Anniversary: Dandoy in Brussels

Brussels Bouquet

The perfect anniversary bouquet: hanging flowers in Brussels’s Grand Place

It’s official! Mr. English and I have been together two very long but seemingly short years.

Having finally gotten me back in England, Mr. English knew the best way to keep me was to take me back out as quickly as possible. We’ve started a tradition where one plans the anniversary every other year: he has evens. So he told me to pack my bags: no details, no planning, no nothing. As the resident control freak in the relationship, I had to wonder. Was he trying to change me?

I decided to go with it, and I wheeled my little pink Longchamp weekender into St. Pancras station on Saturday morning. He had told me to meet him in Le Pain Quotidien. As I ordered “quotidian” side of Gruyere, I demanded, “Where are we going!” I had, after all, packed cashmere gloves and a bikini.

He motioned around him, at the wooden walls and clear glass wall. “This is your clue.” I pondered for a moment, and as he handed the ticket across the table, I jumped up. “We’re going to Belgium!?”

If you are European like Mr. English, you may feel quite blase about Belgium, as I later discovered did Mr. English. But to me, who had grown up quarantined from Europe by a giant ocean, Brussels had always been my culinary epicenter. I imagined quaint little carts–the kind that used to rattle with tin cans hanging from the roofs–vending crispy, salty little frites with mayonnaise. And mountains and mountains of mussels, soaked in beer, warming up my frost nose. I thought it might be where my stomach would go to heaven.

I came up with a little list in my head of all foods Brussels: Brussels sprouts, Belgian endive, and the Belgian waffle. It was this last one by which I least expected to be impressed. I dragged Mr. English into Dandoy, the famed waffle house, and ordered one. The man behind the counter, who reminded me of the clown that pops out of the box, asked if I wanted Bruxelles or Liège. I said I didn’t know. He told me you could get the sweet Liège anywhere, but a Bruxelles waffle: only in Brussels!

It was crisp on the outside, and just airy-creamy within. Each little square on the grid was puddled in melting, collapsing icing sugar. There was a saltiness to the batter, and the sweetness you expected. And I turned to Mr. English, huffing out a puff of powdered sugar, and exclaimed, “If I were from Belgium, I would sue America for slander. How dare we call what we eat Belgian waffles?” He, of course, told me I was being very American.

I am on a waffle hunger strike from now until the next time Mr. English takes me back to Brussels. And for all of our sakes, it had better be soon.

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Categories: Brussels, Restaurants, Voyages
 

Starving

An Oxford Graduation

An Oxford Graduation

I’m dedicating this post to one reader, Mark, because it was his question that inspired it.

He asked, after reading that I had returned to Oxford to do my MBA, what I planned to do with all this education. Back weeks ago, full of pluck and tenacity, I stood tall, peering with shaded eyes across my vast aspirations, sure that I, writer and eater and cook, could never bite off more than I could chew. My appetites, I admit—for food, for life, for success—are greater than the ocean that separates me from my home.

I must admit that I have overdone it before, snacking on frites past midnight, slathering my morning baguette in a winter-thick blanket of ivory butter. And then, I had to go on a diet—which I hated! And though I hope I’ve upheld the adage French women don’t get fat through responsible consumption, the diet I’ve never been able to keep is rationing ideals, dreams, hopes, goals. Perhaps it is a contagion that racks all first generation Americans. Both my theses are on the American Dream, so has it fascinated me ever since I first heard the two words consecutively uttered. I cannot live without work. I am too hungry.

So, here I am, in the den of the hungriest lions in the world: business school. I will write cookbooks, I told myself, and be the greatest literary and culinary entrepreneur of all time! Sophomoric was the word invented for just such idiocy. I suppose the benefit of an expensive education is hearing over and over again that you can do anything—which translates to you can do everything. Yet, so far am I from being a master of the universe that I am not even master of my own universe.

