What I enjoyed reading this week (5)

We are against war and tourist menu

 

It has been a depressing week in the news. The above photo which was shared by Gambero Rosso on their Facebook thread while being humorous pretty much sums up my feelings for the week.

Wherever you look in the media, whether it is the news on television, newspapers or even social media sites, you see photos of destruction. And you ask yourself why? Why is this happening? Why is there so much hatred?

Please stop to think about what is happening and what we could do to try and make a difference.

In any case, these are a few links to articles/video I enjoyed this week.

My readers by now know that I have a fascination with Massimo Bottura, who is considered as Italy’s most creative chef. Here you will find a fantastic interview about the creative process and evolution in his cooking. If you need some creative inspiration I recommend you watch it.

This is a beautiful piece of writing in its own way. In this article, Eric Asimov, one of my favourite wine writes looks at the wines of Irouléguy, in French Basque Country. It makes me want to go and visit. It also makes me want to look for the wines he suggests.

There is a lot of discussion about eating out solo in a restaurant. I must say that until a few years ago I would probably have thought twice about doing this even when travelling alone. Not any more. Read about the issue here.  why should you be deprived of a great dining experience just on the basis of the fact that you are alone. There could be 100 reasons for this and

Many of us still recall the horse meat scandal which rocked the food industry last year. Matters seem to be improving considerably but we are not out of the woods yet.

Barcelona is one of the top five cities I want to visit as soon as possible. Here you will read about some great places to try out if you are heading there.

Have a great weekend.

 

 

 

 

A visit to Chateau de Beloeil

Chateau de Beloiel
The magnificent Chateau de Beloiel

I recently had to spend a midweek day off with the children. I offered them a choice between either going to a park or a castle. I thought they would opt for a park but they immediately got excited about the prospect of visiting a castle.

Since there was agreement, we finally decided on the castle to go to since Belgium has its fair share of castles. I had always seen signs of Chateau de Beloeil on our trips to Lille or Pairi Daiza and have always been intrigued especially since it is also famous for its flower show and the yearly classical music concert. The castle opens at 1pm.

Chateau de Beloeil is considered to be the Belgian Versailles and on our visit we discovered that there is a reason for this. The park is very large and forms with the castle a very interesting place to visit away from the crowds.

We were there on a weekday and among the first to arrive so  pretty much had the castle and park to ourselves. The castle has beautiful antique furniture, some unique pieces as well as beautiful tapestries from a once glorious past. It used to be the residence of the Princes de Ligne.

The French garden in the castle grounds offers a harmonious blend of water and nature, shadow and light. It is still maintained to its original design from 1664.

The Beloeil castle is surrounded by its moats and gardens and has been in Beloeil, Hainaut for the past eight centuries. It was a medieval fortress which was eventually transformed into a country home.

The children enjoyed their visit to the castle and were particularly impressed by the library with its over 20,000 books. They also enjoyed the walk in the park as well as the fish in a rather large pond. The castle is also famous for the annual classical music festival which is organised in September. We hope to visit the castle again in September for this event.

If you are heading to the Castle of Beloeil there is a culinary tip that I would like to share with you. On the way to Beloeil or to Brugelette to visit Pairi Daiza, you will come across a very small rural village called Gibecq.

It is well known for its free range chickens. They are called the Poulet de Gibecq and you can stop and buy them as well as other great products from a little farm shop in the village of Gibecq.

The farm shop is unfortunately only open on Wednesday and Friday afternoon (so you need to plan your trip accordingly) or else on Sunday mornings. The good thing is that they are also available in some butcher shops around Belgium so you would do well to ask for them.

The chickens are free range and allowed to grow naturally. They are fed with grains which come from farms in the area of Hainaut. Their feed is even milled in the area. They have a splendid taste unlike more commercial chickens you find in supermarkets. I therefore highly recommend them. The farm shop also has other culinary delights such as exceptional bio yogurt as well as products from the area.

If you are ever in the area, this is really worth a stop.

Chateau de Beloil

Chateau de Beloeil

Recipe 3: Guinea Fowl with chickpeas and olives

20140729-200628-72388103.jpgCooking is a passion but on a daily basis it can sometimes become difficult especially when you try to juggle with 100 things.

