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.

On onions, and faking it.

I first learned of Impostor Syndrome through my friend Grace. I think it might be contagious.

Today Nick went to the butcher and bought some spicy bratwurst, which he thought would be delicious on buns. “You’ll fry up some onions, right?” he said, and I agreed I would.

WP_004008

Every time I try to caramelize some onions, there is a point in the middle where I am sure it isn’t going to work. It is the part where some of the onions are dark and shrunken, but most of them are still thick with little to no browning. Every time, I am certain that I cannot do this, that every time that I have ever successfully caramelized an onion in the past has been an accident, a fortuitous mistake.

I am not good at anything, despite any evidence to the contrary.

This is a recurring theme, most notably at work, and at home with Toddler.

At work, I am faking it. Despite having been gainfully employed for 50% of my life to date, I still feel like an amateur; what do I know about anything? I am barely even an adult, even though I’m 30. I am making it all up as I go, bluffing my way through meetings and reports and projects. Who am I to call myself an authority? I don’t know anything. Half-way through my current contract, I am certain this is never going to work.

And with Toddler, this feeling of incompetence is amplified.

WP_004012

The kid doesn’t eat. He is growing, and he is not skinny, but I am never sure that he has gotten enough nutrients, and surely by not fighting him hard enough we are stunting his growth and knocking points off his future IQ. He prefers baked goods – sweet carbs like muffins, doughnuts, banana bread; today he went to a birthday party and was handed a hot dog. He discarded the wiener and ate the whole bun and then some cake. For dinner I gave him maple breakfast sausage in small pieces, crackers, red peppers, apples and raisins. He ate the apples and raisins, a few bites of the crackers, and threw the rest on the floor.

I write about food, but my own child won’t eat.

WP_004010

This can’t be just my problem. We are all faking it, aren’t we? At what point do we begin to feel like fully fledged grown-ups who know their own ish? Intellectually, I know if I keep turning the onions over medium heat, eventually they will brown. And still, I am sure every time that it isn’t going to work. I have done it wrong, chopped the onions too thick, and it is so easy to do right – how could I have failed? And still, they turn out. They brown, they soften, they are delicious on buns with bratwurst and I am silly.

With patience, they turn out every time.

WP_004014

Am I alone on this? Or are we all impostors? When do we start to feel like we know what we are doing?