The Flavour of Life

A Dutch farm menu this week.
Dutch  Farm Salad with Cheese and/or Cured Sausage and Buttermilk Dressing
Dutch Beef Burger with Fried Liver Sausage and Mustard
White Asparagus with Egg and Lime Tree Blossom Sauce
served with Sautéed New Potatoes, Broad Beans and Aniseed Carrots.
Dutch style Semolina Pudding with Camomile Cream and Stewed Strawberries

June is my favourite month. Spring is over. Woken up after winter, all its detoxing fresh green leafs were like a refreshing morning shower. All its flowers and blossoms were a dawn chorus of better things to come. But it is in June that these promises are kept, as it is the month of real first harvesting. Ah, the taste of freshly dug up new potatoes, planted at Easter, with some butter and mustard. Strawberries, rose blossoms turned into a sweet juicy fruit of love. Cherries, gooseberries, currants, peas, broad beans.

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It is the month of my birthday, and sometimes it feels like the whole month is a birthday, being given all this fresh fruit and veg. And as on the morning of a birthday, there is the almost exhilarating anticipation of more things to come. Went for the hills on this early summer day, a lark singing high in the sky, surrounded by heather and llus bushes (bilberry). Couldn’t help but checking how many berries there are on the bushes, hoping the sheep will leave them alone, and that I will be able to pick my fair share in a month or so. Looking out below me I noticed the wheat is already starting to turn into fields of gold, and I could already almost smell a freshly baked bread.

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A friend of mine lost his farming father earlier this year. Living in the city himself he told me that he felt he lost more then his father. He missed the connection with the land, his father came from a way of life which is gone now. I guess he felt that the rhytm of his life has changed. For centuries food, and producing food, gave structure to our existence. Nowadays it seems more and more that food is just something nutritious. Instead of seeing it as a way of connecting, we separate  it by wrapping it in as much plastic as possible. In restaurants the distance is created  by turning food into some kind of art.

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I feel blessed that I can see golden fields and wild bilberries growing where I live. The importance of food as the flavour of life is also shown in the brilliant novel I recently read by Manon Steffan Ros: the Seasoning. It tells the story of Peggy, living in a village in the Welsh hills.  Each chapter centers around a different person and starts with a recipe of food they enjoyed together. It is the food that gives her memories some extra spice.
I applaud the concept of this book. I wish everybody the excitement of baking a cake, picking homegrown strawberries or the waiting for the right moment to pick wild blackberries. You can feel natures pulse through it, and that makes life so much tastier.

Imagination & Silent Force

 

 

Indonesian Menu for this week:

  • Sweetcorn Cakes with Fruit & Vegetable Salsa
  • Soto Ajam – Chicken in Broth with Noodles
  • Mackerel with Green Beans & Cauliflower in Spicy Coconut Sauce
  • Lotek with Petjil sauce (vegetables with peanut sauce)
  • Bananas, Ginger & Cream with Sesame Cookies

It is World Book Day and where better to spend it then in my local bookstore, Palas Print. Caernarfon is lucky enough to have this excellent independent bookshop.

For me, as a wanderer, it is a lovely place to browse through the selection. I feel strangely old fashioned to go into a bookshop and wanting to discover the next book I will be reading. Instead of knowing what I want and ordering the cheapest copy through the internet.

Today I have cooked some dishes out of cookery books which are currently on the shelf of Palas Print and serve them in the shop for lunch. Most intriguing for me is a Ploughmans Pie from the Fabulous Baker Boys. My cooking is described as imaginative but I have never thougt of cooking cheese & chutney in a pie.

http://www.channel4.com/4food/recipes/tv-show-recipes/the-fabulous-baker-brothers-recipes/ploughmans-pie-recipe

The evening menu this week is Indonesian, a cuisine which is to the Dutch like Indian to the British. In the Netherlands most Chinese takeways serve a mix of Chinese & Indonesian cooking adapted to Dutch taste. Take away favourite Babi Pangang for instance is Char Siu pork with a sauce which seems to be a mix of Chinese Sweet n Sour and Indonesian Satay.

sukarno

Since my childhood I’ve eaten Nasi Goreng. But I didnt connect the dilluted Dutch version  with the spice islands.  The image I had of Indonesia (evoked by stamps I collected as a child) was of  a far flung exotic place, where deep and dark  forces are at work. Smouldering heat, rice fields and waving palms. Parts of that image I found back when I started to cook more authentic Indonesian food, heavily spiced and aromatic dishes as Nasi Rames (beef) and Soto Ajam  (chicken).

