A real winter treat!
When I smell black mussels cooked in beer, I am immediately back in old Amsterdam, where one of the better restaurants – quite close to the university – had a little booth in the street outside. There, one of their cooks prepared “Mussels to go”, just like they do at the Sunday market in Brussels. And the delicious smell on a cold, grey winters’ day always made me hungry…
Making this famous dish is not difficult; you need
- Fresh black mussels (large or jumbo size), count on 1,5 Kg per person;
- 3 – 4 bottles Belgian beer (NOT the bitter tasting Pilsner type);
- 500 – 750 gr winter vegetables (depending on the amount of mussels)
for instance a carrot, some leek, sprigs of celery, onion, chopped but not too finely
- a large pan to cook them in
(Tip: If you have to cook a large quantity, cook a fresh batch when the first one is nearly gone…)
Nowadays, only “clean” mussels are sold. If you’re lucky enough to be able to gather them yourself or buy them straight from the ship, you’ll have to clean them first.
Preparing them is easy:
– cover the bottom of the pan with a layer of vegetables
– put in a layer of mussels
– spread another layer of vegetables on top of the mussels
– repeat the process until the pan is full;
(Don’t forget to leave some space between the last layer and the lid!)
– pour in the beer
– put the pan on the cooking range and bring the contents to the boil
The dish is ready when the juice (beer + mussels) is bubbling and the topmost mussels are open . Take the pan from the fire. And now comes the only tricky part:
Put the lid back on the pan, close firmly and shake, to hustle the mussels around, making sure they’re all cooked evenly., then put the pan on the table.
It is a wonderful finger food!
Use the shells for cutlery – as everyone in Belgium and France does.
Or buy some ‘Mussel cutlery” (see picture) if you can find it!
Serve with a nice crusty “Baguette” , maybe some dipping sauces and of course a well chilled glass of Chardonnay or (Belgian) Beer.
A nice and healthy way to prepare cod.
All you need is:
- some nice pieces of cod – count on 150 gr per person
- a nice big lemon
- grated parmesan cheese (10 – 15 gr per person, according to taste)
- breed crumbs (15 gr per person)
- olive oil
- some black pepper and garlic (fresh or powdered)
Pre-heat the oven at 200 c (390 F).
Grate the lemon rind (a tablespoon for each piece of cod)
Mix the grated lemon, parmesan cheese, breadcrumbs, garlic and pepper
Arrange the fish in a greased oven tray and lightly baste the fish with olive oil
Cover the pieces with the mixture and press firmly until well coated
Bake for 10 – 15 minutes
Put each fillet on a pre-warmed plate and garnish with a slice of lemon
Serve with pasta or fried potatoes, a green salad and a nice white wine!
I must confess I love simple food. The original taste, not swamped by heavy sauces. Or obliterated by all kinds of (sweet) condiments. I know I am going against the trend. And yes, I also know it that each day it is getting harder to find food like that.
So once again, if you can’t find it, make it!
There are few nicer ways of preparing fresh salmon – and it is ridiculously easy. All you need is one of those little smoke-ovens you can find in outdoor shops or on the internet. All you have to do is buy some nice pieces of salmon and salt them for about four hours. Wipe them clean and put them on the griddle.
Sprinkle 2 – 3 tablespoons woodchips on the bottom of the oven, close the lid tightly, light the (spirit) burners and let the fish smoke for 30 minutes.
Serve your freshly smoked salmon warm, with a green salad, some lemon and a French loaf (Baguette).
I think most of us are by now fed up with tasteless, mass produced bread, stuffed with grease and preservatives to make it last longer. Finding a good, artisanal baker is about as likely nowadays as finding the proverbial needle in the haystack.
Is there no solution then?
YES – bake your own!
All you need is a breadform, a good mixer (preferably one with a bowl attached) and an oven. Supermarket flour is ground to fine (and often mixed with things you don’t want) so the challenge wil be to find good, slightly coarse flour. It is frequently stocked by health stores, as is dried yeast. Once you’ve found it, use this recipe to begin with:
- 500 gr flour
- 290 ml lukewarm water
- 12 gr dried yeast
- 10 gr sugar
- 10 gr salt
- Mix the ingredients in the bowl and knead for 5 – 8 minutes;
- Cover the bowl with plastic cling foil and let the dough rise for about 30 mins;
- Lightly dust a flat surface with flour and firmly knead the dough for 3 minutes;
- Use a rolling-pin (if you don’t have one, a wine bottle will do) and flatten the dough intil you have a (more or less) square piece about 1/2 inch thick;
- Roll it up and put in a lightly greased bread-form, seam at the bottom;
- Put it in a draught-free place (I use the microwave) and let rise for 60 – 65 minutes;
- Pre-heat the oven to 220c;
- Bake for 10 minutes at 220c, then reduce heat to 180c and bake for 30 minutes;
- Remove the bread from the form;
- Put it on a tray and bake for an additional 5 minutes (to harden the crust);
- Take it out of the oven, put it upside down and let it cool off before you cut it. (This is the hardest part!)
Once you’ve tasted your own baked bread, you’re hooked. And you will soon get the hang of it and experiment with different kinds of flour, fillings, etc. And each and every time, your whole house will be perfumed by the wonderful smell of honest, freshly baked bread.
Smell is a powerful guide to the past. The smell of freshly baked bread always takes me back to my schoolboy days when each day, in the cold and dark of the early morning, I cycled past this bakery on my way to school. And each and every time I thought:
‘THIS IS HOW IT MUST SMELL IN HEAVEN’