  • 6-oz can low-sodium or no-salt-added tomato paste
  • 1 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 tsp grainy Dijon or Dutch mustard
  • 1 tsp ground black pepper
  • 1/2 tsp smoked paprika
  • 1/2 tsp dried oregano
  • 1/2 tsp dried basil
  • 14 oz dry macaroni
  • 4 cups low-sodium or homemade chicken stock
  • 4 oz shredded Edam cheese

In a large pot on medium, brown beef with salt in olive oil for about 5 minutes. Remove meat from pot and set aside. Drain off all but 2 tbsp grease.

Add onions, bell peppers, carrots, celery, and garlic, and sauté for about 4 minutes, until colors have brightened and vegetables are shiny. Stir in tomato paste, Worcestershire sauce, mustard, pepper, smoked paprika, oregano, and basil, and coat vegetables.

Return beef to pot. Add macaroni, and stir well. Add chicken stock; liquid should just cover mixture. If not, add a cup or two of water.

Bring contents to a simmer, and cook 10–12 minutes, until macaroni is tender.

Add Edam and stir until melted. Serve immediately.


Dutch Feast is currently available for pre-order from Arsenal Pulp Press, Amazon.com, Amazon.ca, and other fine online retailers; order online to receive your copy this fall, or purchase it from your favourite local bookstore in November, 2017.

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Cake for breakfast.

“Okay, but why are you sorry?”

“Because you got mad.”

I’m at the stage in whatever process I’m in – book-writing, middle-management, big-kid parenting, all of it – where I would like to turn a few pages back in this choose-your-own-adventure story of life. I accidentally set a meatloaf and four sweet potatoes on fire on the barbecue this week and then cried because Nick ruined dinner by spraying it with the fire extinguisher. How could he. If a little char adds flavour, what might a little incineration do? I guess we’ll never know.

“But do you know why I got mad?”

“It’s just something you do sometimes when I break stuff.”

Remember when we were teenagers and the high school teachers had us fill out those aptitude tests to find out what we should be doing with our lives, as if that meant anything? I took the test twice because my first result was “street performer.” I have no musical talent and it rains for months at a time here. My second result was “embalmer,” and I panicked because HOW WOULD THAT EVEN WORK? (Side note: what the hell, 1990s Surrey School District administration, did you buy the discount testing package?!) I was terrible at science and failing math and worried that I wasn’t meant for anything that would support my future cat family and ability to finally own a pair of Mavi jeans. Instead of aptitude tests, teachers should tell teens about all the things they will have to juggle one day, effectively and with a smile, and all their “what am I going to do with my life?” fears would be replaced by “how can I avoid all of that?”

Maybe worrying about your future career path is pointless. Maybe they should give kids parenting workshops so that they know what to do when they inevitably find themselves bested by the world’s sassiest five-year-old.

Aside from “marry rich” and “don’t teach your children to talk,” I don’t have many answers. But perhaps I can make a suggestion? Don’t try to be the kind of parent and partner and worker the internet thinks you should be, at least not all at once, and don’t sign your five-year-old up for soccer and T-Ball at the same time while you try to write a book and work a full-time job on five hours of sleep per night. Another suggestion? Eat cake for breakfast.

Ontbijtkoek means “breakfast cake” in Dutch, and the Netherlands is a place that in a lot of ways has its priorities in order. There is comfort in something that feels just a little indulgent, but still a little nutritious. Not that nutritious, though it has a reputation for it; traditional recipes for this particular delicacy boast of the whole-grain goodness of rye flour, and that there is no fat to speak of in the bread. Traditionally, it also calls for a bucket of honey and molasses and sugar, but that is beside the point. Health! Health?

I wouldn’t exactly call this health food, but I wouldn’t call it junk either. It is wholesome, somewhere between a bread and a cake. Drier than cake, but sweeter than bread, if that makes sense? It’s a very nice way to start your day, especially with a big cup of coffee or tea, and a generous smear of butter and a drizzle of honey. Coffee and cake for breakfast are how I’m surviving the chaos of little boys, and grown-ups who want to add to my to-do list and food that just engulfs itself in flames at RANDOM and not through any fault of mine. I’ll let you know if it works.

Ontbijtkoek

The rye flour in this loaf makes it more substantial than a typical loaf cake, and the molasses means it’s not as sweet. It’s virtuous cake, if there’s such a thing, and it’s meant to be eaten in the morning.

  • 1 cup whole milk
  • ¾ cup fancy molasses
  • 1 egg
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup dark rye flour
  • 1 tsp. baking soda
  • ½ tsp. Kosher salt
  • 2 tsp. ground ginger
  • 1 tsp. ground cinnamon
  • ½ tsp. ground allspice
  • ½ tsp. ground nutmeg
  • ¼ tsp. ground cloves

Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease a 9″x5″ loaf pan, and set aside.

