Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Mussels from Brussels!

Sorry, I dont mean that Muscles from Brussels! (lol, I couldn't resist) 

No, this post is about how to cook Belgian Mussels. 
I realize that this post has nothing to do with baking, but it was a request from my little sister. :) 

Here in Belgium they're almost always paired with Belgian fries. They're called 'Mosselen met Frieten" or more commonly 'Moules Frites.'

Dipping Sauce:

  • 1 cup mayonnaise 
  • 1/4 cup mustard (or to taste, add more if you prefer a stronger dip)
  • a splash of white wine (about 2-3 tablespoons)
  • 1 small bunch fresh parsley finely chopped
  • 1-2 cloves of garlic finely chopped
  • Salt & pepper to taste


Mix all ingredients together. You'll use this sauce for your fries and to dip your mussels in. Done! Set aside and prepare the mussels!

For the Mussels:

  • 2kg Mussels (1kg pp) 
  • Small bunch of celery (don't bother removing leaves if yours come with the tips, it's actually nicer with the leaves)
  • 1 large yellow onion sliced 
  • 3 cloves of garlic smashed (if you're a garlic lover like me you'll use more, if you dont like garlic, or plan on going out after dinner, or any romance is involved, use less. (Wink wink!)
  • 2 bay leaves
  • Optional: 1-2 red chili pepers or a table spoon of sambal/siracha sauce
  • Optional: 1 cup of dry white wine
Now the tricky part! (Just kidding, the whole thing is SOOO easy! It's a great meal to serve when you invite friends over because it's so quick and so easy! Although a little pricey depending on how available fresh mussels are in your area)


First buy your mussels fresh. You want to make sure they're alive, you'll have to toss out any that are dead. 

We love our mussels so we usually have 1kg of mussels per person. There are two of us, thus we bought the 2kg (4.5 lb) box. Some of you might think, wow that's a lot of mussels, but that's because here when you eat mussels, they are your main course, that's literally all it is, and then you get your side, which is fries. The usually come in different sizes; the more number of mussels per kilo, the smaller they are. 

Here in Belgium the sizing goes:
Extra: >70 per kilo
Super: 60-70 per kilo
Imperial: 49-59 per kilo
Jumbo: 43-48 per kilo
Goldmark: 35-42 per kilo

We bought fairly small ones because they we on sale and silly me, I didn't pay attention (oops). But I would suggest you go for at least Imperial or Jumbo size because the smaller they get, the chewier they tend to be as well. It wasn't a problem for me, but C. prefers it less 'chewy' mussels, and you should trust him, he's knows what he's talking about, he's a real Belgian!

Next, you'll want to rinse them. Rinsing them ensures that you get all the tiny pieces of sand and possible broken bits of shells (see below right photo). You definitely don't want to eat sand! It's also a good time to try to check if any of your mussels are dead. 

Here's a few tips to tell if your mussels are dead:

  1. If the mussels are tightly shut before you cook them it means they're alive.
  2. If they are a little bit open it means they may or may not be alive. Then you have to try to shut them a little and if you see movement, it'll start to close a very slowly on it's own, then you know they little guy is alive! 
  3. If the little guy doesn't do anything and it just stays slightly open it's dead.
  4. The little guys relax once they get thrown into the  rinsing water and they tend to open a bit once submerged, and when you transfer them, you'll notice them getting 'scared' and closing again. 
Throw out any mussels that are dead; you don't want to get sick!

Then prepare your veg! 


We bought the 'ready prepared' vegetable mix because it was easier. And i had some left over extra celery that I chopped up and threw in as well.

Here's a photo just to show you about what size our mussels were. (My hand's are average size for a 5' 2" female, lol)

After preparing your vegetables, melt some butter in your big pot. 

You might want to check to make sure your pot is big enough to hold all your mussels, and don't fill them all the way to the top or you'll have a difficult time scooping them out and getting some of that yummy veg with it. If you're pot is not big enough, you'll have to first cook half of your mussels and then the rest a second time. But don't fret, it's really so simple you can have your second batch on while you eat your first. The pot I use is just big enough to hold 2kg. You can see it's really quite large.

So, as I was saying, after you melt your butter, you'll want to sauté your vegetables and soften them until you see the onions become a little translucent. Then throw in your smashed up garlic.

And then if you like it spice, you would add in your chili or chili sauce here. (We like it spicy once in a while) 

If you want to add white wine, you do so now as well. 

