dinsdag 17 februari 2009

Kenners over hun kookboeken: Smakelijke letters

Interviewing Dutch culinary professionals about their favorite cookbooks, Vrij Nederland, december 2008


zondag 15 februari 2009

Culinary Adventure: Eggnog and its cousins

Time Out Amsterdam, december 2008

Suspicious looking yellow-toned drinks are everywhere this time of year. Our culinary adventurer, Klary Koopmans, sorts out one nog from the next

Eggs and booze would seem an unlikely combination, but throughout history people have been brave enough to combine the two, though the results often look dubious. Egg-thickened alcoholic drinks can be found all over the world - from Puerto Rican coquito, Mexican rompope and German Eierpunsch to Dutch advocaat, American eggnog and British posset... all these thick, creamy and sweet (but quite potent) concontions seem to cross the line between dessert and cocktail.

One story tells us how Dutch and Portuguese colonists in Latin America encountered a drink made with avocado in the 17th century. They added sugar and alcohol to it. But when they got back to Europe and tried to replicate the recipe, they had to substitute eggs for the avocado - hence the Dutch name for egg liqueur: advocaat. This drink then travelled back to the US and became one of the great American Christmas traditions: eggnog.

For this month´s culinary adventure we tried various versions of these eggy, boozy drinks. We wondered: is home made better than shop bought? And how different is American eggnog from Dutch advocaat?

My eggnog recipe came from an American friend, who has been making this same nog by the gallon for decades. The advocaat recipe was provided by Time Out Amsterdam´s Food & Drink editor, Karin Engelbrecht, and I was excited to try it as it was different from my family recipe (more eggs, less alcohol). Finally, the kandeel (a spiced version of advocaat made with wine instead of brandy, traditionally served to postpartum women and the guests who come to see the newborn baby) recipe was an amalgamation of various Internet instructions. I got all my supplies at liquor store Ton Overmars (Hoofddoprplein 11) where the staff helped me to choose the right bourbon, rum, advocaat and brandewijn (Dutch brandy) for my adventure.

My American friend told me to whip up the nog right before tasting, but the advocaat and kandeel had to be prepared in advance. Thanks to my busy schedule, this meant that I was stirring up (and tasting!) a batch of boozy custard before breakfast.

The biggest difference between eggnog and its Dutch cousins is that the advocaat and kandeel are cooked, whereas the eggnog gets its creaminess from whipped egg whites, milk, and cream. Another difference is the ratio of eggs to spirits: the almost unpourable advocaat had 10 yolks to 1,5 cup of brandy, the nog had 6 eggs to over a pint of bourbon, and the kandeel had a bottle of whine thickened with only 5 yolks. Consequently, eggnog and kandeel are thin enough to drink, while advocaat is really only suitable for eating with a spoon.

The half-dozen lucky testers at the Time Out Amsterdam offices (an excuse for a pre-holiday party for the staff) had different home made and shop-bought versions to try: from pale yellow, foamy eggnog to the thick, almost fluorescently yellow factory-made advocaat.

As a European I grew up with advocaat, which was considered the ´women´s drink´(served in small glasses and topped with whipped cream) at family gatherings at my grandparents´ house, while the men sipped their jenever. The little spoonfuls my grandmother gave me to try may have looked just like vanilla custard, but the effect was very different - it made me feel all warm and tingly inside.

I had never made or tasted a true eggnog. Fortunately, the Americans present pronounced it to be a ´pretty good one´. I loved this frothy sweet drink, with spicy nutmeg sprinkled liberally on top. But my favorite of this tasting was the home made advocaat. A beautiful golden yellow and with a nice kick from the alcohol, it´s the drink to try this Christmas: maybe alongside your bowl of eggnog, or for dessert with ice cream. But however you plan to serve it, don´t make it first thing in the morning - unless you like brandied eggs for breakfast.

