Classic Bearnaise… the easy way!

30 Mar

Alright. Raise your hand if you love Béarnaise, but dread making it. Also, let’s forget for a few minutes that Béarnaise is nothing more than a velvetty concotion of egg yolks, butter and herbs… As a matter of fact, if you’re a health nut who frowns upon all fatty foods, you might as well stop reading here. This French classic is not for the weak for heart.

Béarnaise is actually the deliciously herbed cousin of Hollandaise. As such, with a bit of imagination, you can substitute this smooth operator any place Hollandaise would go, but keep in mind that its main ingredient, tarragon, is a pretty potent flavor.

A few Summers back, Mr. Farklepants introduced me to the ‘Béarnaise Burger’ at ‘Yard House’, a restaurant chain with several locations in our neck of the woods. It was a hot & balmy late afternoon, and having just finished an 18-hole round of disc golf at one of our nearby disc golf courses, we were both hungry with parched lips yearning for a cold beer. With over 100 beers on draft, the wooden patio at ‘Yard House’ overlooking the Long Beach marina was calling for us.

That Bearnaise hamburger was probably the best burger I’ve ever eaten, and I’m not big on hamburgers to begin with. My French lover consisted out of a griddled buttery brioche bun, topped with crispy fried shoestring onions, a perfectly seasoned grilled patty and… Béarnaise! Don’t be fooled by its simplicity, I tell you, this was to die for.  Béarnaise makes everything better: grilled steak, eggs benedict, fish, vegetables… you name it. 

Thanks to my gratuitous bottle of delicious Vilux tarragon vinegar, we all enjoyed an easy, no fuss Béarnaise! Thank you, Culinary District!

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CLASSIC BEARNAISE… THE EASY WAY!
(in the manner of ‘The Hungry Belgian’)
- 5 farm fresh egg yolks at room temperature
- 6 Tbsp of tarragon vinegar (*)
- 6 oz of good quality clarified butter or ghee
- 1 bunch of fresh tarragon, chopped (approx. 1/2 cup chopped)
- salt & pepper, to taste
(*) You can easily order a fairly large $4.05 bottle taragon vinegar from Surfas, if you can’t find it in your local store. It’s also a delicious base for French-inspired salad dressings!

Clarifying butter is not all that hard. Simply melt the butter over very low heat, and scoop the white foam (protein flakes) off of the butter so all that is left is that liquid gold we’re looking for. If this seems too much of  hassle, check if you store has ghee or order ghee from Surfas (see link above).

In a small sause pan, away from the heat, beat the eggs lightly with the taragon vinegar and season with salt & pepper.

Over low heat, heat the egg mixture whilst whisking constantly, until the eggs start to ‘bind’ or thicken slightly. At this point, in an ever so thin steady drizzle, gently incorporate all of your warm clarified butter. Whatever you do, do not stop whisking! If you stop stirring or whisking, your sauce will curdle.

When the sauce has achived your desired thickness, take it off of the heat and add the chopped fresh tarragon. Et voila.. mission accomplished!

PS: if you add a tablespoon of tomato paste, you end up what the French call ‘Choron Sauce’. You’re welcome!

Crostini, an elegant affair…

9 Mar

About a fortnight ago, one of the broker assistants at my second job asked me if I could cater a few light snacks for a ‘Brokers Open House’ of a multi-million dollar beach property in upscale  Manhattan Beach here. I’ve never ‘catered’ anything in my life, let alone for a crowd of high end realtors. So naturally, I told Christina: “Sure! no problem!”, with wild enthusiasm and feigned confidence… and then I freaked out a little bit I took a deep breath.

I figured I couldn’t show up with just anything at a 5-million dollar beachside palace home, and the more thought I put into it, the deeper that pit of my stomach became. Crostini seemed to be the perfect choice. And with years of childhood practice in schmearing ‘toastjes’ at various family gatherings, my food-mojo started to kick in.

Crostini not only look beautiful and elegant, they’re actually fairly easy to make and very versatile. All you need is fine motorskills time and a bit of knowledge about flavor combinations, but you can truly top these babies with anything you fancy. If you need help, a quick Internet search will yield dozens of fabulous ideas. Crostini are the perfect vehicle to unleash your creativity, they hold up well in a cool dry place outside your refrigerator for  up to a few hours but better yet, they make you look like you spent a fortune… when in reality, they’re fairly inexpensive depending on what you top them with.

For the open house, I crafted a few different choices and arranged them scattered on a black baking sheet so the colors came out bright and it appeared as thought there were a ton of choices.

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CROSTINI
(Inspired by Pinterest and fueled by my own creativity)

THE CROSTINI:
- 1 day-old French baguette
- olive oil

Of course, you have to start with the vessel itself. A good crostini is crunchy on the outside, with a buttery taste. The best choice for crostini is a French baguette, preferably one that is a day old.

Preheat oven to 375F. Slice the baguette into 1/2  inch thin slices and oil/butter each side lightly. Arrange on a baking sheet, and bake at 375F for approx. 5 min on the first side, and another 1-2 min on the other side. Each oven is slightly different, so keep an eye on them so they don’t burn. They should be cripsy and light goldenbrown when they come out.

