Choucroute

A classic choucroute is a tribute to winter food. You could go for a rich version with confit de canard or pheasant (Choucroute d’Alsa­ce) or for an unexpected combination with fish (Choucroute de la Mer). We decided to make a simple but very tasty version with pork sausages, bacon and pork meat.
The choucroute is moist and soft, the meat comes with some nice fat and a light smoky aroma, the juniper berries are full of flavours. Ah, it makes you love winter.
Preparing choucroute can be done in various ways, including cooking in water. We prefer the slow approach in an oven at 80° Celsius or 175° Fahrenheit during four to six hours.

Some add goose fat to the choucroute to enhance the taste, but that’s too much for us. We actually prefer a light version of the vegetable, allowing the meat to bring fat to the dish and a velvety mouthfeel.

Wine Pairing

The obvious choice is probably a white wine from the Alsace region in France. Which is exactly what we did. We were looking for a refreshing, round white wine and decided to drink a glass of Pinot Gris as produced by Cave de Beblenheim. Perfect with the present flavours of the choucroute.

What You Need

  • 400 grams of Sauerkraut
  • One Shallot
  • Juniper Berries
  • Caraway seed
  • 4 strips of Bacon or Pancetta
  • Dry White Wine
  • Olive Oil
  • Two Bay Leaves
  • Various Sausages and Pork Meat (all organic)
  • Dijon Mustard
  • Optional: a mash made with Parsnip and Parsley Root

What You Do

Taste the sauerkraut. If too much acidity, then squeeze and remove some of the liquid. Peel and slice the shallot. Crush the juniper berries and the caraway seed lightly. Slice the strips of bacon or pancetta in 6 or 8. Combine the sauerkraut with the shallot, the caraway seed, the berries and the bacon. Add some white wine, a splash of olive oil and two bay leaves. Transfer the mix to a heavy (iron) oven dish. Put some aluminium foil on top of it, making sure you press it on the sauerkraut (as if it’s a cartouche). Leave for 4 – 6 hours in the oven on 80° Celsius or 175° Fahrenheit. Check the choucroute every hour to make sure it’s sufficiently moist. Also move the slightly browned choucroute at the edge to the centre of the dish. One or two hours before serving add the meat to the dish. Serve with some Dijon mustard.

And The Winner Is…

The 2022 Johannes van Dam prize will be awarded to Belgian Chef Jeroen Meus during the Amsterdam Symposium on the History of Food on February 11th. Jeroen Meus is well known for his inspiring daily TV program Dagelijkse Kost (Daily Food). In this 15 minutes program he shares the fun of preparing food, for instance crumble pie with pears and raisins, monkfish with a mustard crust or penne with chorizo and red bell pepper. His aim is not to cook on Michelin Star level, his aim is to help everyone prepare tasty, good food, every day of the week. His books and website (in Dutch only) support this goal in a very helpful way.

He is a true TV-chef in the sense that he is in contact with his viewers. He is entertaining, professional, funny and never arrogant. He balances traditional Belgian food with changes in our culture (more focus on vegetables, more variation, different cultures). His food reflects these changes and inspires us to follow his friendly culinary adventures.

The prize is named after culinary writer and critic Johannes van Dam who was not only known for his reviews of restaurants but also for his massive collection of books on food and drinks. The prize is awarded to individuals who have made an outstanding contribution to the dissemination of the knowledge on international gastronomy. Jeroen Meus, through his tv programs, books and website, has clearly done so. His cooking brings people together and broadens our culinary scope.

Previous winners of this prestigious prize include Yotam Ottolenghi, John Halvemaan, Carlo Petrini, Alice Waters, Claudia Roden, Harold McGee and Alain Passard.

