Jungle Wednesday

It´s such a treat to be invited to a ´new´ house for the first time. As we parked our bikes, we heard the Louvin Brothers singing through the open window, and as we walked in the door, there was the smell of eggplant frying... and Marcella Hazan´s Essentials was lying open on the page with one of my favorite recipes which I used to make all the time but somehow forgot about.. and a happy dog jumped to greet us, and I spotted a glorious blueberry pie in a corner of the kitchen, and I knew things could not go wrong.

There were salty, spicy, briny clams baked with rosemary, tomatoes, beer and butter, there was a perfect and juicy onion frittata, there were those nostalgically delicious eggplant patties and a crunchy tart Ceasar Salad, and then there was Pie.

The pie.. oh that pie! The filling was just right, soft but not too runny, and it had the most perfect flaky and tender crust. Turns out it was made with this.. I need some.

There was music too, and some You Tube fun, and an Ethiopian dancer, and there was (at least in my case) too much wine, and on the way home there was a Barbra Streisand moment in the Vondelpark that might better stay undocumented.

Thanks guys!



We´re planning yet another trip to the USA (leaving September 6 for a 3-week trip around the East and South.. woohoo!), and as I do a little bit of research about the food that will wait us there (grits, biscuits, barbecue..) my thoughts also drift to the incredible food we had on our last trip to the US. And as my thoughts drift, my eyes do the same, and spot the little can of Hatch green chiles that I brought back last September. It still stands on the shelf as a nice little souvenir, waiting for the Very Special day that would be Special enough to open it. But on closer examination I find that day has to come soon because the expiration date is actually August 2009...

When we were in New Mexico, I ate as many green chiles as I could, knowing very well that I would probably never taste them again. Burgers with green chiles, green chile sauce, green chile grilled cheese sandwiches, and, on one of the final days of our trip, my friend Rob´s green chile corn chowder. (You can see the recipe here, though it won´t be much help unless you have access to New Mexican green chiles!)

When I saw reasonably fresh and sweet corn at the market last week, I knew that this soup was just the thing to make for my Southwestern themed dinner. And although it doesn´t really look very interesting in the picture, I can assure it was delicious - sweet and creamy with just a hint of warm heat from the chiles. The chiles did not taste as good as the ones I´d had in New Mexico - ofcourse they didn´t, they were canned, and a long way from home - but it was still a great soup.

The rest of the dinner was pretty good too: guacamole and smoked salmon in endive leaves, something sacriligiously called chile masa cobbler (basically a batch of this chili topped with grated cheese, little masa harina cakes and baked) and little chocolate cupcakes with whipped cream and strawberries.

I find, these days, that Southwestern or somewhat authentic Mexican food like chile, pozole, mole and quesadilla´s is perfect for Dutch food-loving friends who think they´ve eaten it all. After making ravioli from scratch for them and elaborate French stews that you cook and degrease and deglaze for days, after baking them bread and churning them ice cream and stuffing them chickens, this is the kind of food them makes them say ´wow, I´ve never tasted anything like this before´. My friend thought the masa topping on the chili was polenta, but when he tasted it he knew it wasn´t, and he loved it. Too bad it´s just a matter of time before all my Dutch friends know about chile and masa.. I guess I´ll have to find a new cuisine to explore then, but for now, I´ll fry them quesadilla´s and make them happy!


My Ma Po Dou Fu

It reads like a do-re-mi song doesn´t it? But what it actually is: an attempt at somewhat authentic Chinese cooking.

I had Ma Po Dou Fo on my mind ever since I browsed Fuchsia Dunlop´s Land of Plenty for my Chinese dinner last weekend. I´ve made it a couple of times before and had it in Chinese restaurants, and I love this dish so much - the warm spicyness of the chili bean paste, the numbing hotness of the Szechuan pepper corns, the crumbly meat and the soft slippery tofu. It so happened that today I had a packet of good, semi-soft tofu in my fridge, and some ground meat. Ma Po Dou Fu time!

(For some background info on this dish I refer you to our friend Wiki - a nice summary of various legends and historical facts).

Reading Fuchsia Dunlops recipe, I realized I had no leeks or spring onions. Also, I wanted to have some vegetables with my dinner, and being to lazy to stirfry some vegetables seperately, I decided to just incorporate them into the dish. Instead of 450 grams of tofu and 175 grams of meat, my version has 300 grams of tofu and 250 grams of meat - simply because that´s what I had. To make up for the lack of leeks I added a shallot and some garlic, to substitute for the greenness of the leeks I added some chopped coriander stalks... and I guess that the final version is now far far away from the ´authentic original´.... but oh boy, was it ever good.

My Ma Po Dou Fu
200 grams Chinese leaf cabbage, stalk parts only, sliced
250 grams ground meat (I used half beef / half pork)
300 grams soft tofu, cut into cubes
1 shallot, sliced
1 fat clove of garlic, minced
1 tablespoon fermented black beans, rinsed and dried and chopped
2 - 3 tablespoons Szechuan chili bean paste
1 teaspoon light soy sauce
1 good pinch of sugar
300 ml water
a cornstarch slurry made with 3 tablespoons cornflour and 1 tablespoon cold water
Szechuan pepper, toasted and ground, to taste 8I used about 2 teaspoons - but I really love the stuff)
chopped coriander stalks or sliced springonions, to garnish
vegetable oil for frying (this is supposed to be a pretty greasy dish, Dunlops recipe calls for 1/2 cup of peanut oil - I used about a 1/4 cup)

Heat your wok or frying pan and add the oil. When the oil is nice and hot, add the meat, breaking it up with a spatula. When it´s partly browned (but not cooked through) add the shallot and garlic and stri fry for a minute. Add the chili bean paste and stir fry until everything is nice and red. Add the chopped black beans, soy sauce, sugar and the water and simmer the sauce a couple of minutes. Then add the cabbage and when this is almost done, add the tofu. Stir very gently while mixing in the tofu.
Add enough of the cornstarch slurry to slightly thicken the sauce (maybe add a little more water if it looks dry). Sprinkle with coriander or springonions and serve over rice (although I also really really love this over noodles - sort of like a very feisty spaghetti Bolognese).


