Here's the thing about cooking a great meal. The amount of preparation time frequently doesn't match the time spent eating.
Patricia Swart of Galloway Township knows this very well.
She loves preparing special Dutch meals for her family's get-togethers.
"Dutch cooking is unique, It can take hours to prepare a dish," Swart, 75, said. "When we get the whole family together, it can be gone in five minutes."
Swart is of Irish, Norwegian and German heritage. But she became enamored of Dutch cooking after becoming enamored of a Dutch man - her husband Dirk.
The two have been married 32 years, and shortly after their wedding Swart purchased the Dutch cookbook she still turns to for great meal ideas.
She got the book cheap - the cover is upside down due to a printing error - but there was nothing wrong with the recipes inside.
"I'd never used a cookbook before, but I really liked this one," she said. "Dutch cooking is so substantial, so terrific."
Swart grew up on simple, substantive meals. She was the daughter of Florence and Harold Johnson. He was the chief of police in Park Ridge, Ill. This was in the time of prohibition, when nearby Chicago was a haven for gangsters like Al Capone and Park Ridge's police chief was the youngest in the nation.
Florence Johnson kept house, raised the three children and prepared the meals.
"My mother was a meat and potatoes person," Swart said. "That's what my father preferred, so that's how my mom did it."
Swart learned how to cook from her mother, but she was also inspired by her aunt, Julia Johnson, who took a more adventurous approach to making meals.
"My aunt was more creative. She knew how to improvise, so that's how I learned how to do it," Swart said.
That creative approach came in handy when Swart married her first husband and began raising a family.
"I loved cooking," she recalled. "I would take whatever was affordable, and make a good substantial meal out of it. My kids loved it. They were always there at the breakfast table and the lunch table and the dinner table."
Back then, meals were a "a lot of pastas, potatoes, vegetables and roasts," Swart recalled.
"I would take the basic products and make something special out of it. I'd do stuffed roasts, eggs in meatloaf. I loved any kind of a gourmet thing I could make out of a meal," she said.
With a young family, Swart worked "off and on" as a secretary.
"You didn't have many choices in the 1950s, when I got out of school. You could be a teacher, a nurse, or a secretary," she said.
But the same drive that made Harold Johnson a police chief at a young age was also present in his daughter, who wasn't content to remain working behind a desk.
She eventually became an interior designer and an architect, designing interiors for office buildings.
"I inched my way up across the years," she said. "With experience, knowledge and know-how. I became what I became."
"I loved working with interiors and putting it all together," Swart said.
Her husband died, and with her youngest children in tow, Swart travelled all over the country, designing office space.
It was while working on showrooms in Chicago that Swart met her second husband.
"I have to be honest, the accent threw me," Swart said of that initial meeting. "I'll never forget the first time he called my home. My son said 'Mom, there's this dude on the phone with a funny accent, you sure you want to talk to him?'"
She took the call, and when Dirk Swart took a job with J.G. Durand International in Millville, Swart and her family moved to southern New Jersey in 1976.
Swart enjoyed living in Vineland and Bridgeton, with it's easy access to New York and Philadelphia but also proximity to the source of good, farm-fresh food.
Two years ago, Swart and her husband moved to Galloway.
Over the years, Swart also accompanied her husband on trips back to Holland.
She became fascinated with Dutch culture and cooking. While she had her cookbook, the trips were an opportunity to see if the real Dutch dishes tasted anything like her interpretations of them.
She came to appreciate strong Dutch coffee and warm meals that helped ward off the chill rolling in from the North Sea.
She came to love thick pea soup, which she makes quiet often, particularly when the winter winds blow in southern New Jersey. Another family favorite are Dutch pancakes, giant affairs which fill the skillet - and the belly.
When she's not cooking Swart, keeps busy writing a syndicated newspaper column on interior design and architecture for senior citizens and serving as a field editor for Healthy Cooking magazine and cookbooks. She also looks forward to spending time with her five children, nine grandchildren, and two great grandchildren. Most don't share their mother's fascination with Dutch cooking. But they do share her appreciation for it.
"They really like it when they come over and I prepare something special, and my husband appreciates it, oh my goodness, yes."
Contact Steven V. Cronin:
Hollandse Erwtensoep (Dutch pea soup)
The Dutch prefer this soup as a main course served with pumpernickel bread. It is very filling. The Dutch men boast of it - the thicker the soup, the thicker the boast!
•1 1/2 cups green split peas
•3 quarts water
•1 1/2 teaspoons salt
•3 leeks, thinly sliced or 2 medium sized yellow onions sliced
•1 stalk celery, chopped
•3 medium sized potatoes, peeled and cubed, plus leafy tops from 1 bunch
•1/2 pound piece of cooked ham or 1 large smoked sausage sliced
Soak peas in water to cover overnight. Drain the peas and place them in a large pan with the water and salt or use a slow-cooker for all. Bring to a boil, lower the heat and simmer slowly for 3 hours. Add leeks, celery, potatoes and tops, sausage or ham and simmer another 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. I prefer the slow-cooker to avoid sticking or scorching.
This makes 6 to 8 servings and can be served as a main course.
Kaasbolletjes (Dutch cheese ball appetizers)
This is a typical Dutch cocktail platter with cheese with real Dutch cheese. A favorite of all at holiday time or any time at all served with Dutch beer or Dutch gin.
•1 3/4 cups regular flour
•1 1/2 cups grated Gouda or Edam cheese
•1 teaspoon salt
•Freshly ground black pepper
•10 tablespoons butter
•3 egg yolks
Place the flour, cheese, salt and pepper in a bowl. Cut the butter into the flour mixture with a pastry blender or 2 knives until the mix resembles coarse meal. Add the egg yolks and mix in with a fork. The mixture will be very crumbly. Gather the mixture together with your hands. Transfer to a very lightly floured board and knead until the dough is elastic. (It will spring back slightly on itself.) Shape the dough into a ball, wrap in waxed paper and refrigerate for 2 hours. Roll little bits of dough between the palms of your hands to shape 1/2 inch balls. Place the balls on a lightly buttered cookie sheet and bake in a preheated 375 degree oven for 15 to 20 minutes or until golden brown.
Vleeskroketten (Veal croquettes)
(I make four batches to please my Dutch family. And it's all gone in 15 minutes! Great served with fries!)
•3 tablespoons butter
•5 tablespoons flour
•1 cup beef broth
•1/2 pound cold, cooked lean veal, shredded, use blender or food chopper
•1/4 teaspoon salt
•Freshly ground black pepper
•Dash of nutmeg
•1/4 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
•1 cup fine dry bread crumbs
•2 egg whites
•Oil for deep frying
Heat butter, stir in flour and cook 2 minutes. Gradually add the beef broth, stirring constantly until a smooth paste is formed. Add the veal, salt, pepper, nutmeg and Worcestershire sauce. Spread out on a flat surface and refrigerate until firm. When set, cut into 8 equal parts and form cylinders 3" long and 1" in diameter. Roll each in bread crumbs, then in beaten egg whites, then again in bread crumbs. See that each croquette is completely coated with bread crumbs. Deep fry in hot oil a few at a time for 3 to 5 minutes. Drain and serve piping hot.