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.

Speculaas blondies

speculaasjesI live in Vancouver, which is in Canada but not typically Canadian in many ways, the most disgraceful of which is our complete inability to function in the presence of even a tiny bit of snow. It doesn’t snow much here – some years, it doesn’t snow at all. I can’t remember my last snowy Christmas. We do not have the infrastructure to support this kind of weather, and so a couple of centimeters of snow on the streets sends us into turmoil.

It snowed today. I worked from home.

We are planning our next adventure, and we’ve booked our flights – we’ll be in the Netherlands in late January. I am working on a new book, Dutch Feast, and it will be in bookstores and online in fall 2017, and the thing about Dutch food that is so lovely is that a lot of it is sugary carbs. And so even though it’s cold outside and my toes have yet to defrost from this morning’s failed attempt at finding a bus to work, I’m eating Dutch sweets and my home smells like speculaas spices. I mean, it’s an absolute disaster because recipe testing is messy and I’m usually remiss in cleaning up, but it smells nice and if I don’t look in the kitchen this whole scene is pretty cozy.

These speculaas blondies are an adaptation of a recipe in Heleen AM Halverhout’s Dutch Cooking (©1972); she suggests baking speculaas cookie dough “like brownies,” which she called speculaasjes. I like this idea quite a lot, because everyone knows brownies are better than cookies. We can debate this, but I’m not likely to entertain opposing viewpoints in this case. The nice thing about these speculaasjes is that they require no special equipment (no cutters or rolling pins required!), so if you start right now, you can have chewy, sweet speculaas blondies in time for this evening’s cup of tea.

Speculaas blondies

(Makes 16 pieces.)

  • 1/2 cup room-temperature butter
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tbsp. dark rum
  • 1 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp. nutmeg
  • 1/2 tsp. ground ginger
  • 1/4 tsp. ground cloves
  • 1/2 tsp. coarse salt
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup candied ginger (about two ounces), chopped
  • 1 tbsp. confectioner’s sugar, for garnish

Preheat your oven to 325°F. Grease an 8″ x 8″ square baking pan and line the bottom with parchment paper.

Cream together butter and sugar. Add the eggs, and beat until the mixture looks smooth. Add rum, cinnamon, nutmeg, ground ginger, cloves, and salt, and mix until combined.

Gently fold flour into the spiced butter mixture until just moistened. Add chopped candied ginger, then spoon the mix into your prepared baking pan.

Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the centre comes out mostly clean (a few clingy crumbs = perfect). You want these just shy of totally baked, so that they are still chewy.

Cool the blondies in the pan on a wire rack for five minutes, then turn them out onto the rack to cool completely.

Once cool, sift confectioner’s sugar over top. Cut into sixteen pieces.

Serve with tea or coffee and your feet in fuzzy socks or slippers.

 

 

Cranberry and persimmon empanadas

I have been working on something delicious. #dutchfeast

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It’s Thanksgiving tomorrow in Canada, which is as good a time as any for us to talk about cranberries. Though maybe it’s better to talk about empanadas, which are eternal and not bound to a single holiday or feast. Maybe the perfect Thanksgiving is a tropical one, because although today my body is here, in grey old Vancouver, covered in layers of Lycra-cotton blends and fuzzy fleece, my mind is somewhere else: under a palm tree, caftan-clad, and a little rum-drunk beside a plate of freshly fried sweet and savoury pastries.

When you can’t reconcile where you are with where you want to be, the kitchen (and just the right amount of rum) can transport you.

In Aruba, there was a bakery and if you got there early enough, you could buy still-warm pastechis filled with savoury bits of chicken or beef or pork. Pastechis are a Caribbean pastry filled with meats and cheeses, and we saw all types of them throughout our visit to the island; small, crisp pastechis filled with Gouda cheese with thin, crackly pastry like fried wontons, or bigger, chewier pastries reminiscent of empanadas, sweet and sort of like Pizza Pockets but not gross. The bakery was a bit inland, and we asked a lot of Google Maps in navigating us there (what we saved in buying pastries instead of restaurant meals we more than made up for in data and roaming charges), but it was worth it for those pastries which were so unlike anything we’d had before.