Then add your mussels, and give it a couple stirs to mix with the vegetables. Pour in cold water, but don't cover your mussels to the top. You want to fill it up a little less than the top of the mussels. Cover and cook about 20-30 min. or when you see that they've all opened.

And that's it! Serve with your favorite fries (preferably Belgian fries)!! Bon Appétit!

Here's a photo of me finding a bad mussel in the batch. If you aren't sure if they were alive or not before cooking to check after you've cooked them, you want to make sure they're open like the mussels in the picture above on the right. If they're still closed after cooking like the picture of me holding one below, toss it. 

Another good *TIP*: You can drink the broth after you eat your mussels or strain it (to get out all the vegetables) and save it for other recipes! I like to use it to make a nice seafood chowder! Enjoy!

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Making Dough by Hand

Why would you want to make dough by hand and not opt out for say a bread machine or even a stand mixer? Haven't you heard that old saying, "the fruits of your labor?" Well incase you haven't, it means the results of one's work. Haha, yah, you get it don't you?

Dough made by hand will yield a more "fruitful" i.e. flavorful bread, and that's a fact! When you knead by hand, the fermentation process is a lot slower than the fermentation that occurs when kneading by machine, thus producing more flavor in your handmade bread. It's a beautiful experience to make something completely with your own hands, ask any craft artist! Also, it's easier to know when your dough needs more water because it's too dry or when it needs more flour because it's too wet. The best way is to feel it with your hands: you can feel the correct level of suppleness that a dough needs. Though learning that point does take a little practice. (And a few good tips)

So without further adieu:

First, pour your flour onto your workspace and make a well in the middle.

In the well add your egg, yeast and water. Mix until everything looks dissolved.
(If your recipe doesn't call for an egg, then you'll just skip that part. And if your recipe calls for milk instead of water, you just substitute the milk for the water.)

*If you're wondering what that yellow stuff is sitting around the wall of flour, I broke up my butter and bread improver into pieces and put it around the wall of flour. You don't have to do it that way, I just do it out of habit and I think it's just nicer visually. ☺

Oh, and in this particular case I happened to have mixed and dissolved my yeast and water first before adding the egg, but it doesn't really matter when you add your egg in just as long as you add it in before mixing the flour with your liquids.

Next slowly begin to incorporate your flour with your liquids in the center by taking flour along the inner rim of the wall. You'll notice what is in the center get's thicker. Continue gradually pulling flour from the inside of the wall to the middle and mixing until thick enough not to run. Notice how the butter and bread improver are not being mixed in yet.
(Tip: Be careful not to break down the 'wall' of flour or else you liquids will run off your table or workspace. It's a big mess that happens)

When you've begun to form a rough dough (in other words when there is no more liquids), it's safe to add in your butter/margarine, sugar and the optional bread improver. Now you just mix everything around.

Continue mixing the dough. Lastly, throw in the salt and mix it in. 

Once the salt seems mixed in well, begin to knead the dough intensively for 10 minutes. Then roll into a ball and let the dough sit and rise under a kitchen towel for 10-15minutes. Continue with your normal bread recipe instructions... 

And that's about it! It's really much more simpler than it sounds isn't it? Let me know if you have any questions. I'd love to hear comments from your own experiences making dough by hand! :) 

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Icing Glaze

An icing glaze is one of the simplest things to make in baking and so versatile. You can use it to drizzle over your pastries, danish, cookies... you name it! 

  • 156g (1 1/4 cup) powder/confectioners/icing sugar
  • 3 Tbs milk (or water)
  • *optional 1/2 tsp vanilla extract (the clear kind is best to attain a white glaze)


Stir all ingredients together until you get a nice thick glaze consistency. You may add more sugar if you prefer a thicker glaze or more milk for a thinner more liquid glaze. 
Then simply pour over your favorite dessert or dunk your cookies/cupcakes in it for a beautiful effect! 
Note that the glaze will harden slightly after cooling and resting. 

