Tag Archives: Foodie

Eating Belgian Style: Liège Waffles

I’ve been collecting reasons for buying a waffle iron FOR YEARS (silly, I know) but today I’ve discovered the coup de grâce that will send me straight to the store come Monday.   They’re called gaufres des Liège, otherwise known as Liège waffles, and they’ve obliterated my pre-waffle-iron-owning self.

Full disclosure: Yes, I’m watching Stage 1 from Liège to Seraing of the Tour de France, and I’m hungry.  Really, really hungry.

Fresh from the racks in Liège (Source)

A diminutive variation on the Brussels waffle that relies less on toppings than dense, chewy perfection, the Liège waffle took its inspiration from brioche bread dough and pearl sugar, which caramelizes into crunchy pockets as the waffle cooks.  Deliciously aromatic of vanilla and butter, the eponymous waffle first delighted the Prince-Bishop of Liège when his cook whipped up the recipe in the 18th century.  They were an instant hit and filled Belgians with waffle frenzy soon after their debut.  Today they’re a common street food, wrapped in paper, and dusted with cinnamon or eaten plain.

To make an authentic Liege waffle you really must get your hands on some pearl sugar (many recipes recommend Lars’ Own).  Unlike cube sugar, the pearls are designed to withstand high heat without melting, thus ensuring those sweet pops of crunch when you bite into the waffle.  I would recommend the authentic recipe for enthusiasts only since the prep time will likely leave you thinking these waffles are best left to the professionals.   But don’t despair.  Shortcuts abound and there are a gazillion recipes to choose from, though they might cause waffle purists to thumb their noses at what we’ll proudly Fauxliege waffles.  The following recipes, curated according to active prep time, should help you started.

If any of you lovely readers try these recipes, let me know how they turn out. Once I hunt down a perfect waffle iron (recommendations are most welcome), I’m going to give the authentic recipe a whirl.  I might even blog about making waffles in what will inevitably become the swear kitchen, but then again, I’ll probably be too busy eating.  After all, anything that takes hours to make should be extraordinaire.

The Art of Fine Coffee

“He was my cream, and I was his coffee – And when you poured us together, it was something.”
– Josephine Baker

A list of coffee awesomeness

Steep & Brew

If you thirst for flavored coffee beyond the realm of hazelnut and french vanilla, you must try this brand.  Roasted from only the highest quality beans – the top 2 or 1 percent – they boast 25 delectable varieties including my faves Irish Whiskey & Cream, Highlander Grog, and Amaretto French Roast.  Select seaonsal roasts are available for when your in the mood for let’s say, Chestnuts by the Fire or Dark Chocolate Mint, and summer absolutely calls for Basket of Berries.  The aroma alone is happiness inducing.

Click about their site and you’ll also discover the unusual – orange cappucinno – and twists on some old standbys like Icing on the Cake (cinnamony-cakey delight) and Chocolate Nirvana (cocoa and spices, oh my!).  Another great thing about Steep & Brew? Shipping is $5, no matter how much you order.  And even without reasonable shipping, their coffee is a steal! A 12oz bag runs on average $6.50.  How’s that for frugal java?

For those loving the organic fair-trade coffee and chemical free decaf, you’ll find plenty of options too.  And if you think flavoring is a perversion in coffee, make sure to peruse their signature roasts and dark roasts.

Live in the Midwest?  Make sure you search their store locator!

Nespresso Aeroccino

Milk like whipped cream, frothed to perfection?  It is possible without a) an espresso machine and b) steam.  Push button, wait 50 seconds for the cold milk to both warm and froth, and voila!  Use it for lattes, cappucinnos, hot chocolate – the list is endless.  Best off all, the Aerocinno plugs into an outlet (so you don’t have to stand there and froth!), is simp to clean, and works like a charm for around $100. If you’re thinking “eek” about the price, keep reading.  It’s not a coffee accessory you want, believe me, it’s one you need.  Steamers fail, handheld wand frothers break, and stovetop ones are just a pain.  I can attest through experience, you’re better off just shelling out the dough in the beginning.