I have since done a bit of research, and the difference between pastechis and Caribbean empanadas seems to be corn: pastechi dough is flour-based, and empanada dough uses cornmeal. Both are fried, which is wonderful. Even if I am wrong, either way you can’t lose.

What follows is a recipe for empanadas, even though it’s inspired by the pastechis we ate in Aruba. I like the addition of cornmeal in these as it creates a chewier, sweeter exterior that works will with a tart, jammy filling. Using cranberries brings these home to cold climates and rainy weather and will certainly help take you where you need to go, even if only in your mind.

Cranberry and persimmon empanadas, the delicious thing I've been working on. #dutchfeast

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Cranberry and persimmon empanadas

(Makes 8.)

  • 1 lb. fuyu persimmons, trimmed and diced
  • 2 cups fresh or frozen cranberries
  • 1/2 cup plus 3 tbsp. granulated sugar, divided
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1/2 cup cornmeal
  • 2 tbsp. butter
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/4 tsp. nutmeg
  • 1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour, divided
  • 4 to 6 cups vegetable or canola oil

In a small saucepan over medium-high heat, cook cranberries and persimmons with 1/2-cup of sugar until cranberries have burst and the mixture has become jammy, 10 to 12 minutes, stirring frequently. Set aside and let cool.

Meanwhile, bring a pot with one cup of water and the milk plus three tablespoons of sugar to a boil over medium-high heat. Whisk cornmeal in and cook until thickened, one or two minutes. Add salt and nutmeg, then remove from heat.

Gently fold one cup of flour into the cornmeal mixture until a dough forms. Cover and let rest ten minutes, or until cool enough to handle. Use the remaining flour (about a tablespoon at a time, as needed) to knead your dough for about three minutes, or until it’s no longer sticky.

Divide your dough into eight equal pieces. Roll these into circles about five or six inches in diameter, or to about 1/4-inch thick. Place two to three tablespoons of filling in each, folding the dough over. Press the dough together gently, then seal by pressing the dough down around the fold with the tines of a fork.

Heat oil in a Dutch oven or other sturdy pot to about 350°F. Working in batches, deep-fry empanadas, flipping once to cook both sides, until crisp and golden, about two minutes per side. Drain on a plate lined with paper towel, then serve hot.

Start your day with something deep-fried to be the change you want to see in the world. #dutchfeast

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Tempeh with tomatoes and eggplant.

tempeh with tomatoes and eggplant

If you like ratatouille, I think you’ll be into this. It’s got all that deep tomato flavour, but with a touch of smoke and a bit more texture, thanks to the tempeh, and the flavours are sweet and sour and spicy all at once. It also comes together in about half an hour, so it is in many ways a perfect cloudy summer day dish, nourishing and flavourful but not a huge pain in the ass to pull together on a weeknight.

Tempeh is a fermented soy product that originated in Indonesia, where it’s very popular in Bali – the soybeans are bound together by a mold that sort of resembles the white rind on a wheel of brie. It’s a living food that’s very high in protein and fibre, and it’s got a mild flavour and firm texture that has allowed me to pass it off as chicken nuggets to some of our less discerning family members. Tempeh is often found near the tofu in the market; if you can’t find it, you can use extra firm tofu.

If you’re in Vancouver, check out Tempea Foods tempeh, which is made locally and often available at the Vancouver Farmer’s Markets. I am in love with this product (I don’t get paid to say that, so it’s earnest).

For the recipe that follows, if you’re not able to find tamarind paste, use cooking molasses. If you’re not able to find lime leaves, use the zest and juice of an additional lime. Look for fresh lime leaves in Asian grocery stores or in the Asian ingredients section of your market’s produce section; you can often find dried or frozen lime leaves in Asian markets as well.