Jeroen Meeus Atribution: Arne Aelterman, CC BY-SA 4.0 , via Wikimedia Commons
Jeroen Meus – attribution: Arne Aelterman, CC BY-SA 4.0 , via Wikimedia Commons

Culinary Trends

Suppose we would publish a recipe that would include instructions such as “Coat cubes of pork meat with curry and microwave these for 2 minutes”, and “Combine oil, chilli, garlic and onion, heat for 1 minute on 100% power, add chicken stock, soy sauce and corn starch, stir and heat for 2 minutes on 50%”, you would of course think you are back in the 1980’s.

It’s fascinating that what we buy, the way we prepare it, and even how we serve and eat it, is constantly changing. Just look at the pictures in a 1950’s cookbook and try not to smile. Impossible.

Knowing that our culinary habits are constantly changing is one thing, understanding why they change is much more complex. 

Influence

A great example of a supplier influencing their customers is a magazine called Allerhande, published by leading Dutch supermarket Albert Heijn. The magazine, first published in 1954, is not your ordinary flyer with an overview of discounted articles, it’s a reflection of culinary trends (linked of course to what’s available in the supermarket) and trends in society with a focus on the individual.

Dutch author Klaartje Scheepers was brave enough to read all issues since 1954 and in her excellent book Van Aardappel tot Avocado (available in Dutch only) she describes how closely food is linked to our daily life and the world we live in. She writes about the 1950’s housewife struggling to keep her family happy and well-fed, about the introduction of the tv-dinner, about nutrition, the need to have a refrigerator, a blender, a microwave, an electric tin opener, about how we started to embrace dishes from other countries, including something odd called pizza, about diets and of course, about how supermarkets are closely monitoring these developments.
Reading Van Aardappel tot Avocado is a pleasure, not only because of the interesting insights, but also because it helps you recognize today’s trends. And of course it’s also a fun trip down memory lane. Highly recommended!

Your Menu

Why not sit back, take a sip of wine and wonder how your Seasonal menu is influenced by your local supermarket, by well-known chefs, culinary influencers and blogs. What made you decide? Availability? Recipe on the internet? Price? Friends? As seen on Youtube?
Interesting, isn’t it?

Klaartje Scheepers - Van Aardappel tot Avocado
Klaartje Scheepers – Van Aardappel tot Avocado

Symposium on the History of Food

Next year on February 11th and 12th, the 7th Amsterdam Symposium on the History of Food will take place in Amsterdam. You can also join online, for € 40,00 only. Lunch not included of course. This year’s theme is Food and the Environment: The Dynamic Relationship Between Food Practices and Nature

Program

The key note will be delivered by Ewout Frankema, Professor of Rural and Environmental History at the Dutch Wageningen University and research fellow of the UK Centre for Economic Policy Research (CEPR). Amongst the speaker are Christian Reynolds on The evolution of “sustainable” and vegetarian recipes from manuscripts and cookbooks to online and Amber Striekwold on The Dutch Alternative Food Movement.

Ceremony

On Friday 11th the program will close with the Prize-giving ceremony of the 2022 Johannes van Dam Prize and the 2022 Joop Witteveen Prize. Previous winners of the prestigious Johannes van Dam Prize include Yotam Ottolenghi, John Halvemaan, Carlo Petrini, Alice Waters, Claudia Roden and Alain Passard (see picture).

Join the Symposium

Additional information and the registration form are available on the website of the symposium.

Alain Passard speeches after having received the Johannes van Dam Prize 2019 © cadwu
Alain Passard speeches after having received the Johannes van Dam Prize 2019 © cadwu

Veal with Mai Take and a Madeira jus

The Dancing Mushroom

In Japan and China Mai Take (or Hen of the Woods) is a much-loved culinary mushroom. Legend has it that Mai Take got its name because foragers danced with happiness when finding it. Mai Take can be wild or cultivated but in both cases its taste is powerful, intense and nutty. Make sure you cook Mai Take through and through, otherwise you may upset your stomach (and other parts of your body).
Mai Take combines very well with beef and thyme. It is also great when combined with shrimps, crab, coquilles St Jacques, coriander, dill and parsley; a salad created by Antonio Carluccio and published in 2003 in the Complete Mushroom Book. The book has a wealth of wonderful, simple recipes.

