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

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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?

pannekoek

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.

St. Dwynwen

Menu:

  • Salad of Roasted Leeks with Olives & Thyme 
  •  Cream of Swede & Nutmeg Soup
  • Matelote of Pigeon 
  • Crab & Salmon Fish Cakes with Local Chutney 
  • Vegetarian Lentil & Celtic Mead Pie 
  • Welsh Cheeses, Home Baked Oatcakes 
  • Welsh Cakes, Sloe Gin Jelly, Salted Caramel Walnuts & Cream

It is St Dwynwen night this week in Wales, on the 25th. St Dwynwen is the Welsh patron saint of lovers.  How a nun became the equivalent of St Valentine you can read on

http://www.historic-uk.com/HistoryUK/HistoryofWales/St-Dwynwens-Day/

I have never really understood the stories about her. But then again, I am a convinced bachelor. To me, it looks like she was disappointed in love and then sulked for years on a forgotten corner of the island of Anglesey. I can understand why she chose that place though, because nowadays there is still an air of serene tranquility at Newborough beach. You can reach Landdwyn island at low tides from the beach. For me, there is always something magical about places like that, as if I am on a pelgrimage and the island allows me to come in, by lowering the water.

thCA4NZ8YH

We use Penceunant Tea Rooms (www.snowdoncafe.com) as a location for Pop Up Oren this week. An 18th century traditional cottage, on the slopes of Snowdon. It will take a little climb to get there. But it might remind the guests of the pelgrimage they are on together, lovers or not. The little effort they have to take will be rewarded with a warm fire and good food. Lowering my waters and welcoming the pilgrims in (as LLanddwyn island) is one of the nicest parts of being a cook for me.

So instead of an evening where couples stare into eachothers eyes over  pink and heart shaped afrodesiac dishes, we use this day as an excuse to comfort our ‘pilgrims’ and serve excellent Welsh food in a beautiful Welsh Cottage.

On the menu Welsh cakes baked on a griddle, this recipe is from Penceunant tearooms.

Ingredients:
   
1 lb/450g Plain Flour
8 oz/220g Butter
5 oz/140g Sugar
2 Eggs
3 oz/85g Currants
1/4 Teaspoon of Cinnamon
Method:
    
Cream the butter, sugar and eggs in a bowl for a couple of minutes. Then add the flour, cinnamon and currants.  Mix well.  Dust a breadboard with some flour and knead the dough for about 2 or 3 minutes.  Flatten the dough with a rollin pin until it’s about 1/4 inch/5mm thick. Use a pastry cutter to make 3-4 inch/8-10cm circles.  Grease a heavy pan or griddle with some butter and put over a medium heat.  Cook for 2 or 3 minutes each side until golden brown on both sides

Guided by Angels

Menu:

  • Crema de Garbanzos – Puree of Chickpea Soup
  • Carnitos of Pork with Oren
  • Fish Picadillo Tacos
  • Quesadillas with Mushrooms & Chipotle
  • Tortillas in Ancho Chile and Red Pepper Cream Sauce
  • Tortillas with Egg & Pumkin Seed Sauce
  • Corn & Black Bean Salsa
  • Salad of Greens with Grapefruit
  • Rice Flour Cake with Pineapple & Pomegranate

The day after the fire my friend Henry (a fellow Dutch ex-pat in Caernarfon) knocked on my door. To show her sympathy and – hearing my pop up plans – offer the dining room in the 14th century basement of Totters Hostel, which she and her husband Bob owns. It contains one big dining table, a perfect meeting place for the travelling guests.

dinningroom

www.totters.co.uk

I love the idea of different guests sharing one big table. The social aspect of eating is very important to me. Customers chatting to people on the table next to them is a common scene in Oren and contributes to the buzzing atmosphere. It reminds me of a restaurant in Utrecht (NL)  in my student days. Casa Sanchez was a Spanish restaurant, characterised by long tables, shouting waiters and an abundance of garlic and olive oil. It was one of the first restaurants I came across which was ‘organic’, it wasnt just about the food or the decor but about the whole experience. Looking at the reviews I am pleased to see that I have been able to create that with Oren as well.

This table shouted ‘Mexico!’ at me – I could immediately imagine it filled with tortilla’s prepared in all their varied ways.  There is something fuzz free, loving and social about Mexican cuisine which suits that table.

A famous Mexican dish is ‘Tablecloth Stainer’. It is unavoidable that the chillis in the sauce dirty your linnen with their intense colour.  But who cares when those chillis are so delicous? It is that attitude with which th food is prepared which endeares me so much to Mexican food.