Interested? Watch the cheesiest promo for the Aeroccino. Not sure what they were thinking with the jazz and throaty vocals but hey, it’ll make you laugh about being gourmet!

Espresso Machine or French Press

My husband and I travel with our espresso machine, no joke.  It’s an addiction and one I wouldn’t trade for the world.  Well, maybe the world, but who’s offering anyway?

My number one advice with the espresso machine: one can always start small.  Our first machine was somewhere around $200 and we’ve upgraded from there based on our ever-pressing need for thicker crema.  But if you’re holding your guns to drip coffee, consider the French Press.  It’s portable – great for the office when everybody else is drinking burnt morning brew in the afternoon.  And since it captures coffee’s essential oils and depth of flavor, the French Press delivers a stronger, thicker coffee than the drip.

Organic Milk & Agave Nectar

Organic milk tastes richer, froths better, and well, it’s organic.  A must have for superior taste and natural sweetness.  As for Agave Nectar, the only reason this is worth mentioning is that processed white cane sugar not only has all the nutrients stripped from it, it also slightly alters the flavor.  While inessential to most American style coffee drinkers, agave nectar or demerara sugar (brown) will lend a subtle sweetness to espresso without disturbing the rich balance of acidic and bitter flavors.  Try it for a few days.  I’d wager you won’t go back to processed sugar.

Reinventing the Pantry

Watching “Julie and Julia” has put me in the mood to cook, or at least write about cooking.  I think a lot about what I’m going to make for dinner and yet I have an aversion to recipes.  I find my greatest creativity occurs when I’m low on ingredients.  You know the scenario – your fridge is nearly empty, your pantry is filled with the regular goodies (or not so goodies!) and you’re feeling uninspired but you still have to make dinner.  The frozen pizza is looking pretty appetizing by now.  But wait!  Stock your pantry right and these days of quick unhealthy bites become part of your murky past in non-cooking.  Instead of the frozen standbys, you start whipping up a tasty dish like Tangy Tuna Pasta or Sundried Tomato Frittata.  Dinner is suddenly delicious.

My Fridge

So I’m all about making life easier in the kitchen and while fresh ingredients are undoubtedly the way to go, cooking straight from the pantry now and then is a refreshing change from the daily grind of take-out or healthy choice.

The Pantry Essentials

Part I: Oils

Everybody stocks olive oil nowadays, right?  Its rich, goes well with fish, meat, and poultry, not to mention pasta and salads, and cooks at high heat.  But sometimes its, well, common.  Using one oil all the time deadens the palate so why not try something more unusual?  I find that toasted sesame oil is an amazing addition to salads and pasta.   I’ve blogged about it before, but La Tourangelle is amazing.  TJ Maxx regularly stocks it, but you can also find it on amazon.  Just be prepared to pay a higher price at the latter (TJ Maxx is usually at least half that price).  Keep in mind that oils are used sparingly so the $7-$20 you spend on a container will last a very long time.  Consider these:

  • Roasted Hazelnut Oil – seriously yum.  Use it on salads, lettuce and bean; pastas, fish.  It smells exquisite.
  • Grapeseed – has virtually no distinctive taste.  Perfect when you don’t want to add flavor to a dish
  • Also roasted walnut oil, pumpkin oil, and white truffle (awesome on pasta and not just for gourmands!).

Part II – Canned & Bottled

I reguarly buy frozen veggies for those nights when I’m running low on fresh.  They work in a pinch, but there are some canned veggies that far outperform frozen.  And while I’m not talking Spam, consider seafood for protein.  Tuna has come up in the world.