THE BASIC ‘SCHMEARS’:
Now the fun part starts. Topping your crostini with just dry ingredients will most likely cause the topping to come sliding right off the minute eager hands try to grab them. No, you need a bit of ‘glue’ to keep the topping in place so your crostini don’t become messy to eat or require some sort of super-natural talent to keep them in tact. The usual suspects are: hummus, ricotta, crème fraîche, pâté, blue cheese, cream cheese, goat cheese… anything that is not too wet or runny, but still acts like glue for anything you place on top. Personally, I love the soft creamy goat cheese from Soledad Goat Farms.

TOPPINGS:
You can let your imagination run wild here. Think of good flavor combinations that you’d like to eat. Try to balance sweetness, tartness and saltiness. Crostini need to pack a punch of flavor in a small bite, yet you don’t want anyone’s muscular facial structure to be altered either.

A FEW EXAMPLES:
(each choice makes approx. 6-8 crostini)

Lemon-Lavender Goat Cheese Crostini with Blueberries, Lemon Zest & Fresh Mint:
Combine 6oz soft chevre-style goat cheese with 1 Tbsp of lemon zest & 1 Tbsp of lavender blossoms, stir well and let it sit overnight for the flavors to blend… or, if you’re local to SoCal, give the folks of Soledad Goat Farms a call and purchase their own lemon-lavender goat cheese.

Schmear crostini with the goat cheese, top with a sprinkle of freshly grated lemon zest, fresh blueberries and a small fresh mint leaf, for eye candy.

Cucumber & Chive Goat Cheese with Cucumbers & Dill:
Combine 6oz of soft chevre-style goat cheese with 1/2 cup of very finely minced & seeded skinless cucumber and a 2 Tbsp of finely chopped chives. Let it sit overnight so the flavors can blend.

Schmear crostini with goat cheese and top with thinly sliced Japanese cucumbers (small mini cucumbers) and a sprinkling of fresh dill.

Blue Cheese, Apple & Hazelnut:
Pick a softer blue cheese that you can fairly easily spread out and won’t crumble too much. I used a Danish Blue, but Roquefort or Cambozola would work well too. Let it sit on the counter for 15-20 min, as this will soften the cheese a bit and it’ll be easier to handle.

Core & halve apple and slice one half into paper thin slices. Eat the other half, as it’s good for you! Place the thin slices in a bit of lemon juice as this will prevent the apple from turning an unappealing brown. We’ll counter act the sourness of the lemon with a drizzle of honey later on.

Schmear crostini with blue cheese, and top with a few apple slices, crumbled hazelnuts (or walnuts) and drizzle a bit of honey over the top.

Smoked Salmon, Cream Cheese & Chives:
This one pretty much speaks for itself.

Schmear crostini with cream cheese, and top with a small slice of smoked salmon. Cut a few large sprigs of chives and place over the top for eye-appeal.

Ricotta, Almond & Cherry Jam:
For something sweet, combine 6oz of whole milk ricotta with 1/2 tsp of almond extract, 1/2 tsp of vanilla extract and 1 Tbsp of sugar.

Schmear crostini with ricotta mixture, top with a dollop of good quality cherry jam and sprinkle with a few slivers of toasted almonds.

Mediteranean Hummus, Pine Nuts & Olives:
No explanation needed here… Either make your own hummus, or buy a good quality Mediterranean-style hummus at the store. I bought mine at Trader Joe’s.

Spread hummus out on crostini, top with herb-marinated olives and sprinkle a few toasted pine nuts over the top.

Prosciutto, Parsley Crème Fraîche & Egg:
Since crème fraîche is pretty ‘runny’, I took a half/half mixture of crème fraîche and whole milk ricotta. It still had that creaminess of the crème fraîche, but the texture was thicker and more like ricotta, which is perfect for crostini.

Combine 3oz of crème fraîche with 3oz of whole milk ricotta, and stir in 1/2 cup of freshly chopped parsley and salt & pepper to taste.

Spread crostini with crème fraîche/ricotta mixture, and top with a thin slice of prosciutto and a slice of semi-hard boiled egg. You want the egg yolk to be solid, but not cooked completely dry. I find that if I place my eggs in cold water from the start and then bring to a boil, I have a perfectly creamy egg in 8 minutes.

There are literally TONS of great crostini ideas out there! Don’t be shy and venture out of the box.. Your dinner guests will think you rock!

Spanish Chickpeas with Chorizo & Piquillo Peppers

18 Feb

Shortly before the holidays, my friend & pastor Erika G. tagged me in a Facebook ad she saw from a local kitchen supply store, with the mentioning that I simply ‘had to’ respond. “This is so you!”, she said, “You should apply!”. I don’t know how or where she saw the ad, but I never did and Lord knows I spend enough time on Facebook food pages that I should have seen this. Anyway, considering the fabulous Erika G. is my pastor, I think she was summoned by divine intervention and then asked to channel one of the three wise men and deliver this gift to me… by means of modern communication, rather than camel.

