Belgium: Beyond the Waffle

Kathleen Harsh is a Chicago based bakery scientist. On a recent trip to Belgium, she visited a handful of bakeries and reported back on what she found. Belgium is probably best known stateside to be the home of the waffle but it’s really a hub of food creativity. It was a great educational adventure for her, with much learning to be shared with the company. What follows are her words on what she experienced.

Traveling brings many great joys, amongst them the opportunities to fully immerse oneself in the food of a different culture and to consider the unique offerings places from around the world bring to the table. Belgian food extends beyond the Americanized Belgian waffle to offering a true feast for the senses for every eating occasion. During a trip to Belgium this summer, I explored traditional Belgian bakeries, chocolate shops, and cookie shops that have perfected recipes over centuries of dedicated practices. Belgian cities are also a hub for creativity in food, so I seized the chance to check out innovative food concepts happening in bustling Antwerp and Ghent.

In a lively square in Antwerp, a fourth generation family run bakery founded in 1884 called Goosens draws crowds for everyday baked good staples. Its small storefront only has room to order, pay, and gawk in delight at the rows of stacked baked goods. Some of Goosens specialties include crusty sandwich bread, Danishes, and roggeverdommeke, a rye bread with raisins. Himschoot, a bakery in Ghent, has a similar set up showcasing muesli bread and dense chocolate bread packed with pieces of real Belgian chocolate.

Right next to Goosens in Antwerp, Philip’s Biscuits is a popular stop for traditional Belgian cookies such as speculoos. Speculoos cookies have a graham cracker-like taste profile with ginger and cinnamon notes and a short, crisp bite. Belgium pioneered the cookie butter that is gaining traction as a popular food trend in America by turning speculoos into a spread the consistency of creamy peanut butter. Speculoos spread can be found in Belgian grocery stores and served alongside Nutella and jams in breakfast buffets.

Another notable food destination in this Antwerp square is Mary Chocolatier. One can find delicious chocolate at every turn in Belgium, but Mary Chocolatier stands out as a Certified Supplier of the Belgian court. The fanciful shop has artfully displayed truffles and small chocolates that make the perfect gift or treat to oneself.

Waffles in Belgium are considered an indulgence, more akin to ice cream in America than the Belgian waffle we are all familiar with as a brunch and breakfast staple. That American breakfast food is referred to as the Brussels waffle in Belgium, and while that is certainly a delicious baked good, the Liege waffle deserves tremendous praise as well. Made with yeast, pearled sugar, and a higher fat content, the Liege waffle has a slight sour flavor from the fermentation and a denser, chewier texture with a crisp exterior from the pearled sugar caramelizing during the cooking and reheating process. As a luxurious end to an evening out, I enjoyed a Liege waffle topped with fresh chopped strawberries and a dizzying amount of Nutella purchased from a small cart off the canal in Ghent.

Another Belgian influence in America is the rise of Le Pain Quotidien restaurants, a bakery chain and fast casual restaurant that originated in Belgium. I stopped by a location in Ghent to admire the breads and pastries on display, which interestingly included a basket of hard boiled eggs to the right of the baguettes for a complete breakfast experience. Le Pain Quotidien had some unique offerings such as savory pastries and a dragon fruit and raspberry chiller. The latte was a perfectly refreshing alternative to coffee on a hot summer day with the added benefit of antioxidants from the fruits.

Fries are a staple in the Belgian diet, and they are frequently used as a base or the main course for many meals as pasta is to Italian food or rice is to Chinese food. Frituurs or fry shops are ubiquitous in Beligum, especially in the Flemish region where small towns have a frituur every few blocks. Frites Atelier Amsterdam is quick service restaurant that is capitalizing upon the Belgian fry popularity. This chain offers fries as a snack with a variety of dipping sauces such as classic mayonnaise, truffle, andouille, and béarnaise, as well as a full meal with a variety of saucy stews and curries as a topping. I stopped at the Antwerp location to have fries with stoofvlees, a traditional Flemish stew made with tender, rich meat and hints of mustard and beer, topped with mustard seeds and microgreens. The fries were crisped to perfection with a delightfully tender inside and a crunchy exterior due to a double frying method. This was my favorite meal during my time in Belgium!

Over in the university town of Ghent, I had the pleasure of stopping by another restaurant where the idea of a traditional Flemish dish has taken some contemporary twists. At Balls & Glory, you can order from an array of ground pork, chicken or meat substitute meatballs filled with a variety of creative fillings and lightly coated in breadcrumbs. The meatballs are served on top of a rotating flavorful salad or on top of stoemp, Belgian mashed potatoes with carrots and celery. This modernization of the Belgian affinity for meatballs lends itself well to a unique, satisfying meal occasion.