In this case we combine beautiful veal rib eye with Mai Take, using a Madeira jus to bring the flavours together. The fried Mai Take comes with a lovely crunch. We love the way the taste of the combination develops in the mouth. We use rib eye because it is the most tender and delicate part of the veal. It is nicely marbled making it an excellent choice to grill or fry.

Don’t be tempted to buy so called ‘cooking Madeira’. This is some horrible, sweet liquid that is not even close to Madeira. One for the bin. We bought a bottle of medium dry Madeira (Santa Maria). It is perfectly suited for this recipe.

Wine Pairing

A Rioja Crianza is a good choice. In general a Rioja Crianza is a high-quality, affordable wine. It’s not too rich, but with Tempranillo’s natural high tannin it has quite a bit of body. The wines are commonly aged for one year in used oak casks, so the oak flavours are not too strong. The wine will show notes of sweet spice, vanilla, black and red fruit.

What You Need

  • Veal Rib Eye (let’s say 300 grams)
  • Veal stock
  • 75 gram Mai Take
  • Olive Oil
  • Butter
  • Madeira
  • Black Pepper

What You Do

The veal must be at room temperature. So take it out of the refrigerator let’s say 2 hours in advance. Heat a heavy iron skillet, add olive oil and butter. Fry and cook to perfection (pink is the colour you’re looking for). You could also transfer it to the oven for an internal core temperature of 60° Celsius or 140° Fahrenheit. When ready wrap in foil and allow to rest for 15 minutes. Add some veal stock and Madeira to the pan and warm. Add the liquid from the veal on a regular basis.
Remove the base of the Mai Take and then slice in 2 of 4 parts and fry for a few minutes. Apply some pressure, you want the Mai Take to look like a fan, perhaps the suggestion of coral.
Slice the veal and serve with the Mai Take, a generous amount of jus and some black pepper.
PS In case you have too much meat, simply store it in the refrigerator for the next day and serve as Vitello Tonato.

Vegetables With Couscous

Couscous Bidaoui

A classic dish from the Moroccan cuisine: Couscous Bidaoui. It very likely originates from Casablanca. Making couscous is all about steaming the semolina in a couscoussier and while doing this create a rich broth and cook the meat (lamb or beef) and the vegetables with various herbs and spices. It doesn’t work with instant couscous, so what to do in case you don’t have a couscoussier? Our challenge is to cook something that somewhat resembles a classic dish without having the essential equipment.

Let’s talk about things we do have: lots of vegetables! The classic couscous Bidaoui contains vegetables such as onions, turnips, carrots, chickpeas, tomatoes, courgette, pumpkin and cabbage plus herbs like parsley and cilantro. That shouldn’t be too difficult so let’s start cooking!

Wine Pairing

A wine from the French Alsace, for instance a Gewurztraminer (an aromatic white wine with a touch of sweetness) will be very nice with the vegetables and the spices. You could also go for a glass of Rosé (Côtes de Provence for instance) or a red wine, provided it’s not too powerful. Pinot Noir would be good choice.

What You Need

  • Onions
  • Turnips
  • Carrots
  • Chickpeas
  • Courgette
  • Cabbage
  • White Raisins
  • And we added Red Bell Pepper, Garlic and Red Chilli
  • Turmeric Powder
  • Cumin Seeds
  • Cinnamon Stick
  • Vegetable Stock
  • Preserved Lemon
  • Couscous (one cup)
  • Butter
  • Black Pepper
  • Olive Oil
  • Black Olives
  • Cilantro