The ad in question came from Surfas-Culinary District, and it was an open invitation to all local food bloggers to apply to become a ‘product reviewer’. Sounds fancy, huh? I nearly wet myself from excitement. Not only have I been a customer of theirs for several years, but more importantly, I love that store. As in ‘luuuuvvvvv’. I totally understand that this sounds fishy now that I’m an official Surfas endorser, so to speak, but if you’ve followed this blog, then you’ve seen me write about Surfas long before I even applied to their ad. And my friends know that if they dare ask me where to find something, I send them to Surfas. Plain & simple. The walk-in store in Culver City, CA is the perfect combination of industrial urban-ness and artisanal food shopping, and while the building and/or atmosphere inside may not be as visually elegant as ‘Sur La Table’ or ‘Williams-Sonoma’, there is nothing you can want that Surfas doesn’t deliver… It’s foodie heaven, I tell you. My mother knows this too, and a trip to Surfas is on the agenda every time she visits from Belgium. It’s also my ‘go-to’ place when she tells me that she *must* find natural squid ink to make black risotto or a ‘thingy that looks like a pincette but is much larger’, which some random celebrity chef uses in Cecilia’s favorite cooking show on Belgian TV… You can bet on it that Surfas has that too.

But we digress… Last Saturday, my package with the first few items arrived. I’ve long wanted to try Piquillo peppers, and yesterday was my lucky day. Piquillo peppers are in the chili family, and are traditionally grown in the Northern part of Spain, where they are harvested at peak ripeness and then roasted whole and preserved in brine. The peppers are small, with firm sweet flesh and no heat. They are named after a bird’s ‘piquillo’ (get your mind out of the gutter) or beak, since the peppers have a pointy shape. The fruit very much resembles regular roasted red peppers, but they are sweeter and with a distinct flavor I can’t quite place my finger on. I guess you could say they have a more intense pepper flavor and their texture is firmer yet silkier than that of a regular roasted pepper.

Most recipes for Piquillo peppers call for the peppers to be stuffed with anything from cheese to ground beef & fish. However, I wanted to make a meal out of it yet stay true to the flavors of Spain at the same time. The result was pretty darn tasty, and I served it alongside a grainy artisanal bread to emulate that Mediterranean flair.

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SPANISH CHICKPEAS WITH CHORIZO & PIQUILLO PEPPERS
(adapted from a recipe for ‘Garbanzos con Chorizo’ that I found on the Internet)
- 4 13.5oz cans of chickpeas
- 1 13.5oz can of crushed tomatoes, unseasoned
- 1 13.5oz can of Piquillo peppers, sliced into ribbons
- 3 Tbsp of tomato paste
- 4-5 cloves of garlic, crushed or finely chopped
- 2 shallots, finely chopped
- 7oz of dry chorizo, sliced in thin slices or cubed finely
- a few good slashes of cooking sherry
- 2 Tbsp of fresh oregano, finely chopped (or 1 Tbsp dried oregano)
- 1-2 Tbsp of Piment d’Espelette or another hot pepper like cayenne or a dash of sriracha
- salt to taste
- parsley, for decoration

Preheat oven to 350F.

Drain chickpeas and rinse until no longer foamy. Drain Piquillo peppers in a separate sieve and slice each pepper into thin ribbons.

In a cast iron skillet or heavy pan, brown the chorizo until it starts to sweat and turn color a little bit. You don’t want it to be crispy at this point. Add chopped shallots and sauté until shallots turn translucent. Add tomato paste and minced garlic, and cook for additional 1-2 minutes. If your pan is getting a bit crusty, add a splash of cooking sherry and scrape up any bits.

Add chickpeas, pepper ribbons, crushed tomatoes, Piment d’Espelette and oregano, and fold everything to combine well. Pour a few splashes of cooking sherry over the heap of yummy goodness and bake for approx. 15 min at 350F until the top is slightly crispy and the chickpeas are heated through.

Sprinkle some chopped parsley over the top for prettiness, and serve alongside grainy bread or rice.

Carrot-Macadamia Nut Brunch Cakes

5 Feb

Last Friday, karma struck. So did the guy that was driving behind me. It appears his nicotine levels were dropping dangerously low, and in an act of sheer desperation, he decided to retrieve his pack of cigarettes from the floor of his truck whilst driving in rush hour traffic. I was amusedly gazing at the seagulls out the front window, and never saw him coming. Being the last car at the tail-end of stopped traffic, I had the pleasure of meeting Mr. Marlboro Man when he crashed into the rear of my Honda CR-V at 30 mph, and sent my head flying in directions that defy all human anatomy.

Let me first start by saying that whiplash is poop. No, seriously. It’s poop! I can’t decide if I like the constant nausea better, or if perhaps the pinched nerve & cramping muscles rock my world more. And then there are the meds that are doing a number on my digestive system too, but what really tops the cake, is that all of sudden my brain’s auto-pilot mode seems corrupted. Yesterday, I tried to open our mailbox with our house key, you know, the key that is typically 3x LARGER! in size, until it dawned on me 15 seconds later – with an air of exasperation – that I had the wrong key. I feel like I’m not the sharpest tool in the shed right now, and that bothers me almost as much as Lady Gaga proclaiming she is classically trained and was invited by ‘Juilliard’. I mean, have you ever heard of a classically trained musician brushing an invitation from New York’s finest music school off the table to pursue a career in weird make-up and glittery green bodysuits that produce really awful camel toe look seriously painful to wear in one’s nether-regions?! Not me. But maybe I’m not seeing the possibilities here.