Culinary Adventure: Pairing wine with food

Time Out Amsterdam, October 2008

Klary Koopmans goes on a quest to find the perfect wine for her quiche

I love food, and I love to drink wine with my food. But while my knowledge of all things culinary grows with every meal I cook and with every cookbook I read, my wine expertise is lagging miserably behind. I just can´t seem to get past the basic ´I like this wine´- though sometimes I can manage `This wine is making me very happy´ or ´This wine is giving me a headache´.

This limitation of mine can be a bit embarrassing when I´m around foodies who seem to know everything about grape varieties, optimal vintages and trendy new wine countries (Russian Riesling anyone?). Just as I don´t fix my own bike when I have a flat tyre (hey, the bike repair guy has to make a living too!), I´m hoping there´s a way to impress my guests with well-chosen wine without actually having to become an expert.

For example, tonight I have some friends coming over for quiche (followed by stamppot). This may sound like simple fare, but my quiche is a true labor of love. I make the pastry from scratch, and then slowly cook the leeks in lots of butter until they´re sweet and tender. After crisping the bacon I finally (and carefully) mix crème fraiche, eggs and cheese to make the filling creamy and richly satisfying, yet light and fluffy. After going to all that trouble, you want - no you need - a good glass of wine.

I´m going on a hunt for the perfect, inexpensive wine to drink with quiche. That is, under EUR 10,- but still tasty. My first stop is Albert Heijn. For what it´s worth (and I know that´s probably not much) my intuition tells me a red wine would pair well with the cheesy quiche and its smoky bacon accents. Looking at the red wines on offer, I see lots of recommendations for wine to go with steak or a full barbecue, but unfortunately quiche isn´t mentioned anywhere. I decide on a South African Inglewood Cabernet Sauvignon (EUR 6,99) which is described as ´fruity and soft´.

It seems I need a little more guidance. At both my next stops, Pasteuning and Van Krimpen, my question ´I´m having a bacon-and-leek quiche for dinner. What should I drink?´- gets the same answer: ´A rich, buttery, oaky white´. So much for my intuition! Pasteuning sells me a French Chardonnay, L´Archet 2007 (EUR 6,50); Van Krimpen an Italian White, Cà del Magro Monte del Frà (EUR 8,75).

I also try the hip Grape District. The store´s concept is to organise wines by flavor profile and oocasion - for an ´intimate conversation´ they suggest powerful reds, for a picnic on the beach, light easy whites. The salesperson originally recommends (surprise!) a rich white, but when I ask him for a suitable alternative, he suggests a Sicilian rosé, Argiolas Serra Lori 2007 (EUR 8,95).

In the evening, it´s time for the tasting panel to choose a favorite. There are four of us, with wine knowledge ranging from practically non-existent (my friend Shel, who´d rather drink Coke that wine) to pretty solid (my friend Abra, who is a foodwriter visiting from France).
We start with the Chardonnay, which is indeed very oaky. It´s not my favorite style of wine to begin with, and we all feel its heady aroma detracts from the delicate flavors of the quiche. The next white the Italian Cà del Magro, is lighter and fresher and it pairs much better with the food. The rosé seems a bit flat with the quiche - none of the intense flavour I´d hoped for. It tastes good on its own, but it lacks the acidity to stand up to the rich food. ´A goats cheese would be nice with it, but it completely disappears when you drink it with the quiche´, says Abra.

Finally, the red. We do like it, with its rough young tannins and blackberry notes, but we all agree that a pizza or a burger would be a much better match for this bottle. And so the winner has to be the Cá del Magro.

What have I learnt? There seem to be two ways to pair wine with food: either seek a flavor that matches your main dish (eg buttery Chardonnay for buttery quiche) or go for a wine that will counter balance the flavours. For me, the latter seems to be the best approach.

Lesson learnt? Go to a store and let them advise you, and be as specific as you can about your food. For instance, we thought that if the quiche had been made with a blue cheese instead of Comté, the Chardonnay would have tasted better. But most importantly, tell them about your own preferences. If you don´t like oaky whites, an oaky white isn´t going to make you happy - no matter how many wine salespeople tell you it´ll go great with quiche.