And so the education that I thought would catapult me to the highest heights of personal capability has me licking the dregs of the lowest lows. Every day I sit in the same seat, under the same fluorescent lights, as one professor after another equivocates about the Capital Asset Pricing Model. They pontificate about where supply meets demand, and I surreptitiously stretch my legs under my desk and ask myself whether I will ever find an equilibrium that satisfies my own market conditions. I have realized, for the first time, that there is only so much of myself I can supply, and so many, many forces demanding.

I have only a microwave during the week in my little room. And I have found myself, that hungry, hungry tiger, feeling caged. I always thought that caged animals would turn tame, but they won’t. They turn angry. Which is why with every hour I spend balancing accounts, I curse the fact that I’m not balancing the weights of butter, flour, and water in choux pastry. I realized that I haven’t done anything that I love—I haven’t cooked, I haven’t written, in weeks.

Every day, a little knot of us eat three meals under the same fluorescent lights of the business school. Sometimes I play a little game with myself: is that fennel, or just tarragon in the soup? My friend Jeff asks for an extracurricular education in spices that I am happy to provide, as the cafeteria staff leaves dangerous, whole spikes of anise and cinnamon in its “fragrant” rice. But never before has food comprised such a little portion of my life. And now I am not just hungry, I am starving. Hungry for success, yes, but also starving to do that which I love more than that which I felt I should love.

How could a plate so full appear, feel, be so very empty?

I am not a religious girl, but another part of expensive education is religious training, and one line has always stuck with me: “When I became a man, I put away childish things.” I used to listen to all the voices that bombarded me telling me that following a dream, doing what you love, was childish. But that same passage reads, “love never fails,” and I have found what I love, and love is an investment, one that my professors would agree produces an excellent rate of return. I turned 27 last week, and so now that I am a woman, I put away childish things, and I am putting myself on a diet. Less strategy and accounting–more cooking and writing. More love.

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Spiced Pumpkin and Bourbon Beignets with Vanilla Bean Sugar and Spiked and Sparkling Norman Mulled Cider for Bon Appétit

RECIPE: Spiced Pumpkin and Bourbon Beignets

Spiced Pumpkin Beignets

Spiced Pumpkin Beignets

Today in London, all of a sudden, it was November. The wet leaves swirled in the wind, and I bit into my favorite Godiva pumpkin truffle that my parents had left for me on their last visit here. And as I walked up Kensington High Street, the Indian summer finally gave out, and it was cold.

I love November. Maybe it’s because my twenty-seventh birthday is lurking around a corner. And with that brings the inevitable promise of cake, which I do not take lightly. A birthday should never break its promises. But I think also that Halloween is the hors d’oeuvre in a great two-month banquet. And if you love food, you can’t help but wake up on November 1, bloated from Halloween candy, thrilled to start the feast.

I think there is something about the holidays in your twenties. You are old enough to be away—sometimes, as I am, very, very far away. Too far away to come home. In some ways, as young adults, we try to distance ourselves from the stodgy mud of our pasts, thinking exuberantly that we finally get to do it our way. And then, after one too many Thanksgivings spent eating pumpkin ravioli and turkey meatballs, you realize that childhood was really just yesterday, and you miss probably more than anyone the great laden tables popping with stuffings and birds and ciders.

My mother, for instance, used to greet me everything Thanksgiving break with a pumpkin pie. It is maybe my favorite food. For all the high-falutin’ claims that usually come to mind—like rose macarons and truffled mac and cheese and lobster—I remind myself every year around this time that pumpkin pie is what I wait all year long for. I would come home and there would be two pumpkin pies in the fridge: one large one for Thursday, and one slightly smaller one for Wednesday night. It was all mine, and I would sit, exhaling the frenzy of school, on the couch with a fork and a television. It was a match to the death; I always won, and the pumpkin pie was always devoured.

Now, here in London, where pumpkin pie is something of an oddity, cans of pumpkin are in limited supply. It feels like we Americans are on war rations. The cans are priced at 2.50 GBP, and great neon signs read: PUMPKIN! Get it while you still can. I bought eight cans.