My wee blog has been suffering too. I’m already working 7 days a week and also attempting to run our household, and now I have to hold my head ‘just so’, so as to minimize the pain… Quite frankly, I feel like I should be sainted in a Papal audience and let it be hereforth known that I’m waiting for his invitation. Okay? After all, I do scoop the cats litter box quite frequently, and what comes out of there very much resembles leprosy, if you ask me. And with Father Damian being Belgian, well, we’re practically family. There.

And how does one tie leprosy into a recipe?!, you might ask. Fret not, for I am here to enlighten you with creative writing. When I purchased Trader Joe’s vegetable pancakes a few weeks ago, I decided that whatever Trader Joe’s can do, I can do better too… I’ve always been a BIG fan of Macadamia nuts, and I knew I wanted them to make a grand appearance in my crispy brunch latkes. And there you have it: Macadamia nuts = Hawaii = Molokai = leprosy. Please hold the applause.

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Carrot-Macadamia Nut Brunch Cakes
(based on a recipe for potato latkes)
- 1 lb of grated carrot
- 6 oz of Macadamia nuts, toasted and chopped
- 3.5 oz of aged Gouda, grated (or aged cheddar)
- 3 oz of day-old corn bread crumbs
- 3 egg yolks
- 1 tsp of Sriracha sauce or any hot sauce of your liking
- 2 Tbsp of Italian parsley, finely chopped + more for garnish, if you like.
- 2 Tbsp of fresh thyme, finely chopped
- 1 tsp of Hungarian sweet paprika powder
- olive oil
- salt & pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 400F. When hot, line baking sheet with foil and toast Macadamia nuts for 5-10 minutes until slightly browned. Remove from oven and let cool. Give nuts a rough chop, until crumbled.

Grate carrot, and blanch in boiling water for 1 minute. Pour into a fine-mesh strainer, drain well and allow to cool.
Combine carrot with grated cheese, corn bread crumbs, parsley, thyme, egg yolks, Sriracha, sweet paprika and salt & pepper. Divide mass into 10-12 equal parts, and form into a small ½ inch thick patties.

In a cast iron skillet or heavy pan, heat olive oil (be generous) until hot and fry patties until crisp & golden, approx. 2-3 minutes on each side. Serve hot with a side of sour cream.

Punjabi Fish Curry

20 Jan

Lately, the Farklepants household seems to run on kryptonite. I get up before sunrise and crash-land sometime around 10:17P, which also happens to be about the time Mr. Farklepants’ intellectual algorithms start peaking and he attempts to engage me in conversation. When we’re both home, he can usually tell by the blank glassy-eyed expression on my face if intellectual conversation is going to be successful or not, but since we’re both super busy lately, we find ourselves tangled up in a text- and/or phone relationship. Mostly, by the time he breaks away from his project and phones to whisper a sweet little something in my ear, I’m already a sleeping sloth. And by the time I’m perky and full of life, he’s snoring peacefully next to me. We’re like 2 ships passing in the night, really, and there’s been many a time in which I’ve contemplated blowing his fog horn staying in bed next to him rather than getting up to go to work.

And speaking of working, I committed myself to a temporary weekend job on top of my regular full-time job for the next THREE months, which means I’m pretty much working nonstop. Sans weekends. It’s a blessing as well as a curse. On the upside, my bills will finally get paid down a bit. On the downside, mundane stuff like laundry barely gets done. And bi-weekly blogging?! Oh please, Fuhgitabboutit. Okay?

I’m only into week 3 of running this insane schedule, and I’m already having improper fantasies about having time to myself. To do nothing. Especially now that I have a gift certificate for a ‘deluxe’ 75-min pedicure burning a hole in my pocket, which my sister-in-law extraordinaire sent me a month ago. As an ironic twist of nature, I inherited my mother’s pesky affliction Teutonic sense of responsibility, and vegetating in a cushiony massage chair for longer than 10 min when there is [this much] stuff to do, seems like a capital sin… punishable by eternal hell fire. And have I told you yet that I spent my entire youth in a Catholic “school for girls”?

Also on the wickedly fun agenda last weekend, was the fact that – when I finally did manage to venture near the couch with the crazy idea of ‘relaxing’ – I stepped on something sharp in our carpet and cut my toe. Only, I didn’t actually know I ‘cut’ my toe until it bled all over our white fabric ottoman. Yeah. I’m convinced it’s karma’s way of telling me that our living room desperately needs vacuuming. POOF! There goes that pedicure fantasy…

Oh, and dinner! Yes, dinner. Always dinner. I figured that if I am to survive this crazy schedule, I need to stick with quick dinner ideas and one-pot meals. Curry is exactly that. It’s delicious, and it doesn’t need to be a labor of love with these easy tricks I’ve scooped up along my culinary path.