Quick midweek recipes, or those which you can prepare quickly while retaining the wow factor are therefore always winners.

This recipe is great because it can easily be prepared in less than 30 minutes. With its bold flavours it is both good as a quick midweek supper and also fit to be served if you are hosting.

Guinea fowl is one of my new favourites given I can find it pretty easily at my local butcher. I hope you try this recipe because it is really easy to make and also delicious.

Guinea Fowl with chickpeas and olives (Serves 4)

Ingredients

  • Four guinea fowl breasts
  • 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • Butter
  • One can of the best quality chickpeas you can find
  • 24 olives
  • 4 Anchovies
  • 3 cloves of garlic
  • 50ml of Madeira (you can also use Marsala)
  • Fresh basil
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Rosemary

Method

1. Season the guinea fowl breasts. Add the olive oil and butter to a pan and toss in the rosemary.

2. Pan fry the guinea fowl breasts. It should take around 7 minutes on each side for the guinea fowl to be cooked through.

3. Remove the guinea fowl from the pan. (At this stage, I normally put in a warm plate, cover with aluminium foil and place in the oven at a very low temperature (around 80 to 100C). You should also remove the rosemary at this stage.

4. Deglaze the pan by adding the Madeira or Marsala. Add garlic and anchovies and let the latter dissolve by mixing gently. Then throw in the chickpeas and olives and cook for a few minutes until warm and slightly caramelised.

5. Place the guinea fowl back into the pan and add the fresh basil and serve with the cooking sauces.

Wine suggestion:  Being summer, I would opt for a white wine or else a light red wine. A creamy Chardonnay from Burgundy would work very well with this dish. It would also work very well with a red wine like Barbera or Nebbiolo from Italy.

 

 

O Liban – a great Lebanese restaurant in Bascule

There was a sense of disappointment in our family when Giovanni on Chaussee de Vleurgat closed a few years ago. When we arrived in Brussels nearly nine years ago, it was not only close to home but it also served one of the best Italian espressos or cappuccinos you could find in Brussels. Moreover, the cannoli (which we are so accustomed too in Malta) were to die for.

Now either my palate has become accustomed to ‘worse’ coffee or else the Belgian coffee scene has clearly made remarkable improvements. I tend to believe that it is more the latter than the former.

Italian food is clearly comfort food but Lebanese food can be exceptional particularly when using fresh ingredients. I can today say that his replacement has proved himself on many occasions over the past years.

O Liban is a great place to stop for a quick lunch or dinner. It is also perfect to grab a take-away or to try one of their delicious typical Lebanese ‘sandwiches’ or pittas. They are all excellent using fresh ingredients, excellent sauces like the garlic sauce or hummus. They are so good that you might develop a craving for them. Whenever I am in the area of Bascule at lunch time, I nearly always end up going to grab a sandwich from there. My favourites are the lamb kefta, chicken and the falafel.

Hummus (better known as a chickpea dip) can easily be made at home or bought from a supermarket or speciality shop. Nevertheless, the test for a Lebanese restaurant is to make hummus taste special. O Liban passes this test with flying colours.

This is also an excellent place if you are vegetarian. Among the lunch or dinner options, you can put together a plate of your choice with some of the dishes that are ready prepared and which you can either eat at the restaurant or else take home. The meat option includes a choice of meat as well as six vegetable dishes or salads while the vegetarian option (also excellent for non vegetarians) gives you an option for eight different choices. You can of course include the excellent hummus as well as the Moutabal which is an incredibly tasty aubergine dip.

O Liban is great for a quick lunch or dinner. It is always busy which is a guarantee for fresh ingredients and salads. Service is extremely good though at times when it gets extremely busy might be a bit slow at the start.

If you are craving Mediterranean food and looking for something quick, comforting and good, O Liban on Chaussee de Vleurgat is a great choice.

If you have never tried Lebanese wine, this is also your chance to try it. We have always tried the ground floor snack and ‘traiteur’ though there is a restaurant on the first floor which also serves interesting set menus.

