Thursday, March 24, 2011

Belgium

Location: Western Europe between France and the Netherlands
Area: Over 30,000 sq km, 140th in the world
         About the size of Maryland
Geography: Most Western European capitals are within 1000 km of Brussels
Population: Almost 10.5 million, 80th in the world
Capital: Brussels, which is also the seat of the EU and NATO
Major ethnic groups: Fleming and Walloon
Chief of State: King Albert II
Belgian Cuisine: The two things that get their own heading in Wikipedia are Frites and Beer.  I like where this is heading.

It was not hard to find out that the national dish of Belgium was moules frites - mussels and fries.  However, with the increasingly in-the-way dislike of seafood, that wasn't going to work.  I briefly considered just making them for Kevin, but I wasn't sure how expensive they were, plus it would be a lot of work.  I did know, however, that I wanted frites.  Delicious delicious frites.

The first time I technically had Belgian frites was the best dinner of my life - when the cooks from my former employer went to a friends house and cooked for us.  It was something we had purchased in an auction.  The entire dinner was amazing.
Blurry, but still delicious.
So there's one part, what about the rest?

There are Belgian recipes all over the internet, so there was no trouble finding one.  The real issue came with finding an authentic one.  Luckily, I found a site that was actually pulling the recipes from a Belgian cookbook, which therefore seemed legit.  There were a few options, but we ended up going with Ham and Belgian Endive Tart for a few reasons.  One, I had never made a "tart" (quiche) before.  Two, I kept finding references to endives.

I had never have endives before, at least not that I'm aware of.  But clearly I had to try them, otherwise I would apparently be snubbing the gift.

I couldn't just stop here though, no-no.  Also while searching I found this website, with a chocolate mousse recipe.  It also told me, kinda, how to make frites.  This is shaping up to be a real meal!

My only worry with shopping was finding the endives.  I couldn't find them at Harris Teeter, even though there was signage for it.  Luckily I asked, and they had some in the back.  What, am I at a shoe store or something?  Oh well, it was time to cook!

First I had to start the frites because the recipe says to soak them for an hour.  It was very vague, and also very similar to the recipe in my other cookbook.  Also, I have a french fry cutter.  We weren't sure if it would really work.  It is amazing.
Wrinkly

Step 1: Insert Potato

Step 2: Push Lever

Done!
Next up was some endive work.  But I really had no idea how to core and then cut one.  Luckily, the internet is awesome.  I took their (actually a different but similar site that is currently hiding) advice and kept chopping the bottom off and taking the leaves that came loose.  And avoiding the goo.
That is what they look like, for those of you who didn't know, like me!

Leaves.

The goo one website warned me to avoid.
But I wasn't just here to cut, I was here to cook!  I haven't really carmelized many things in my life, so I wasn't really sure how to know it was done.  That is when you wing it/go with the suggested time.

Finished product.
While this was cooking, it was time to work on the rest of the ingredients.  I'm not really sure what they wanted with a "generous serving" of nutmeg.  Kevin always claims I don't put enough spices in, which is probably true.
That looks generous, right?

Ham = wonderful.
For the next part, I wasn't sure if I should mix the ham and endives together or not.  It didn't specify.  So I just layered.  And oh boy, it barely fit.
Endive layer.

Looks like it is going to overflow, and I'm not even done yet.

Now with parsley and color effects.
Now that you are baking, back to frites, right?  No, of course not!  Because I decided to do three things!

The instructions for the mousse were simple.  Melt, whisk, cool.  It didn't say which type of cream to use, though, so I did whipping.  Dark chocolate chips helped with the melting part.  It went in very smoothly.  Where I had trouble was the whisking.  I tried to do it by hand.  Don't ask me why.  I had to switch bowls a few times because they weren't big enough, and I don't think I ever got the egg whites where they needed to be.  But I mixed it all together nonetheless.
Swirls!
 Now(!) it is time for frites.  There really aren't exciting pictures.  They are...fries.  At least with this recipe.  And the most notable thing about cooking them is that they use a LOT of oil.  Ridiculous amount.  I went with Canola for this recipe, since it didn't specify.
I put them in too early, because it took a while to boil, and I had to wait much longer than planned for them to be done.  Which gives me some time to check up on the others.

Kevin is building a rocket.  Yes, a rocket.  That looks like an SR-71.  Yay wedding presents from Will!
Except it makes my table look like this.

Intent.
Tesla has much simpler interests.
Maybe they won't see me if I blend in enough.
Time to put the finishing touches on and set the table.
Quiche!



Quiche is not generally something in my food vocabulary.  When coming up with things that I can cook (spaghetti, chicken, pizza, pasta, etc) quiche never comes up.  It was definitely the first time I tried to make one, perhaps even the first time I have eaten one.

It was okay.  Seemed a little bland.  Probably not enough nutmeg/salt/pepper.  I wasn't sure how I felt about the endives either.  I was...unfamiliar with them.  I think it would have been better if I had mixed them with the ham.  Then I could have gotten a little of everything in each bite instead of it being very clear which part I was eating.  As a sidenote, it got better as leftovers, though.  Good stuff.

One of the reasons I wanted to do this adventure was to get better about new ingredients.  For some reason, if I have to cook a dish out of an ingredient I am unsure about (endives, okra, grape leaves), I often have a problem with it.  It isn't bad if it is a smaller part of the dish, like rose water or turnips.  But if it is part of the main focus, it bothers me.  I smell it and see it transform and I don't know if I am doing it right or what it is supposed to taste like.  It hasn't gone well.  I don't know if I am messing up or it is a child-like aversion to new/unknown things.  If anyone has any advice or a similar problem that they have learned to deal with, I would like to hear your thoughts.  Although "Get over it, you're a baby" probably won't go over too well.  "ur stupid" would probably be worse.

The frites were, well, fries.  They didn't have that extra oomph that actual Belgian frites I have eaten did.  Maybe they just don't want to reveal their secret.

Chocolate mousse?  Disappointing.  I absolutely love chocolate mousse.  This was chocolate.  It was not mousse.
It really ended up being syrup.  Probably good on ice cream.  Not the right consistency at all.  Is this because I tried to whisk it by hand?  Because I used whipping cream?  My guess is whisk failure.
Everyone should get excited, because Belgium isn't done yet.  There is going to be a part 2, a continuation.  It won't be much, but I can finish this one out and also respond to any comments or questions or just post Tesla pictures if that ends up working out best.

Next time: Belgium Part 2
Last time: Belarus

1 comment:

  1. For the mousse: Make sure that your ingredients are at room temp before whisking, add a pinch of salt to the egg whites, and don't stop once you have started (stretch your arms a lot first :P). It can take a looong time when whisking egg whites (or heavy cream for that matter) by hand, and I know that it can seem like nothing is happening, but eventually they will start to harden. You want them to be pretty stiff. Beaters or a stand mixer do make the process go more quickly.

    I'm not a big fan of quiche normally, but yours looks beautiful! And maybe the Belgian frites are normally cooked in duck fat or something weird that gives them their, as you say, oomph?

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