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Archive for the ‘On the Road Again: Recipes Inspired by Travels’ Category

Belgium

A guest post from the formidable FDW:

Do you remember those waffles in the college cafeteria?  The ones you lock into an industrial waffle maker and wait to hear the delightful “bing” indicate your waffle is ready so you can cover it in whipped cream, sprinkles and maple syrup? This is not one of those waffles!  These require no compliments…except the ones from your taste buds, that is.

I remember the first time I visited Belgium. I arrived into Bruxelles Midi and began the long walk to my hotel near the Grand-Place, all the while knowing that this town (and I use town, here, to refer to the entire country of Belgium) had four major gustatory treats to offer – frites, mussels, chocolate, and waffles – and I’d be damned if I wasn’t going to get one as soon as possible, even though I had stuffed myself on the Eurostar on the way in.

Belgium

Belgium

Belgium

Belgium

The street advertisements didn’t fail to excite my stomach. Everywhere I looked, there were large billboards crying out that THIS particular frites shop was better and less expensive than the one about a half a block away (even though the portion sizes were different and one restaurant was fast-food while the other a sit-down affair), or that these mussels were more fresh than the ones across the street (even though I’m pretty sure they come from the same place) or that this chocolate shop had a higher quality of chocolate (I guess that depends on where the cocoa beans are from, but as far as I could tell this was just an expression). On my left and right were wooden carts with fresh waffles being sold by little old ladies in colorful aprons, and poking out of would-be windows were walk-up chocolatiers. With all of these treats surrounding me, I had to start my day with a healthy sandwich of… frites and cheese in a bun (you know, just to make sure I got my dairy, bread and vegetable servings in that day before dessert).

Belgium

Belgium

When I had scarfed down the last poor frites, I headed for what Merry and Pippin would call “second breakfast” and which was to be my first waffle in Belgium. Not far from where I had the frites sandwich, there was a pretty rickety looking truck with waffles piled up inside. Now I know I just mentioned that there were cute old ladies with push-carts selling waffles, but I have always been of the belief that if something is dressed up and made to seem cute and authentic, then the quality of the food from said source is probably lacking. If you put that much effort into selling your product based on image, then there must be some reason. I have always found that some of the best food I have ever had has been from run-down, old restaurants or simple little nooks that make what they make and do it well and don’t worry about whether or not their patrons are going to be concerned that the tables aren’t the right color or the chairs aren’t all matching, because invariably, if the food is good, people are going to enjoy it and they are going to come back. So, I walked up to the dented and bruised waffle truck, across the street from a group of renaissance-looking musicians and simply asked for a waffle, thinking it to be similar to the ones I had in college, and expecting to lather it in sauces and whipped cream.  Oh, how wrong I was.

Belgium

When he handed me this heavy, golden waffle, I was surprised to see that it was slightly sticky and pulled apart like a doughy treat, like a Grands croissant. But the appearance and feel of this waffle were nothing in comparison to how it tasted. Little bits of sugar inside the yeast dough carmelized in the waffle iron, giving a distinct taste that I can only refer to as perfectly Liege. No matter where I went, the smell of those waffles was enough to get me to avoid a full meal, perhaps even moules et frites, in favor of that golden delicacy. Never, in my memory, had something so normal, something I had eaten since childhood and loved, been turned on it’s head.

Belgium

It’s funny, because eating that Liege waffle sort of ruined normal waffles for me. I can honestly say that I haven’t had a single, normal Belgian waffle (at a diner, for brunch, as a dessert…) since that fateful day. I haven’t again enjoyed that dimpled dish because, well, there’s almost nothing left to enjoy! How can I justify the time making, or the money spent to buy, a waffle like that when it just won’t, can’t satisfy me?

So what does one do when he can’t find a waffle worth squat, but craves the golden ridges more with each passing day? I knew that I could maybe go to the waffle truck that I had heard so much about in Manhattan, but realistically, who wants to go to a makeshift version of the real thing?  “Oh, how wonderful this little truck is! Thank you sir for selling me something that you market as original and different and chic because you don’t have an actual storefront, but realistically you and I know you simply visited Belgium and stole their idea, truck and all.”  I wanted to go directly to the source and get the waffle I deserved (over a year of waiting had put me in a bit of a mood).

Belgium

Liege Waffles
(From Waffle-Recipes.com)

2 cups flour
1 cup pearl sugar*
1 cup melted butter
3 eggs
1 (¼ ounce) package yeast
⅓ cup lukewarm water
1 ½ tablespoons sugar
⅛ teaspoon salt

Take the lukewarm water and mix in yeast, 1 ½ tablespoon sugar and salt. Let the yeast develop for 15 minutes. In the meanwhile you can melt the butter, but be careful – do not burn it.