A famous Dutch novel set in colonial Indonesia is called ‘The silent force’. It is to you to discover to nature of this force working through all these spices, when I put the food on the table this weekend.

food of my father

This week I spent some days back in the Netherlands again, to catch up with my mother, who at, 85 is still cooking strong. I never realised till I was a chef myself how good her food was. One of my strongest assets, my palette, I have definitely got from her. My family is a bunch of ‘good eaters’. My mum and I agreed that when my dad only had 2 (Dutch style big) pancakes instead of his usual 4, it was a sign that with his appetite he lost his lust for life. And indeed, he died just before Christmas.
Being able to shop in the Netherlands I thought this week’s menu would be for him. In spirit he will join us and share the dishes he loved with my customers.

bartje
Starting with Brown Bean Soup, using an early dry bean variety originating from Holland. Has a smooth texture with a tasty, nutty flavour. Famous in the Netherlands because a classic figure in Dutch literature, the poor farmer’s boy Bartje, didn’t want to pray at the start of a main meal of just brown beans.
My dried brown beans (pinto would be a good substitute) are soaking now. I will cook them tomorrow together with some pork ribs (tip from my mum), onion, carrot, leeks, celery leaves, white pepper, savoury & nutmeg. Certainly for about 2 hours or more, they should be mushy but not completely break up. A bit of sweet soy sauce in it does wonders, as some thinly sliced smoked sausage.
In our household this was served on a winter Saturday, the day my mother departed from the traditional meat-veg-potato meal and cooked one-pot-wonders. After my student sister brought a recipe for chilli con carne home in the 70’s, brown beans found their way to our plates in another dish on Saturdays as well.
My dad loved fish. We grew strawberries commercially when I was a child and in the abundance of summer they were swapped with buckets of undersized fish of people from the nearby fishing village Urk. Little super fresh whole but headless plaice were gently floured and then deep fried whole. Lemon sole was best pan fried in butter. No messing with sauces – it was about the pure taste of the fish.
There will be lovely fresh plaice on the menu but I could easily have done something with smoked mackerel, battered cod & salted herring still were top of my father’s menu, even when his appetite got less in the last year of his life.

peren
Dutch Pork Roll with Poached Pears is not as much on the menu because of the meat but of the pears. They are of a Dutch variety – Gieser Wildeman -, which is inedible uncooked. Rock hard. But they turn silken smooth and velvety red when cooked in some red wine and cinnamon.
This menu could be never ending. As I said – I come from a family of ‘good eaters’. Roast chicken, apple sauce, the Dutch soft drink Rivella (a dairy sideproduct!), bami goreng (fried noodles), schnitzels as big as your plate, sautéed potatoes, a hard boiled egg, traditional Twentse Krentenwegge (currant tea loaf) and pap made with buttermilk are a few of my dad’s other favourite things.
For dessert? We’ll do special oliebollen – the Dutch doughnuts I wrote about in the first blog of the year – A New Beginning.(see January archive).  For a recipe: http://www.typicaldutchstuff.com/oliebol.shtml
Baker Mick especially made a bread with sauerkraut for this menu – following an ancient recipe I found him  (typed with a typewriter!): http://www.partisanbaker.com

Initiative with Pancakes

So I am sitting in the chair by the fire in my kitchen, ready to bake some pancakes. The recipe for the batter I got from a cookbook my mother got for a wedding anniversary, 50 years ago.

250 gr flour, 1 or 2 eggs, 5-6 dl milk, teaspoon salt, 125 gr butter or lard

Make a well in the middle of flour, break the eggs in it, add the milk in small parts, and mix till smooth. Add the salt. Bake from this batter not to thick pancakes in the butter or lard in a frying pan, which are cooked and on both sides golden brown.

Oh dear. How much butter in the pan? How many pancakes will this make? How long do they need to bake on each side? On what heat? How will you turn them over?

It shows that 50 years ago they only needed some bare instructions on how to cook. Nowadays we’ve forgotten basic skills and have to search for a step by step recipe with not too many ingredients on the internet. Or buy ready-made pancake batter in the supermarket. Is that a sign of progress our society has made?

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Really, I urge you to make some pancakes today using the above recipe. It’s not too difficult, and if the recipe is a bit vague, what is wrong with a bit of self initiative? It is so satisfying to have made your own hearty, tasty pancakes.

Bacon pancakes with syrup is a symbol of the luxury we can indulge ourselves carefree in today, before the more contemplative, spartan 6 weeks of Lent start tomorrow.

For the more adventurous a recipe for speck pancakes with yeast, from the same cookery book. Use streaky bacon as a substitute for the speck.

200 gr flour, 200 gr buckwheat flour, 20 gr fresh yeast, ¾ l milk, 2 teasp salt, 200 g streaky bacon, lard or oil

Make a yeast batter from the flours, yeast & milk & let it rise. In a frying pan melt the lard or oil and fry bacon lightly. If the fat is hot enough, add the batter and bake the pancakes till they’re done and brown on both sides.

Ok, I’ll help you. A yeast batter is made by dissolving the yeast in lukewarm milk, the mixing it with the flours, leaving it in a damp warm place, covered by a teatowel, till it is doubled in size.

In keeping with the fasting traditional for Lent a Vegetarian Valentines Meal on Thursday, and lots of vegetarian food on an Indian Kerala Buffet for the weekend.