The Floating Buttermilk Picnic

It's raining cats and dogs so what better way to beat the rainy blues than with some sunny pictures?

We, the lucky ones, got ourselves an invitation for a boat trip in the Amsterdam Canals last Wednesday. Now, to be honest, I'm a bit apprehensive about boat trips. I've been on a few that were less than satisfactory.. sailing around with your butt on a rockhard wooden bench, your feet in an inch of muddy water, eating nothing but potato chips and drinking lukewarm beer, which makes you want to pee, but not a bathroom in sight, and everytime you want to move around the tiny boat you think you'll fall overboard, and when it gets dark it gets cold, ... that's not really my idea of a good time. It's not that I'm that high maintenance (although some people will probably happily argue that I am), it's just that I like a little bit of comfort with my fun.

For this trip, we were lured in by the promise of cocktails and fried chicken, and when I saw the boat I sighed a happy sigh of relief: a sturdy vessel donned with pillows and napkins and wineglasses and an ice bucket and wait, is that a pepper mill I see?

This was going to be good.

See here for some scenic pics. Here's some of the food: fried chicken that Chef was a bit apologetic about, and while we agreed that the skin had lost some of its crispness I still though it was great fried chicken.. especially when drenched with Real Barbecue sauce. Everybody loved the chicken:

By some strange coincedence there was not only buttermilk fried chicken, but also buttermilk biscuits (oh so good with lots of butter and honey) and buttermilk nectarine cake. There were mojito's being expertly mixed with some unorthodox equipment. To add some excitement we were almost run over by a rondvaartboot. And this is what I look like when I think I'm about to bump my head against a bridge:



Not half bad

I don´t use a lot of ready made things - in fact, almost none, if you discount sambals, mustards and various condiments. It´s a very rare occasion that you´ll find me cooking with some sort of spice paste or jarred sauce. But recenyly I´ve been quite pleased with the spices pastes from Asian Home Gourmet. I spotted the sachets in the toko one day and immediately noticed the line that said "No added MSG, Preservatives or Artificial Colours". And sure enough, if you read the ingredients list for this Laksa Coconut Curry Noodles paste, it reads like an actual recipe that someone could make in a home kitchen, instead of some concoction that could only be engineered in a factory: galangal, shallots, oil, sugar, salt, shrimp paste, lemon grass, turmeric, dried shrimp. Nothing wrong with that is there?

So despite my usual suspicions about stuff like this, these are really useful to have in the pantry - with some meat, tofu and vegetables you can have a nice dinner on the table in 15 minutes. I know I sound like a AHG commercial.. sorry about that.

My soup looks very different from the one on the package though. It had chicken, Chinese leaf cabbage, a handful of green beans, spring onions, Chinese chives, chicken stock and coconut milk. Flavorwise, it needed nothing more than a splash of fish sauce and a squeeze of lime juice. A perfect balcony dinner.


Where did the words go?

I have no clue.

Tonight I´m supposed to attend the final meeting of my writing class. Judging by the activity on this blog the past couple of weeks, this course hasn´t really done me much good.. there has never been less writing, or less inspired writing.

So hopefully, the end of this course will mark the beginning of a new writing phase? Because I tend to do everything backwards, anyway.

The good news is, that I have been cooking. And while I didn´t cook anything new or adventurous on Saturday, I did spend a couple of hours shopping, chopping, stirring and crimping and stuffing and frying.

And that felt pretty good.

There was a nice rendition of this,
there was a whole plate of very sticky potstickers, Fuchsia Dunlop´s Bang Bang chicken (see here for the recipe) and some simple but perfect gai lan (stirfried with garlic, ginger, soy sauce and a little rice wine). Oh and there was champagne, in the middle of dinner, which is something that should be done more often!


Come back

Dit keer had ik mijn afwezigheid niet eens aangekondigd, maar gebeurde het gewoon.

Het tijdperk van uit eten en uit drinken en rondhangen in cafe's en op terrasjes is nog altijd niet afgelopen, en er wordt bijzonder weinig gekookt in huize Koopmans. En als er gekookt wordt is het snel, simpel, oude vertrouwde happen.

Maar nu: ik ben er weer, denk ik.

Deze week voor het eerst sinds heel lang weer eens voor andere mensen gekookt - een heus etentje met tassen vol boodschappen en een hele middag in de keuken. Ik maakte quesadilla's, chili, en chocolade ijs, en het zag er allemaal net zo uit als de chili, quesadilla's en ijs die ik al zo vaak heb gemaakt en gefotografeerd. Inspiratie voor foto's had ik dus nog even niet.

Voor zaterdag staat er alweer een etentje gepland, waarover ik nog niet al teveel wil verklappen, maar dat fototechnisch zowel als culinair een grotere uitdaging belooft te worden. En hoewel ik van plan ben om niet te vaak meer iets te beloven, kan ik wel de intentie uitspreken dat ik hoop er zondag verslag van te doen.

Tipje van de sluier: er komt een peper aan te pas die geen peper is.