The first time I ever boarded a plane was to fly me from Amsterdam to Cancun. I returned with beautiful memories, not only of all these amazing sights but above all of the food. Huevos Rancheros (farmers eggs) for breakfast and late night Margeritas. Pollo Pibil (steamed chicken) in Yucatan and Chalupines (crickets collected on the cornfields) in Oaxaca.  And in Puebla of course turkey with savoury chocolate sauce, Pavo con Mole. First time it appeared on the menu in Oren, customers were thinking I was cooking the underground digger.

In 16th century Puebla an Archbishop told the nuns in the  Santa Rosa monastery he wanted to visit them. The nuns panicked and didnt know what to feed such an erudite guest. After a bit of praying they started to mash, grind and chop everything they had in the kitchen. All kinds of chillis, tomatoes, almonds, onions, garlic, bread, tortillas, bananas, sesame seeds, sugar, raisins, lard, smoked avocado leaves and countless spices and herbs went into a sauce. And to finish it of a bit of chocolate. The result was presented to the Archbishop with their price possession, a turkey. The Archbishop was exalted and thanked the angels which guided the hands of the nuns in creating such a divine dish. Please try it yourself:

http://www.thelatinkitchen.com/recipe/turkey-mole-sauce-pavo-en-mole-poblano

I am thanking my angels for guiding my hands this way.

A New Beginning

It will be difficult to clean all the old year’s dust from the house (restaurant) before the new year, as is custom in some cultures. This weekend saw Oren’s kitchen destroyed by fire. The restaurant itself is completely intact, but covered in a black film of dust. Oren is closed till further notice, but we are improvising and opening a pop up restaurant at different locations during weekends.

For me, this means a new beginning. Where one road closes, another one opens. A reason to celebrate even. All the frills of Christmas make us almost forget that we are celebrating ‘a new light in darkness’. When I grew up in the Netherlands New Years Eve was as important as Christmas. Lots of fireworks to get rid of the old year’s dark spirits in the midwinter sky. In old times they believed the fat of fried foods would make the spirits’ swords slide off you. To this day Oliebollen (Dutch doughnuts for New Years Eve) are immensely popular.

The biggest New Years celebrations will be in February when the Chinese are welcoming the year of the Snake and in March when Nowruz is celebrated in Iran and other countries with Persian influences. Both have a lot of traditional foods connected to the new year:

http://chinesefood.about.com/od/chinesenewyear/a/symbolicnewyear.htm

http://www.guardian.co.uk/lifeandstyle/gallery/2009/mar/17/nowruz-iranian-new-year-food-pictures#/?picture=344717819&index=1

In Pop Up Oren this week a Japanese menu, full of detoxing ingredients. Mochi – a glutinous rice cake – will feature on the menu. It is Japan’s most common New year’s food. Two round Mochi cakes (symbolising the coming and going year) are placed on top of each other, to form  Kagami Mochi, mirror cake.

mochi

Mochi is available in a good oriental supermarket. It is also eaten savoury, in stews. This video shows you how to make a classic Ozoni, new years stew. Dont be put off by the name of the ‘author’: cooking with dog.

menu:

Gingered Squash Sushi
Crunchy Nori Bundles wih Peanut Dressing
Ham Pancake
Salmon & Potato Miso Stew
Teriyaki Tofu
Braised Red Cabbage with Umeboshi
New Year Mochi Rice Cakes
Turnip pickle
Chestnut Dessert

sweet memory

In these dark days before christmas  I was called home because my dad was near the end of his life.  He died last Sunday, and we said our final goodbyes on December 21st, the day darkness turns lighter again.

I have been able to spend one week with my dad on the last bit of his way. It was hard but I will always be thankful for it. At one point in this week I was making a puzzel in the newspaper. The solution was ‘Every sadness will turn into a sweet memory in the end’.

That made me think of rosemary. The ever fragrant rosemary is a symbol of memories of love and friendship. In Mediterranean countries it was traditionally used at weddings and funerals. It is mentioned in Shakespeares Hamlet as the herb of remembrance.

For me poignant is that you have to do something to smell it, it releases it’s scent through touch.

rosemary

I put a recipe for Rosemary Buttercake in ‘Hemelse Spijzen’, the book I had the pleasure of writing with Tini Brugge, in 2004. It will be on the menu this coming week. I hope it releases your own sweet memories, maybe when you think of this year gone by.

(it is called Buttercake but think Shortbread when you make it)

  • 160 g plain flour
  • 160 g butter
  • 80 g light soft brown sugar
  • 80 ground almonds
  • 2 teasp chopped fresh rosemary (or 1 teasp dried)
  • 1 teasp vanilla sugar (caster sugar infused with vanilla)

Mix butter & sugar to a creamy mass. Add the rosemary and ground almonds and sieve in the flour. Mix to a smooth pastry. Bake in a round tin, 2o mins on 170 in a preheated oven. Take the tin from the oven and make wedges by cutting with the blunt side of a knife into the still soft cake. Sprinkle with the sugar and leave to cool.