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.

No-recipe tacos*.

Think about the meal you want to make. Do you have everything you need? Check the fridge. You are probably out of tortillas, or perhaps you didn’t have them in the first place. Put on your boots, find your shopping bag and debit card, and walk three blocks to the corner store for corn tortillas, preferably small ones because the tacos will be held by small hands. Grab limes, cilantro, and a package of Reese peanut butter cups to eat alone later.

Grab coffee at the hipster café up the road and check your phone. Listen to the ambient rhythm of quiet chatter, and bask in the sweet sound of no one calling your name from a bathroom. Lose yourself on Instagram for 37 minutes.

Think about an alternative taco, because the chorizo might be spicy and the child, aged four years, is sensitive to anything hotter than a bell pepper, despite your best efforts to expand his palate. He likes corn. Doesn’t he? You think he likes corn, and if you caramelize the corn it will start to taste like sugar. You know he likes sugar.

Return home. Kick your boots off at the door. Notice the laundry, and how no one else has noticed the laundry. Do a load of laundry.

Do another load of laundry, and then another. Do three more loads after that. It’s possible that you are some kind of wizard and the washing machine only works for you.

The dinner hour is approaching. Answer “what’s for dinner, mum?” with “tacos” and hear “I like tacos,” which you know to be a lie because the only way he’d like tacos is if tacos were chocolate chip granola bars. Believe in yourself, and in your child, who is learning and growing and becoming a whole person who will one day genuinely appreciate and enjoy tacos. Everyone likes tacos, right? Worry that he’ll grow up to be the one person who doesn’t like tacos. Practice saying things like “he’s just really sensitive” and “I’m not disappointed.”

Mince one onion. Set two pans over medium-high heat. Into one, place a pat of butter; into the other, a glug of oil. Into the butter pan, place a quarter of the minced onion; place the rest into the oil pan. Cook the onions until they are translucent and someone wanders into the kitchen to ask for a granola bar, and to say something accusatory about the smell of onions. “Why are you cooking onions?” “I’m not.” Shoo him away.

Smash and mince one garlic clove and throw it into the butter pan. Mince one jalapeño pepper and throw it into the oil pot. Cook until the onions in both pans have turned brownish. Answer three weirdly specific questions about the male anatomy as it relates to Iron Man, the Hulk, and daddy. Pour yourself a glass of wine.

Drain a can of corn, and throw the kernels into the butter pan. Stir occasionally, until the corn smells sweet and has browned in places.

Crumble a pound or so of chorizo into the oil pan, breaking it up with the backside of a wooden spoon. Cook until charred in spots, but not burned. You’ll know it when you see it. Move the granola bars to the top shelf of the pantry, as they’re becoming a point of contention.

Snip cilantro leaves into a ramekin. Cut a lime into quarters. Make salsa out of mango and apple. Spoon sour cream into a small dish. Open a jar of tomato salsa. Crumble queso fresco into a bowl. Explain that Black Widow is different from Hawkeye in some ways, but similar in others, and we should celebrate those differences and not keep bugging mum about them right now. Explain that granola bars are for lunches. Explain that you don’t care what Grandma would let him have or eat or do. Shoo him away.

Soften your tortillas. Years ago, you would have prepared these individually, and lovingly, but now you use the microwave. Something about wet paper towels and stacks of six and dish cloths and 30 seconds or so on high.

Slice an avocado. Discard overripe avocado. Slice another avocado.

Call your family to the table.

“I was hoping to have … not this,” he says.

“You told me you like tacos,” you say.

“But not this kind of tacos,” he says.

“Just taste them.”

Prepare your tacos. Start with a slice of avocado, then add a little bit of chorizo, some queso fresco, and a few cilantro leaves. Squeeze a few drops of lime juice over each one.

Watch a small hand knead a soft tortilla into a wad. Watch the wad explode into crumbs as he opens his small fist. Hand him another tortilla, and tell him he must eat it. Show him how it works. Watch his small hand knead the tortilla into a wad. Pour yourself another glass of wine.

“Eat some corn,” you say.

“Eat some corn,” you say.

“Eat some corn,” you say.

Shove a spoonful of corn into his mouth.

He is crying. You are mean.

“Drink some milk, and then take another bite,” you say.