When Bon Appétit asked me to create a holiday dessert, I knew it had to be pumpkin. Nothing else is quite so special. Peppermint, gingerbread. You can eat them whenever it suits your fancy. But pumpkin—you have to wait for it. It is precious as it is common. I love its Americana, its richness, its warmth. It is a call to the table, the period at the end of a very long and filling run-on sentence.

That is why I chose pumpkin. But why beignets? Firstly, because the holidays are about family. And though mine is currently across an ocean, my French relatives, including Maman, think pumpkin pie is useful only for hurling at people in old-fashioned sitcoms. Beignets are just what my family calls donuts. I chose them because like pie, they are “salt of the earth”—only sweeter. They are old fashioned and rustic, and yet elegant and urbane. Restaurants all over the world, like Stanton Social in New York and Wahaca in London, are selling out of their little gourmet donut desserts. It just goes to show you. You can make a chocolate truffle cake. But people just want to eat donuts.

These are made from a simple choux pastry, cut with dense pumpkin, spiced with gingerbread spices, and spiked with Bourbon. When they are puffed and golden and hot, I toss them around in vanilla bean sugar. I love that they do triple duty: on Thanksgiving, I add shredded apple for a harvest vibe. For Hanukkah, they’re fried, so job’s done. And at Christmas, the gingerbread spices and deep Bourbon predominate. Like the evergreens outside, these outlast the season. I serve them with a Spiced and Sparkling Norman Mulled Cider, made from sparkling apple cider from Normandy spiked with Calvados and simmered with cinnamon sticks and cloves. For an elegant dinner, fry these up just before serving, and place them in scalloped paper cones. For an informal feast, have your guest in the kitchen and dare them not to eat the beignets right from the fryer. Nothing is more rustic or refined, more simple or surprising, than these Spiced Pumpkin and Bourbon Beignets with Vanilla Bean Sugar.

I hope you’ll make them and share them this winter. Merry Christmas (and Hanukkah and Thanksgiving) to all, and to all a good bite. Bon app!

This recipe is an entry in the Bon Appétit Blog Envy Holiday Dessert Bake-Off. Click here to vote for me! Merci! (It is the last category: “Miscellaneous Desserts.” Click on the “Vote on the Next Batch” button until you get to the sixth category.)

Spiked and Sparkling Norman Mulled Cider

serves 4

Ingredients

75 cl cidre buché (Norman or Breton hard apple cider)

2 tablespoons Calvados

1 cinnamon stick

2 cloves

1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon sugar

Procedure

Place all the ingredients in a saucepan. Turn the heat on the stove to medium-low, and allow the mixture to heat through for 10 to 15 minutes. Serve warm.

Bon Appétit Blog Envy. VOTE!

Spiced Pumpkin and Bourbon Beignets
makes about 45 beignets

Spiced Pumpkin BeignetsIngredients for the Beignets

  • 1/2 cup canned pumpkin
  • 2 tablespoons Bourbon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 3 tablespoons light brown sugar
  • Pinch salt
  • 6 tablespoons water
  • 1 stick butter
  • 1 cup flour
  • 3 eggs
  • 1/2 Golden Delicious apple, peeled and grated (only for gilding the lily; optional for Thanksgiving)
  • Vegetable oil for frying