An aside: Why The Name ‘Kaffir Lime’ Is Wildly Offensive To Many.

IMG_6540Tempeh with tomatoes and eggplant

(Makes four servings.)

  • 3 tbsp. canola or vegetable oil, divided
  • 2 shallots, roughly chopped
  • 6 garlic gloves
  • 1″ (2.5 cm) piece ginger, peeled and sliced
  • 1 stalk lemongrass
  • 3 tbsp. brown sugar
  • 2 tbsp. sambal oelek
  • 1 tbsp. tamarind paste
  • 1 tbsp. fish sauce
  • 1 tsp. ground turmeric
  • 1 lime leaf
  • Zest and juice one one lime
  • 7 oz. (200 g) block tempeh, cut into inch-wide squares
  • 1/2 lb. (225 g) Japanese eggplant, halved lengthwise and cut into inch-wide pieces
  • 1 1/2 lbs. (680 g)  tomatoes, quartered lengthwise and then widthwise into 8 pieces
  • 1 tsp. coarse salt
  • 1/2 tsp. ground black pepper
  • 1/2 cup toasted cashews
  • Finely chopped scallions, for garnish

Heat one tablespoon of oil in a large pan over medium-high heat. Add the shallots, garlic, ginger, and lemongrass, and cook – stirring occasionally – until browned and slightly charred in places, about three minutes. Pour this mixture into a blender.

To the blender, add brown sugar, sambal oelek, tamarind paste or molasses, fish sauce, ground turmeric, lime leaf (if using), and lime zest and juice. Blend until pureed. Set aside.

Add the pan back to medium-high heat and add another tablespoon of oil.

Cook the tempeh for about two minutes per side, until browned and charred in places. Remove tempeh to a plate lined with paper towel.

Add the final tablespoon of oil to the pan. Cook the eggplant in a manner similar to the tempeh – until browned and charred in bits. Another two minutes.

Add the tomatoes to the pan, and add the tempeh back. Reduce heat to medium. Add the reserved blender mixture. Add salt and pepper. Stir the mixture together and cook – stirring occasionally – until the tomatoes and eggplant have expressed most of their liquid and the sauce has thickened, another 10 to 12 minutes. The mixture should resemble a chunky tomato sauce.

Stir cashews into the pan, and then sprinkle with scallions. Serve over rice.

 

 

Maggi meatball soup.

Maggi meatball soup started out as “groentesoep met balletjes,” or Dutch vegetable soup with meatballs, which I guess it still kind of is? It kind of is. Maggi, the shorthand name for Maggi-Würze, is a sweet, soy-based seasoning sauce Dutch people (and not just Nick) use in abundance, whether a dish needs it or not. It’s actually a rather international thing – Maggi sauce spans continents, and is used everywhere from the Netherlands to the Philippines, from Germany to Pakistan. It’s sweet, very salty, and keeps forever without needing to be refrigerated, and it’s great for seasoning meatballs.

This soup is somewhere between Italian Wedding and plain old chicken soup, with soft, tender meatballs, noodles and veggies in a clear chicken broth. If you are like my mother-in-law, you would serve this with soft, buttered buns and thin slices of deli ham and Gouda; if you are like me, you will retrieve half a loaf of grocery store garlic bread from the depths of your freezer and then burn it under your broiler while you eat half a bag of pre-dinner chips and lose 15 minutes Googling Maggi’s origin story. If you are like my four-year-old, you will drown three handfuls of goldfish crackers in the broth and claim it is too hot to eat long after your small bowl of soup has gone cold.

Anyway, this is good with whatever you want to serve it with, but it’s best with soft white bread in some fashion.

