De Kas Restaurant: A Hot Table in Amsterdam

May 24, 2011 § 3 Comments

More than a week after lunching at De Kas Restaurant in Amsterdam, I’m still dreaming of the meal. It’s one of the hottest tables in Amsterdam, and no wonder, given its fresh, bright flavors, dedication to locally grown foods and airy environment. And I mean airy environment: The restaurant is under glass in a state-of-the-art greenhouse.

Restaurant De Kas

De Kas is certainly in unique surroundings. The history of the property goes something like this: Back in the 1920s, the parcel of land was home to Amsterdam’s municipal nurseries. All of the plants and flowers used for Amsterdam’s municipal plantings were grown on these grounds and in greenhouses. Over the decades, the nurseries were shut down and the buildings and greenhouses became dilapidated—such a shame! About 10 years ago the greenhouses were scheduled for demolition, but a Michelin-rated chef, Gert Jan Hageman, came up with the idea of converting one of the greenhouses into a restaurant and growing area. The dining room was designed by renowned designer Piet Boon and is lovely. The kitchen is open, and there’s even a chef’s table, where guests can enjoy their meal just steps from the hot grill (honestly, not something on the top of my list to do). And the bar area, while open and visible, is tucked away and is just shady enough for any self-respecting bar fly.

The Piet Boon-designed dining room, with the just-shady-enough bar in the background.

As I mentioned, they believe in fresh, local food. And it can’t get more local than the greenhouse adjacent to the kitchen and the gardens that surround the restaurant. The team also has a farm that produced a great deal of their produce. What they don’t grow and raise themselves is sourced from nearby farms and the North Sea.

The veggie gardens outside De Kas.

The growing area inside De Kas's greenhouse, adjacent to the kitchen.

Enough about that, let’s move on to the food. The three-course menu is fixed; i.e. you are served what they are preparing that day (they do ask if the chef should take into account for any dietary restrictions). And they do offer a wine pairing, which I eagerly agreed to. Can’t recall the first wine, but the second was an unoaked chardonnay from Spain. Tasty!

The meal was fabulous, that’s a given. And beautiful – not something every restaurant gets right. Instead of attempting to describe the meal, I’ll just leave you to enjoy the photos.

First of two first-course salads: Roasted beets and steamed rhubarb over baby beet (?) greens with a pea puree and nasturium flowers.

Second of two first-course salads: White asparagus, turnip and a boiled quail's egg over young lettuce greens with a sauce of some kind (sorry, whatever it was, it was delicious) and sweetpea blossoms.

Second course: Lobster with a bechamel sauce topped with a light frisee salad.

Third course: Pollack over roasted eggplant and cauliflower with a North Sea-shrimp and caper brown butter sauce. (Oh man, was this good.)

First dessert: Pistachio meringue with salt-touched white chocolate ice cream and pansy petals.

Second dessert: Platter of three cheeses with fruit and nut brown bread and a dot of apple-pear stroop (syrup) to the right and a candied cherry (?). Translation of cheese on right is "cheese that sticks to your knife."

While  the municipal nurseries are long gone, the remainder of the property has retained its “municipalness”—it’s now a public park enjoyed by people and wildlife alike.

Children's play area below, and a stork nest with baby on top of the smoke stack.

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The Ever-Versatile Roasted Vegetables

May 11, 2011 § 7 Comments

I don’t share Dainty with my real-world colleagues as a rule. Not sure most would approve of Dainty’s exploits. But my super-awesome colleague Chris T.—the designer of the Dainty Dot logo up at the top of the page—is definitely Dainty worthy.

So when Chris T. told me yesterday that I use a lot of—too many?—ingredients, I considered it. Do I really? Salt, pepper, oils and vinegars not withstanding, I’m mentally going over my recipes and counting up. The Steel-Cut Oatmeal I’m currently eating definitely doesn’t have that many ingredients—oats, raisins, slivered almonds, maple syrup. Okay, yeah, that’s a lot for a simple breakfast. Plus, it takes 20-plus minutes to prepare. But at least you can shower while it’s cooking—that’s something.

