Monday, April 18, 2011

S'More Improv: An American-Style BBQ in Maastricht

First off, I have to recant on a claim I made in a previous post, that Europeans have not yet discovered the joy that is chocolate and peanut together in one confection. Turns out they have:

Though in my defense, while you can find chocolate-covered peanuts in Maastricht, Reeses treats are still unheard of. So there.

In that same post I believe I mentioned that when I was living in London, I couldn't find graham crackers anywhere. Nobody I asked about them even knew what they were, and when asked I found I really couldn't explain what they were. How do you explain the taste of graham crackers, anyway? What is "graham" flavor?

Anyway, since nobody on this side of the Atlantic has heard of graham crackers, it follows that nobody has heard of s'mores either, right? Wrong actually: at least one Dutch person has heard of them (because she lived in America for a while, naturally), and on Saturday Todd and I, having been invited to a good, old-fashioned, American-style barbecue, were treated to s'mores, Maastricht-style!

The barbecue was held at the home of a couple we met the night of the pub quiz at John Mullins (last Tuesday, remember? We'll be attending again tomorrow.), Brian and Roseanna. Brian is American and Roseanna is Dutch, and they recently bought a home just outside of the city proper. So Saturday afternoon, Todd and I, armed with two bottles of white wine, walked over to Eric and Jill's apartment (Eric is Todd's colleague and Jill is his wife, you met them at John Mullins, too), where we grabbed a taxi. Eric brought all the necessities for Old-Fashioneds (whiskey, bitters, oranges, sugar, as well as Coke for Jill), which he began whipping up as soon as we got there while we all chatted and played with Brian and Roseanna's adorable dogs.

Eventually another couple, the last guests, arrived, and Brian set about grilling. This man grills like a champ: there were sausages, chicken drumsticks (some of the best chicken I've ever had, and I'm not normally a chicken fan), tuna, salmon, veggie & pineapple skewers, potatoes, plus warm baguettes with various spreads. Apparently there were hamburgers and hot dogs waiting in the wings, but we were all stuffed by the time round one and the appetizers were demolished, so we decided to skip them and take the dogs for a walk along the river instead. Or at least, the girls walked the dogs; the boys decided to play football (American-style touch, to fit the theme of the party). Getting bored watching a bunch of skinny economists play football, the girls and dogs headed back to the house, where we broke into the dessert Jill had brought: two kinds of cookies (really more like biscuits or scones) curtesy of Martha Stewart, one with fresh strawberries, another lemon-flavored with lemon icing.

Then when the boys returned, Roseanna revealed the dessert she had planned: S'Mores! I was excited because I haven't had s'mores in forever, but I was also concerned. How would we make s'more without graham crackers and Hershey's chocolate? They have chocolate here of course, but it mostly comes in very thick bars that wouldn't really work for s'mores (the chocolate has to be thin enough to melt on contact with the marshmallow, forming the requisite ooey-gooey mess. Roseanna's ingenious solution was to improvise with readily available ingredients, like all good chefs do. Here's what we used for our s'mores (once we got a fire going in the grill, which took some doing):

First, marshmallows. These aren't the exact ones we used (I didn't bring my camera to the bbq because I didn't want to freak out people we just met by taking pictures of their food; I'd rather just freak out people at the supermarket who I probably won't see again), but they give you an idea of the strangeness of Dutch marshmallows. I have yet to see any that are just plain old, white marshmallows; they all seem to be colored and flavored, like these strawberry ones. Sounds disgusting, but they actually worked pretty well; I guess once you scorch sugar it all tastes pretty much the same. Now for the next ingredient:

Again, not the exact product used, but same basic idea, and a true stroke of genius on Brian and Roseanna's part: crispy cookies coated on one side in milk chocolate, which replaced the Hershey's bar in American-style s'mores. While not close in flavor to graham crackers, they are delicious and the right texture (though a bit thick, best to use one snapped in half rather than two whole cookies). And the chocolate coating was thin enough that it melted into the marshmallow and got all gooey, the way s'mores are supposed to be. I dub these Euro s'mores an unqualified success despite the lack of some key ingredients and the freaky fruit marshmallows, and a great way to wrap up a cross-Atlantic barbecue.

And as a added bonus, unrefrigerated milk in the supermarket:

Weird right? Todd hasn't opened the bottle he bought yet (he's still working through the buttermilk), so I can't report on the taste. The rest of this shelf, by the way, contained unrefrigerated whipping cream and yogurt drinks, which I was going to photograph for your viewing pleasure, but a woman working there was shooting me suspicious looks so I decided to hightail it before she tried to confiscate my camera or something.

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