Saturday, January 28, 2012

Finding New Ways to Eat Winter Veggies

As I said earlier this week, I felt a moment of inspiration last weekend while menu planning.  Where it came from, I have no idea, but something just clicked and Niek and I actually felt excited about our eating plans for the week.  Winter veggies--which ones to choose and what on earth do you do to them to make them delicious?  Summer vegetables are easy: chop them up, throw them in a bowl with some dressing, and call it a salad.  Voila, dinner.  Last time I checked, eating raw cabbage at every meal isn't that appetizing (although I have a fabulous read cabbage slaw taco recipe that is truly amazing).

But, we did it.  We found a recipe that incorporates the best of Dutch winter vegetables, and no, it's not stampot.  We settled on the un-Dutch recipe for minestrone, and oh wow was it good.  As always, came in handy with a great rendition of winter minestrone.  There were the usual kinds of substitutions since Dutch grocery stores aren't exactly brimming with produce choices, and I'm just too stinkin' tired to lug myself and the baby halfway across Amsterdam in search of every, last ingredient.  Those days have been put on hold until...I don't know when I'll feel like doing that ever again...maybe when the little munchkin no longer needs to nurse and I could in theory blissfully leave her with Niek for days without worrying about her nutrition.  In the meantime, cubed bacon went in for the pancetta, the escarole was nixed altogether, and kale stood in as second-best for chard.  Why do the Dutch hate chard?  I would assume they do, because it is very difficult to track down.  Niek doesn't even know the Dutch word for it (snijbiet, in case you're wondering). It was sad not to use it, but the kale proved to be an adequate substitute.

Although the Dutch supermarkets fail to have a large variety of produce, they do have a surprising number of cabbage varieties.  I counted five last time we were there.  There was no savoy cabbage this time, so I picked up this little number, a head of spitskool.
I love this picture, because it looks like the head of cabbage is leaning into the shot as if to say, "Hello, I'm a spitskool."
And there you have it.  It was probably one of the best winter soups I have ever made, and it was even better the second day.  I just felt so full of goodness (re: fiber), so now I can make it through the rest of the winter without constantly despairing over the lack of greens in my diet or daydreaming about a flight back to California.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Gourmet = Fun Winter Dining

That's it.  I reached the point of winter this weekend when going to the supermarket irritates me.  Cold weather people--basically anyone who reads this blog outside of California, and right now I'm jealous of my friends on the West Coast--you must know what I'm talking about.  The fruit choices have dwindled down to apples, bananas, and oranges.  I get some mangoes and berries thrown in for good measure here, but they're ridiculously expensive and sometimes don't even really taste like anything.  And know I just really love good root vegetables, but I'm pretty sick of looking at parsnips and beets.  After weeks of feeling uninspired in the kitchen, I think I finally broke through with some good recipes for the week.  Hint, I'll be using lots of cabbage and kale.

However, that isn't what I really wanted to talk about today.  What I really wanted to share was my amazing experience with Gourmet (not pronounced gor-may, no it's gur-met, as in, "I met up with some people last night and had a really good time with good food and conversation and cute kitties and smiling babies."  Like that.  That's how you pronounce it.)  Wikipedia's entry on it only gives me the activity, "gourmetten," so technically I guess we were gourmett-ing.  I think some people here also call it a raclette. Any way you slice it,  you enter into the fondue/Korean gogigui /Japanese teppanyaki territory.  You sit down at the table laden with raw ingredients and go to town cooking on the stone cook-top or in the little pans underneath.  This is the second time I've done it, and I just love it.  It is, to be honest, slightly more difficult with a squirming baby, but it's still manageable.
The ingredients don't have to be too terribly exciting, and let's be straight here, in January in the Netherlands there aren't too many exciting ingredients to find at your local supermarket.  But that is why Gourmet is so awesome.  It's the whole experience of cooking all your own little dishes while you sit around and talk that makes for such a nice evening.  My favorites to make were omelets and rösti in the pans.  Our host told us that his family always did this on New Year's Eve when he was growing up to fill up a lot of time for the long evening leading up to midnight.  Niek's family did this on Second Christmas Day with his grandparents.  If you want to try this, and I say do, I recommend the following:
1) Plan this with people you actually like talking to.  The food does take some time to cook, so there is a big chunk of time you have to fill with something other than eating.
2) Have a good ventilation system in your home.  While the meat and veggies on the cook-top smell amazing, they let off a lot of steam and grease. 
3) Following #2, don't wear anything that needs to be dry-cleaned.  No matter what, you will leave smelling a bit like the fryer at a fast food restaurant.  If you know this ahead of time and just embrace it, it becomes a non-issue.
Very confused kitty.  "What?  People come in mini-size?"  Note the diaper bag in the car seat to keep the cat from thinking it was a new bed for him.
Nothing like a nice evening of tabletop grilling to lift me out of my funk.  And the sun is shining today, and there are no gale force winds at the moment.  What nice ways to break up the winter blues.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Fish and little time to cook...