For a fun twist: try substituting the milk with lemon juice and throw in some lemon or citrus zest and you have yourself a wonderful, fresh and zingy lemon glaze!! I personally love using it for muffins, and cakes. 
Or experiment with other juices for new flavors.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013


Brioches! Pronounced: "bree-osh." They are originally French (surprise, surprise), but Belgium, being a neighbor of France, has a huge history of French cuisine too (even about half the country is still french speaking). 
In French they are called "Pain aux raisins" and in  Dutch they are called "Briochen." It is also called "Zwitserse koeken" here in Belgium, but mine are made in rounds instead of rectangles, thus "Briochen."   The dough is made in the same way as a bread dough, but because of the richness, lightness and slightly puffy texture they are pastries.
These are so delicious and even more tantalizing when fresh out of the oven. They are perfectly soft and chewy inside, filled with a vanilla custard and raisins, then topped with a thin layer of icing glaze. Yum! I suppose they could be compared to the American cinnamon roll. (Mmmm... cinnamon rolls!)  
Recipe makes about 10 round Brioches (as seen in photo) from 3 cm thick.


For the dough: 
  • 250g (2 cups) AP flour
  • 100mL (about 1 cup) warm water
  • 12.5g (3 tsp) sugar
  • 15g fresh yeast (1 package active dry yeast = about 2 1/4 teaspoons = 1/4 ounce = 7 grams)
  • 1 egg
  • 5g (about 1 tsp) salt
  • *optional 30g (2 Tbs) bread improver 
  • 30g (2 Tbs) butter/margarine

For the filling:
  • 125g raisins (pre-soaked in warm water & then drained and patted dry)
  • pudding/custard 

For the finish:

The dough:

*Click here to see how to make Your Own Dough by Hand*

I mix & knead my dough by hand, but feel free to use your kitchen aid/stand mixer with the dough hook if desired. 

If you would like to try it by hand you will need to first pour your flour onto your work space and make a well in the middle. 

In the well add your egg, yeast and water and mix until everything looks dissolved. 

Next slowly begin to incorporate your flour with the liquid in the center. 

(Tip: don't break down the 'wall' of your well, just make the walls 'thinner' or else your liquid will 'escape' and run off your table. It's a big mess if that happens) 

When you begin to form a 'rough' dough, it's safe to add in your butter or margarine, sugar, and the optional bread improver and continue mixing into the dough. 

Lastly add the salt. 

Begin to knead 'intensively' for at least 10 minutes (YES, 10!). 

Don't worry if your dough seems sticky or difficult to work with at this point, that's normal. The more/longer you kneed, the smoother the dough should become. Try to fight the urger to add more flour, it really won't be necessary. If anything you may need to add a little more water. 

*If you're using a stand mixer, first mix your yeast, water, and egg until everything is incorporated-- use the flat paddle attachment  Then add your flour in, split into about 3 portions, one portion at a time (make sure you start with very low speed or else your flour will get everywhere).  Then add  in your butter/margarine, sugar, *improver and mix for a minute, then add the salt. Switch to your dough hook. Continue kneading for about 5 minutes on low speed (2). And procede as directed below.

Ball up your dough and let it rest at least 15 minutes in a warm/damp area, or just under a tea towel. (It's very important to let it rest)

After letting it rest, roll out your dough in a rectangular form to about 3mm thick and 40-22cm long and about 10-15cm wide. It's okay if you can't get yours as big, it's most important to try to get it evenly thick. And don't be afraid to gently tug and pull out the edges or corners a little to where they need to be. 

*Tip: on the side you decide to keep as the un-smeared 1/3, smoosh the edge of the dough into the table or counter to help keep it in place while filling and later while rolling. 

The filling:

Leave 1/3 of the dough without filling, and brush with an egg wash. 
Evenly smear the pudding/custard over the remaining 2/3 of the dough, stopping at about 1cm from the edges. (I do my custard about 1mm thick, but you can use as much or as little as you prefer)

Spread raisins evenly over the pudding/custard. Again, it's your choice as to how much to use. 

Roll up the dough from the side that has the pudding, up to the 1/3 pudding-free side. Roll tight so the edge sticks. You wouldn't want your lovely spirals coming apart in the oven!
It should look like a big dough sausage!

Cut into pieces + 5cm thick. (if you prefer them thinner that's fine, I personally like them a little thick)
Place each roll flat on a baking sheet lined with baking paper, or a well greased and lightly dusted with flour baking sheet. (Spiral side facing up) 

Lastly brush some more egg wash over the tops and a little over the sides to give it a nice golden-brown color.

Bake at 200°C (390-400°F) for +15 minutes.

When cooled, drizzle icing glace over the tops. Enjoy!