He glares at you. “You keep this up and you’re going to bed,” you say.

He will chew his first bite of corn for 20 minutes, during which your partner will eat eight tacos and you will drink another glass and a half of wine.

Send him to bed. “Can I have a granola bar?”

Wine.

Finish your tacos. Bring him back to the table.

“Are you going to eat now?” and then, “good.”

Supervise six further bites of taco and sixty minutes of chewing. Wonder if any part of this constitutes a victory. Think about your friend Grace, with her clean apartment, and about how she probably ate a beautiful meal in appreciative company just six blocks away while you were here saying stern things about corn and avocado and respectful behaviour.

Clear the table. Load the dishwasher. Fold the laundry. Listen to him tell his father a distorted version of what you told him about Black Widow. Listen to his father tell him he doesn’t think she is sad she’s not more like Hawkeye. Listen to them read a story about Black Widow. Wonder what Mexico is like, and how long you could reasonably go for and how many tacos you could eat while you’re there.

Get settled on the couch with the same or maybe another glass of wine and your secret peanut butter cups, and last month’s Bon Appétit. Loud footsteps approach, and you imagine it must sound like thunder to the people in the apartment below.

“I’m still hungry,” he says.

“You should have eaten your dinner,” you say.

“How about I have a granola bar?”

*Individual results may vary.

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. 

Swarni’s tofu bhurji.

Between right now and the last time I posted here, I wrote 32 drafts of posts I either forgot about or decided were terrible and then sort of thought “whatever, I give up, I AM TERRIBLE,” and then ate my way into a new pants size. The timing of the new Adele record was ideal because it hit me right at peak-wallow, and let me tell you, you do not want to read the Hello-inspired blog post I considered somewhere around the third week of December.

(For your and Nick’s benefit, I ate every last one of those feelings, many of them on crackers and with glasses of very cold white wine.)

But things are looking up. I’ve reignited my relationship with MyFitnessPal, which means I – once again – have a handy, non-human place to direct my contempt. I haven’t eaten cheese in four days, which has been hard but necessary. And I got a few work-appropriate sweater-dress/leggings outfits for Christmas and they’re making the bloat a lot easier to hide in this lumpy post-holiday interim.

And I have a few new recipes, including this one from my lovely, wonderful friend Swarni whom I bother every day at work. Swarni is an essential member of the office potluck team, and a harsh critic of any Indian food brought into the office that isn’t up to her exacting standards. She brought a big dish of her tofu bhurji in for a holiday potluck in mid-December and it was so good that I spent the rest of last month haranguing her for the recipe.

I ended up adapting the recipe a little bit, as Swarni gets her spices ground fresh when she’s in India and so they’re more potent than mine; I also use a bit of turmeric for more of an eggy colour. It’s a very mild dish and good for children (even mine, praise Swarni!), but if you like things spicy, a little (or a lot of) hot sauce works well here.

Tofu bhurji is perfect for weeknights, and January when we have no money and pretty much just fridge scraps with which to feed ourselves. I’ve used butter here, but you could easily turn this vegan by simply replacing the butter with a bit of oil. It’s a bit like scrambled eggs, in the end, but with none of the fart taste that so often accompanies a poorly scrambled egg. It’s magic, and it’s not cheese which, just this once, is a very good thing.

Swarni’s Tofu Bhurji

(Makes two to four servings.)

  • 2 tbsp. butter
  • 1/2 medium onion, finely chopped
  • 1 jalapeño pepper, seeded and finely chopped
  • 1 tsp. minced fresh ginger
  • 1 small tomato, seeded and chopped
  • 1 garlic clove, finely chopped
  • 1 1/2 tsp. Madras or other yellow curry powder
  • 1 tsp. coarse salt
  • 1/2 tsp. garam masala
  • 1/2 tsp. ground cumin
  • 1/2 tsp. ground turmeric
  • 1 cup frozen peas
  • 1 lb. (454 g) medium-firm tofu, drained and patted dry
  • Cilantro

In a large pan over medium-high heat, melt butter and stir together onion, jalapeño pepper, and ginger. Cook for about a minute, until the pepper brightens in colour, then reduce heat to medium-low. Stirring regularly, cook for seven to 10 minutes, until veggies have softened and turned golden.

