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Having had too much fun for two days in Amsterdam, we headed for the central station to catch a train to Brussels. Signs were not translated into English but we successfully got ourselves onto the correct train, found a clutch of seats, and settled our luggage overhead (thank you, Susan my strong weightlifting sister). We knit, edited our photos on the iPad, ate our cheese, crackers and goodies and before we knew it the train arrived at our destination. Brussels was bustling as we climbed out of the train and we wheeled our carry-on bags downhill to the Hotel Amigos. Our room for three was superb and the only downside of this hotel was the unexpected internet cost: $22 per day! No worries, I found a smaller place (Hotel Mozart) close by where I used the wireless internet for free.
I’m a bit embarrassed to admit that our time in Brussels (and our day in Bruges and bit of time in Ghent) was consumed with chocolate hunting. We visited no fewer than 100 chocolate shops, from familiar names like Neuhaus and Godiva to smaller boutiques nestled throughout town. Every chocolaterie gave out “sample” pieces of chocolate and of course we each bought sacks and boxes and bags of chocolate as well. I’m not exaggerating when I say that we ate 15 pieces of chocolate per day on each of the four days! We did manage to squeeze in some museum tours, a lot of walking, and indulged in Belgium’s famous Frites (aka french fries) – we split cones of these fresh, hot, crispy potatoes every day.
And of course we had some fantastic meals. On our first night, the concierge suggested a bistro close to the hotel, and the three of us shared some soups, salads, a couple of fish entrees. We ordered salmon with shallot sauce which was out of this world. We veritably licked the sauce with our fingers.
I could see the chef back in the glass fronted kitchen and couldn’t tell if he was horrified by our “American” behavior or secretly thrilled about our obvious adoration of his food. Regardless, I marched myself back there, (I never ask if this is OK because most of the time I’m told I cannot go into a commercial kitchen) and told him how much we enjoyed the food , then of course asked for the recipe for the shallot sauce. The chef was French (Jacques) and had to show me containers of what he used because he didn’t know how to translate “beef stock” or “shredded” or “herbes de provence.” Using my middle school French, I specifically asked if he used butter or oil to sauté the vegetables before adding liquid, and the answer was an emphatic “NO!” Everything was stewed together slowly. No worry, I smelled the spices and stock, saw how the carrots were shredded and got the picture, and later created the sauce which is almost a dead ringer for what we ate there. I would use this same sauce for roast chicken or beef if I wanted an assertive, full bodied sauce.
As an aside, on my initial attempt with this sauce I pureed the ingredients when they were done and the sauce then formed a beige-colored foam on top-YUCK! I tried straining it (not good) and ultimately decided to leave it the sauce alone once it reduced to have it a bit chunky when spooned on top of the fish.
Our final leg in Brussels went superbly. We stuffed ourselves with chocolate, but I’m not over it at all. AND it was so amazing to travel with my sisters – they go nonstop, knit nonstop, explore nonstop. They never dwell on what we should or should not eat. No one remarked about their body looking bad. What a pleasure! I can hardly wait for Kay to have her 60th…and for more sisters’ adventures!
- 3 Tbsp shallots, peeled and sliced crosswise into ¼ inch slices
- ½ cup shredded carrot
- 1 cup good quality beef stock (I actually used leftover juice from a roast!)
- 1 ½ cup full bodied red wine (I had a pinot noir)
- 1 Tbsp dried Herbs de Provence
- Fresh ground pepper
- Salt to taste
Combine all the above in a 2-3 quart sauce pan bring to a simmer and turn to very low. Leave on the stovetop uncovered for 2-3 hours, checking occasionally. The sauce should reduce eventually to 1 ¼ cups. Be sure it is salted to taste.
This truly tasted like a beef stew. It was rich, had deep notes of wine and enhanced the simple baked fish beautifully. It’s not often that I am impressed or surprised by fish preparation. This sauce was more like a rich gravy that you would find on a pot roast. Spoon about 2 Tbsp on top of roasted or grilled salmon* and serve.
*I use the Cooks Illustrated recipe for roasting salmon. Simply preheat the oven to 500 degrees, adjust your oven rack to lowest position, and place a rimmed baking sheet on the rack. While the sheet is heating, prepare skin-on salmon fillets by making 4 or 5 shallow slashes about an inch apart along the skin. Pat the salmon dry with paper towels. Rub fillets evenly with oil and season liberally with salt and pepper. Reduce oven temperature to 275 degrees and remove baking sheet. Carefully place salmon skin-side down on the baking sheet. Roast until centers of thickest part of fillets are still translucent when cut into (about 9 – 12 minutes).