Ghent is a very Catholic city dating back to medieval times, and the city has such a staggering number of churches that many are currently up for sale. In an exciting new concept, a food hall called Holy Food Market has sprung up in a chapel from the 16th century. The design element is striking, with cathedral height ceilings, stained glass and beautiful architecture juxtaposed against modern design elements like black and white stained woodwork, marble countertops, statement indoor plants, and string lighting. Food halls have sprung up in the U.S. too such as Revival Food Hall in Chicago and Ponce City Market in Atlanta. Their popularity here stems from offering quick service, trend driven, and ethnic and regional food options to serve everyone’s pallets. The Holy Food Market follows a similar approach by offering 16 different food choices ranging from Malaysian, Abruzzo (regional) Italian, Russian, and vegetarian friendly options. Each food stand holds its own between the columns and arches with a bar in the center of the first floor, and the top floor has been converted into a club and lounge type area. I loved the blending of cultures and foods from around the world housed in a familiar yet modernized design, creating a new way to visit a picturesque European church.

During your next European adventure, consider stopping by Belgium for much more than just their waffles. The plethora of traditional treats Belgium has perfected over centuries coupled with new flavor and form combinations in non-traditional settings gives every traveler an opportunity to relish in Belgian cuisine.

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Seafood City Excursion

One of the most important things we can do for our chefs is immerse them in the culture and foods of projects that they are working on. In the past, we have sent them to Dearborn, Michigan for a Middle Eastern food safari and down to Memphis in May to dive deep into competition BBQ. Sending our chefs to these locations is important, but Chicago also provides a wide range of cuisines to sample. Inspiration can come from anywhere, and we want to make sure our chefs have access to that. This time around they traveled just a few miles up the road to Seafood City, a Filipino grocery store with a massive food court right inside.

The chefs and the marketing team walked the aisles. The grocery store was filled with many excellent and unique Filipino ingredients, but the stand-out items were not even part of the grocery store at all. There is a full service counter, where you can get fresh seafood and then have it shelled, shucked, or descaled right there for you. There was a solid line of customers all taking numbers to get their fish processed before leaving.

The other interesting thing was that the bakery section is a separate store from the rest of the grocery space. We stepped into a smaller section with its own registers and employees, and looked around. A lot of the items being sold were purple because they use a lot of ube, which is a purple sweet potato native to the Philippines. If used as an ingredient, the bread or pastry takes on its purple hue. The whole bakery smelled sweet and fresh. Finally, we sampled a variety of dishes at the food court. There were noodle soups, fried rice, and an egg roll type dish called lumpia. One of the more intriguing things we ate was Kare Kare, which is a stew of oxtail in a peanut sauce. It had elements similar to other familiar Asian cuisines, but was just different enough to feel like a whole new taste.

It was an eye opening trip for both marketing and culinary. While we are by no means experts after one visit, as we explore this trend more and more, we certainly have a great base to refer to.

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Jackfruit & Ube Handpie

Jackfruit Puree
18 oz. Jackfruit (sweet) packed in syrup
10 fl. oz. Jackfruit syrup (from can of jackfruit)
2 Tbsp. Lemon juice
¼ tsp. sea salt
Directions:

  • Place jackfruit, and 4 fluid ounces into a blender, blend for 2 minutes, looking for a semi smooth texture.
  • Place puree into a sauce pot, along with the remaining 6 fluid ounces of syrup, lemon juice, and sea salt.
  • Place sauce pot onto a low flame, stirring on occasion, so not to burn. Looking for the puree to thicken slightly.
  • Remove from heat, place into cooler.

Ube Puree
8 oz. ube (fresh or frozen grated)
7 fl. oz. coconut milk (full fat)
1.2 oz. butter
.75 oz. powder sugar
1 oz. coconut sugar
Directions:

  • Place all ingredients into a sauce pot.
  • On a low flame, heat all ingredient, making sure to stir often.
  • Cook on low heat for 20 minutes, or until mixture has thickened and potato is cooked— no longer has raw taste.
  • Remove from heat, place mixture into a bowl, let cool in the cooler for about an hour.

