Thursday, November 17, 2011

Fall Vegetables

Mmmm Fall, so many great foods in season to be excited about- squashes; acorn, butternut, spaghetti, hubbard, root vegetables; beets, turnips, parsnips, rutabaga, celery root, carrots, potatoes. Things like leeks (yum) apples, pears, pomegranates, cranberries- if your summer tan is officially gone, it’s time to get working on that winter fat!! I’m just kidding; if anything all of this fabulous food will encourage you to eat fresher and healthier.  Shop the produce aisles & avoid the processed food!  My favorite, easy way to prepare a variety of the above-mentioned foods is via roasting. What better way to prepare easy, healthy side dishes than to cut into even sizes, toss in olive oil, season well with salt & pepper, maybe some garlic salt, maybe some herbs de Provence, or Italian seasoning and thrown into the oven at 400 degrees for 20-30 minutes and great, caramelized delicious vegetables are done! How easy is that? If you have vegetables that you need to use up or if you want a quick side, roasting is the answer. OR if you happen to be making a soup, roasted vegetables are sometimes the precursor to a fabulous version- roasted cauliflower, butternut squash, tomato soup- the extra step of roasting the vegetables lends a smoky or sometimes sweet element to your finished product. I can eat roasted vegetables for dinner or for lunch- I really do enjoy them!  As temperatures continue to dip, I continue looking for hearty, filling dishes- the ones that fill you up, stick to your ribs, are warm and delicious and perfect on these fall and or winter nights.  Of course soups and stews are on my repertoire, but I recently came across a recipe for a nice lentil salad topped with roasted vegetables. Easy, healthy, fits the “hearty” bill and adds additional flavor via the vegetables.  This one combines some fall faves like butternut squash and roasted carrots and also utilizes a light vinaigrette.  I’m very much into this recipe and have made it more than a few times.  This recipe also gets the guy seal of approval, meaning it is THAT hearty.  Give it a shot on a weekend afternoon and make a little extra to take with you to work the next day. 

Makes 4 Servings
  • 1/2 pound carrots, halved lengthwise
  • 1 red onion, cut into 1-inch wedges
  • 1 small acorn squash, halved, seeds removed, cut into 1/2-inch slices
  • 5 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 1/2 cup dried lentils, rinsed
  • 1 shallot, halved
  • 4 teaspoons apple cider vinegar (or red wine vinegar)
  • 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
  • 1 stalk celery, thinly sliced
Heat oven to 425 degrees. On a baking sheet arrange carrots, onion, and squash; drizzle with 2 tablespoons oil, and season with salt and pepper.

Roast, turning once, until caramelized and tender, about 30 minutes. Meanwhile, 
place lentils and shallot in a medium saucepan and cover with water by two inches. 

Bring to a boil, then simmer, covered, until
 lentils are tender, about 20 minutes. Drain and discard shallot. Season with salt and pepper. Combine vinegar and mustard. Pour remaining
3 tablespoons oil in a slow steady stream, 
whisking constantly to emulsify the vinaigrette. 

Toss lentils and celery
 with vinaigrette and season with salt and pepper. Spoon over roasted vegetables.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

In Bruges Part II

Amsterdam, an hour and a half outside of Belgium via the high speed Thaylis train which meant that by 10:30 am, I was touring the famed canals!

If there’s one thing that I love about Europe it’s the close proximity of the neighboring countries. An hour and a half and I could have also visited Paris! So I spent the day walking Amsterdam, I checked out the Red Light district where the girls seemed to be just waking up, I walked through the Greenlight district, streets lined with Amsterdam’s famed cafes AND I walked along the areas surrounding the canals visiting the famed Bloemenmarkt a Dutch flower market that has been in operation since the 1860’s.

The Bloemenmarkt is filled with flower bulbs for sale, stall after stall selling one of the most well known Dutch export, TULIPS. Also near the Bloemenmarkt were several Dutch cheese shops, where you can be damn sure I visited and tested tons of samples.

Holland has lush countrysides and that means LOTS of room for grazing cows & sheep and THAT = AMAZING cheese, making Holland the largest exporter of cheese in the WORLD.  I came home with wheels of aged gouda, herbed cheeses and traditional goat’s milk cheeses. YUM.  In fact I chatted with the store keeper for a bit and she informed me that Henri Willig actually has a distributor in New York, so if you want to try some lovely herbed cheeses yourself, check their website

I left Amsterdam with souvenirs and CHEESE, is there anything better than that?! Throughout the week, I got my business on. During one business dinner by the Grand Place back in Brussels, I decided I was going to be brave and try a typical Belgium herring dish.

The conversation in my head went something like this “maybe your palate as a kid was limited, BE AN ADULT and try it! Andrew Zimmern would eat this NO problem”. Well I got my dish, tried a mouthful and almost threw up. I spent the remainder of the night pushing the food around the plate staring at my coworker and her lovely lobster dish. By Friday and I had the evening free to take one last stroll through my Brussels neighborhood. I headed straight back to the St. Catherine Church area the former fish market, for some Belgium moules to a restaurant that came highly recommended. Le Vistro.

