Wednesday, 31 July 2013

Restaurant Beluga in Maastricht

I have been lucky enough to have eaten in a few of the worlds best restaurants. Lunch at D.O.M in Sao Paolo, dinner at Astrid y Gaston in Lima, both of the *** restaurants in the Netherlands, Oud Sluis & Librije, and the Tasting Room in Franschhoek, South Africa. But my all time favourite isn't ranked in the Worlds 50 best restaurants list nor does it has 3 Michelin stars.  
Although I really don't understand why not. It makes me wonder how these inspectors rate the restaurants they visit. Because it's just impossible to compare a high rated restaurant in, for example, South America with a not rated restaurant in the Netherlands.

I was not planning on writing restaurant reviews on this blog, but I make an exception for my favorite restaurant EVER. It's Beluga in Maastricht; a burgundian city in the south of the Netherlands. It has 2 Michelin stars and chef Hans van Wolde is cooking just the way I like it. Not too much meat and almost no intestines. Lots of  fish & other seafood. A major role for vegetables and light and tasty dressings instead of those with cream. 

The reason I prefer Beluga over many other fine dining restaurants, besides the food, is the relaxed atmosphere. That starts in the lounge where you are welcomed to have a pre-dinner drink, accompanied with at few amuse bouches.

Vegetarian amuse bouches
Amuse bouche: 10 preparations with local Limburg 'grotchampignon' aka Champignon de Paris

The chef himself comes around to say hi, personally hands over the menu and discuss the menu options. I've been here 8 times so far and he has done that every time. In contrary to some other chefs who walk around in their restaurant to meet the customers, he's the only one who does it with a natural flair.

After that you are guided to the comfortable chairs and couches in the restaurant which make you want to sit back and relax. Which is what they are meant to be for. Once at the table Hans van Wolde's famous Chef's special signature amuse is served; Parmesan, basil and tomato. This looks like a famous and simple combination, but is wonderfully prepared with very strong flavours. The Parmesan always as a foam, the basil sometimes as ice, the tomato I've seen liquid and crispy (like on the pictures below)

Previous presentation of Chefs special; Parmesan, basil and tomato

Latest presentation of the Chef's special amuse bouche; Parmesan, basil and tomato

It's the combination of the high quality food, perfect matching wines, the relaxed atmosphere because of the informal yet amazing service, from the minute you walk in that make it worth every Euro you spent. 

It didn't really came as a big surprise in these economical bad times, but it still was a little shock to read that Beluga decided to make a big change! They are changing the concept, NOT the quality of the food or service, which makes it accessible for more people. Less amuses bouche, less expensive menu options and less exclusive dinnerware. It sounds good to me! 

We have enjoyed quite some of their 4-course Pleasure and Business lunch deals; a great deal where you're welcomed with a glass of  Cava and about 4 or 5 amuses, then 4 courses including matching wines and coffee or tea with friandises to finish with. And all of that for the price of € 90,-! Compared to other 2-star Michelin restaurants that was a really great deal. There are still 2 months left to make a reservation for this offer on Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday.

Matching sweet wine with dessert and specially for Beluga brewed beer with verbena to accompany the cheese

But I'm sure the menu in the new concept from October 1st, when the name of the restaurant will be Beluga Loves You, is gonna be great as well. They have posted a preview on their website which except for some dishes also reveals the coming of an 'upper top table'; on a stage over the stairs!

Because my husband only had experienced lunch at our visits together we decided to have a 'Last Supper' in Beluga old style and chose the full 10- course tasting menu. Plus the wine accompaniment!
I would be a very bad restaurant critic because I forget the exact ingredients of all the different dishes. Especially after some wine ;-)
But to give an impression of the fabulous food, here are some pictures I made during our visit last Friday.

Hans van Wolde's signature dish: Lobster Chicory Tarte Tatin. 

