Vol-au-vent

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Preperation time: 60 minutes
Cooking time: 1:30 minutes

We recommend to make this dish in a larger quantity. Cooking vol-au-vent is rather messy and greasy. Once you’ve done the vol-au-vent, you can easily freeze it in portions per person.
The ingredients: (for 18 persons)

  • 2 chickens
  • 4 chicken breasts
  • 3 – 4 chicken legs
  • 1 kg minced meat
  • 2 kg mushrooms
  • 400 g cooked or steamed ham
  • 3 lemons
  • 4 leaks
  • 6 stalks of celery
  • 4 carrots
  • 3 onions
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • 1l cream
  • 3 cubes chicken stock
  • 250 g butter
  • 250 g flour
  • 4 bay leafs
  • 4 cloves
  • fresh or dried thyme
  • salt & pepper

The work:

Put the cleaned and coarsely cut- vegetables (onion, celery, leak, garlic, carrots), the herbs (thyme, cloves, bay leafs, pepper & salt) and the chicken stock in a big cooking pot and add enough water so that not only the vegetables, but later also all the chicken will be covered with the stock you are now starting to make. Boil the stock until the vegetables are soft.

P1010882P1010878While your stock is cooking, you can roll balls of the minced meat (2-3 cm diameter). Cut the mushrooms in 4 and stew them in olive oil with pepper and salt. When they are starting to change color and going brown, sprinkle the juice of one lemon over the mushrooms to keep their light color. Turn of the heat when the mushrooms are ready.

P1010883Put a couple of spoons from the stock (which is in the making in your large cooking pot) in a smaller cooking casserole to boil the meatballs just for a couple of minutes until they are cooked. This fluid we will not use further because it becomes greasy from minced meat. So use not more than needed.

When the vegetable in the stock are tender, add all the chicken you have and cook for one hour. Check the chicken tenderness; it should be coming of the legs easily.
Now take out all the chicken of the stock and cut the chicken into pieces. If you don’t like bones at all, peal the meat from the bones. We tend to leave in the legs and the skin of the chicken in the stew, but that’s a personal preference. We like the chicken pieces rather large than cut to bite size. The breasts we cut up (or tear-up) a bit smaller.

Choose a new large pot. In this pot you will make the vol-au-vent sauce, so it should be bit enough to take the mushrooms, the meat balls, all the chicken and the ham. Start by making the roux for the sauce. Melt 250 g of butter (make sure it doesn’t burn), add flower gently and stir with a whisk. You will see that the mixture becomes dryer as you add more flower. The roux should smell like a pastry dough, like the French ‘bisquit’ dough. Watch out not to burn the roux. Don’t stop too early with the flower. 250 g of flower will be too much, look at the consistence of the roux while stirring to determine when to stop adding flower.

Use a large spoon to transfer stock from you large pot to the pot with the roux and stir constantly. The sauce will start to tie when the substance cooks. When it starts to thicken, add cream until it is nice and white. Make sure you control the heat, dim the fire if necessary and don’t forget to stir. Add more stock to come to the right thickness of the sauce.

When the sauce is made, add the juice of 1 to 2 lemons. Taste is the key here. The lemon should lift the sauce, but should not dominate the taste. Cut the ham and add the ham, the chicken, the mushrooms and the meatballs to the sauce. Done!

The secret:

Don’t be afraid to spice the stock. Pepper & salt, herbs from the garden, are indispensable to flavor and deepen the taste of the stock.

The tip:

Minced meat is well spiced with salt & pepper in Belgium. If you know the minced meat in your country is not spiced, then make sure to mix it up with enough salt & pepper beforehand.

The rest of the stock you can pass through the kitchen sieve and use as a basis for soup.

Vol-au-vent sauce you can make really thick or runny, depends on how you like it.
Vol-au-vent is often served in a puff pastry, but that’s optional, you either like it or you don’t. You can serve vol-au-vent with cooked potatoes, croquettes,… but for a Belgian it is inevitable to serve with Belgian fries and mayonnaise.

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Paella

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The Secret:

This recipe is definitely fusion cooking. We will not claim this is real Spanish paella, but it is definitely our Flemish best effort.

Between ‘90 and ’93 we lived in the area of Mons, a city where there used to be a lot of coalmines. Because of the mines, in the area there are still a lot of Italian and Spanish families. It is during that time that we tasted our first paella.

In an attempt to try this at home we looked up the recipe in a Belgian cookbook and tried this in a normal pan. It was disgusting; it didn’t even come close to what we had tasted during our local night out. We weren’t easily discouraged, so we made a couple more attempts, all without success.

So what was the secret?  Why didn’t we succeed?

As I traveled to Spain and to Portugal in my job as a software trainer, my husband said ‘do not come back without a paella recipe’. A good idea it was, but the people I had to train were mostly men. Each time I popped the question ‘Can you tell me how to make paella?’ Each time i got the same answer ‘I don’t know, my mother makes this for my family’.