Ingredients for the Vanilla Bean Sugar

  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 used vanilla pod

Procedure for the Beignets

  1. Combine the pumpkin, Bourbon, spices, brown sugar, salt, water, and butter in a medium saucepot.  Cover, and sit over medium high heat until the butter is just melted and the mixture is bubbling.
  2. Take the pan off the heat, and dump in all the flour at once.  Using a wooden spoon, stir forcefully and rapidly until all the flour is absorbed.  Place the pan back on the heat over medium-low heat for 30-45 seconds, until the dough comes away from the sides of the pan.  Decant the hot dough into a large bowl.
  3. Stir the dough around to cool it off, and then add the eggs one at a time.  Add one egg, and use the wooden spoon to stir it in.  You could also use an electric hand mixer.  Once the egg is absorbed, add the next, and then repeat for the third egg.  The final pumpkin spice choux pastry should be smooth, thick, and sticky.  The perfect way to gild the lily for Thanksgiving is to add 1/2 peeled and grated Golden Delicious apple to the pastry dough now, before frying.  It adds autumnal sweetness and moisture that is irresistible.
  4. Heat a deep pan half full of vegetable oil until it registers between 310 and 325 degrees on a candy thermometer.  Drop in teaspoon-sized amounts of dough in batches, careful not to overcrowd the pan and effectively drop the temperature of the oil.  Fry the beignets for 6 to 9 minutes.  The trick is to allow them to fry until they crack.  The fissure will expand.  That is what creates the puff inside the beignet.  When the fissure and the rest of the beignet are about the same color, six to nine minutes should have passed, and you’ll know the inside is cooked.  Remove with a spider or slotted spoon to drain on paper towels.  Toss with the vanilla sugar (recipe follows).

Procedure for the Vanilla Bean Sugar

  1. Vanilla sugar is the perfect way to use up scraped vanilla pods that you’ve used in other recipes like crème brûlée.  Save the pods in a baggie, and then decant the sugar into a bowl.  Use your fingers, and get some of the sugar into the crack in the split vanilla bean; then scrub with the sugar as though you were scouring a pan with salt.  You won’t believe how much vanilla is still left inside, and it is more than enough to make vanilla sugar for these beignets.
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French in a Flash: Bouillabaisse Pasta

RECIPE: Bouillabaisse Pasta
Bouillabaisse Pasta

Shellfish Bouillabaisse over Tagliatelle

My Papiers Provence (see link to the right) posts were some of my most popular ever, and my trip to the South continues to inform almost everything I create. I started off my French in a Flash column with Chilean sea bass, seared, and nestled among rock shrimp and mussels in a bouillabaisse broth. But one bouillabaisse dish is hardly enough! I love the richesse of it: the seafood (I almost always do an all-shellfish bouillabaisse), the heady marigold saffron. And the essences of Provence: the fennel and wine and sometimes Pernod. It’s a peasant dish gone for gold. So complicated, comprised of nothing but highs and lows–as Mr. English often claims I am! Maybe that’s why I love bouillabaisse so much. A kindred spirit.

So for my column this week, I reinvented bouillabaisse yet again. This time, I simmer a broth of white wine, fish fumet, cherry tomatoes, fennel, shallots, garlic, and, of course, saffron. Then I add the shrimp, mussles, and poularde clams, and the finally the crabmeat which gives it that thick texture of bouillabaisse broth. Next, I toss it with wide ribbons of hearty papardelle that I’ve undercooked, and then allow to bubble away in the steaming bath of bouillbaisse. The pasty goes marigold colored as well, and it’s just a really easy and creative way to reinvent the classic. And the sauce takes less time to make than the pasta, with hardly any work besides slicing a fennel and throwing some stuff in a pot. You could add a shot of Pernod, or some fennel fronds or parsley or chervil at the end. But this is the simple fix.

Bouillabaisse Pasta Cooking

Cherry tomatoes and fennel in bouillabaisse broth

For the whole story and recipe from French in a Flash on Serious Eats, click here. Bon app!

Bouillabaisse Pasta
serves 4

Bouillabaisse PastaIngredients

  • 500 grams tagliatelle
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 3 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1 large shallot, finely diced
  • 1/2 small fennel, thinly sliced
  • 1 400-gram can of cherry tomatoes, drained (substitute with 1 can petite-diced tomatoes, drained)
  • 350 grams Poularde clams, or other small clams
  • 500 grams mussels
  • 300 grams large shrimp, peeled and deveined
  • 75 grams crab meat
  • 3/4 cup dry white wine
  • 3/4 fish stock
  • 2 pinches (.3 grams) saffron threads
  • 1 tablespoon butter, cold