Jackfruit & Ube Handpie
Ingredients:
28 oz. Pastry dough (store bought or homemade)
4 ¼ oz. Ube mixture (see recipe above right)
5 oz. Jackfruit puree (see recipe above right)
1 Tbsp. Coconut sugar
1 Large egg
Directions:

  • Cut 24 dough circles using 3 ¼ inch cookie cutter.
  • Place egg wash around edge of 12 circles.
  • Place 1 Tbsp. of ube mixture and 1 Tbsp. of jackfruit puree in center of circle.
  • Place a second pastry circle over ube/jackfruit mixture. Using your finger or fork, crimp the edges of pastry all the way around to seal the edges.
  • Using a pastry brush, lightly brush on egg wash over the top of pastry.
  • Sprinkle about 1/8 tsp. of coconut sugar over the top of the egg washed pastry.
  • Bake in 350˚F convection oven for 12 minutes, or until golden brown.

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Where to Buy Ingredients for Filipino Cuisine

Getting started with cooking a new cuisine requires ingredient procurement. For a cuisine like Filipino, which has many specialty ingredients, this can be challenging. In North America, Seafood City, the supermarket chain specializing in Filipino foods, is one of the best options available. There is a wide assortment of fresh fruits and vegetables, meat and fish, dry goods, and frozen goods. They carry a large assortment of Filipino food products from such brands as Pamana and Mama Sita’s. As of February 2018, they have 25 locations in North America with most located in the state of California. If there is not a Seafood City conveniently located, a local Filipino grocer is another great option. For example, the city of Chicago is also home to Three R’s Filipino Grocery and Café and Uni-Mart, two specialty Filipino grocers.

The next place to look for Filipino ingredients can be another Asian grocer, whether it’s a chain like H-Mart, Great Wall Supermarket, or Mitsuwa or a local Asian grocer. Some ingredients are used across multiple Asian cuisines, so a well-stocked Asian grocer would likely carry items like fish sauce and long beans. Many mainstream American grocers have an ethnic aisle where basic Asian ingredients such as soy sauce are readily available. Even Whole Foods Market carries bok choy.

Finally, Filipino ingredients can be purchased online. Efooddepot.com and Amazon. com both offer an assortment of Filipino ingredients and ship across the United States. So whether there is a recipe for a Filipino dish from a book, a blog, or even this newsletter that piques your interest, it is possible to find the ingredients needed to prepare it.

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Maruya (Plantain with Jackfruit Fritters)

Ingredients:
1 cup all purpose flour
½ cup sugar
1 tsp. baking powder
¼ tsp. salt
1 egg
1 cup fresh milk
2 Tbsp. melted butter
1 cup vegetable oil
5-6 pieces of plantain (saba) bananas,
ripe but firm, peeled and mashed
1 ½ cups of jackfruit (langka), diced

Directions:

  • In a bowl, sift together flour, ¼ cup of the sugar, baking powder, and salt.
  • In a larger bowl, beat egg. Add milk, butter and whisk together until blended.
  • Add flour mixture to milk mixture and stir until just moistened. Do not overmix!
  • Mix the bananas and jackfruit in a separate bowl and combine with the batter mixture.
  • Heat the oil in a pan using moderate (medium) heat. Scoop up about two tablespoons of this mixture and gently drop into the hot oil. Slowly form the mixture into an uneven circle using the spoon.
  • Cook for about 1 to 2 minutes on each side or until golden and crisp. Remove from pan and place on paper towels in a tray to drain excess oil.
  • Repeat procedure with the rest of the ingredients. Use a fine mesh sieve to dust the fritters with the remaining sugar.
  • To serve, fritters may be arranged on serving plate and a scoop of vanilla ice cream drizzled with chocolate and caramel sauce may added.

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Filipino Cuisine; A Blending Of History

Numerous indigenous Philippine cooking methods have survived the many foreign influences brought about either by trade, contact, or colonization.

The first and most persistent food influence was most likely from Chinese traders who were already present and regularly came to Philippine shores. They pre-dated Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan’s landing on Homonhon Island in 1521 by as many as five centuries.

The earliest written account of food was by Antonio Pigafetta, the Italian chronicler of the Magellan expedition. Pigafetta describes the dinner served by Raja Colambu, a local chief of Limasawa island as “pork in its sauce served in porcelain platters, roasted fish with freshly gathered ginger, and rice; turtle eggs; chicken; and peacock.”