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PUNJABI FISH CURRY
(A blend of Internet’s best)
For the curry base:
- 2 12-15oz cans of coconut milk
- 1 cup of water, as needed
- a 1 inch piece of fresh ginger, peeled and grated
- 3-4 cloves of garlic, pressed
- 1 large onion, diced
- spice paste (see below)
- olive oil, as needed
- pomegranate seeds, for garnish

For the spice paste: (*)
- 2 Tbsp of Garam Masala, Punjab style
- 2 Tbsp of sweet curry powder
- 1 Tbsp of hot curry powder (like Maharaja powder)
- 2 Tbsp of red chili paste (or 1 for milder curries)
- 1.5 tsp of ground cumin
(*) I usually buy my spices from “Penzeys Spices”. You can order online here or order from “Surfas Culinary District” by clicking the orange flash link on the right side of this page.

For the veggies & fish: (*)
- 2 lbs of assorted firm fleshed fish like salmon, tilapia, pollock… whichever combination you like, but try to pick sustainable species.
- 1 lbs of shrimp, shelled & deveined
- 1 red bell pepper, thinly sliced
- 1 yellow bell pepper, thinly sliced
- 1 package of fresh baby spinach leaves
(*) feel free to use whichever vegetables you like best. Likewise for the choice of fish as well

Debone, rinse and slice fish into large chunks. Set aside.
Peel & devein the shrimp, and set aside with the sliced chunks of fish.

Mix all the spices together and make a paste together with the lime juice, pressed garlic, grated ginger and red chili paste. Use a bit of water if too dry.

In a large, heavy pot, heat olive oil over medium-high heat and sauté diced onions and sliced bell peppers until beginning to soften and their liquid is cooked down. Add all of the spice paste and cook for a few minutes until fragrant and well blended.

Add both cans of coconut milk and bring to a boil. Reduce down to a thick, sauce-like consistency. If too thick, add some water. Consequently, if too thin, add some almond meal.

Add baby spinach and let it wilt down in the curry sauce. Add shrimp and fish, give it a quick stir and cover the pan. Cook – without stirring – for a few minutes until the fish & shrimp are cooked through. Serve over rice and sprinkle some pomegranate seeds over the top for color.

Warm Blue Cheese Sriracha Corn Dip

9 Jan

I confess that I know nothing about American football. Well, almost nothing. I know that the Minnesota Vikings’ uniform colors are purple and GOLD!, not yellow. It looks pretty yellow to me, but who am I to judge?! I also know that you’re not supposed to hold a conversation during the game for longer than, say, 30 seconds. Commercials is when your verbal diarrhea is tolerated. And I know that you’re not supposed to jump up with arms extended and a loud ‘HELL YEAH!!!’ when there’s a flag against your team. A flag is evil… and a tat effeminate, if you ask me, but I’ll hold my vile tongue.

I have no clue what all the conferences mean, let alone how they stack up against each other. I’m truly a lost atom in the football vortex. I understand just about as much from football as I would from any scientific debate in Norwegian, and that notion is aggravated by the fact that I can’t even keep football and baseball straight. I kid you not, 90% of the time, I still think the Red Socks are a football team! Ouch.

The kicker is (ain’t that a nice pun?!), I actually enjoy watching football. Very much like the cats. I don’t per se lounge on the ottoman like a jezebel and elaborately start grooming my nether regions, but – like the resident felines – I’m pleasantly entertained by the movement on the screen. I like seeing all the pretty colors. And then there is Mr. Farklepants too, with his spontaneous loud outbursts of approval and/or animated annoyance about certain referee calls. Watching him watch football, amuses me. I’ll come right out saying that there is no specific team I’m a fan of, and as such, I mostly root for the team wearing the prettiest colors the team that pleases my visual cortex the most. Contrary to what I just stated (I am female after all), the Seahawks will always have my vote because a) I have very dear friends in Seattle and feel a misplaced loyalty to their team, b) Seattle is quite possibly the coolest city in the USA and c) Pike Place Market. Enough said there.

What I like best about the ‘Super Bowl’, though, is that it comes with a widely accepted ‘diet pardon’ that makes it OK to stuff your face with chips dipped in whatever melts into a tasty homogenized blob in the oven. A while ago, I found a recipe for a hot blue cheese & onion dip and, true to my non-conformist nature, I turned that deliciousness into a corn version… with a bit of help from Pinterest. It was love at first bite.

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Warm Blue Cheese Sriracha Corn Dip
(Adapted from several hot dip recipes I found on Pinterest)

- 4 oz of cream cheese, softened
- 3 oz of blue cheese, crumbled (such a Roquefort or Danish Blue)
- 1/2 cup of sour cream
- 1/2 cup of mayonnaise
- 1 1/2 cups of Monterrey Jack cheese, grated + more for topping
- 2.5 cups of fresh or frozen corn
- 1 red bell pepper, diced finely
- 1 green bell pepper, diced finely
- 2 shallots, diced finely
- 2-4 Tbsp of Sriracha sauce, depending on the level of spiciness you desire.
- 1 tsp of ground cumin
- 1 tsp of Hungarian sweet paprika
- 2-3 green onions, for garnish.
- salt, to taste

Preheat oven to 350F.

If using frozen corn, take out of the freezer and let it defrost in a sieve, allowing the thawing juices to drain. If using fresh corn, cut corn off of the cobs and set aside. I prefer fresh when in season, but either works just fine!

In a skillet (I use my 12-inch Lodge Cast Iron skillet), sauté the shallots and bell peppers until beginning to soften. Turn off the heat and add reserved corn, allowing the corn to cool down the skillet just a bit.