Procedure

  1. Cook the pasta in a large pot of boiling salted water just until al dente.  It will cook more in the bouillabaisse broth, so you want to be sure not to overcook it.  Drain.
  2. While the pasta cooks, make the bouillabaisse sauce.  In a high-sided sauté pan, heat the olive oil over medium heat.  Add the garlic, shallots, and fennel, and reduce the heat to medium-low.  Season with salt and pepper, and sweat for 7 minutes until the vegetables are translucent, but uncolored.
  3. Add the drained cherry tomatoes and the wine.  Raise the heat to medium, and simmer the wine until it reduces slightly, about 3 to 4 minutes.
  4. Add the fish stock and the saffron threads.  Bring to a simmer.  Then add the clams, mussels, and shrimp.  Season with salt and pepper, cover, and allow to steam until the clams and mussels open—about 5 minutes.
  5. Shake the cold butter into the hot sauce.  Add in the drained pasta.  Raise the heat to medium-high, and cook so that the pasta absorbs some of the broth, and finishes cooking—about 2 minutes.  Serve immediately.
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Categories: 30 Minutes, Eat, Fish, French in a Flash, Main Courses, Recipes, Series, Sides, Starches
 

The Secret Ingredient (Liquid Smoke) Part III: Smoky Hogfish and Pepper Escabeche

RECIPE: Smoky Hogfish and Pepper Escabeche
Hog Fish and Pepper Escabeche

Hogfish and Pepper Escabeche

Get the whole story at Serious Eats.

My inspiration for experimenting with liquid smoke came from a dish I had in a restaurant once, which is where I get many of my ideas for home cooking. We were traveling in the South of France where many meals involved trout. It’s horrible to admit that I got bored of trout, yet I did.

But along came a dish at the bistro in Cap d’Antibes which sounded simple enough: Trout Escabeche. When it arrived at the table, it was two filets of crispy-seared trout, covered in this delicate pepper and fennel escabeche with a smoky foam and a tomato skin crisp as a cracklin’. I awoke from the trout lull, licking the foam from the fork, wondering, “what is that flavor!?”

20091026-lejardin-secretingredient.jpg

The original dish at Le Jardin in Cap d'Antibes.

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French in a Flash: Summer Berry Rissoles

RECIPE: Summer Berry Rissoles
Summer Berry Rissoles

Summer Berry Rissoles

If you like my Sorrel Shrimp Rissoles, then I know you’ll like the original, my Summer Berry Rissoles. Rissoler means to brown, and the way we learned rissoles in culinary school was to stuff balls of puff pastry with sweet syrup-poached pear. Delicious, but once again, you had to spend a lot of time and effort on your little donut hole reward.
 These are easy. Start with frozen puff pastry, and some beautiful berries, and then proceed as if making fresh ravioli. Fry them up, toss them with sugar, and you’re done. The outside is like a crusty doughnut with a million layers, but soft, and sweet, as well, and the inside is like a starburst of sweettart berries that are just turning from fresh fruit to pie filling as they explode in your mouth.

If you never thought you’d ever eat fried puff pastry, don’t mock it till you’ve tried it. These are your own homemade French Pop’ems. Bon app!

Summer Berries

Summer Berries

For the full story and recipe from my French in a Flash column at Serious Eats, click here.

Summer Berry Rissoles
makes 16 rissoles

Summer Berry RissolesIngredients

  • 2 sheets frozen puff pastry, thawed
  • 1/2 cup raspberries
  • 1/2 cup blueberries
  • 2 teaspoons flour
  • 2 teaspoons sugar
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • Vegetable oil for frying
  • Powdered sugar

