As some of my friends know, I love to cook and especially like tackling really big and exotic meals I’ve never prepared before. It seems like anything I’ve ever made for a gathering of people was my first time making it. Cardinal rule #1: never try out a new recipe for a big party. Or so the cooking wisdom goes, which I have ignored. If I get some big idea, there is no stopping me from trying to pull it off, and expecting a glamorous outcome.
I am remembering several of these memorable meals. Cooking a big Indian curry feast for my friend Sandie’s 40th birthday, which included my first attempts at naan, chicken masala, and even mango lassies. I still haven’t figured out naan. There was also the big Spanish-themed meal for Jessica’s birthday, in which I made my own saffron-spiced mayonnaise (whipping egg yolks to perfection!), coriander-spiced creme sauce for seared salmon, etc. I even attempted–for this same meal–to make my own roasted New Mexico green chile sauce, roasting the chiles from scratch, boiling them down into a pork-flavored stew. Which, I discovered, is just no the same with Hungarian peppers. (We were in Czech Republic.)
Anyhow, there were successes and failures. But mostly I usually surprise myself with how good things turn out. I’m a perfectionist, sure, at any sort of art I undertake, but I realized that I loved watching people eat the food I ate. That it brought me pleasure to serve that way.
I’ve also realized that food is a large part of how I get to know places. There have been very few foods in the world I’ve tried that I haven’t liked. Croatian octopus, Egyptian noodles, Czech goulash… (Well, my friends made me try some kind of brains in China–it was gross. And my vote is still out for Irish blood pudding.)
It took me awhile to get into patés. The Belgians (and French) love their patés, along with their cheeses. The closest thing we have to it in America is our liverwurst, which my grandmother used to put on bread with Miracle Whip and cheddar cheese. I always associated that particular flavor (liver spread, basically) with poor-man’s food. But not here; you serve these as hors d’oeuvres.
You go to any market here, and there is a long line in the deli case of all these pressed liver meats–pork, duck, goose–olive-stuffed, garlic-stuffed, berry-stuffed, you name it. And they don’t look particularly appetizing to me. They’re a dull grey. They look fatty. They can be strong smelling. Foie gras is one type of paté… and I have learned to really like it, especially if it’s warm and served with some kind of contrasting sharp flavor, because it’s very pungent and strong. (It’s fattened duck liver.) But sometimes I like to buy some and we have it with wine before we eat. Tonight we tried a “paté d’ardenne”. I guess, a pate from Ardennes. It’s really tasty. Not to mention I feel a little bit elegant eating it.
It seems like it’s those little, special things that matter here. My palate is so international, that there is never quite enough variety in one place. The food here is still fairly traditional Belgian food, with French influences. It’s not quite spicy enough for me–not much European food is. But that’s what I get for getting addicted to Tex-Mex. Or really hot Thai food. My perception of food here is that they do a few things really well, and it takes a long time to get to the bottom of those few things. Paté is one of those.
stay tuned for more diaries of my food journeys…