In a bowl, mix goat cheese with mayo, sour cream, Sriracha Sauce & Monterey jack cheese. Add salt to taste. Add cumin & corn mixture from skillet and mix until well combined. Either pour mixture back into skillet or pour into an oven-safe casserole dish. Top with a little bit of Monterey jack cheese, and bake uncovered for approx. 30-40 min, until mixture is bubbly.

Slice green onions finely and sprinkle over top of dip. Serve hot, with tortilla chips, crackers or crusty French bread slices.

Stout Beer Vinaigrette with Honey & Garlic

3 Jan

Yes. You read that right. This is a post about beer vinaigrette, because, well, I’m Belgian. Full stop. Beer goes into everything in Belgian cuisine. As matter of national pride, it’s practically a sin not to include beer in your food.

I figured that with the massive volume of salads being eaten nowadays, what with it being nary 3 days into the new year and all, I would contribute a refreshing new take on dressing for those of you who are dead tired of Dijon vinaigrette or plain ole’ ranch. After all, variety is the spice of life, no?!

I really have no specific story attached to this recipe, other than perhaps the incident in which I was caught enjoying a pint whilst cooking and accidentally knocked over my $9.75 bottle dark beer from the Leffe abbey. Besides defiantly dripping from my kitchen counter, it also made in into my bra our salad dressing for the evening, et voila… I firmly believe that this is the fashion in which much culinary greatness is discovered. I mean, how else have we learned to eat stuff like snails? Right?! At some point, someone in medieval times must have looked at those and said: “Yummeth! I shalt grilleth those with alliums!”. Or how did humankind ever figure out which mushrooms were edible and which ones weren’t? And may I remind you that back then, there was no Pepto-Bismol or wet wipes? You’re welcome. No, I think the best recipes come to fruition by simply trying stuff out or, like in this case, purely by accident.

Going against all odds, this earthy vinaigrette is lovely as a dressing for grilled seafood, a potato salad or for more robust salads like a traditional steakhouse salad with spinach, blue cheese and grilled strip loin. It pairs surprisingly well with roasted root vegetables, or more hearty greens like kale. Throw some crumbled bacon in your salad, and this beer vinaigrette is just divine.

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Stout Beer Vinaigrette with Honey & Garlic
(Adapted from unplanned tastiness)
- 1 small bottle (10-11oz) of dark stout beer, preferably a Belgian abbey beer like dark Leffe but Guinness will do as well.
- 1.5 Tbsp of red wine vinegar
- 1.5 Tbsp of balsamic vinegar
- 3/4 cup of walnut oil
- 1-2 Tbsp of honey, to taste
- 2 shallots, minced or very finely chopped
- 1 garlic clove, grated or minced
- salt & pepper to taste
- a pinch of cayenne pepper, if you like things a bit spicy

Open beer, pour in a glass container and allow to de-fizz for an hour or two. Resist urge to drink it.

In a small saucepan, pour flat stout and bring to a simmer over medium-low heat. Simmer for only a minute or 2-3 to allow alcohol to evaporate a bit, stir honey in beer and cool to room temperature. Alternatively, if you don’t mind having a wee bit of alcohol in your dressing, you can skip “cooking” the beer altogether.

In a small pan, sauté the chopped shallots and minced garlic in a little bit of olive oil or butter until softened. Set aside and let cool.

Combine room temperature beer with shallot mixture and all other ingredients, and whisk well to incorporate everything. Store in a glass or non-reactive container in a cool place, and shake before each use.

Pommes Duchesse with White Cheddar & Rosemary

31 Dec

Yesterday, whilst playing refrigerator ‘Tetris’ with a few leftovers, I noticed that magnum-size bottle of Prosecco I won during our annual office Christmas raffle. I shoved it in there in anticipation of our New Year’s toast. At the time, I hadn’t even given our New Year’s Eve dinner the slightest thought, but I figured that at least we’d be all set with a chilled glass of bubbly come toasting time. Priorities, people!

This morning, however, I came to the realization that I better start thinking about what to cook for tonight’s dinner if we don’t want to end up with canned tuna on toast. I almost bought a frozen turkey during an impromptu grocery run late yesterday afternoon, thinking I had plenty of time left and all, but then – for some bizarre unknown reason – decided against it… and thank god! Personally, I’d like to interpret this divine intervention as a celestial sign that we were meant to have a beef roast instead, but maybe it’s just my cultural heritage talking.

Roast beef is a classic New Year’s Eve dinner in Belgium, typically carved tableside and served ‘au jus’ with English peas and ‘kroketjes’, the latter being scrumptious deep-fried cylinders of crispy mashed potato heaven. I vaguely remember my mom even having a special machine that formed kroketjes from homemade creamy mashed potatoes, but most of time she’d buy the packaged frozen kind because she was a lady of convenience. The challenge as a child was to always make sure to boldly claim your kroketjes before anyone else had a chance, because once that plate of crispy golden fried deliciousness hovered 2 inches above the table came within fork’s reach, those suckers went fast and you’d risk ending up with just a measly 1 or 2. It was the 1980’s version of ‘The Hunger Games’, really, and it required strategical insight and precise fork-placement. Later in life, mom would ask us how many we think we’d eat and then halved that number whilst giving us a lecture on gluttony and reminding us that there were children in Africa who didn’t have kroketjes. In an attempt to be smart, I once sassily replied that maybe we should ship some to Africa, a lesson I was forced to contemplate from my bedroom for the remainder of the evening… And since my bedroom didn’t come with a Playstation, a teevee or a computer, my no-nonsense mother made sure I wouldn’t be wasting my time of inner-reflection by staring at my ‘Up With People’ posters and dreaming of dance superstardom, and she handed me a volume of our ‘Encyclopedia Brittanica’ with the instruction to look up recent data on world hunger and write a brief essay with my thoughts as to why I was sent to my bedroom. Would it shock you if I said my mother was a hardcore teacher?