Culinary Adventure: Scary Creatures

Time Out Amsterdam, January 2009

Our gastronomic explorer, Klary Koopmans, tackles many-tentacled marine monsters

When I´m buying my salmon or shrimp at the fishmonger´s, my eye sometimes drifts to the sea creatures at the back of the display: octopus, squid and cuttlefish, those strange shrimp- and fish-eating invertebrates. I´ve enjoyed them in restaurants, as pulpo, calamari and sepia. But could I successfully cook them myself?

Not today. Maybe next time. They´re just a little bit creepy, and how would I handle all those slippery tentacles and suckers?

I´m not typically a squeamish cook. I´ve butchered rabbits; I like to cut up whole ducks and chickens; I render my own lard. I´ve even cooked tripe and deboned pigs´ feet (admittedly, the pigs´ feet took me a little bit out of my comfort zone). I don´t mind getting my hands bloody. But maybe it´s the absence of blood in these eight-legged creatures that makes them scary: with their pale, translucent flesh and slimy texture, they almost don´t look like real animals. But this is a new year, so I´m going to challenge myself. It´s time to go on a nautical adventure with these creatures of the sea.

There are a lot of recipes for octopus and squid floating around, but I always find that the best thing to do when you´re wondering how to prepare a certain food item is to ask the person who´s selling it. So I ask Jacob at my favorite fishmonger´s (Siem Schilder) at the Albert Cuypmarkt how to tackle my first squid and octopus. His advice echoes what I´ve read in cookbooks and online: both squid and cuttlefish should be cooked for less than two minutes, or more than half an hour. Anything in between results in a rubbery texture. As for the octopus, I´ve read that Greek fishermen suggest beating the beast 99 times against a rocky surface to ensure tender flesh. In Amsterdam, where stony bluffs are not quite as available, freezing them, and then boiling them for over an hour, apparently has the same effect.

Before the actual cooking, I have to deal with cleaning them. Squid and cuttlefish can be bought pre-cleaned, but to go for the maximum freak-out value, I buy them as they are. As the whole animals sit on my counter, with their legs in a tangle and their beady eyes staring at me, I kind of regret this. But here we go.

Once I get started I find the cleaning isn´t difficult, although taking their insides out is a messy job, especially if you accidentally pierce the little ink sac hidden inside the body... like I did. We suggest an apron for this part.

My cleaned pieces of squid are cooked a minute each side on a hot griddle pan, then sprinkled with salt and pepper and a little lemon juice. I´ve done well: the results are just the right amount of chewy, and with an unobtrusive flavour that would probably benefit from some more assertive seasonings.

For the cuttlefish I make a simple, garlicky tomato sauce in which I braise the pieces of fish for about half an hour. They come out beautifully tender and infused with tomato flavour: a winner, and something I can see myself making again.

The octopus is my biggest challenge. One of my favorite Amsterdam restaurants (Orontes, Albert Cuypstraat 40; and Hugo de Grootplein 8) serves an excellent octopus salad that I´ve ordered many times, with a very lemony dressing, lots of chopped dill and gherkins. So this is the dish I´m going to try at home.

Unfortunately, no recipe prepares you for what actually happens when you put the octopus into tha pan of boiling water. The soft flesh immediately stiffens, the tentacles curl and the flesh turns from dull grey to a beetroot pink. All of this makes the boiled octopus look even more frightening than the raw one, and it takes me a couple of deep breaths before I can face chopping the thing up.

But when the cooked pieces are added to the dressing, the finished salad in no way reminds you of what the animal looked like when you were preparing it. This is a delicious and very successful dish.

As it turns out, these creatures are a lot easier to cook at home than I thought. And next time, a purple octopus sitting upright won´t fill me with dread.