Lobster - avocado - americain - anchovy

Turbot - cauliflower- almond

Veal neck - foie gras - garlic plant- rhubarb

Hit me dessert; passion fruit

Beluga restaurant is a reason in itself to visit the city of Maastricht, either if you live in the Netherlands or as a tourist. But it is also one of the oldest cities in Holland with a beautiful centre worth visiting. Maastricht is known as a city of indulgence and culinary highlights. There are excellent restaurants and eateries, vineyards close to the city and an extensive range of great quality regional products and dishes. 
Any foodie should not miss out on Maastricht!

I will definitely pay a visit again as soon as possible to find out about the new Beluga Loves You.

Wednesday, 24 July 2013

Watermelon Daiquiri; Summer in a glass!

Ever since we came back from our 8 month trip to South & Central America last year we have been wanting to make cocktails at home.
Before that we actually never really drank cocktails; I prefer wine with food and my husband can appreciate both wine or a good beer. In South America that was not a problem; especially Argentina and Chili have great quality wines. But when you're travelling on a budget, once moving north to Central America we started drinking cocktails since they were cheaper than wine or beer! So while back home in the Netherlands we would never think about ordering a cocktail in a bar or restaurant, at the end of the trip we were enthusiastic cocktail drinkers.

It took us about a year before we gathered the basic stuff we needed; a cocktail shaker, cocktail glasses and a blender which can also crush ice.  No more excuses for not making these delicious drinks by ourselves.

We started with the Daiquiri; a mix of light rum, lemon juice and a sweetener like sugar or syrup.
Sitting at the bar of El Floridita in Havana, known as 'the cradle of the Daiquiri' (in Spanish: "la cuna del daiquiri"), it looked very simple. The bartenders were making all the different orders really fast without measuring. They make them so often that they know it by heart and told us they use an average of 40 bottles of Havana Club 3 years old every day. ( Bacardi is not sold in Cuba today, although the Daiquiri probably was born with that brand of rum).

Pictures of the El Floridita bar in Havana Cuba
There are a lot of variations on the original Daiquiri recipe and we are still in search of our own perfect mix.
With the beautiful summer weather of the last few weeks we started experimenting with the strawberry Daiquiri and the Watermelon Daiquiri
Especially for the last one there are tons of different recipes to be found on the Internet.

I was first triggered to make a watermelon Daiquiri after seeing Annabel Langbein making a big can of it on an episode of The Free Range Cook. She mixes the pieces of watermelon, lime juice and sugar in a blender and then pours it in a can with ice cubes. 
Nigella Lawson recipe brought me on the idea of freezing  watermelon cubes and then mix all the ingredients in a blender. This is a great way but you really need a good quality blender for it to crush the frozen watermelon. 
Then there are a lots of recipes which use already crushed ice. 

From all of the above mentioned methods I prefer Nigella's way because there is no more ice needed to cool the drink. If you do use extra ice it immediately weakens the flavour of the rum.
But if you don't own a special blender to crush the frozen cubes, you can mix all the ingredients together and then put the mixture in the freezer for a few hours. This method takes a bit longer but also makes it perfect to prepare these summer cocktails in advance! 

Frozen Watermelon Daiquiri

I wrote down the recipe the way we like to make it, but you really have to adjust to taste! So add more sugar if you like it more sweet, or a bit of rum for a stronger alcohol flavour.

Ingredients for Watermelon Daiquiris

Makes 2 cocktails

  • 350 grams watermelon (without the seeds)
  • 60 ml white Havana Club rum 3 years old 
  • 60 ml freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon icing sugar (this dissolves easily)
Extra equipment: blender or mixer

Mix all the ingredients in a blender and put it in the freezer for a few hours before serving.

Wednesday, 17 July 2013

Dutch pancakes; budget dinner for one

Although I love cooking most of the time; I can't deny that I like it more if I can share it.
Most of the times that's not a problem; my husband is an enthusiastic and not so fussy eater.
But sometimes he must work overtime and let me know at the last minute... Whenever I cook just for my self I like it to be quick and tasty, so I often make Nigella Lawson's Lemon Linguine, Spaghetti Carbonara (without the heavy cream) or her Pea Puree with salmon. 
I can see a Nigella pattern here ;-)  
And I even admit throwing a frozen supermarket pizza in the oven occasionally! 