At the Farklepants’ household, we don’t own a deep fryer by design. It would be our death, really. I could accomplish ‘kroketjes’ in a contraption of a Dutch oven, hot oil and a candy thermometer but I’m the daughter of said lady above and therefore, genetically predisposed to anything that even remotely inconveniences me. This leaves me with the dilemma of ‘ease vs. New year’s Eve glamour’, and it’s for precisely this occasion the French came up with ‘Pommes Duchesse’. These pillowy miniature mounds of oven-crisped mashed potato not only look festive, they are a happy median between the crispness of deep-fried kroketjes and the creaminess of mashed potato. They look elegant enough and they’re super easy to make.

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POMMES DUCHESSE WITH CHEDDAR & ROSEMARY
(Adapted from a classic French recipe)
- 2.5 lbs of russet potatoes, for approx. 25 puffs
- 6 egg yolks
- 1/2 cup of half & half
- 1/3 cup of chopped rosemary
- 1 cup of grated white cheddar
- 3 cloves of garlic, grated or finely minced
- salt & pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 400F.

Peel, rinse and chop potatoes in mandarin-size chunks. Place them in a large pot of salted water, and bring to a boil. Turn heat to medium and cook until potatoes are fork tender, usually +/- 15 minutes. Drain potatoes and place pot back over low heat for a few more minutes, so excess water can evaporate.

With a potato ricer or in a food mill, mash the potatoes very fine. Season with salt & pepper and a dash of nutmeg. Add in half & half and egg yolks one-by-one until you get an even, thick consistency. The potato mixture should be able to hold its form when you squirt it from a pastry bag. Add in the cheddar, minced garlic & chopped rosemary,  and stir to combine well. Allow to cool until room temperature to the touch.

Fill pastry bag with large star tip, and squeeze little heaps onto a parchment paper lined baking sheet, about 2 inches apart. Bake for approx. 10-15 min in the hot oven, until ridges are browned and potato appears crispy. Serve immediately.
Consequently, you can also pre-make these potato piles and refrigerate them until you are ready to bake them.

Chocolate-Dipped Cinnamon Waffles with Amaretto

27 Dec

At risk of being a real ‘Debbie Downer’, I must confess that Christmas 2013 probably won’t go down in history as a holiday cheer blockbuster. With our pockets void of any spare cash no presents under our tree and the (step)munsters celebrating the holiday at their mum’s, Christmas sort of resembled an arid desert plain. With the occasional cheerful tumbleweed rolling by. It didn’t help our bleak mood much that Facebook turned into a photo-sharing orgy of glittery family Christmas bliss and cheery gift giving. With the kids slated to remain put at their home with mom, there was no roast beast to prepare or holiday candy to be dumped in sparkly bowls either. In short, there was nothing to keep me from wallowing about in my reindeer pajamas and feeling sorry for Mr. Farklepants & myself. I’m disappointed that I allowed myself to be overshadowed by the commercial circus that swallows Christmas whole, but let me tell you, not having a dime extra to spend on Christmas is not fun either.

Even the selfish opportunists the cats recognized that Christmas morning was not the time to be messing with me, so the vicious circle of pine needle chewing & subsequent barfing was temporary halted, in lieu of loudly demanding attention and considering ANY place I wanted to sit down as prime real estate that needed to be occupied… on the double… preferably when my center of gravitational pull my butt is half way down its path of sitting down, so that I would then have to precariously contort my √144+(9×31)-(y=17xa) self from plopping down on a 5-lbs feline, whilst holding a mug of hot coffee in one hand and a buttered & jammed croissant in the other. Of course. Did I tell you I have white fabric furniture?!

The Farklepants men are night owls, and with Thing #1 living with us and not scheduled to go over to his mother’s for Christmas until later in the afternoon, nothing was stirring in the house until 11:47A well into morning. At the crack of dawn, it was just me & the cats listening to the holiday concert of the ‘Salzburger Philharmonic’, with the occasional snores lulling in the back bedrooms. I braved Trader Joe’s in the afternoon of Christmas Eve, and splurged on a canister of cinnamon rolls for ‘early’ breakfast, and some festive lox & avocado to serve as “eleventies”… for when the men would emerge from their sarcophagi and for when my stomach is ready for something vaguely resembling lunch.