Chris T., to show that Dainty can prepare a flavorful dish with simple ingredients and instructions, I humbly present this for your consideration: Roasted Vegetables.

It doesn’t matter what it is—beets, leeks, broccoli, and old tennis shoe—you add EVOO, salt and pepper, put it on a baking sheet or cast-iron pan in a 42F oven and you’re going to end up with something tasty. You can skip the oil maybe, but why? If anything, it helps prevent the veggie from sticking to pan. The salt and pepper add flavor, yes, but the salt also helps to draw out the vegetable’s own juices. The high heat caramelizes those juices, so you end up with a tasty savory sweetness. Want to get your children in the habit of eating veggies? Don’t serve them bland boiled bleck—lightly roast some carrots or cauliflower and let them have at it. I don’t have children and I’ve never tested this theory so it might be bunk, but you never know. Give it a try.

Roasting vegetables is my go-to method when it seems there is absolutely nothing left to cook with in the house. There’s always something—a sweet potato, an onion or leek, a pepper, something—laying around that, with a little high heat, salt, pepper and EVOO, can be incorporated into a meal. If anything, they can be tossed with penne for a simple pasta supper.

Do you need instructions? Really? Okay, here they are.

Roasted Vegetables

-Firm vegetables work best. Sweet potatoes, potatoes, cauliflower, broccoli, winter squashes, onions, leeks work really well. Summer squashes such as yellow and zucchini, are good, too. Tomatoes … I typically use cherry tomatoes and put them in a medium-sized cast iron. They’ll burst, beware. But the flavor is phenomenal. Be forewarned—the acid will mess up your cast iron’s patina a bit. Clean immediately.

-Set your oven to 425F. I never rely on the temp gauge—your 425 may be hotter than my 425. So keep an eye on the veggies the first time you roast them to get a good idea of how your oven works.

-Veggie prep: The secret is to cut the veggies into uniform pieces for even cooking. All the sweet potatoes should be about the same size. Easily enough to do. When chopping the onion, leave them in relatively big chunks. No dicing. Broccoli and cauliflower can be kinda tricky to get into even sizes. But if some get more crispy than others, hey, that’s ok—it’s all tasty.

-Put your veg in a medium to big bowl, depending on how much you have. Add olive oil—I tip the bottle down and go once around the bowl for a small amount of veg, two to three times for more veg. Add one to two large pinches of kosher salt and several turns of a pepper mill. Toss to coat. Your hands are fine, or a wooden spoon or tongs work too. I prefer hands. Spread out evenly into a single layer in a cast-iron pan or rimmed baking sheet. Single layer! You want each veg to get in contact with the hot metal. Put in the oven and close ‘er up.

Note: What’s a large pinch? It’s a pinch that uses your thumb and your index, middle and ring fingers. It’s one finger away from a small grab. Go ahead, try it.

-Roasting time: Well, now, that all depends on what you’re roasting. Broccoli—2o minutes. Cauliflower—20-25 minutes. Beets, same thing. Sweet potatoes—up to 40 minutes. Butternut squash—35-40 minutes. Onions, leeks—15 maybe? Same with summer squashes. Asparagus, maybe 10 minutes. The softer the vegetable, the less time it takes. For softies, I check them at 12 minutes and then gauge from there. The harder the veg—like sweet potatoes—the longer it takes. For broccoli and cauliflower, I check them at 10 and give them a shaky toss. If you’re roasting a two or more different veggies—like broccoli and onions—on the same pan, I separate them so it’s easier to remove one if it’s done ahead of the other.

-When’s it done? When they turn a nice golden color, especially around the edges. Broccoli’s florets will begin to get a bit dark. That’s ok. Are the stem parts firm yet edible? You don’t want them to be floppy, but you want to be able to chew them without an awful crunch as if they are raw. Squashes—you should be able to stick a toothpick or fork into it easily but it shouldn’t be mush. Get the idea?