Ah, welcome mid-winter.  With your short days, cloudy skies, you make it that much more difficult to rebound from the gaiety of the Holidays.  Do you know what solves the feelings of malaise?  Hot and filling casseroles that bubble up delicious aromas while cooking in my oven.  Last week it was time for a little bit of fish pie.  If it hadn't been for Tessa Kiros' beautiful description of this dish that she had inherited from a Finnish family friend, I'm not sure I would ever have given it a go.  After all, I grew up in the Midwest where pie is synonymous with dessert and does not denote any sort of meal laden with fish and mashed potatoes.

I'll spare you the pictures.  They didn't turn out quite as I had hoped, and I don't want to turn anyone off attempting fish pie in the future.  But it was delicious as the mashed potatoes mixed with the sauce, veggies, and pieces of fish.  I did make it with pollack instead of cod, and I cut out the shrimp.

Ever since I saw a special late one night on PBS about aquaculture (yeah, PBS is where it's at when you need a grad school study break), I haven't been able to bring myself to buy most shrimp found in the supermarket.  I'm also the kind of person who carries a list of sustainable fish around in her wallet.  It makes shopping for seafood kind of depressing and quite exhausting.  I've been trying to strike a balance between buying food raised/caught/grown in a more sustainable way and not feeling horribly guilty if some of the things we eat are part of the...what is that they call it?...the industrial-agricultural system.  It's been kind of exhausting lately.  Probably because I don't sleep all that well with a four-month-old, and I would like my food to take less time to prepare.  I think I am starting to fully understand why pre-packaged foods are so popular.

Still, as Johanna continues to grow (and hopefully sleep more at night) I hope buying and preparing foods will once again become really enjoyable.  I loved eating the fish pie, I just didn't enjoy juggling and crying baby and a pot of boiling potatoes.   

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Cheese and butter

I just had a sandwich with cheese and butter.  In a sea of blog posts and newspaper articles about eating a healthy diet in the new year, I felt so compelled to put it out there that I just ate two kinds of fats with a healthy dose of carbohydrates.  Do other people do this?  It's not something I ever did growing up, but I know that lots of Dutch people love the combination.  The mother of the family I stayed with during my first summer abroad in Germany packed them in my school bag for my mid-morning snack, and I've seen it here often enough.  Oddly, I hate the taste of butter and cheese in America.  Maybe it's the kind of butter, or the fact that I've never had truly good Gouda cheese in the States, or maybe it's the kind of bread I can get here.  Whatever the reason, it's really only something I like to eat here, especially on days like today when, despite a reasonable caloric intake, I feel like I'm starving.  I blame this on three things: my metabolism has to readjust after the truly gluttonous holiday season, I'm breastfeeding a hungry hippo (or maybe just a baby), and I've finally started running again.  I'm sure dietitians the world over are shaking their heads in disapproval over my fat, fat, carbo combination.  To that I will say that I am finally not hungry.