Now take a large bowl and put in the flour, make a hole in the middle, pour in the yeast that you made in step one. Also add eggs and melted butter and knead until you get nice and even dough. Then let it rest so the yeast does its magic and the dough doubles.

Now take pearl sugar and gently mix it in.

Again, let it rest for 15 minutes, in the meanwhile you can turn on the waffle maker so its nice and hot.

All there is left is to pour the waffle dough into the waffle maker and bake for 3-5 minutes. Because we mixed in the sugar late in the process it will melt and caramelize and give that special Liege waffle taste. Just be careful when you take them out of the waffle maker, caramelized sugar can make them sticky.

*Note from B&R: on my most recent trip to Bruges, my very favourite waffle maker in Belgium assured me that the secret to her success was in the pearl sugar, which can be obtained from most Belgian grocery stores.  FDW, however, can attest to the fact that those of us poor souls who don’t have regular access to a Belgian grocery store/pearl sugar can get by just fine with the plain old granulated variety.

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Madeira

Once upon a time, a twenty-something pseudo-lawyer packed up her belongings (admittedly mostly kitchen supplies and records) and left the comfort of her home in New York to experience life in a land where people drive on the opposite side of the road.  And have funny accents.  And love digestives and Fawlty Towers (preferably when taken together). And use words like “queue” and “courgette”.  And put periods outside of quotation marks.  But, a funny thing happened to her when she got there: she realized that it wasn’t just London that she loved (though she loved it more than she could describe, particularly when she rode out her front door on her bicycle each morning headed to work, past the parks and the Victorian houses and the occasional irate taxi driver), but all the places she could so easily reach from there.  She soon discovered that there were far too many places to see and far too many foods to try (her stomach emphatically concurs).  The downside of this was that planning a weekend could often be a more daunting task than whatever she did at work all week.  The upside was, aside from the beauty and the people and the life-changing experiences, of course, all the new and wonderful things that she ate.

There are so many new culinary discoveries I want to document and share here, but let’s focus for once, Miss Rose, and begin at the beginning: a bank holiday weekend in Madeira, the “Hawaii of the Atlantic”, a true jewel of an island off the coast of Africa. Aside from the smell of tropical flowers following you wherever you walked, and the hikes up and down the beautiful levadas, it was the food that captivated us. From the fresh fish we ate each night, most memorably the scabbard that are found only in the water surrounding the island (a terrifying black fish that reminded me of Flotsam and Jetsam in The Little Mermaid, but which, once scrubbed diligently by the hard-working men in the Mercado dos Lavradores in the center of town each day, was a treat to have at the dinner table), to the fresh fruit that awaited us in the Mercado each morning, I would have to argue that the most memorable part of our trip was the discovery of some of the freshest, most delicious food we could have imagined. Not to mention, some of the largest quantities we could have imagined – Madeirans are nothing if not generous, and provide unlimited amounts of vegetables and fried maize, an island specialty, with each meal.

Madeira

Madeira

Madeira

Madeira

I left Madeira with a belly full of scabbard, annona and the most ripe and delicious passion fruit I’d ever tasted. And to this day, whenever I eat a passion fruit (interestingly enough, they are incredibly easy to find in London, though I am deeply saddened that the same can’t be said for my beloved annonas), I’m reminded of all the free samples I inhaled in the Mercado and, most especially, the banana-flavoured variety that FDW cut open for us all on the beach after a long afternoon of trekking.  I’m afraid they’ll never taste as sweet as they did on those unforgettable days in Madeira, but I believe they’re worth it for the memories alone.

Madeira

Passion Fruit Melting Moments
(From The Guardian Weekend, 5 July 2008)

These passion fruit cookies are deliciously light and summery and were serendipitously found in The Guardian Weekend magazine shortly after my return from Madeira, when my longing for fresh passion fruit was at its peak.

Passion Fruit Melting Moments

3 large passion fruit
200g unsalted butter, softened
250g icing sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
250g plain flour
75g cornflour or custard powder
50ml double cream

Cut two of the passion fruit in half and scrape out all the pulp. Pour the pulp into a bowl, seeds and all. Beat together the passion fruit, butter, 100g of the icing sugar and vanilla until light and fluffy, add the flours and work everything to a soft, smooth dough.

Preheat the oven to very low – 150C (130C fan-assisted)/300F/ gas mark 2. Line a tray with non-stick baking paper. Take spoonfuls of the dough and mould them into balls the size of a quail’s egg, then place on the tray spaced 2-3cm apart. Lightly flour each top, press the balls gently with the back of a fork and bake for 30-40 minutes, until crisp and lightly coloured.

Beat the remaining 150g icing sugar with the cream and the pulp from the third passion fruit. Sandwich the biscuits together when cold.

Madeira

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