Finally a friendly guy said ‘I’ll ask mom’ and a day later he handed me a yellow piece of paper with a handwritten recipe. ‘The secret’ he said ‘is to have equal heat under the pan and to get the balance between stock and ingredients just right’

Okay, this definitely gave a new start to our wrong footed paella project. We went out and bought our first paella pan for 10 persons. Later, as we became better at making it, we bought one for 25 and later one for 50 persons.

I don’t remember how close this original recipe came to how we make our paella today, but what follows is the result of many tries to get it exactly right.

Because paella is often made in larger quantities, telling you how much of each ingredient you need is difficult. How many people would you like to feed? 5, 10, 25, 50, 150? So the approach here will be different than in my other food blogs. I will post a recipe list and the ingredients for 5 persons. If you have other quantities, we developed a spread sheet to help you with the shopping list and calculate the cost.

The Ingredients: for 5 persons

  • 400 g round rice
  • 200 ml olive oil
  • 1 chorizo sausage (about 30-40 cm long, 1,5-2 cm diameter)
  • 10 drumsticks (front part of a chicken leg)
  • 12 mussels
  • clams (‘venusschelpen’ for the locals)
  • 300 g squid rings
  • 200 g prawns
  • 5 large shrimps (gambas)
  • 200 g green peas
  • 2 red paprika
  • 0,5 green paprika
  • 1 lemon
  • 2 onions
  • 2 tomatoes
  • 6 cloves of garlic
  • parsley
  • 5 tsps. curcuma
  • 2 small portions saffron
  • 800 ml chicken bouillon (water with chicken bouillon cubes)
  • salt & pepper

The Work:

Make sure ingredients are cleaned or rinsed. Keep all your ingredients separately. Cut the onions. Remove the seeds of the paprika and cut them into pieces. Peel the tomatoes and cut them in small cubes. Cut the lemon in parts. Remove the skin from the chorizo and cut in 1,5 cm rounds.

Cut the cleaned squid into rings. If you have frozen fish, make sure to defrost them before cooking starts.

Clean the mussels by removing the beard and any dirt on the shells and rinse them several times. Put the clams in a bowl of water with some salt, afterwards rinse them several times. Throw away all clams and mussels which are open.

Put the garlic with some olive oil in a blender and blend until you have paste.

Prepare the stock adding the cubes to the water, adding the parsley, curcuma and saffron. Gently boil this in a separate cooking pot in order to mix all flavors. We like to add some extra salt, pepper and dried chilly to give the stock some punch. When all ingredients have blended together, you can put the stock aside until you need it later.

Now the prep work is done, we can start with the real job.

P1000297P1000300P1000304Heat up the olive oil and bake the chicken legs until they are browned, also add the chorizo. When done, move the chicken and the chorizo to the outer circle of the pan, and turn down the heater for that outer area. This will take about 10 to 15 minutes depending on how big the pieces of the meat are. If the chorizo starts to brown too quickly, move them to the outer circle. In this stage you can spoon out some oil and chicken fat out of the middle area, keep it to be used later.

Now you have an open space in the middle. Put the garlic paste and simmer for a while. Do not let it brown! Add the onions and paprika and let these soften gently while stirring from time to time. Move this to the outside, and let the water evaporate until you have only oil.

The following step is to add the rice in the center and let it glaze in the oil. At this point you can add some saved up oil again if necessary.

P1000305Add the peas, tomatoes, the squid and the stock and mix all. Always stir and mix gently in order to keep the ingredients in tact as much as possible. Put all burners equally on the lowest position. From now on don’t stir anymore. Just check from time to time that nothing is burning at the bottom of the pan

Put on top of the paella the clams, the mussels, the gambas and the shrimps and cover the pan with aluminum foil. Let it all cook gently P1000307just checking that it does not burn.

After about 10 minutes you are allowed to stir everything once and check again that it does not burn. Reduce the heat if needed by cutting it completely for a while. Cover again with aluminum foil and let it cook gently for another 10 to 20 minutes until the rice is done and the mussels are open and all shrimps are nicely P1000310red.

Serve with a piece of lemon on top.

The Tip:

Anyone can make paella. It is not difficult; just stick to some simple rules.

In all stages of the cooking process it is important to control the heat well. P1000312Ideal is a paella pan heated with a burner with different circular sections. Make sure your pan is a 100% level. Nowadays every smart phone has a level app you can download free of charge to check. The biggest danger is wind, as this will make the heating less controllable. If you need to cook in an open area, wrap some aluminum foil around the pan so the wind cannot play with the flames.

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Chicken in the pot

Also known as ‘Steamed Chicken’

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Preparation time: 10 minutes
Cooking time: 60 minutes

The ingredients: for 4 persons

  • 1 chicken
  • chicken seasoning
  • 1 cube low fat chicken bouillon
  • margarine
  • salt & pepper

The work:

Smear the chicken richly with the chicken herbs. Make sure you throw a lot of seasoning inside the chest cavity and be generous with the herbs.

Melt the butter in a cooking pot and bake the chicken brown on all sides.

By the time the chicken is nicely browned, your fat will be burned and blackened. Take out the chicken, put it aside, get rid of the burned fat and clean the pot.