  • Artichokes
  • Black Olives
  • Corn – try this in saute pan with lime juice and chili pepper.  I salivate just thinking about this simple recipe.
  • Tomato sauce, plain – add italian seasoning, a pinch of sugar, and red pepper flakes for super easy spaghetti sauce and pizza sauce.  If you’re cooking the sauce for longer than 10-20 mins, consider carrots instead of sugar.  It’s not as acidic and as such, does not leave a bitter aftertaste.
  • Veggie Broth – or chicken, if that’s what you prefer.
  • Canned Oysters – Oyster soup (milk, worcestershire sauce, pepper, and butter – what could be easier?)
  • Tuna in Olive oil (if possible) – think outside the box here.  Try googling “tuna baguette”.  I’ve even convinced my husband, a staunch canned tuna hater, that tuna can be edible and delish.
  • Anchovy Paste – trust me; caesar salads almost always require these, as well as certain pistous, tapenades, and some pasta sauces.
  • Beans
  • Capers – pickled bud of the perrenial caper bush – you need to stock this.  They’re handy for pasta, meat, salads, sauces.  Just try it!
  • Hot Sauce – I love Frank’s for pasta and as an addition to meatballs.  Makes all the difference.
  • Jam – not just good for toast.   Mix into plain yogurt, add to baking, oatmeal, etc.  Try it on a grilled cheese sandwich, especially fig jam.

Part III – Spices & Herbs

If there’s a spice regularly available at grocery stores, I’ve tried it.  I’ve even been known to buy spices I couldn’t pronounce just because my curiosity is unsatiable.  I want to sample everything.  Despite these forays into the unusual, though, I have a few absolute staples.  My general take on spices and herbs is the more the merrier.  You never know what you’re gonna need.

  • Basil – fabulous in scrambled eggs
  • Chili Powder – heats up practically anything: soups, mexican, eggs, meat . . .
  • Garlic Powder – when I’m too lazy to cut up garlic
  • Lemon Pepper – I cannot say this enough, high quality or none at all.  I use The Gourmet Collection.  Try this on roasted veggies.  It’s divine on roasted potatoes.
  • Saigon Cinnamon – when you want sweetness without sugar – great for diabetics too.
  • Italian Seasoning – a mix of basil, oregano, marjoram, and rosemary.
  • Red Pepper Flakes – a must for pasta sauces, pizza, soup.  The list is almost endless.
  • Sea Salt and Grindable Pepper – the best dishes are often seasoned with the simplest of seasonings.  Try chicken with salt, pepper, and garlic powder sauted in olive oil.  It’s perfect!
  • Herbes de Provence – savory, basil, thyme, fennel, bay leaf, marjoram, and lavender.  Great if you don’t want to buy these spices seperately.

Another note about spices: cook them first instead of adding to a dish that’s already cooking.  Sprinkling them in the pan with the oil before the rest of the dish really pulls out the flavor.  I think it’s the only way to make indian curries with the proper flavor.

Part IV – Condiments and Vinegars

Condiments are essentially what accessories are to your wardrobe.  They make it.

  • Dijon Mustard
  • Balsamic Vinegar
  • Sherry
  • Worcestershire Sauce – great in soups and obviously with meats.  Try it on veggies too.
  • Garlic Teryaki – marinade steak in this to really please your man.
  • Soy Sauce
  • Boxed Red or White Wine – whichever you prefer.  By buying a box instead of a bottle, you have the opportunity to both drink and cook with it.  Boxed wine stays fresher longer and is better for the environment.  Suprisingly, some are pretty darned good!

Part V – Dry

I think some of these are pretty obvious but I’ll take a go at it!