Procedure

  1. Fill a pot halfway with vegetable oil, and begin heating it to 350 degrees F.
  2. Using some bench flour, roll the cold but thawed puff pastry out into a square that is about 12 inches on each side.  Cut 4 equal strips across the pastry.
  3. Toss the berries with the flour and the sugar.
  4. Making the rissoles is just like making ravioli.  One strip of dough will be the base, on which you place your filling.  Another strip of dough will blanket over the filling, and then you will stamp out the ravioli.  So, begin with 2 strips of dough.  Brush each lightly with beaten egg, to help the top and bottom pastries stick together.  In your mind, divide the base strip of dough into 4 squares.  Alternating, place either 2 raspberries or 3 blueberries in the center of each of those squares.  Place the top layer of dough, egg wash side down, over the dough dotted with berries.  Use your fingers to create little pockets, and press the dough lightly all around and between the filling, so any air gets out, and so the dough sticks firmly together.  Flour a 2 ½-inch ravioli stamp, and stamp out the little round, fluted rissoles.
  5. When the oil reaches 350 degrees F, fry the rissoles in 2 batches for about 5 to 6 minutes, until golden and flakey.  Drain on paper town, and dust generously with powdered sugar, like Tinkerbell scattering fairy dust.  Eat them when they’re still too hot.
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Categories: Desserts, Eat, French in a Flash, Fruit, Pastry, Recipes, Series, Vegetarian
 

French in a Flash: Sorrel Shrimp Rissoles with Artichoke Aïoli

RECIPE: Sorrel Shrimp Rissoles with Artichoke Aïoli
Sorrel Shrimp Beignets

Sorrel Shrimp Beignets

I know, I’ve been frying things a lot in my column lately. The squirrels who tumble around Central Park this time of year like fat ladies in fur coats inspire me to eat myself into winter. The good thing about these shrimp rissoles is that if you have tremendous willpower, you can eat just one. I dare you.

These are an unorthodox take on rissoles. I take jumbo shrimp, and coat them with one leaf of citrusy, grassy sorrel. Then I wrap them in sheets of filo dough coated in olive oil, and fry them, or rissoler them, until they are golden and crisp. I make an easy artichoke heart and garlic aioli to wipe them in. The result is a scattering of golden shards of crisp filo when you bite into the rissole, and then the tart tang of the sorrel, and this super-juicy just-cooked shrimp. Then, the pungent garlic and the chunky artichoke. It’s so good all together. And the good thing is, it can be made almost entirely from the pantry: shrimp, artichoke hearts, and filo dough from the freezer, mayonnaise, garlic, and olive oil from the fridge and pantry. Make them, and squirrel them away before anyone else can get their bright eyes and bushy tail near them!

Artichoke Aïoli

Artichoke Aïoli

You can find the full story and recipe from my column French in a Flash on Serious Eats. Bon app!

Sorrel Shrimp Rissoles with Artichoke Aïoli
serves 4

Sorrel Shrimp BeignetsIngredients for the Shrimp Rissoles

  • 12 8-12 count shrimp, peeled and deveined, tails on
  • 12 sorrel leaves
  • 12 sheets filo dough
  • Olive oil
  • Vegetable oil
  • Salt

Ingredients for the Artichoke Aïoli

  • 1 clove garlic
  • 4.5 ounces thawed frozen artichoke hearts (1/2 packet)
  • ½ cup mayonnaise
  • Zest and juice ¼ lemon

Procedure for the Shrimp Rissoles

  1. Fill a cast iron skillet halfway up with vegetable oil.  Bring to 330 degrees F.
  2. You will make 4 stacks of filo, 3 sheets thick.  Lay down 2 sheets of filo, brush thoroughly with olive oil, and place the final sheet on top.  Cut into 3 equal strips.  Then season the shrimp with salt.  Place a shrimp on the edge of 1 strip of filo dough, leaving a slight border.  Place the sorrel leaf on the shrimp, and then wrap in the dough, tucking in corners as you go.  Repeat for all 12 shrimp.
  3. Fry the shrimp in 3 batches, 3 minutes per side.  Drain on paper towel, and sprinkle with salt.

Procedure for the Artichoke Aïoli

  1. Pulse the garlic in a mini food processor until it is smashed to smithereens.  Then, add in the artichoke hearts, and pulse to rubble.  Add the mayonnaise and lemon zest and juice, and some salt.  The pulse to a chunky paste.
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Categories: Appetizers & Hors D’Oeuvres, Eat, For a Crowd, French in a Flash, Recipes, Series