Put the pot back on the fire and add a small cube of margarine, let it melt and put the chicken back in. Season with salt & pepper. Add a half a cup of water. You should have about 1 cm of water in the bottom of the pan or pot. Crunch the cube of chicken bouillon and sprinkle it around the chicken in the water. Close the pan with a lid and reduce your hot plate to a very weak fire. The water should boil softly to make the steam in the pot. Leave your chicken like that for 45 minutes to 1 hour, take a peek from time to time to see if there is still a bottom of water. In case the water dries out, add some more.

By the time the chicken is soft and done, a syrupy sauce will develop automatically based on the water, the bouillon and the fat coming out of the chicken. ET voilà, you made a chicken to impress.

The secret:

I invented this recipe by accident because i simply don’t know how to brown a chicken without burning the fat.
The chicken herbs will determine the taste here. In Belgium and Holland I know you can get ‘Verstegen kruiden’, for me they are the best. But feel free to leave your comments on your local good seasoning providers. Don’t forget to add your country or region.
Each time I am amazed how fantastic this naturally developed sauce tastes.

The tip:

Even simpler than the recipe are the belonging tips.
If you don’t want to wrestle with a whole chicken, this magic works as fine with chicken legs as well.
You can throw in a half onion at the bottom of the pot or extra herbs to spice up the sauce. But the recipe doesn’t need it at all.
I tend to use Soya baking fat, since it has no effect on the outcome of the total taste, and I’m always looking to cut some calories.
The favourite Belgian way of serving this is definitely with apple sauce and cooked potatoes.

And last but not least… even if you are a novice cook, this will work like a charm!

Chicken Fajitas

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Preparation time: 45 minutes
Cooking time: 30 minutes

The ingredients: for 4 persons

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  • 2 double chicken breasts
  • 2 red paprika
  • 3 onions
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 1 fajita seasoning mix
  • tortilla wraps  (3 medium sized or 2 larger ones per person)
  • cheddar
  • iceberg lettuce
  • 2 tomatoes
  • taco sauce (hot or mild)
  • sour cream
  • salt & pepper
  • harissa (optionally)

The work:

At home, we serve the fajitas with iceberg lettuce, tomatoes, onions, cheddar cheese, taco sauce and sour cream.

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As the toppings will be sprinkled on the chicken before the wraps are folded, you should make sure everything is cut in small sizes. Start by cutting 1 of the onions in small rings. Remove the seeds from the tomatoes and cut them in small dices. Grate the cheese. Put all these toppings in separate serving dishes, also the taco sauce and the sour cream. You can prepare this ahead of time.

P1000253For the fajitas, chop-up the chicken breasts and start frying them in a pan with salt & pepper. While you do this, crush the garlic, take out the seeds of the paprika and chop them up in larger pieces. Also cut the 2 remaining onions.
As the chicken starts to become a bit crispy, add the garlic, paprika’s and the onions. Pour the fajita seasoning
mix over all of this. Depending on the type of mix you’ve bought (a jar or a bag), you may have to prepare the mix beforehand by adding some water to the seasoning. Follow the instructions on the product label for this. Stir to mix all the ingredients.
After the seasoning mix has been added it’s a question of keeping the pan on the fire until the vegetables are cooked and most of the moisture has dries out. We are aiming for seasoned meat, not for seasoned soup.

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Heat up the wraps in the micro wave. Follow the instructions on the package.

P1000259Now you are ready to serve. Put one wrap on everyone’s plate. Position the fajita (sizzling) pan and toppings in the centre of the table and let everyone fill their own wrap. First add some chicken, then add some toppings, fold up the fajita and try.

The Tip:
First time fajita tasters typically make two beginners mistakes: they overload the wrap and just roll it up. An overly charged wrap you cannot eat without pieces dropping out of it. When trying to eat a rolled-up wrap, the sauce will drip out at the end. The trick is to fold a part of the back to the inside, over the meat, and then close the left and right side like a small envelope. When you then lift up the wrap, the sauce is caught in the wrap envelope, at least for while.

harissa

We tend to favour chicken fajitas, but you can make variants with scampi’s, steak, lamb, or even mixed.

If you want to make the fajita mix a bit more spicy, you can add some harissa.

Don’t choose between taco sauce and sour cream, try adding both, their blend is fantastic.

The Secret:

It was around 1997 that I was sitting in a Mexican restaurant next to Mark S., one of my former US colleagues. With his typical enthusiasm he ordered ‘sizzling fajitas’. I had never heard of fajitas before. The dish looked, smelled and tasted delicious! Back home I tried to explain how impressed I was with the small Mexican wraps, but at that time the fajita seasoning was nowhere to be found in our local Belgian shops.

Many years later when making a walk at the coast we spotted a café specialized in serving Fajitas. It was the ideal moment to drag in my husband and daughter. Hehe, yes! Afterwards we found the fajita mix more regularly in the supermarkets and endeavoured making our own version.

Sizzling fajitas is now one of our typical Sunday evening favourites. So is Scampi Diabolo, one of my earlier posts.

For the Belgium readers who would like to try fajitas first before making their own attempt, I can recommend café Carrello in Heist (Knokke-Heist), a family business specialized in serving great fajitas. Make sure to book your table.