IMG_1872Maggi meatball soup

Meatballs:

  • 1/2 lb. extra lean ground beef
  • 1/2 cup breadcrumbs
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tbsp. Maggi seasoning sauce
  • 1/2 tsp. ground nutmeg
  • 1/2 tsp. ground black pepper
  • 1 garlic clove, finely chopped

Soup:

  • 2 tbsp. olive oil
  • 2 carrots, quartered lengthwise and then chopped
  • 2 celery stalks, quartered lengthwise and then chopped
  • 1 shallot, chopped
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 2 tsp. coarse salt
  • 2 tsp. yellow curry powder
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 6 cups low-sodium or homemade chicken stock
  • 1/2 cup fine egg noodles
  • 1 tbsp. fresh lemon juice
  • 1/2 cup fresh parsley leaves, roughly chopped

In a large bowl and using your hands, mush together meatball ingredients until well mixed. Form meatballs about half an inch (1.25 cm) in diameter; you should end up with about 40. Set these aside.

In a large pot over medium-high heat, add oil, carrots, celery, shallot, and garlic, and cook for about two minutes, until colours have brightened and everything’s coated in oil. Add salt, curry powder, and the bay leaf, and cook for another minute or two, until the curry is fragrant and starting to stick a little bit to the bottom of the pot. Add stock.

Bring the pot of soup to a boil, then reduce heat to medium. Drop the meatballs into the pot, stirring gently, and let these simmer for 10 minutes.

Add egg noodles,. and cook for another five minutes or until noodles are al denté.

Taste the soup. Adjust salt to taste. Add lemon juice, and parsley, remove the bay leaf, and then serve.

Hete Bliksem.

Dutch food is often comfort food, and as such, much of it is boiled to mush and then mashed and occasionally sugared in some way. Mush and sausages features heavily in the Dutch cookbooks I’ve acquired over the past year, and while that approach to cooking is not without its merits, there’s only so much mushy stuff I can pass off as dinner around here.

And so, Hete Bliksem. Typically, this dish is a mash of potatoes and apples with bacon or ham, and sometimes pears or onions, and it’s sometimes served with stroop, a kind of Dutch syrup. There are an infinite number of variations on this, from the very high end to the very simple. My variation falls somewhere in the middle, with an updated approach to the cooking so that the dish will stand alone as well as it would alongside a plate of sausages or roast meats.

It makes thrifty use of bacon fat and stuff you’ve probably already got in your fridge and pantry; I’d like to think the Dutch, or at least the less stubborn among them, would be pleased.

Hete Bliksem

(Makes four servings.)

  • 1/4 lb. bacon, finely chopped
  • 1 lb. crisp, sweet apples, such as Braeburn, Honeycrisp, or Ambrosia, cored and quartered, each quarter then halved again lengthwise, and then halved again cross-wise
  • 1 lb. new or nugget potatoes, scrubbed and cut into quarters
  • 1/2 tsp. coarse salt
  • 1/2 cup apple cider or unsweetened apple juice
  • 2 tbsp. fancy molasses
  • 1/4 tsp. allspice
  • 1/4 tsp. ground black pepper
  • 1 tsp. apple cider vinegar
  • 1/2 tsp. grainy mustard
  • 1 tsp. chopped fresh thyme
  • 2 scallions, finely chopped

Preheat your oven to 375°F.

In a 12-inch cast iron or other oven-transferable pan over medium high heat, cook bacon until it is very crispy and all the fat has rendered, about six minutes. Scoop the bacon from the pan and onto a plate lined with paper towel, and set aside.

You will need about three tablespoons of fat in the pan; if you don’t have another, add up to another tablespoon of fat, either bacon fat or olive oil. Add potatoes and apples to the pan, sprinkle with salt, and toss to coat.

Roast apple and potato mixture for 60 minutes, flipping midway through the cooking process.

About 10 minutes before these are done, add apple juice, molasses, allspice and pepper to a small saucepan. Bring to a simmer and cook, stirring frequently, until reduced by about half  – it should be about the consistency of maple syrup.

Add cider vinegar and mustard, and set aside.

Remove the potato and apple mixture from the oven. Sprinkle with thyme and reserved bacon, then pour apple juice reduction over top, stirring to coat. Serve in the pan, or spooned onto a serving plate, and garnish with chopped scallions.