Whisk together milk, molasses and egg. Set aside.

In a large bowl, combine all-purpose flour, rye flour, baking soda, salt, ginger, cinnamon, allspice, nutmeg, and cloves.

Gently work the wet ingredients into the flour mixture until dry ingredients are just moistened but not lumpy.

Spoon batter into prepared loaf pan, and bake for 45 to 50 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the centre of the loaf comes out clean.

Turn out onto a wire rack to cool. After ten minutes, wrap it tightly in plastic wrap and cool to room temperature. Will keep for about three days.

Saoto.

CAT.I sat on the couch all day with my cat and season two of Brooklyn Nine-Nine, sick in the belly and the head, the latest victim of the illness that’s decimated my office this past week. I ate buttered saltines because we were out of bread for toast, and I was too lazy to put on pants and boots and go outside. I ate oranges, because I thought they’d make me feel better, but then I ate too many of them.

I’ve been tinkering with a version of a soup particular to two countries colonized by the Dutch, which happened to be the perfect soup for today, and for days like these when the rain is relentless and your playlist is just one feeling-sorry-for-self song after another and even Andy Samberg can’t break through the fog of flu season in your head. It’s from Suriname, though there’s something very similar (soto ayam) in Indonesia. It is often served with a bowl of rice on the side; if you’re serving more than four, a side of rice would stretch the dish to serve more people.

The simmering broth is fragrant and soothing, all ginger and citrus, with a floral touch from the coriander. The flavours reveal themselves in moments, like waves rolling in and then back, every bite a little bit different from the last but comforting all the same; it’s salty and briny and just a little bit sweet. It will fog up your windows and you will sweat when you eat it and you will feel better, but not heavy. It’s somewhere between a bowl of laksa and bowl of chicken noodle soup, and all the work is in the beginning, so you can spend the rest of the afternoon with your cat and Jake Peralta and your sad playlists.

Lemongrass and lime leaves freeze well, so when you find them, grab a whole bunch and keep them in your freezer for days like these.

Saoto soup from Suriname.Saoto

(Makes four servings.)

  • 1 large sweet onion, such as Walla Walla, halved
  • 1 head garlic, halved cross-wise
  • 3-inch knob of ginger, peeled and sliced
  • 3 tbsp. peanut or canola oil
  • 3 lbs. bone-in skin-on chicken thighs
  • 1 tbsp. coarse salt
  • 1 tbsp. coriander seeds
  • 2 tsp. cumin seeds
  • 1 tsp. black peppercorns
  • 6 fresh or frozen lime leaves
  • 2 stalks lemongrass, trimmed and halved lengthwise
  • 1 stalk celery, cut into three pieces
  • 3 tbsp. fish sauce
  • 14 oz. (398 mL) can coconut milk
  • 2 cups finely chopped green cabbage
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
  • 1 lime, zest and juice
  • 1 tsp. ground turmeric
  • 4 thai bird or other hot chilies, finely chopped
  • 4 handfuls fresh bean sprouts
  • 2 scallions, finely chopped
  • 8 oz. rice vermicelli (about 1/2 package)
  • 4 hard-boiled eggs, peeled and halved
  • Celery leaves
  • Sambal oelek or other chili paste

Heat your oven to broil. Place the onion, garlic, and ginger on a sheet pan, and place under the broiler until blackened in parts, about five minutes.

Meanwhile, salt chicken thighs. Heat oil in a Dutch oven or other large, heavy pot over medium-high heat. When oil shimmers, brown the thighs a few at a time. Drain the oil from the pot.

Heat a second burner. Over high heat, in a cast iron or other heavy pan, toast coriander seeds, cumin seeds, and peppercorns until browned and fragrant, tossing regularly, about three minutes. Set aside.

Cut a large square of two layers of cheesecloth, at least eight inches by eight inches. Onto this, place your lime leaves, lemongrass, celery pieces, charred onion, garlic and ginger, and toasted coriander, cumin and pepper. Fold the ends of the cheesecloth over, then roll the bundle tightly and secure with kitchen string.

Place the Dutch oven or heavy pot back on the heat, and add eight cups of cold water. Place the chicken thighs and spice bundle in the pot, add fish sauce, then partly cover. Reduce heat to medium-low, and simmer gently for two-and-a-half to three hours, occasionally skimming the top with a spoon. If it boils, remove the lid and reduce the heat; you want the broth to remain as clear as possible.

Remove chicken and spice bundle. Shred the chicken, discarding the skin and bones (you can make another stock out of the bones, if you’re feeling thrifty). Return the chicken to the pot with the coconut milk and cabbage. Bring heat up to medium, and simmer for up to five minutes, until cabbage is tender. Add lime juice and zest, and turmeric. Taste, adjusting the seasonings to your preference. Add cilantro.