They had a few price fixe options so I went with one of those which included the house specialty moules St. Catherine- which were mussels served with a beautiful red sauce, topped with cheese melted in the broiler and a dollop of green sauce that was PHENOMENAL. I easily could have put back another plate of these- the moules were perfectly cooked and the combination of the green sauce with the marinara was delicious. After my moules, I decided to get a lovely braised beef served with frites and a perfect sauce- here in Belgium is where you really get to see French cooking at its best, the sauces some of the most complex and well balanced that I’ve EVER had in my life.

With my dinner I had a glass of a local Flanders red ale, Duchesse de Bourgogne, with lovely fruit notes of cherry and grape with a slightly tart finish that was perfect with my heavy beef dish- it all created a massive foodgasm! Since it was my last day there, I decided halfway through dinner that my dessert was going to be a giant Belgium wafel. So as I strolled back through the Grand Place, I stopped at one of the wafel windows and got a fresh whipped cream, chocolate and strawberry wafel. The toppings so ridiculous that I couldn’t even find the wafel under there. I’m sure it was about a million calories, but I had to! When else are you going to have the opportunity to have a Belgium wafel IN Belgium? 

And the caloric intake was completely worth it. I finished my night and went home to pack for my flight back. I had a fantastic time in Belgium & in Amsterdam. I would definitely visit again, generally easy to navigate, friendly people and great cuisine.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

In Bruges

(and Ghent & Antwerp & Amsterdam)
Part I

Once again this month, my work has taken me to Europe- more press events, more traveling.  Not that I’m complaining.   Leaving New York city during its prime fall weather did prove a bit of an arm twist this time around.  Checking as I always do when I’m traveling told me that the weather in Brussels this time of year was cold and crisp, so I packed my coats, scarves and closed toe shoes and headed over.  Landing in Brussels airport, the weather was anything but fall-like it was about 90 degrees and humid, what the hell?  Exhausted from my over night flight, my agenda in Europe is always the same, check into hotel, nap until about noon or one and force myself out of bed to adjust myself to the time difference.  Second thing worth noting, besides lying to me, Europeans are not that into air conditioning.  When I get into my box of a room, ready for some prime-time napping, it’s about 100 degrees in there with NO window.  I called the front desk only to have them tell me that the air conditioning is broken which I believe to be complete bullshit.  Most hotels in Europe don’t even have air conditioning.   Anyway, after sweating it out for a few days, I did my usual city exploring.  Luckily for me, my hotel was located near the Grand Place, the central square of Brussels, home to the city hall, several craft guild halls, and also near the Manneken-pis, the most recognized symbol of Belgium.  

The Grand Place has become known throughout Europe as one of the finest examples of center square architecture. 

Surrounding the great square are government buildings, guild halls, cobble stone streets, tons of what Belgium is known for:  Belgium wafels, chocolate, lace, pubs, French restaurants serving up moules frites and other French specialties, pretty much Belgium’s food heaven!   

Also off of the streets of the Grand Place is the famed Manneken-pis, which by the way is a tiny statue of a young boy, peeing, the like of which wouldn’t be out of place in your backyard or at least in the backyards of some homes along the South Shore…. But you would think this statue was of epic proportions, the way that it’s iconosized! I was expecting the statue of Liberty, the NATIONAL symbol of Belgium, tiny, surrounded by massive throngs of people, and wearing what I believe to be a pimp suit?  I know that the statue is typically dressed up for certain holidays, to much fanfare nonetheless, but really?  I was kind of non-plussed.  But I did find my way around to much of the above mentioned food fare.

I took a few day trips outside of Brussels and visited Ghent to see its beautiful gothic architecture, trolley lined streets and visit St. Bavo’s Cathedral & St. Nicholas’s Church and canal lined streets.  

After Ghent, I headed out to Bruges which is a Flemish city that has become known as a bit of a tourist destination, the “Venice of the North” but drips with European charm, beauty and history nonetheless.  In Bruges I started by the Begijnhof or old convent and walked through its garden to the famed Minnewater or “Lake of Love” known for being a romantic spot due to its picturesque nature.                                                                                                                     

The Lake of Love

Narrow cobblestone streets, meandering canals and whitewashed houses make Bruges one of Europe’s most visited medieval cities.  I roamed around the city on foot, visited the central market, got ambitious and decided to climb the 366 winding, narrow stairs of the 13th century belfry.                                                                                                                                               

Which after a sweaty ascent, its 48 massive bells decided to go OFF! Dazed, out of breath and minus a decibel or two of hearing, the view from the top was WORTH it.  The rest of my trip was marked by sore quad muscles…. After the belfry and central square, I wanted to head over to the Heilig-Bloedbasiliek or Basica of the Holy Blood, a 12th (!) century Roman Catholic basilica that houses one of the holiest of relics, a phial said to contain cloth with Jesus’ blood.  The relic was brought to the city after the second crusades and supposedly liquefied up until the 15th century when the miracle stopped occurring.  The relic was actually on display and I got to look at it up close and touch it- VERY WEIRD.  After all this activity I stopped at a local restaurant and filled up on some beer braised beef, frites and dark local Belgium beer, a really nice lunch that gave me the energy to press on.

I spent the rest of the day roaming the city, visiting its chocolate shops and churches, it was all really lovely. 

The next day I decided to take a day trip to Amsterdam. To be continued...