Friday, 17 April 2009

Flemish Rata : a dish from the coast

Koksijde is a city at the very west of the North sea coast of Belgium. While browsing through my 'Original Flemish Dishes' cookbook I came across this local recipe, which I just had to prepare, it's so unusual.
You need
4 slices of bacon or breakfast bacon , 1 cm thick (the original recipe uses slices of normal bacon 1 cm thick, I used these to cut back on the fat. )

1 kilo of firm cooking potatoes
1 medium onion
25 grams of butter or tablespoon of olive oil
2 bay leaves (laurel),
a sprig of thyme or 1/2 teaspoon of dried thyme
some pepper
1 liter of freshly brewed coffee

Peel your potatoes and cut the larger ones in half , put in a larger pot.

Pour the coffee over them ( yes, that's right : coffee !) till the potatoes are mostly covered and add two bay leaves and a sprig of thyme (or 1/2 teaspoon of dried thyme) and pepper. Bring to a boil put the lid on and let it cook slowly. The original recipe adds salt here, but since the bacon is already salted, I leave this out.

While the coffee is starting to boil , saute your peeled and diced onion in a pan with the olive oil or butter.

Add the four slices of bacon after a few minutes and bake them on both sides on a medium fire for a few minutes (they don't need to be cooked through! )

Scoop the onion into the coffee and arrange the meat on top of the potatoes.

Close the lid and let it simmer on a low fire till the potatoes are done (prick them with a fork to check if they're done through) : takes 20 minutes or more , depending on how slowly you simmer it.
I've turned two slices over ,: you can see how nicely they've browned on the side touching the coffee.
Serve the potatoes in a deep plate, pour a generous helping of coffee sauce over it and add a slice for each person.

As you can see , the potatoes are colored on the outside, the meat has been steamed to a nice pink : the coffee taste has mostly disappeared, the sauce tastes slightly salty and of meat with hints of thyme and bay leaf.

Oh, and to make the most of the sauce , you just have to mash your potato in it with your fork! Wicked!

I like this dish,I've made it twice already and I'm told it still appears regularly on the dinner table in Koksijde.

Monday, 13 April 2009

Easter Monday : cherry blossom viewing

Today is Easter Monday .It's a holiday in Belgium , and today the weather has been
Since my largest cherry tree is in full blossom , I'm having a cherry blossom viewing.
( the trees behind the cherry are my two pear trees )

This is cherry blossom : ( click on all pictures to see a larger view)

This is pear blossom : lovely but quite different from the cherry blossom.

To drink on such a lovely day , I'm having a Kriek Lambic , which is a beer that originated when people conserved their surplus of cherries (noordkrieken) by keeping them in barrels of beer.
These cherries are bright red and taste more sour (tart) than the other types which taste more sweet.
The alcohol in the beer preserves the cherries. To make this beer , which won the gold medal in Brussels in 2005 , 240 grams of cherries are added to one liter of Lambic beer and then ripened in oak barrels. This type of beer has been made like this since the 19th century.

As is traditional in Belgium , every beer has its own type of glass to drink it from.

This beer tastes tart and a bit sweet just like a real cherry and is very popular in summer : drink it rather cold. Very refreshing. It's a lovely naturally red colour ( no colorants , no sweetener ! )

See how even the foam is a lovely pink from the cherries ?

Lambic is a beer that can only be produced in one area in the world , namely around Lembeke, not very far from Brussels in Belgium and then only during winter.
This is because all the other beers are made to ferment by adding yeast under carefully controlled conditions in isolation. Lambic is made to ferment by letting the brew cool off in large tanks with all the windows open, so the wild yeasts in the air can fall into the brew and start the fermentation. During summer there are way too many organisms in the air : the fermentation would run wild. Since these wild yeasts are specific to this area, it can only be made there.

The result is a unique beer with a taste that is very complex and that also varies from year to year. Because it is rather flat ( doesn't foam ) older lambic is mixed with younger lambic which gives geuze , a beer that does produce a nice foam and is even more complex of taste.
The pressure in the bottle can get quite high , so they use bottles of thick glass with thick corks and a metal wire to keep the cork in (just like champagne).
The best ones can taste quite tart, like biting into a rather unripe apple , which is a shock to people used to the 'usual beers', but works wonders to help you digest your food after a large and copious Flemish dinner ;)

This is the 'chapel' where the brew cools down overnight and collects the necessary microorganisms to start fermentation from the outside air with large ventilators :

(Disclaimer : this picture is the property of Brouwerij Boon , Lembeke, Belgium ). Looks like a swimming pool full of beer , doesn't it ? It's not beer yet, it has a long way to go before it is.
The site is in Dutch only, but the wonderful pictures there speak for themselves.

Large oak beer barrel being scraped on the inside.

(Disclaimer : this picture is also the property of Brouwerij Boon , Lembeke, Belgium )

Of course this being Easter , we have Easter eggs . These are all brown and black chocolate with a liquid filling ( I'm not fond of white ) and every colour of wrapping is another filling : coffee, vanilla, lime, banana, fondant, and many others I've forgotten.

At work we got a small present for Easter : a bag with some eggs and this kawaii chocolate bunny.

For this cherry blossom viewing I bought these original handmade 'cerisettes' at a chocolatier in Mechelen ( cerise is French for cherry ). The cherries are whole (stone and stem and all) and are kept in alcohol for up to 5 years. The taste from the cherries transfers to the alcohol.
These real cherries are then each covered with dark chocolate which is filled with the original alcohol. They're quite large and a mouthful, but as the chocolate cover starts to melt and the cherry flavoured sweet alcohol flows into your mouth you'll have a wonderful experience. Trust me ! ( See the stems sticking out ? ) ( Click the picture for a mouthwatering full view :)