Meanwhile, mash tofu with a potato masher, or use your hands to crumble it until it resembles curds of scrambled egg. Set aside.

Add tomato, garlic, curry powder, salt, garam masala, cumin, and turmeric to the pan and cook for another three to five minutes, until the liquid from the tomatoes has mostly disappeared and the contents of the pan resemble a soft paste.

Add frozen peas, and cook for another three to five minutes, until the water from the peas has mostly disappeared.

Add the tofu to the pan, and mix well. Partially cover the pan and cook for another five to seven minutes, stirring occasionally. The pan should be mostly dry on the bottom, and the tofu should be evenly coated in spices.

Taste, adjusting seasonings as needed. Stir in chopped fresh cilantro, and serve with a blurp of your favourite hot sauce and rice or warm roti bread. Would even be good on toast, come to think of it.

And Happy New Year! I hope your 2016 is delicious and everything you hope and want and need it to be.

 

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.

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.

Hunger Awareness Week: Barley porridge and “baked” apples.

We’ve talked about who needs food banks (people like you and I), and the kinds of products food banks frequently receive and the services they offer. Food Banks Canada is an incredible, essential resource for hundreds of thousands of people and families every year. It’s inspiring, and there’s a lot you can do to help.

You can donate food. Food drives during the holidays are a great start, and food donation bins at your local supermarket are a great way to give all year. Do you shop at places like Superstore (or other Loblaw’s stores), or Shopper’s Drug Mart? Take advantage of points programs (PC Plus and the Shopper’s Optimum program, respectively) that reward you with points toward cash to buy more than you need and donate the excess, or cash in your extra points for groceries you can donate anytime of year.

You can donate money. You can give once, or you can set up monthly donations. You can also make a gift in honour of a friend or family member, either in celebration or in memory. Wondering where your money goes? Read Food Banks Canada’s Donor Impact Report.

You can donate time. Consider hosting a food drive, starting a fundraiser, or setting up a food donation bin in your workplace or school. Get the whole family involved and make hunger an issue you tackle together.

You can change the conversation online. We talk a lot about food porn and foodies, but not enough about food security or food justice. Tweet about hunger. Participate in #FoodbankFriday on Instagram and share your donation with your audience to inspire them to do the same. And share on Facebook about food drives in your area to draw attention to campaigns to food bank stock shelves in your community.

You can bug your politicians. And, as we’re right smack in the middle of election season, you can ask your candidates what they plan to do to address poverty and hunger in your community and across the country. Make them earn your vote, and put them to work once they’re elected. Politicians aren’t food insecure; don’t let them forget that many people are and that they can do something about it. 

Overnight barley porridge with applesMy last Hunger Awareness Week recipe is a breakfast recipe, because people who have a little something in their bellies to start the day perform better at work, have fewer accidents, and have the energy to get through the day. Kids who eat breakfast are less disruptive in school, pay more attention, and are less likely to act out. This recipe for overnight barley porridge is easy, and requires just five minutes in the morning. Take advantage of your microwave to fake the taste of baked apples. This is way better than cold buttered toast as you run out the door.

Overnight barley porridge with “baked” apples

Porridge:

  • 1 cup pearl barley, rinsed
  • 1/4 tsp. coarse salt
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 2 tbsp. brown sugar
  • 1/4 tsp. cinnamon

Apples:

  • 1 lb. sweet, firm-fleshed apples (such as ambrosia, honeycrisp or braeburn; about two medium apples), peeled, cored and diced
  • 1 tsp. butter
  • 2 tsp. brown sugar
  • 1/4 tsp. cinnamon

In a saucepan with a tight-fitting lid, bring barley, salt and three cups of cold water to a boil. Once it’s hit a rolling boil, turn off the heat and slap the lid on it. Let it sit on your stove overnight.

When you wake up in the morning, place diced apples, butter, brown sugar and cinnamon in a microwave-safe bowl, and cover with a lid or plastic wrap. Microwave on high for four minutes.

Meanwhile, add half a cup of milk, brown sugar and cinnamon to barley, and stir to break up the grains. Heat for three to five minutes, until liquid is bubbling and grains are hot.

Serve porridge in bowls, topped with apples and additional sugar, as desired.