Verdict: If you develop a craving for their ‘sandwiches’ using the typical Lebanese flat bread do not blame me. They are that good. Among their vegetable choices, you need to try the hummus, moutabal and the ‘moussaka’. This Lebanese version is a stew of aubergine, chickpeas and tomatoes and is incredibly tasty. Go there for a quick takeaway or else for a casual lunch or dinner. You will not be disappointed.

O Liban is open everyday (closed in the evenings on Sunday and Monday). He can be found at Chaussée de Vleurgat 324, close to La Bascule.

What I enjoyed reading this week (4)

Moneglia is a place that we have missed on our two visits to Liguria mainly because it is rather complicated to get there by car. It is located between Sestri Levante and the Cinque Terre and is accessible through a one-lane tunnel. We were told that if you miss the tunnel crossing, you will have to wait for a rather long time before the traffic lights turn green. So we avoided heading there to eat in the evening. Ah, what a mistake that seemed to have been.

It seems to have been a pity given a restaurant there that has been reviewed by the Financial Times Magazine today. The restaurant, La Ruota seems to be one of those unmissable places. It has a view to die for, a wine list of unbelievable depth at incredible prices and amazing food according to Nicholas Lander who wrote about it in Financial Times weekend. Reading about it here is enough to make your mouth water.

This video reminded me of our honeymoon in Japan. Here you will see how sushi should be eaten. Here you get an explanation of how to eat sushi including the fact that you should not use chopsticks.

This is a very interesting article about restaurants changing menus and clients not being able to order what they were expecting to order.

I’ve written about French food and the new law in this blog. Here is an article from the New York Times in which Mark Bittman opines that the law will not really address the issue.

Here is an interesting book review about Umani, a taste which we cannot describe but which is essential to our food enjoyment.

And lastly, Carlos Slim, the Mexican business mogul this week suggested controversially that we may have to work a three day week in future but continue to work up to 75. Here is Richard Branson’s take on the matter.

And finally, thanks to Franklin for sending in this link about a splendid sounding herb garden in Flanders. This seems to be a must visit for foodies in Belgium.

 

 

There is no such thing as a free lunch

If you only have 15 minutes to spare this weekend, you must watch the video reportage from The Guardian on poultry factories.

Under the heading Revealed: the dirty secret of the UK’s poultry industry, it shows disgusting scenes from chicken factories and suggests that two thirds of chickens sold in the UK are contaminated with campylobacter. The report suggests that although the bug is killed by thorough cooking, around 280,000 people in the UK are currently made ill each year by it and 100 people die. It suggests that the contamination rates are known to have increased in the past decade.

My perspective of food changed completely after I read Fast Food Nation by Eric Schlosser. It is since that summer of 2001 that I have never set foot again in a fast food chain. That book had a deep impact on how I viewed food. This new reportage in the Guardian just goes to prove that many years down the line, nothing has improved

There are a few lessons to learn from this reportage.

1. There is no such thing as a free lunch. If a deal is too good to be true, then it is. Unfortunately, many people fall into the trap of trusting the provenance of their food just on the basis that they can buy it from the supermarket or that it is attractively packaged. Many trust that if it is being sold then it has to be good.  It is unfortunate because times are difficult and deals can therefore be very attractive but one needs to be cautious about the source of the produce they are buying,

2. It is better to enjoy meat (including chicken) every so often if you cannot afford it but ensure that when you eat it you go for free range or organic chicken. If a supermarket is selling a whole chicken for just over 3 Euros then you need to ask yourself some soul-searching questions before you even decide to buy it.

3. There have been too many food scandals in the past years which are eroding the trust of consumers. But so far, it does not seem to have an impact on the behaviour of consumers.

4. It might not be convenient to shop in your local shops. But everyone of us needs to make an effort to support our local shops rather than big chains since they usually know the precise source of their produce. Build a rapport with these shopkeepers. They are normally incredibly passionate about what they do. We owe it to our children that such stores survive.

5. We need to vote with our feet and show supermarkets that business as usual cannot go on as if nothing has happened. After the horse-meat scandal, one would have expected at least some basic checks. That this has not happened is rather shocking.

And for those who have never read or seen the documentary Fast Food Nation, here is the trailer of the film based on the book.

There is also Food Inc on the same theme.