But tonight I did not feel like anything from the above. And because my husband is not a big fan of pancakes it was the perfect opportunity to bake them just for myself. It's a childhood favourite and I'm still happy to eat them for breakfast, lunch or as a main meal any time of the year.  While in wintertime it's a tradition to eat them after 'snert' (a thick typical Dutch pea soup). I remember my grandmother baking big piles of pancakes while the large pot of snert was simmering on the stove. She kept them warm by putting them on a plate on top of a pan with simmering water. 

Baking Dutch pancakes 
Dutch pancakes (pannenkoeken) are much thinner and larger than the American pancakes. The basic ingredients are always flour (plain, self-rising or both), milk, salt, and eggs. The addition of buckwheat flour is traditional but according to Wikipedia much less common nowadays. Although it looks like there is some kind of revival of the use of buckwheat flour because it's more healthy and ranks low on the glycemic scale. Wikipedia wrote a nice little piece about Dutch pancakes

Pancakes in the Netherlands are pretty popular; we even have lots of pancake-restaurants where you can order them with tons of different fillings. Plain ones are commonly eaten with sweet toppings like icing sugar (powdered sugar) or 'stroop'; treacle or syrup. A popular savoury filling is bacon & cheese. My 'secret' ingredient when making pancakes is to add a pinch of cinnamon to the batter. This even works with savoury fillings.

Pancake batter with cinnamon

If I make them as breakfast I use Jamie Oliver's 1tweetrecipe: 'Perfect pancakes: 1 egg, 1 cup self-raising, 
1 cup milk, pinch of salt. Whisk. Pour into a hot frying pan. Flip!' I get 3 pancakes from this recipe.

Today I made a bit more because I also love to eat them cold the next day (sprinkled with icing sugar and rolled up to be eaten by hand).
This recipe is adapted from an old fashioned and much reprinted Dutch cookbook; the Margriet kookboek:

Dutch pancakes
adapted from Margriet cookbook
Makes about 8 pancakes

  • 250 grams self-raising flour ( or substitute up to 50% with buckwheat flour)
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 egg (large)
  • 450 ml  milk
  • Butter 
  • Cinnamon
  • Savoury and sweet ingredients as you like
1. Mix the self-raising flour with the salt.

2. Make a well in the middle, add the egg and half of the milk. Make a smooth batter of it, starting in the middle and mixing with a whisk. Add in the rest of the milk while stirring. Flavour with a pinch of cinnamon.

3. Leave to rest for half an hour if possible. 

4. Heat a small amount of butter in a frying pan, making sure it's hot before you pour in enough batter to just cover the bottom of the pan. (if you want to use bacon fry it first then add the batter)

5. Bake the pancake on medium heat until the top is dry.

6. Flip the pancake and cook the other side till golden.

7.Keep warm while baking the other pancakes. Fill as you like with sweet or savoury ingredients.

Rolled up Dutch pancake with 'stroop'

Wednesday, 10 July 2013

Tasty tapas: Asparagus,Serrano Ham and Aioli

Although the white Dutch asparagus season has finished since 24th June,  I can not resist sharing my favorite green asparagus recipe here!
I only made it twice this year but it's actually one of my most successful tapas recipes and never lasts long.

It's a combination of different recipes which I changed just a bit by blanching the green asparagus peaces for 3 minutes before putting them in the oven.  Additionally I serve it together with an easy aioli made by ready made mayonnaise and sprinkled with cayenne pepper.

I love it as part of a tapas meal but also as an appetizer or starter of  a more course dinner.
No cutlery needed, just use your hands!

Roast green Asparagus with Serrano ham and Aioli

  • Thin green asparagus, cut into half
  • Serrano Ham
  • Optionally: Parmesan cheese

1. Grease a baking sheet or tray.

2. Blanch the halved green asparagus, briefly, about 3 minutes.

3. Roll  a halved slice of Serrano ham around two or three halved asparagus (bottom and top), and add some grated Parmesan cheese if wanted.

