Sunday 28 February 2010

Belgian food and drink…


A very brief photo round up of the food and fresh ingredients we found along our many walks in Bruges and Brussels. I love the fact that you see this regularly in Europe, on every corner, in many shops, there’s always a stunningly presented display of something delicious looking, be it chocolate, meats, fish or cheese.

We begin in Vismarkt, the fish market, where in the early afternoon, there are just two stall remaining, and fresh lobster being delivered to the local restaurants.  



Next, onto shop windows: cheese, chocolate, and even jam!














Little street stalls selling fresh oysters; the shellfish you can choose from at almost any restaurant; and a saucisson stall.

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And finally, the drinks. With a glass of vin chaud or gluwine, and a beer, each one with its specialist glass, what more could you ask?


Thursday 25 February 2010

Belgian Waffles


If there’s one thing Belgium is famous for…well, alright, I know it’s hard to name just one so I’ll begin the sentence again.

One of the things Belgium is more famous for, (there, that’s better!), is Waffles. We saw them everywhere on our travels and decided to have the first taster in a little coffee / tea room rather than on the street, where they looked more like the generic ones you can buy in supermarkets over here.  819_1665

We both opted for a plain and simple Waffle with Icing Sugar and were not to be disappointed. It was light and fluffy on the inside while being crisp and crunchy on the outside. You just had to be careful not to breathe in and therefore inhale the icing sugar – I'm sure we’ve all been there before!

The OH couldn’t resist buying a white-chocolate covered one from a street stall, and he claimed this was just as delicious, but it looked a bit gooey to me.


Oh yeah…one more thing: We couldn’t resist singing the ‘Birdseye Potato Waffles…they’re waffly versatile’ song, swapping the ‘Birdseye Potato’ part for ‘Crispy, Belgian’. And then it got stuck…in our heads…for the entire holiday. Now, I hope I’ve managed to get it out of my head by writing this down, and into yours instead: thanks!

Tuesday 23 February 2010

Belgian Aperitif – with beer, of course!



One of the many flavours of Belgium is their cheese, and their beer obviously, but they also enjoy combining the two, so we couldn’t resist trying a plate of traditional ‘snacks’ alongside our beers as an aperitif before heading out to eat yet more meat, in Restaurant Vincent, where we had the most delicious Steak Tartare.


The plate was classed as a small plate of mixed items, including salami (that looked like Spam from a tin), cheese, gherkins, pickled silverskin onions and white and black pudding. And as for the beers? Having overdone them slightly in previous nights, and not wanting to spoil my rare beef, I went for a small, and very boring Jupiler. The OH was rather more adventurous, and chose differently every time, but for this one he went for Vieux Temps. (I won’t tell you that after that he opted for yet another one, which turned out to be a cheery beer – yuck!)

Not bad, but not was I was expecting I must admit. The best part was combining the cheese and onions to make retro cocktail sticks!

Lastly, apologies for the quality of pictures: I was testing out a new video camera for school and though it takes stills, there’s no flash!

Sunday 21 February 2010

Steak Tartare (Steak Americain), Restaurant Vincent, Brussels

During our recent visit to Bruges and Brussels, there was one place I was eager to visit. In the guide book, which to be honest I don't often hold much store by, it suggested (amongst other things, such as Rabbit Stew and Moules,) that the Steak Tartare, or Steak Americain as it's called in Belgium be tried. When we ventured out to 'reccy' the proposed restaurant, this was the window display that greeted us...what more can you ask than hunks of fresh beef and thickly sliced steak? We were definitely eating here: Restaurant Vincent, Brussels.

Not only were we tempted by the delicious looking cuts, but we had also been promised theatre: the steak would be prepared 'en salle, a la table', and this was something I was looking forward to! Good quality meat, prepared in front of our very eyes...I couldn't wait. Until, that was, we entered the restaurant where we were greeted by a very grumpy maitre d'. It all added to the experience though, and we soon overcame his rudeness and settled ourselves into the evening. Quickly scanning the menu, and remembering just in time we were looking for Steak Americain, not Steak Tartare, were delighted to find it there and ordered one each, plus a carafe of red. The waiter checked that we understood the meat was 'cru' (uncooked) to which we nodded and smiled politely, but I'm sure if he didn't check, there'd be much meat returned to the kitchen and shown to the flambee pan, especially by the British! If only the prices displayed on the tiles from 1912, still held fast!

We were lucky enough to be seated next to the room's preparation table, and enjoyed watching all the dishes be plated up here. The chefs must have a great time concentrating on cooking the food itself whilst letting the waiters plate up, though I wonder if they'd also like to have a say in how it's presented? Our steak, or should I say, dollop of freshly minced beef, was first presented to us, then taken to the table to await it's preparation, not just by any waiter, but by one in particular whose role it is to make up this dish!

