This week our culinary journey has landed us in Western Europe. Last week we had to take a week off from Cooking through the Countries while we visited the beach in North Carolina. Every year Dan’s family goes to Topsail, North Carolina and I was able join them for part of the week. While we were there fresh seafood and shellfish surrounded us. My favorite food (next to cheese) is mussels. When traveling to new cities I like to seek out their best mussel restaurants (Belgo Noord in London and Beerbistro in Toronto) and devour a steamy bowl of these tasty little bivalves. After being at the beach and surrounded by seafood for a week I was craving mussels. And what country is better known for their mussels than Belgium? Motivated by a craving that wouldn’t be satisfied until I had downed at least a pound of mussels, I suggested we cook a Belgium meal this week. We invited our friends Hadley and Colleen over to join us for the meal!
Endives Stuffed with Goat Cheese and Walnuts
Originally our meal was going to only consist of Moules Frites, a dipping sauce and Belgian Waffles. However, while grocery shopping I decided we needed to change the game plan and add an appetizer. I did some quick “4th quarter” Googling of Belgian Appetizers and kept seeing the word endive pop up. What the fck is an endive?! Wikipedia quickly let me in on the secret; it’s a bitter leafy vegetable that hails from none other than Belgium. My Internet quest wasn’t quite over yet, I still had to do a Google image search to see what an endive looked like before I could successfully locate it on the shelves. (Thank goodness for smart phones!)
We found a recipe from myrecipes.com for stuffing the endives with goat cheese and walnuts. This recipe was so satisfying to make. First of all, it was easy. You peel the endive leaves and they are used as a little boat to hold the stuffing. Then all you do is fill each leaf with an orange slice, coarsely chopped walnuts, goat cheese and chives. I made an orange juice, honey and vinegar reduction to drizzle on top. This appetizer is absolutely beautiful and made me feel very elegant (pinkies out while eating it). One reviewer (aka my sister commenting on my Instagram photo) referred to it as, “Master Chef quality!”
I’m constantly second guessing my cooking abilities and if the food actually tastes good. But as I watched Colleen gobble a few down, I knew I had hit the jackpot. This appetizer is so easy to make and so impressive looking, I highly recommend trying it out!
Remember how I hate to cook? How the major reason I’m doing this experiment is to break out from my comfort zone and begin cooking? Well, strangely enough mussels, or moules in Belgian, are a dish I’ve actually made twice before. Every once in awhile I get this itch to cook. And when I do cook, I prefer to make things I like. As I said earlier, I am borderline obsessed with mussels. I also think it is kind of cool that the mussels are alive when you buy them. Luckily, they just hide in their shells and you don’t have to see the eyes of a creature you are killing, instead you just drop them in boiling liquid.
We cooked the mussels in a white wine and saffron sauce. I found the recipe from epicurious.com. We strayed from the recipe in a few ways. Instead of using 8 pounds of mussels (I don’t have that many friends!) we used 2 pounds. We also added about 5 cloves of chopped garlic and reduced the amount of clam juice the recipe called for.
As you may have figured, I’m a bit of a mussel snob. If I’m not dining at a restaurant that specializes in mussels, I tend not to order them. I’ve been too disappointed by cracked shells and weak flavors in the past, that I stick to the experts. Well, I loved our mussels! The white wine and saffron created an amazing fusion and the tomatoes and scallions really elevated the dish. My only critique was we didn’t clean the shells well enough. Some of the mussels had a gritty sandy texture. Colleen had never experienced mussels before and she went back for seconds!
Here’s a bit of trivia for you, French fries, or frites as they are called in Belgium, are not actually from France. They’re from, surprise surprise, Belgium! When Americans landed in the Belgian Ardennes and had delicious frites for the first time they called them French Fries because the inhabitants spoke French. Hand it to the Americans for misnaming things (ie Indians). Now onto the food!
Daniel was completely in charge of the frites. We don’t have a fryer so he had to get creative. He used his own recipe. The following was the process he used for making homemade fries sans fryer.
- Peeled Russet potatoes and cut them into the shape of frites.
- Soak in ice-cold salty water for around 30 to 40 minutes.
- Strain out the water
- Heat a medium sized saucepan with Canola oil
- Once the Canola oil is steaming add your fries
- Fry for about 7 to 10 minutes
- Remove heat and let cool down. Add salt and pepper to taste
The first batch Dan did wouldn’t fry nicely, and instead just remained warm and mushy. He quickly dissected the problem. He had put too many potatoes in at once. So make sure to not overload your saucepan or else they won’t evenly fry. Once he did his second batch, they came out crispy and delicious. Check out the photo, they look like real restaurant quality fries!
Eating at so many different Belgian restaurants has exposed me to their preference of using a Mayonnaise dipping sauce instead of ketchup for their frites. We found a recipe on food.com to make our own Belgian Mayonnaise. My favorite mussels restaurant in Pittsburgh, Point Brugge Cafe, has a mayo sauce that is to die for. They might as well call it crack sauce it’s so addicting.
Because of my love for Point Brugge’s recipe I have very high standards. Maybe my standards were impossibly high, because I was disappointed in the flavors of our creation. I think it tasted too much like the mustard and not enough like an actually mayonnaise. Everyone else said they enjoyed it.
Strawberry Belgian Waffles
This week, we cheated a little. We don’t have a waffle maker and have already been spending a little too much dough on these cooking projects, so we bought frozen waffles. But we did make our own strawberry mixture to top the waffles with. All we did was smash ½ cup of strawberries in a mixing bowl and then stirred in 2 tablespoons of sugar. We let that sit in the fridge until we were ready to serve and then spooned the sweet mixture on top of the waffles. We also added cut up strawberries and vanilla ice cream on top.
The ice cream mixed nicely with the strawberries. Colleen and Hadley were already fairly stuffed from the rest of the food so they passed on dessert. Luckily my new neighbor, Ally, was around so she swung by my alleyway bistro to join us for waffles. (when you live in the concrete jungle you need to find creative places to eat food outside, hence my alleyway has become my hot spot for eating this summer).
As usual I had a blast this week. Instead of venturing to one of my favorite mussel restaurants, I was able to produce a meal I was proud of with my own 4 hands (the 2 extra hands are Dan’s). And although it’s not cheap tracking down all of these ingredients each week, it is cheaper than sitting down at a restaurant to get my mussel fix. I also learned about a whole new food with our endive appetizer! Making these meals has quickly become my favorite part of my week, and I hope you’re enjoying reading my quasi diary/food blog as well.