I won’t go into the horrid detail of running the gauntlet at Trader Joe’s the day before Christmas, but the waffles below totally make up for it. I can’t entirely lay claim to this recipe, but I felt I needed to share the genius of using cinnamon rolls as waffle dough on my blog. And let’s face it, my concoction is more dessert than it is breakfast, unless you suffer from the holiday blues and needed a little pick-me-up. I know I’m not alone to have wandered onto the ‘dessert for breakfast’ path, so I don’t feel the slightest bit guilty. Well… maybe a little. Full stop.

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Chocolate-dipped Cinnamon Waffles with Amaretto
(Adapted from Pinterest)
For the waffles:
- 2 canisters of cinnamon rolls (for 10 waffles)

For the chocolate coating:
- 5 oz of Belgian milk chocolate
- 5 oz of Belgian dark chocolate
- 1 Tbsp of vanilla extract
- 1 Tbsp of strong espresso coffee
- 2 Tbsp of Amaretto

Heat waffle iron to piping hot. Open canisters and separate all rolls. Discard the icing that came with the box or save for another time…

Over a double-boiler, melt chocolate until liquid and stir in the espresso coffee & Amaretto. Stir to combine. Turn off the heat, and let the chocolate mixture sit in the hot water of the double boiler until you are ready to dip you waffles.

While the chocolate melts, cook the waffles in your iron. Depending on the size of your waffle iron, you can either place 1 roll in the middle of the iron -or- 1 roll in each square to make 4 at a time or so. Close the lid of the waffle iron and press down. Cook waffle(s) for approx. 2-3 min on each side until golden brown. The cooking time also depends on how hot your waffle iron gets, so check after a minute or so to make sure they’re not burning. Allow waffles to cool just a bit so they are not too hot to handle.

Dip one side of each waffle in the chocolate and place chocolate-size up on rack until ready to serve.

Consequently, you can also just dust these babies with some powdered sugar instead of dipping them in chocolate. Or even serve them with a yummy blueberry jam or with the glaze that came with the box. The possibilities are endless. It’s your breakfast-dessert treat, make it your own!

Creamy Orecchiette with Roasted Parsnips, Kale & Cracked Peppercorn

24 Dec

Yesterday was one of those days on which I simply did not feel festive. I suffered from a serious case of the ‘holiday blues’, and on top of that, my uterus decided that it was time to go Beowulf.

So when I drove home with a plan to stop by the grocery store and grab whatever I felt could ‘pass’ as an acceptable dinner in my book, I didn’t expect to be roasting parsnips and cracking peppercorns. As a matter of fact, I was thinking more frozen pizza middle aisle than outer periphery… By divine intervention, I opened Pinterest and saw a recipe for what looked like a simple cracked pepper pasta dish. Tasty & cheap? Why, yes please!

$16.25 later, me & my bah humbug attitude drove home and strapped on the apron. Let me tell you, whacking the living daylights out of whole peppercorns with a rolling pin is seriously therapeutic during that time of the month!

As stated above, I saw the recipe below on Pinterest and was intrigued by the earthiness of the dish. It just looked really appealing and it seemed to be a play on a traditional pasta ‘cacio e pepe’, or a simple cracked pepper pasta. Yesterday was the perfect day to make this. I changed the recipe only slightly by adding cream and garlic, but I think that originally it was a Mario Batali creation.

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Creamy Orecchiette with Roasted Parsnips, Kale & Cracked Peppercorns.
(Adapted from a Mario Batali recipe I found on ‘Pinterest’)
- 1 lbs of orecchiette
- 1 Tbsp of pink peppercorns
- 1 Tbsp of green peppercorns
- 1 Tbsp of black peppercorns
- 1 Tbsp of white peppercorns
- 2 cloves of garlic, minced
- 3 cups of roughly chopped kale, approx. 6-8 stems
- 3/4 cup of heavy cream
- 1/2 cup of white wine
- 4 large parsnips, peeled and cut into 1/2 inch cubes
- 1 cup of grated Pecorino Romano (or Parmesan)
- olive oil
- salt

Preheat oven to 450F. Place peppercorns in a ziplock baggy, and whack them until you achieve a rough texture. Some of the peppercorns will still be semi-whole, and that’s what we want.

Peel & cube parsnips, toss with olive oil and spread out over a baking sheet. Sprinkle with a bit of salt. Roast in the hot oven for approx. 20 min, until tender and slightly browned. Remove from oven and set aside.

In the meanwhile, heat a large pot of salted water. When you have a rolling boil, add orecchiette and boil according to box directions. Drain pasta, reserving 1 cup of the cooking liquid.

In a heavy skillet, heat 2-3 Tbsp of olive oil with chopped garlic & cracked peppercorn. When oil is hot, add chopped kale, toss and sauté for a few minutes until the kale starts to wilt a bit. Add wine and cream, and simmer over low heat to allow the liquid to reduce by approx. half.

When sauce with kale has reduced and thickened a bit, add 1/2 cup of grated Pecorino Romano. Add reserved pasta liquid until sauce is the right texture and coats evenly. Test with the back of a wooden spoon: if you can draw a line in the sauce on the back of your spoon, and the ‘edges’ stay put and don’t run, it means your sauce is the perfect thickness.

Add drained pasta and roasted parsnips to the pan with the sauce. Toss and sprinkle with remaining 1/2 cup of cheese. Serve hot.

** You can also add some cooked Italian sausage, if you like.

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