When, finally, the special waiter came to prepare our meat, I was rather over-excited, especially never having eaten completely raw beef before! Click play on the video below to see the steak being prepared!

The finished dish was exquisite: the flavours of the mixture were all very individual, and the mustard strong. It certainly needed the crisp salad to cut through it a little, and the heat and crunch of the fries was also welcome. The closest recipe I have been able to find was this one from the Market Kitchen series. It includes finely chopped gherkins, capers and shallots, mixed with mustard, salt, pepper, an egg and Worcester sauce. And, of course, freshly minced beef.

I'll certainly be eating this again and trying it at home, perhaps after a week or so though, having eaten more red meat in the last three days than I usually eat in three weeks! For the foreseeable future, it's salads and chicken!

Monday 8 February 2010

Garlic from the Garden

One thing that grew particularly well in the Cabbage Patch this year was the garlic. So much so, in fact, that I planted about 30 this year, so I’m thinking if we eat 0.58 of a bulb / head a week, it’ll last all year! That’s the theory behind it anyway, so I was very upset to notice that although my onions are doing particularly well, despite their crushing by the snow, the garlic shoots weren’t even up. Until, that was, James Martin commented on the fact that the garlic shoot season is just beginning, and, sure enough, when I ran up the garden to see, the tiny little purple shoots had just poked their heads up above ground!

From The Cabbage Patch

You might ask why I’m so excited by this? Well, it’s the fact that it’s such a versatile and tasty ingredient: You can roast it, whole or in cloves, with or without skin; it can be finely chopped and added to taste in pasta sauces, cottage pies, etc; or be the main ingredient itself, as in aioli.

After trawling my blog for recipes including garlic, I found over 23 entries, and that’s not including the ones before I learnt that adding tags was a good idea!

From The Cabbage Patch

Gino D’Acampo uses garlic or onion, but never both, in fact, it’s his fourth rule, learnt from his teacher at catering school who said to him, “The secret of a good dish is respecting the ingredients that you use.” Once Gino understood the “unique flavours” of the two separately, he never cooked them together again. Now, I sort of see his point: they are both distinct flavours with their own individuality, but why those can’t be combined, I’m not sure. When you flick through or search for my recipes that include garlic, more than not, you’ll find they also include onions, (unless it’s a Gino one, like the Gnocchi Pomodoro!), and they taste good, on the whole.

So, as for using it alongside onions, you’ll have to make your own decision. As for Garlic’s use as a main ingredient, or even to add a little something extra, you’ll find no substitute.

Gino D’Acampo quote taken from ‘Fantastico!’, Gino D’Acampo, Kyle Cathie Ltd, 2007.

Monday 1 February 2010

Pickled Beetroot

After cleaning up and digging over The Cabbage Patch last week, I finally picked a few of the beetroot leftover. They were particularly small as when they original plug plants arrived, it said ‘20’, so I carefully counted them out and planted. Now, what ‘"20’ actually meant, was ‘20 bunches of plants’ so, actually, there were about 100 beetroot, but which I planted in groups of 5. Does any of that make sense? So, I ended up with rather a lot of tiny little beets and very few larger ones, although I did weed out a few to help some on their way!


Not one to let things go to waste, as testified by the fact that the secret room is full of rubbish that ‘might just come in useful’, I quickly boiled them. Now, I also took advantage of the fact that we still have the carpets in the house form when we moved in and the one in the lounge is, what can only be described as, beetroot red. So, I sat on the floor in front of the fire with a knife, a big bowl and some kitchen paper to peel them.

Having made pickles and chutneys before, I  unstuck when it attempting to pickle whole things: Did I have to use pickling vinegar or would normal malt do the trick? The answer was actually neither here nor there as I knew I had never bought pickling vinegar in my life, and was fairly certain there was not enough malt left to cover the beetroot, so I determined to ask a friend at school who does much pickling!

Her response was that moral malt would do the trick, but if I added a dash of balsamic vinegar, for its flavour rather than its preservative qualities, it was add a little something else.  arrived home with half an hour to spare before going to the last and final ‘Come Dine’, and quickly sterilised the jar, tipped the beetroot in, filled with malt vinegar and a dash of balsamic, sealed and heated. Phew. I also prepared a a Featherblade Steak stew for husband and popped it in the oven before heading off out: It’s amazing how much you can get done if you really try!

I haven’t tasted them yet, but how bad could they be?!

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