  • Whole Wheat Pasta
  • Unsweetened Cocoa – a wonderful addition to breakfast oatmeals, cereals; make hot chocolate with real cocoa taste, add to smoothies.  As a plus, unsweetened cocoa is super healthy due to its plentious amounts of antioxidants.
  • Steel Cut Oats – retains the nutrition of whole oats.  Try adding in baked goods like scones, eat for breakfast with fruit, and get a good amount of fiber to start your day.
  • Agave Nectar – does not ruin the taste of coffee or tea and is also great with baking.  Cane sugar and beet sugar are more acidic.
  • Basmati Rice – a preference of mine for stir-fry and east indian cuisine.  Could also use brown rice or jasmine and if you find it easily available, try wild rice.  I love it as the base for Indian porridge for breakfast or as a substitue for wheat pasta with chicken.
  • Dried Breadcrumbs – experiment with adding spices.
  • Baking Soda and powder – if you bake
  • Coffee and/or Tea – add tea to smoothies, add coffee to baking and desserts, or best of all, just drink it!

There are, of course, always other useful pantry essentials but I find them less essential than those above.  In addition, it’s always a good idea to have the original basics: milk, eggs, and flour, or their respective substitutes.

So what about you?  What are a few of your pantry essentials, or even better, super easy recipes?

Banana Bread – Variations on a Classic

There are very few pleasures in the kitchen better than freshly baked bread – especially if it’s of the dessert variety.  The warm, yeasty scent mingled with a hint of butter, the sweet banana fragrance, the nutty aroma of walnuts.   Yum!   But, like everyone else, I get bored with the ordinary.  I wanted to try something  a little bit fresher, something that would perk up my taste buds, and so I’ve rounded up some tricks.  Tell me what you think.The Variations:

A Shot of Espresso or Rum (or better yet fruit soaked in rum!)

Sour Cream or Yogurt

Cocoa Powder or Shredded Dark Chocolate

Shredded Coconut or Coconut Milk

Peanut Butter  (make sure to use creamy!)  or Pudding

Orange or Lemon Zest

The variations are practically endless – just think of other banana recipes you make and throw a few of those ingredients into the bread.  It’s amazing the creations you’ll come up with, but if you need to get back to basics, here it is:

The Basic Recipe

  • 3 or 4 ripe bananas, smashed
  • 4 tbsp melted butter
  • 1/2 cup creamed honey
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1 1/2 cups of flour (modify depending on the liquid added)
  • Nutmeg and Cinnamon
  • Walnuts, if desired

Have at it, banana lovers!

Not so banana ecstatic?  Mix it up altogether in the bread department.  Perhaps a Dark Cherry Chocolate Bread?  Just make sure to add some sugar – the dark cherrries and dark chocolate aren’t all that sweet.

 

Foodie 101 – The Seasons – Winter

Every January I start to get strawberry fever.  You know what I mean.  You go to the supermarket, stare at the strawberries and their astounding price of $4.99 for that wee carton you could eat in one sitting, and you think, well, why not?  They look tantalizingly red and plump.  And they’re strawberries.  How bad can it be?  But then you get home and that first (in)delectable take a bite.  American supermarket produce is in a state of poor quality year round, but out of season it’s downright disgraceful.  I remember the first time I saw a someone putting sugar on strawberries.  I confess, I found it quite gauche.  Fruit is supposed to be juicy, bursting with sweet flavor.  Smothering it with processed white table sugar most often made of sugar beets?  Yech.

To every would-be foodie, there’s one maxim that can’t be repeated enough: buy in season or not at all.  It’s truly essential if you want peak flavor.  So what’s in store for the winter months, specifically January-February?  Citrus fruits and dark greens.  Root vegetables, most harvested in autumn to early winter, are also great choices as they store well.

For experimentation sake, I just ordered some super juicy honeybells from Cushman’s in Florida (oranges only available in January).  Can’t wait!  Click on the photo to visit them.

HoneyBells (13 lbs.)

I’m also looking forward to Tarocco blood oranges, which also just came into season this month.  They’re wonderful eaten fresh but also delicious baked.  Smitten kitten has an amazing looking flaky blood orange tart I’m dying to try.

There’s a great chart to print out here for seasonal produce.  I’m pasting it right on my cook book cabinet for easy reference, but even if you don’t have it while shopping, just use grocery store prices as a guide.  If something seems high, then its either out of season, or by ill fortune, affected my some major weather.