The Spanish ruled most of the Philippines until Filipinos launched the first successful revolution against a Western colonizer, in 1896, and declared their independence in 1898. Three hundred years of Spanish rule resulted in the introduction of ingredients such as, tomatoes, annatto (locally called achuete), corn and avocados from other colonies of Spain, but principally Mexico. Peppers were native to Mexico, Central and North America and spread to Asia in the 15th century. The Spanish also brought varied styles of cooking, reflecting the different regions of their country. Some of these dishes are still popular in the Philippines, such as callos, gambas, and paella.

Some other delicacies from Mexico also found their way to the Philippines due to this colonial period. Tamales, pipian, and balbacoa are a few examples. These terms are still used today, but some ingredient and cooking procedure names have changed. The tamales Filipinos know today use rice instead of corn in Mexican versions; pipian uses peanuts instead of pumpkin seeds; and barbacoa is boiled beef shanks instead of the Mexican balbacoa, slow-roasted meat cooked in a pit.

Filipino cuisine is a sum of Philippine history, from the influences of Southeast Asian cooking brought by trade to the
colonial influences brought by conquest. In recent years, because of domestic migration, tourism, national food businesses, mass
media and social media, regional dishes from the different islands have gone beyond their immediate borders and become part of the national table. Today’s Filipinos are able to acquaint themselves with the food of their own country.

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The Changing Consumption of Soup

In classical French cuisine, soups were considered part of the starter course, so it is no wonder why they were once only relegated to the appetizers menu and served in cups or small bowls. But soup, as it is known today, extends across all parts of the menu, in both hot and cold forms and with many names.

In cafes, soup can be one part of the soup and a half sandwich meal deal or as a main course served in a bread bowl. One might even order soup as a dessert such as a sweet red bean soup in a Chinese restaurant. Furthermore, certain soups are growing in menu penetration, including ramen (2.3%; +49% over the past four years), pozole (1.9%; +42.1% over the past four years), and pho (1.4%; +56% over the past four years). Soup is certainly a versatile form, and it shows in so many applications today.

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Honeydew-Cucumber & Mint Cold Soup

Ingredients:
4 cups Honeydew melon-diced
1 ½ cups English cucumber-diced
Mint leaves
½ cup Coconut water
¼ cup Greek yogurt
A Pinch of Sea salt-Optional

Directions:

  • Place all ingredients into a blender, blend on medium/high for about two minutes, or until smooth.
  • Let settle (skim foam off top if some is still left).
  • Ladle into serving cups or bowl. Garnish with mint leaf.

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Put Down That Spoon, Drinkable Soups Are Now Trending

Consumers are constantly on the lookout for the latest on-trend foods that will fulfill their growing list of requirements. Products that are convenient and healthy, while also satisfying their hunger and taste buds are high on the list. One of the more recent food trends puts a unique twist on a classic offering to meet these demands- drinkable soup.

Packaged in single-serve bottles, drinkable soup provides a quick grab-and-go solution. Fortunately, this component of convenience does not come at the expense of taste. Drinkable soup products extend beyond the typical soup offerings to provide an exciting flavor experience through ingredient lists containing a variety of spices and vegetables such as turmeric, squash, peppers, and more. Furthermore, since drinkable soups consist of mainly vegetables and seasonings, they can easily be made to meet the growing desires of health-conscious consumers looking for organic and clean label products.

Additionally, the emergence of drinkable soup has brought about another recent trend known as “souping.” A diet centered around drinkable soups provides consumers a new alternative to the popular juice cleanse, or juicing trend. Soups tend to be lower in sugar, more savory, and thicker and heartier than juices, which leaves consumers feeling satiated.

Today, many companies selling drinkable soup are still young. This results in barriers to reaching some consumers, such as limited delivery reach and high prices. However, as these companies learn the best way to meet consumer’s needs and make their products known, these new trends of drinkable soup and souping may soon hit the mainstream.

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Carrot Ginger, Mango & Banana Smoothie

Not every soup has to be hot. Smoothies are actually a great base for any soup, you just normally heat them up. Here our chefs reveresed it, we use a soup as a base for a smoothie! It makes an already healthy treat and packs it full of extra vitamins and other healthy ingredients.

Ingredients:
½ cup chilled Carrot ginger soup (store bought or home-made)
1 cup Orange juice
½ cup Pineapple-frozen diced
½ cup Mango-frozen diced
1 Banana-frozen
1 cup Ice (crushed)
2-3 Tbsp Greek yogurt–Optional

Directions:
1. Place all ingredients into a blender, blend on high speed or smoothie setting.
2. Add Greek yogurt if you would like more protein.

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