Eten: tradities, taboes en delicatessen

(verschenen op Smaakpraat, weblog van het magazine Smaakwereld, augustus 2007)

Tot 26 augustus 2007 nog te zien in het Museum voor Volkenkunde in Leiden: de tentoonstelling Eten: tradities, taboes en delicatessen. Een expositie over wat en hoe de wereld eet, samengesteld door gastconservator Linda Roodenburg (auteur van het Rotterdams Kookboek).
Hart van de expositie is de verzameling kookgerei en exotische etenswaren uit de collectie van het museum. Potten en pannen, messen en serviesgoed. Vissen op sterk water, vogelnestjes, vreemde granen en rijstsoorten, olieolie en zeewier. De ingredienten werden in de 19e eeuw naar ons land gebracht door ‘verkenners’ die er door de regering op uit werden gestuurd om in de overzeese handelsgebieden hoogstpersoonlijk informatie te verzamelen over land en volk. Ze zitten in de originele flessen met handgeschreven, verweerde etiketten, en vormen een fascinerend voedsel-rariteitenkabinet.
Op de Wereldtentoonstelling in Amsterdam, in 1883, was een enorme verscheidenheid aan exotica te bewonderen – een grotere variatie dan nu bij de toko te koop is! Die ingredienten werden gezien als museummateriaal waar de Hollandse aardappeleters zich over konden verwonderen, niet als mogelijk voedsel. En dat geldt, gedeeltelijk, eigenlijk nog steeds. De nori, kokosolie en kleefrijst heb ik nu zelf in mijn keukenkastje staan, maar de gedroogde melkbollen uit Iran of de eetbare klei uit Zuid-Amerika, zie ik hier niet snel in de winkel liggen!

Verder te zien: een fotoserie van Peter Menzel over het eten van insecten, het indrukwekkende fotoproject Hungry Planet (ook van Peter Menzel) waar gezinnen van over de hele wereld gefotgrafeerd werden met hun wekelijkse voedselvoorraad, Japanse prenten van bloesempicnics, en een installatie waar bekende en minder bekende Nederlanders over hun eet-herinneringen vertellen. Op grote schermen worden fragmenten van eetfilms als La Grande Bouffe, Babette’s Feast en Tampopo geprojecteerd.

Eten is een tentoonstelling die wil prikkelen, informeren en de vooringenomengheid die iedereen over de eigen eetcultuur heeft, wil doorbreken. “Eten” is natuurlijk een onvoorstelbaar breed onderwerp: de hele wereld eet, veel of weinig, en de hoeveelheid onderwerpen die direct of zijdelings met eten te maken hebben is onuitputtelijk – van gastronomie tot de politiek van eten. Deze tentoonstelling is een mooie en inspirerende en tot nadenken stemmende collage van informatie over eten.

Speciale vermelding verdienen nog de Smaaktent, waar je de smaaktest kan doen (waar op je tong proef je nou eigenlijk zout en bitter, smaakt rose vla anders dan gele of houden je hersens je voor de gek, en: durf je een sprinkhaan te eten?) en de Bazaar. Die houdt het midden tussen winkel en expositerumte. Je kunt er potten en pannen van over de hele wereld kopen, Turkse honing en bijzondere kruidenmengsels, maar ook mierenchocolade en sprinkhaanlollies.
Ik heb in de smaaktent mijn eerste sprinkhaan naar binnen gewerkt. Knapperig aan de buitenkant, beetje melig van binnen. Ik ben trots op mezelf en voor mij heeft de tentoonstelling zijn belofte uit het persbericht zeker waar gemaakt: zelfs de meest doorgewinterde culi’s kunnen zich hier verbazen!

Dit weekend zijn er speciale themadagen in het museum, met lezingen, workshops en filmvertoningen. Kijk op www.etententoonstelling.nl voor meer informatie. Tot augustus worden er nog regelmatig themaweekeinden georganiseerd, dus hou de agenda in de gaten!