4. Grind pepper over the asparagus and cook in about 10 minutes in a preheated oven at
200 ˚C. Cover the scale the first 5 minutes with aluminum foil to prevent the asparagus from burning.

Serve together with a spicy aioli as a dipping sauce:
Mix an olive oil based mayonnaise (or regular ready made mayonnaise)  with crushed garlic (about 2 cloves), some lemon juice and cayenne pepper on top.

Wednesday, 3 July 2013

Finally graduated!!! Plus home made Cole Slaw recipe

It took me about 10 years to finish my Bachelor of Laws degree; but I finally graduated last Friday!

Me and my mother after my final examination
I'm so relieved not having the obligation to spent most of my free time studying anymore!
For months now I can't stop thinking about all the things I've been wanting to do but didn't have the time; cleaning up our house; spent more time with my husband; go running three times a week instead of two and off course more time for cooking and blogging.  But now it's finally that far it doesn't feel like a big relief; it actually feels a bit uncomfortable.

I'm sure it's just a matter of time before I find a new balance,  but all this free time even got me thinking;
'is this the moment in life where women decide they are ready for motherhood???'
Believe me;  for this happily childfree crazy Dutch foodie that's a really extreme thought!
But I decided that still was not something that suited me and went back to celebrating my graduation by throwing a BBQ party for my close relatives.

We started with little Peche Melba cupcakes; again by a recipe from the cupcakes book from Rudolph van Veen. Then a few cucumber/smoked salmon & melon/prosciutto appetizers.
I kept what went on the BBQ simple by buying different kind of sausages and marinated a bunch of chicken wings. There was also lots of  bread with homemade herb butter (based on a recipe from the Dutch foodblog Uit Pauline's Keuken, with an extra sprig of tarragon and a pinch of dried Provencal herbs), tzatziki and a roasted red pepper with feta dip from Epicurious.
But most of the preparation time was spent to three home made salads which were a huge success!
Even my 11 month year old niece ate a bit of everything :-).

Peche Melba cupcakes, herb butter & pasta salad
For the potato salad I used this recipe from Jamie Oliver. A pasta salad was made at random by mixing some short pasta with pesto, dried tomatoes, fresh cherry tomatoes, chopped black olives, little pieces of mozzarella, a bit of rocket salad and toasted pine nuts with a dressing of olive oil & balsamic vinegar and finished with some coarsely grated Parmesan cheese.

But I was most proud of the big bowl of  Cole Slaw salad. It was based on a American cole slaw recipe from my little brothers former father in law which is an enthusiast BBQ fan with a lovely website in Dutch full of BBQ recipes. It's funny that although we call it American cole slaw the dish has Dutch roots ('koolsla' in Dutch means 'cabbage salad'). It fits perfectly with everything that comes from the barbecue and I love it with grilled chicken because it reminds me of Belize where it is a popular combination together with black beans.

Here's my recipe of how I made it last Sunday, for the Dutch version click here:

Graduation Cole Slaw

Ingredients for 1 bowl (enough for at least 4-6 people as a side dish) 
  • 500 grams of oxheart cabbage, finely sliced ( oxheart cabbage is used instead of white cabbage, which makes perfectly sense in summer time) 
  • 125 grams carrots, grated
  • 1/2 onion, medium, finely chopped
  • 2 red chillies, seeds removed, finely chopped
  • 50 grams raisins, soaked in water 
  • 1/2 cup (= 100 grams) mayonnaise
  • 1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
  • 2 teaspoons sugar
  • 1 teaspoon of honey
  • 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt

1. Make the dressing and set aside.

2. If necessary, chop the cabbage and grate the carrot.

3. Mix the onion and chili with the finely sliced ​​cabbage and grated carrot.

4. Pour the dressing over the vegetables and mix well.

You can easily make the salad a few hours in advance; keep it in the refrigerator and mix in the raisins just before you serve it.

I totally forgot to make pictures of all the food this day...
Fortunately my brother in law has a great camera and quickly made some pictures just after the buffet was opened; thanks Per!