What You Do

If using dried chickpeas: soak these overnight. Start by slicing and cutting the vegetables. In a large heavy pan glaze the onions. Then add the garlic, followed by the carrot and the turnip. Make sure they are nicely coated with olive oil. Continue by adding the chickpeas, the courgette, the bell pepper, a bit of chilli and the white raisins. Crush the cumin in a mortar. Add stock, cumin, cinnamon stick and turmeric and let simmer for 30 minutes at least. Use plenty of stock because you will need one cup for the couscous. When the vegetables are nearly ready, add the roughly chopped cabbage and a few slices of preserved lemon. In parallel make the (instant) couscous (this will normally take 5 minutes) using one cup of the cooking liquid. When ready use a fork to make the couscous fluffy and add some butter. Create a ring of couscous and add the vegetables to the centre. Perhaps some black pepper. Sprinkle with cilantro and add a few olives.

Seasonal Vegetables

Bring Autumn And Winter To Your Table

This year the University of Amsterdam will award the prestigious Johannes van Dam price to Alain Passard, the French chef who showed that vegetables can be the centrepiece of your meal.
In 1986 Alain Passard opened his restaurant Arpège in Paris and ten years later he obtained a third Michelin star. He published a number of great books, for instance In the Kitchen with Alain Passard (a graphic novel) and The Art of Cooking with Vegetables.

In this dish we simply combine a variety of seasonal vegetables into an inspiring side dish. Some of the vegetables are known as ‘forgotten’ vegetables. And although some are forgotten for a very good reason, you will find most forgotten vegetables very tasty and colourful. This dish will allow you to taste the individual and combined flavours. Don’t worry if you have some left over: it’s even better the next day.

Wine Pairing

A simple full-bodied red wine will work very well with the dish.

What You Need

  • Parsley Root
  • Turnip
  • Sweet potato
  • Truffle potato
  • Jerusalem Artichoke
  • Red and Yellow Beetroot
  • Black Carrot
  • Parsnip
  • Rosemary
  • Thyme
  • Olive Oil
  • Black Pepper

What You Do

You don’t need all of the above, but make sure you have a nice variety. Wash and clean the vegetables. Peel the vegetables if so required, but don’t peel the truffle potato. Slice it, this way you will be able to see the great pattern of the potato later on. Cut the other vegetables in chunks, making sure they are all of similar size. Sprinkle generously with olive oil, making sure everything is nicely covered. Add a bit more if in doubt. Add sprigs of thyme and rosemary.
Heat the oven to 180° Celsius. Put in the oven (upper half) for 60 minutes or longer. Mix after 15, 30 and 45 minutes. You may want to increase the heat to add a nice golden color to the vegetables. Remove sprigs and serve with black pepper.
Please note there is no need to add onions or garlic. The combination of vegetables, herbs and oil should do the trick.

Tuna with Sesame Seeds and Pickled Cucumber

Tataki

This starter is easy to prepare and simply delicious, provided you have the best quality ingredients: fresh tuna, tasty sesame seeds, sesame oil and pickles.
Japanese sesame oil is made from roasted sesame seeds. As with olive oil the best sesame oil is ‘extra vierge’ so the oil is extracted from the seeds using pressure only. We used oil produced by La Tourangelle, a company specialised in gourmet oils. Think Walnut oil, Hazelnut, Almond, Pistachio, but also Coconut and Avocado oil. As always, this sesame oil is more expensive than the usual sesame oil, but the difference in taste is impressive. A few drops of this wonderful sesame oil work perfectly with the tuna and the lightly toasted sesame seeds.
Pickled cucumber is a great addition to this dish; it comes with a bit of ginger, sesame seeds (!) and a light acidity. Not difficult to make, but buying it is fine too.

Sake Pairing

The world of sake is a complex one. We decided to drink a glass of Yamato Shizuku, Junmai Gingo. The production of sake is labour intensive and it very much depends on the quality of its four main ingredients (rice, koji, yeast and water) and the skills of the brewers. Junmai means that only these four ingredients were used and Ginjo means that the sake was made with carefully selected products and that more or less traditional techniques were used. In most cases sake is produced in Kobe; this one however is from the northern part of Honshu. This sake is light, yet it still has a bit of umami. The taste is refreshing, floral and mineral with a clear but pleasant presence of alcohol (15,5%). It works wonderful, with the fish, the sesame and the pickles.