Prepare vermicelli according to package instructions, then divide evenly between four large soup bowls. Add handfuls of bean sprouts and a sprinkle each of chilies and scallions. Ladle chicken and broth into bowls, then nestle two egg halves into each bowl of soup. Top with celery leaves and sambal oelek or other chili paste, and serve with quartered fresh lime and additional fish sauce.

Gezellig, and a spot of mustard.

Mosterdsoep (Dutch mustard soup)

January is always a month of catch-up, a chilly, cloudy month when all of a sudden the bills are bigger than you thought they’d be and the deadlines you ignored in December are here, now, with projects not as straightforward as you assumed they’d be when you hastily agreed to them during the holiday season’s drinky haze. January is uncomfortable, a time for confronting excesses of every kind, including enthusiasm. Which is why we need gezelligheid.

Gezellig” is a Dutch word that doesn’t really have an English translation. Similar, in ways, to the more well-known Danish concept of “hygge,” what it means, sort of, is something along the lines of warm coziness or comfortable happiness. Pouring yourself into a pair of fleece pajamas and slumping into a heap of blankets and pillows with a cup of milky tea and a book? Gezellig. The way your favourite café or bookstore or brewery glows warm and golden against the black dampness of a January evening? Gezellig. Thick socks and Wes Anderson movies and knit scarves and slow dancing and Rufus Wainwright and the way that vanilla sugar cookies make your kitchen smell as they bake? Gezellig.

A bowl of homemade soup in the yellow light of your dining room with a small person whose hands dimple when his fingers flex to tear a hunk of bread apart, and who pauses after every third bite to get up from his seat and hug you? Gezellig.

It’s the little things that, when taken in sum, are everything. It’s that feeling where you can’t imagine going anywhere, because why would you leave? Gezelligheid is the exact right thing to embrace when it’s January and you just can’t even with any of this other stuff.

The recipe that follows is for Dutch mustard soup, a thing that is wonderful in the way that Polish dill pickle soup is – until you try it, you won’t understand why it should even exist. Traditionally this is thickened with both flour or cornstarch and egg yolks. To make it just slightly healthier, I’ve replaced the flour with a potato and added a couple of extra yolks; the result is something between vichyssoise and avgolemono, but with mustard, and it’s delicious.

Mosterdsoep (Dutch mustard soup)

(Makes 4 servings.)

  • 2 slices bacon, sliced into lardons
  • 2 cups sliced thinly sliced leek (from about two leeks, white and light green parts only)
  • 1/2 pound starchy potato, (such as Russet) peeled and diced
  • 1 garlic clove, smashed
  • 4 cups chicken stock
  • 1 tsp. coarse salt
  • 1/2 cup sour cream
  • 2 tbsp. grainy Dijon mustard*
  • 4 egg yolks
  • 1/2 tsp. yellow curry powder

In a Dutch oven or other heavy pot over medium-high heat, brown bacon until crispy, about four minutes. Scoop the bacon from the pot and onto a plate lined with paper towel. Pour off all but two tablespoons of the rendered bacon fat; if less than two tablespoons remain, make up the difference with a bit of butter.

Add leeks and quickly stir to coat in the fat. Add the potato and garlic, and then the chicken stock, scraping the bottom of the pot with a wooden spoon as you do. Add salt, and bring the liquid in the pot to a boil; reduce to medium, and simmer until potatoes are tender, about ten minutes.

Meanwhile, whisk together sour cream, egg yolks, mustard, curry powder, and two tablespoons of cold water. Set aside.

Remove the pot from the heat and purée using an immersion blender. If you don’t have an immersion blender, let this cool for about ten minutes, and, working in batches, blend until smooth in a regular blender.

Return the mixture to the heat and bring it all back up to a boil.

Remove the mixture from the heat, and, working quickly, pour the sour cream mixture into the pot in a thin stream while whisking constantly, so as not to allow the eggs to scramble. Taste, adjusting seasonings as needed; you may not need to add additional salt, as mustard is generally salty enough on its own.

Serve topped with reserved bacon, a dollop of additional sour cream, Maggi seasoning (if you’ve got it), and chopped fresh chives or scallions. Crusty bread for sopping is essential.

*If you can find it, use Zaanse Molen Dutch mustard; if not, Maille’s Thick Country Mustard (or something like it) is a good substitution. In Canada, get President’s Choice Old Fashioned Dijon mustard at any Superstore or Loblaw’s – it’ll run you about two dollars. Can’t find any of these? Mix one tablespoon of grainy Dijon with one tablespoon of regular Dijon.