This weekend we made a simple pasta meal with roasted broccoli and onions and sun-dried tomatoes. We took a small handful

Roasted broccoli and onions with sun-dried tomatoes over pasta

of the tomatoes and put them in a bowl of maybe 1.5 cups of boiling water. Let them sit there while the broccoli and onions roasted and the pasta water boiled. Just before the roasting was done, we took out the tomatoes and gave them a rough chop, then threw them in with the drained pasta, a 1/2 cup of reserved pasta water and the roasted veggies. We served with a bit of Parmesan cheese. Delicious. Want some meat with that, you meat-eaters? We’ve had similar dishes where we’ve added a link or two of Al Fresco chicken apple sausage cut into bite-sized pieces.

Pasta, quinoa, bulgar, rice … whatever you have, as long as you have a veggie or two around and know how to roast it, you’ve got yourself a meal. And one with not that many ingredients.

Eggplant Asparagus Napoleons

April 21, 2011 § 4 Comments

Why these are called Napoleons, I’m not sure. Maybe because they are short squat layered stacks. I’m almost positive it wasn’t because the guy had a tasty complexity of flavors. In my book, these take the victory.

Here’s the idea: Layers of eggplant, ricotta and asparagus. Simple. Delightful. And they do have a mysteriously complex flavor, thanks to grilling.

Giada DeLaurentis, aka food porn queen, made these in a recent show. The recipe is easy enough to recreate. Just a warning, these require some grilling. We have one of those indoor grills that you plug in AND a 16-in. All-Clad grill pan. We used both at the same time for these.

Eggplant Asparagus Napoleons

Eggplant asparagus napoleon

(gives you 4 short stacks)

  • 1 medium eggplant, sliced into 1/2-in. slices, at least 12
  • asparagus – about 12 stalks
  • 3-4 tbs freshly chopped thyme
  • evoo
  • salt/pepper to taste
  • ricotta cheese, about 2 cups
  • 1/2 lemon

-Set oven to 200F-250F

-Put about two cups of ricotta in a medium bowl. Add about half of the chopped thyme and squeeze in the juice of half a lemon. Stir to incorporate. Set aside.

-Put eggplant slices in a big bowl. Dowse with olive oil, sprinkle with two big pinches of kosher salt, a couple of twists of pepper, and the remaining chopped thyme. Get your hands in there (or use tongs) and make sure it is all evenly coated. The eggplant will suck up the oil – that’s okay, don’t overdo it.

-Set indoor grill or grill pan or maybe even your outdoor grill to medium and let it heat up. Place 12 eggplant slices on the grill – reserve the bowl they were in. If it looks like some of the  slices missed a bit of oil, take some olive oil and a brush and brush them up a bit. Let them grill up on that side for a few minutes.

-Meanwhile, chop the woody parts off your asparagus. Place in that bowl, add a touch of olive oil, salt and pepper. You can grill these up in a separately as I did, or you can wait until your eggplant is done.

-Speaking of eggplant, check to see how the undersides are coming along. When they get golden grill marks on the bottom, flip ’em over. Maybe some of the ones you just turned over need another wash of oil. Your decision. Give them another couple of minutes to grill up – just take them off before they get limp and burned.

-Grill up the asparagus on medium. It won’t take as long as the eggplant. Move them to get all sides as best you can. 4-5 minutes max. You don’t want them wimpy; pick one up and hold it sideways – it shouldn’t sag. Place them on cutting board when done and chop them in half.

-Here’s the assembly part: On a baking sheet place four slices of eggplant. Spoon on a dollop of the ricotta – not too much, just enough to cover the slice but don’t spread it thinly either like butter on toast. Now add three asparagus sections on top of the ricotta. Add another layer of eggplant. More ricotta. Another three sections of asparagus. Now top it off with eggplant. You should have yourself a nice short stack.

-Pop the baking sheet in the warm oven for about 10 minutes or so – enough time to bring everything up to temperature.

Use one napoleon as a side dish or use two as a meal and serve with some sort of protein. I made a side of quinoa with roasted cherry tomatoes and shallots.

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