What You Need

  • Small piece of Tuna (125 gram)
  • White Sesame seeds
  • Olive Oil
  • Sesame Oil
  • Pickled Cucumber

What You Do

We want the tuna to be red on the inside and the sesame seeds gently roasted. Best is to buy a fairly thick slice of tuna and make sure it’s cold. Dry the tuna with some kitchen paper, coat both sides with the sesame seeds and fry in oil in a hot non-sticky pan. Keep it moving. Monitor the side of the slice. Turn the tuna when you see the beginning of a crust. Ideally the sesame seeds are now light golden brown. When ready, quickly transfer to a cutting board and slice. Put on a warm plate, drizzle some excellent sesame oil over the tuna and garnish with pickled cucumber.

 

Blanquette de Veau

French Classic

Hard to say what the original way of preparing Blanquette de Veau is. In all cases the veal is added to a cold liquid (preferably a combination of water, wine and stock) and then cooked slowly. The sauce must be made using egg yolk.
Make sure the veal has some nice layers of fat. This will add falvour to the dish and it will help make the meat moist.
We use mace to add additional flavour to the Blanquette. Mace is the outer skin of a nutmeg seed. It is removed by hand and then dried. It is sold in whole pieces or ground. Given its strong flavour, using mace comes with a risk. Use a small piece and taste well after 30 minutes or so. Remove the mace from the stew before it becomes overwhelming.
The trick with the mushroom is one to remember: by blendering cooked mushroom with a warm liquid you will get a mixture that will thicken your sauce beautifully. No beurre manié required.
Don’t underestimate Blanquette de Veau. You need time and patience.

Wine Pairing

We enjoyed our Blanquette de Veau with a Pinot Noir from Austria. A red Burgundy would also work. If you prefer a new world Pinot Noir, make sure it’s not too woody. The vanilla that comes with the wood is too strong for the delicate taste of the Blanquette.

What You Need

  • 300 gram of Veal
  • 1 Shallot
  • Little bit of Mace
  • Cup of White Wine
  • Cup of Veal or Chicken Stock
  • Water
  • 100 gram white Champignons de Paris
  • Butter
  • One or two Egg Yolk(s)
  • Cream

What You Do

Cut the veal into cubes. Not too small because during the cooking process they will become smaller. Take a pan, add wine, stock, veal, peeled (but not chopped) shallot, mace and water, making sure the veal is covered. Put on a medium heat and wait until you see a brownish froth. Carefully remove this  with a slotted spoon. Transfer the pan back and leave for 30 minutes on low heat. Taste and check if you’re okay mace-wise. Remove when you think the mace is becoming too much. Check again after 30 minutes. Cook in total for 3-4 hours on low heat.
Clean the mushrooms and fry very gently in a skillet with butter for 15 minutes on low heat. Remove the shallot and mash with a fork. Decide if you want to reduce the liquid, depending on taste and volume. (If you decide to reduce, store the meat on a plate for the duration of the proces.) Transfer the mushrooms to the stew and leave for 15 minutes. Make sure you get all the juices form the skillet. Take 5 or so of the bigger mushrooms and a few spoons of the liquid. Use a blender to make this a very smooth mixture. Transfer the mixture and the mashed shallot to the stew, stir and cook for 15 minutes. Cool the Blanquette and put in the refrigerator for the next day.

The next day start by warming the stew gently. Combine one egg yolk (or two, depending on the volume) with the cream. Mix well. Now add a spoonful of the very warm liquid. This is what is called ‘marrying’. Add more liquid, one spoonful at the time. Keep stirring. Once your mixture is of a similar temperature, add the liquid to the stew and keep stirring until it starts to thicken. Make sure the stew is (very) warm but not cooking. If it becomes too warm you will ruin the marriage. Now taste, check if you want to add some white pepper. Serve on a warm plate with rice or with green beans with a splash of olive and grated nutmeg (!) and crusted bread.

