December 29th, 2011 § § permalink
At a recent holiday party I got pulled into a conversation about why Belgium is such a fantastic country to visit. According to the Belgium buffs, it possesses everything that anyone could ever desire — quaint cities, beautiful architecture, first rate art, few tourists and loads of excellent food including Trappist beer, fries, mussels and chocolates.
While I wouldn’t rank Belgium as my top vacation spot, I do enjoy much that this historic land and the headquarters of the European Union has to offer. Of course, I love the aforementioned art and architecture. I likewise adore the world class chocolates and beer. What sells me on Belgium, though, is its waffles.
Sold throughout the country in cafes and on street corners, waffles are believed to be a spin-off of the medieval Flemish wafer. Like their small and crisp predecessor, these honeycombed cakes are cooked between two greased, patterned, metal plates.
Originally, folks pulled out their waffle irons only on special occasions. In fact, during the Middle Ages parents of a newborn girl would often receive an engraved one as a gift. It was expected that the daughter would take this press with her when she married and left home. Although still just as celebrated, today waffles irons are bestowed and waffles are consumed at any time or occasion.
Belgium produces two distinct types of waffles — Brussels and Liege. Rectangular in shape and airy in texture, the Brussels version is what Americans refer to as a Belgian waffle. Unlike in America, where this waffle is drenched in maple syrup, in Belgium it gets dusted with a thin layer of confectioner’s sugar.
If given a choice, I make a beeline for Liege waffles. Hailing from the French-speaking city of Liege, these waffles are denser, sweeter and more filling than their Brussels counterpart. Chow down on one of these and you’ll feel as though you’ve consumed an entire meal. Truthfully, when I’m in Belgium, a warm and sugary Liege waffle often is my meal.
Liege waffles get their heartiness from their thick, brioche-like dough. The dough itself is studded with pearl sugar, which caramelizes as the waffle cooks. The result? One of the most divine sweets that I’ve ever eaten.
SUGAR WAFFLES FROM LIEGE
From Ruth Van Waerebeek’s Everybody Eats Well in Belgium Cookbook (Workman, 1996)
Makes 10 waffles.
Note: You’ll need to create two separate batters for these waffles.
For batter 1:
1 1/4 ounces fresh cake yeast or 2 1/2 packages active dry yeast
1/4 cup warm water
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
1 large egg, beaten
1/3 cup milk, warmed
For batter 2:
9 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
6 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon, optional
Pinch of salt
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
1/2 cup pearl sugar or 3/4 cup crushed sugar cubes
To prepare batter 1, dissolve the yeast in a small bowl with warm water and 1 tablespoon flour and sugar. Let stand for 5 minutes until foamy.
Sift the remaining flour into a large mixing bowl. Make a well in the center and add the yeast mixture, egg and milk. Mix well with a wooden spoon to make a smooth batter. Cover with a kitchen towel and let rise in a warm place until the batter has doubled or tripled in volume.
Meanwhile, for batter 2, mix the butter, flour, salt, vanilla, baking powder, optional cinnamon, granulated sugar and pearl sugar into a paste.
Using your hands, work batter 2 into batter 1 until well mixed. Shape the dough into 10 balls approximately 2 1/2 to 3 ounces each. Flatten each ball into a disk and dust lightly with flour.
Bake the disks in a medium-hot waffle iron. Don’t let the iron become too hot or the sugar will burn. Bake until the waffles are golden brown but still slightly soft, 3 to 4 minutes. Serve lukewarm or cooled to room temperature on a rack.
December 8th, 2011 § § permalink
With everyone rushing about, searching for holiday gifts, I’d like to suggest a few outstanding cookbooks for your shopping lists. This year I’ve slipped into full Anglophile mode, with four of my seven recommended titles coming from British authors. Yet, no matter from what side of the Atlantic these cooks come, their books will make delightful presents for the food lovers in your lives.
Canal House Cooking by Christopher Hirsheimer and Melissa Hamilton (Canal House)
Created by a founding editor of Saveur and the head of that magazine’s test kitchen, Canal House Cooking is a cookbook-cum-food magazine. It comes out three times per year, covering summer, fall and the holidays and winter and spring. Clothbound, ad-free and chocked full of wholesome recipes, it’s a culinary publication unlike any other. Filled with gorgeous photos and warm, funny anecdotes, it’s also a gift that your recipient will cherish throughout the year.
River Cottage Handbook No. 8 Cakes by Pam Corbin (Bloomsbury, 2011)
For bakers and sweets fans consider the latest offering from Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s River Cottage Handbook series, Cakes. In this straightforward and delightful tome writer Pam Corbin explores the techniques for making great baked goods each and every time. Classic British confections such as fairy cakes and Grasmere gingerbread appear alongside such modern goodies as mocha cake and dog bone biscuits. Fascinating and fun, Cakes is a lovely addition to anyone’s cookbook collection.
660 Curries by Raghavan Iyer ( Workman, 2008)
Know someone who loves Indian food? Then 660 Curries is the cookbook to give. In it James Beard finalist and IACP award winner Raghavan Iyer provides readers with tips, techniques and recipes for making over 600 outstanding Indian curries. With this comprehensive yet user-friendly cookbook in the kitchen they’ll never order out for chicken tikka masala or naan again.
