Thursday, December 30, 2010

Adventures in Food

Part of the fun of being an expat is exploring different kinds of food... but it's not without its rough spots.  Here, especially, there seem to be so many foods that I've never seen or heard of, or which look the same as at home but aren't.  At all.

Like the time I bought what I thought was bacon.  It looked just like it, only thicker, but when I cooked it, it shriveled up and turned gray.  It was disgusting, tough, practically inedible.  Yuck.  The kids were so disappointed.  (For your reference, it was lard maigre.  I still don't know what you're supposed to do with it, but don't fry it like bacon!)

And then there's the yogurt.  The dairy aisles here are overwhelming!  At home I used to make my own yogurt because I didn't like all the sugary, gelatin-filled options available.  Here, no way.  The yogurt is amazing!

And then there's the stuff that looks like yogurt but isn't:  fromage frais, something I'd never heard of at home.  It's delicious -- very thick and creamy (and probably full of fat, but who cares?  It's worth it!).

It confused me at first.  Remember this?

And this?

I finally asked someone at a grocery store what that Stoffi was and it turns out it's another kind of fromage frais, made in Luxembourg and very high quality, according to the woman I asked.  Plus, she said, you can get money back for recycling the glass jar which you can't for the other stuff.

Speaking of which, I'm getting very brave about asking random shoppers (who can ever find a store employee when you need one?  Plus, in my experience, they're not too friendly.) about mysterious food items.  Without exception, I've gotten a friendly, detailed explanation of the item.  I love it!  It makes grocery shopping so much more fun if I can learn something useful!  I've found French people give the best explanations.  They really know what they're talking about and they seem to love sharing their knowledge.

So it's my new mission to ask about one mysterious grocery item every shopping trip.  Today it was this, galette des rois.  I've noticed they're all over the stores now.  I thought it must be some kind of cake for New Year's, but it's not.  It's for the 6th of January, Epiphany, the day the three wise men (kings?) brought gifts to the baby Jesus.

Oh, the things you learn living in such a Catholic country.  The woman I asked was really surprised I didn't know about it.  "Aren't there Catholics in the U.S.?," she asked.  Sure, but I don't think I've ever seen one of these cakes there.  Have you?

Here's what ours looks like:
We're not Catholic.  We'll be eating this on New Year's.  It'll be stale by Jan. 6!

There were two flavors, frangipane, which I had to ask about (almond powder, mixed with cream and sugar) and apple.  We went for the apple.

Anyway, there's a little object (the one she showed me was a baby) hidden in the cake and whoever gets it in their slice becomes the king or queen and wears the crown.  Sounds like long as you don't choke or break a tooth.

On second thought, I think I know why I've never seen one of these cakes in the U.S.

Since there are dozens of unfamiliar foods, I often end up googling my purchases.  Next on my google list:  

 Unfortunately for me, everything's on this one's written in German, which may as well be Greek to me.  So off to Google I go.  I'm sure hoping this is chicken stock because jarred or canned broth isn't available here.  Everyone uses bouillon cubes or these little gelatin things that you mix with water.  They're delicious but not very convenient when you just need a cup of broth.

Oh, and these things:

I'm not sure what they are (parsnips?) but I put them in a chicken pot pie last night and they were pretty good.

And then there's our New Year's Day meal.  Since Roger's from Texas, I usually make the traditional southern meal, ham, greens and black eyed peas, all foods supposed to bring good luck in the new year.

Fortunately, I was able to find all these things here in Luxembourg... or at least I think I did.

Do these look like greens of some kind to you?

Whatever they are, I'm planning on chopping them up and cooking them with some lardons, one of my favorite discoveries here.

And this.  I'm pretty sure it's ham, I know it's pork, let's just hope I'll be able to figure out how to cook it. I really hope it's not a huge hunk of lard maigre.  I need to google this one right away.

The black-eyed peas were no problem.  Those I found.  Since I didn't see any friendly shoppers to ask about these other things, I'm just going to experiment and hope for the best.

I'll let you know how it turns out!


  1. I forgot to add that I made a "pumpkin" pie last week out of something that was very clearly not a pumpkin: courge muscade, some kind of squash for which I can't seem to find an English translation. It doesn't matter, though. It was really good and you'd never know it wasn't a pumpkin. Add enough sugar and spice, and you could probably make pie out of just about anything!

  2. It's not just the broken tooth you risk with the galette--you heat it in the oven, and that little ceramic piece becomes very hot!

    Parsnips are also very English. If they are very big, take out the core (I slice them lengthwise in quarters, and then it is easy). Just roast them with olive oil, salt and pepper, and they are really sweet and delish. Some add a little maple syrup, but I think that is gilding the lily.

    I know fond is a stock, but I think it has been reduced so it is on its way to becoming a lovely French sauce. But I could be wrong. It will be delicious.

  3. The stock was delicious! And I'm not positive but I don't think it was concentrated. I tasted it straight out of the jar and it seemed just like regular chicken broth. I'm ridiculously excited to have found this because I hate having to mix up 500 ml of stock when I only need half a cup.

    So those were parsnips! I'll have to try them roasted. Sounds delicious!

  4. I totally get what you mean about the supermarkets - ok, Ireland is small but I thought we had a good selection available. And then I go to Luxembourg and I wander around in amazement. Himself keeps asking if I'm okay and I just go ahuh, and go whats this? and this? and what are you supposed to do with this?

    And as to the whole feast days etc: I'm Irish, Ireland is a catholic country but I'm stunned at the way they celebrate and again himself asks me "do ye not do this at home" and apparently my expression tells him that at that moment, I may as well be from mars for all the relevance it has for me.

    Snow: if I ever see snow again it will be too soon. I got such a shock when I arrived at hahn on the 19th of deecember. I got stuck trying to walk through snow with my case and almost abandonned it but the bus driver came to my rescue. I was very relucant to go out after that.

    Hope your cooking went okay though.

  5. Glad to know I'm not the only one wandering the supermarket aisles in confusion. The cooking went great, thanks for asking: the ham turned out to be just as I thought, and it was delicious, and the greens I discovered are broccoli rabe, which I'd never used before. They were definitely a little more bitter than the greens I buy at home (collard or mustard) but they were delicious. Kate, Roger and I loved them and Will gagged them down because we told him it would bring him good financial luck in the coming year. :)