PS

An very tasty alternative is to use Girolles. Agreed, the blanquette will become a bit yellow, but the taste of the Girolle goes very well with the mace and the sauce. It’s a more intense, powerful blanquette.

Cod with Lentils and Cilantro

Plat du Jour

Think France, think a nice small bistro in a small street, off centre, nothing posh, no Michelin star in sight. It’s 12.30, time for a quick lunch. You enter the restaurant, take a seat and order today’s dish, the plat du jour. It turns out to be a generous helping of brown lentils, two fried sausages and mustard. A beer works beautifully with it. After having enjoyed your lunch, you think about the joy of good food, French mustard and the beauty of lentils. Time for coffee. And maybe a glass of Calvados?

Lentils

Let’s talk about lentils. Not expensive at all, very healthy and a pack of essential vitamins and nutrients. Lentils are used in many kitchens and grown in many countries (India, Canada, Australia and also Europe, North Africa and the USA). Lentils have been around for a long time, possible 10.000 years. So you would expect lentils to be popular, but for some reason you don’t see them too much, unless in restaurants serving organic food or as soup. A pity, because a simple dish of rice and lentils with a dash of chutney is healthy, cheap and tasty.

The red lentil (key element to Indian Dhal) is well-known. We use it in our pumpkin soup. It is a split lentil and it will cook very soft.
The Beluga lentil is black, as the name suggests. We could have used Beluga lentils in this recipe because of the colour combines nicely with the white fish.
Most lentils are green or brown. The Du Puy green lentil is special, not only because of its Appellation d’origine contrôlée but very much because of their great taste and the fact that they keep a beautiful shape, even when cooked. Beware of fake Du Puy lentils! All Du Puy lentils are green and from France, but not all green lentils from France are Du Puy lentils. They have names like ‘Le Puy lentils’ or ‘Dupuis lentils’. All nasty marketing. If you want real Lentille Verte du Puy then look for the A.O.P and A.O.C. We prefer the ones from Sabarot (Happy 200th Birthday!)
The recipe for the plat du jour is relatively straight forward (make sure the meat in the sausage is not too finely minced) and we have enjoyed it many times.
Lentil soup combines really well with fresh cilantro, so we use the same combination in this case, although using fresh parsley is also a good idea. Key elements in this dish are excellent fresh cod, a mild fish stock and cilantro leaves and seeds.

Wine Pairing

We very much enjoyed a glass of Spanish Verdejo with this dish. In our case a bottle of Monteabellon Rueda. In general wines made from the Verdejo grape combine very well with fish. The wine comes with the right acidity, giving freshness to the wine. It has floral aromas typical for the Verdejo grape. You may recognise the aromas of banana and exotic fruit.

What You Need

  • Shallot
  • Butter
  • Cilantro Seeds
  • Green, Du Puy or Beluga Lentils
  • Mild Fish Stock
  • Cod
  • Butter
  • Fresh Cilantro (or Parsley)
  • White Pepper

What You Do

Cut the shallot in small bits and glaze gently in butter. In the mean time check the lentils for small pebbles; wash them. Once the shallot is glazed, add the lentils and heat them for a few minutes, as you would do with risotto rice. Gently crush the cilantro seeds a bit and add to the pan. Add the mild fish stock and leave to simmer on low heat. In parallel pan-fry the cod in butter in a non-stick pan. Just before the lentils are ready add half of the finely cut cilantro or parsley to the lentils and mix.
Timing is all. The lentils should be cooked, all liquid evaporated and absorbed and the cod just done. Meaning the cod is opaque and the flakes can be separated easily. And overcooked meaning you can see those small white bits and the fish becomes dry.
Serve the cod on top of the lentils and sprinkle some cilantro or parsley over the lentils and cod. Maybe add a touch of white pepper.