Artisan Cheese Making at Home by Mary Karlin (Ten Speed Press, 2011)
The perfect book for the cheese lover or ardent DIY cook, Artisan Cheese Making at Home takes readers through making their own dairy-based products. For more details on this fascinating book check out my review at Zester Daily.
Plenty by Yotam Ottolenghi (Chronicle Books, 2011) and Ottolenghi by Yotam Ottolenghi (Ebury Press, 2008)
I reviewed Yotam Ottolenghi’s wonderful second cookbook in late 2010 and then received his first book, Ottolenghi, earlier this year. Unlike the vegetable-focused Plenty, his eponymous book focuses on the array of Middle Eastern-inspired foods featured in his London restaurant. Like Plenty, Ottolenghi includes gorgeous photos and sumptuous, creative dishes. Unlike Plenty, the recipes must be converted from metric.
Tender by Nigel Slater (Ten Speed Press, 2011)
Another cookbook that I reviewed earlier this year, Tender shares the gardening and cooking experiences of British food writer Nigel Slater. The first of two volumes, Tender covers 29 vegetables. The subsequent volume, which is only available in Europe at present, looks at fruit. Each provides a beautiful, insightful exploration of growing and cooking your own foods.
December 2nd, 2011 § § permalink
I confess — I’ve struggled with a lifelong addiction to books. You need only look at my overflowing bookshelves, desk, nightstand, coffee table . . . really any flat surface in my house and you will see the ridiculous number of books on which I’ve become hooked.
Culinary narratives are invariably part of my stash. Call it an occupational hazard or personal weakness but I just can’t escape the lure of food writing.
Below are the high points of my 2011 culinary reading list. Some are recent releases. A few are a bit older. All would make great gifts for the food lovers and ardent home cooks in your life. Look for these titles at your local independent bookstores or online from such independent sellers as Kitchen Arts and Letters, Powell’s and The Strand.
A Day at El Bulli by Ferran Adria (Phaidon Press, 2008)
Although Chef Ferran Adria has shuttered his world-renowned restaurant, you can still get a glimpse inside his temple to molecular gastronomy, El Bulli. A Day at El Bulli provides 600 beautifully illustrated pages covering a day in the life of the restaurant. By the time that you’ve reached the final page, you’ll feel as though you’ve not only dined many times but also worked behind the stove at this seminal restaurant.
Bringing It to the Table by Wendell Berry (Counterpoint, 2009)
Long before Michael Pollan got folks to question how and what they ate, there was Wendell Berry. Longtime writer, scholar and farmer, Berry has extolled the virtues of sustainable agriculture and eating for over five decades. This collection presents some of Berry’s best non-fiction writings on these topics. It’s essential reading for anyone concerned about mindful eating and living.
Food Play by Saxton Freyman and Joost Elffers (Chronicle Books, 2006)
My guilty pleasure and culinary photography recommendation for the past five years, Food Play provides the most fun that anyone will ever have looking at food. Featuring whimsical tableaus of fruits and veggies, this colorful book will delight readers of any age. I mean, really, who wouldn’t adore looking at strawberry dogs or a flock of cauliflower sheep?
Four Fish by Paul Greenberg (Penguin, 2011)
Anyone who eats fish should receive a copy of Paul Greenberg’s book. Intelligent, witty and always fascinating, Four Fish explores man’s long, troubled relationship with cod, salmon, sea bass and tuna, the four fish that dominate our menus. Greenberg, who is a lifelong fisherman as well as a seasoned writer, provides a balanced yet page turning account of the crises facing fish today.
Blood, Bones & Butter by Gabrielle Hamilton (Random House, 2011)
Whether you’re a fan of her writings in the New York Times or of her Lower East Side restaurant Prune or just looking for a good culinary memoir, check out Gabrielle Hamilton’s long-awaited first book. Entertaining and sharp, Hamilton shares her unique, often rocky path to becoming a chef. As with any good chef or writer, her memoir will leave you hungering for more.
What Caesar Did for My Salad by Albert Jack (Perigee Trade, 2011)
Ever wonder how pasta or picnics came to be? What gave rise to and constitutes a full English breakfast? Why we call small, cooked sausages hot dogs? If so, Albert Jack’s fascinating tome is the book for you. What Caesar Did for My Salad looks at the origins of and fabled tales about some of our favorite foods. It’s a fun book for trivia lovers as well as diehard foodies.
Eating Mud Crabs in Kandahar Edited by Matt McAllester (University of California Press, 2011)
Even if your gift recipients didn’t have that childhood dream of becoming a war correspondent as I did, they will enjoy McAllester’s compilation of food tales from reporters in conflict zones. His riveting book looks at what it means to eat and what folks resort to eating in times of extreme hardship and violence. Intimate and engaging, these stories will stick with readers for months to come.
A History of the World in 6 Glasses by Tom Standage (Walker Publishing, 2006)
If you have history buffs on your shopping list, consider giving them A History of the World in 6 Glasses. Here British journalist Tom Standage explores six drinks — wine, beer, spirits, coffee, tea and soda — that shaped world history. Once your friends and loved ones have read Standage’s compelling book, they’ll never look at, or drink, a can of Coke the same way.