Swedish Kisses

17 Jul

Oh hey!… I have a blog!

I apologize for being a blogging hermit since Jan 2014 lately. I finally stopped working 7 days a week, hallelujah! Technically, this means I have free weekends to devote to my small apartment kitchen and wee blog, however, it so happens to be that these free weekends coincided with the FIFA World Cup of Soccer, et voila… there is no time for blogging when soccer is on, folks!

I’ve always been a sports lover. Besides swimming and volleyball, and a brief stint with judo, I also threw a mean javelin in our local athletics club. I even made it to the varsity-level Belgian National Championship, and competed in javelin as well as the ever-so-feminine shot put and discus hurling. Considering I ended at the top in all three disciplines, it appears that I’m good at throwing stuff. Mind you, this innate throwing-ability had previously been evidenced when little Tootsie Farklepants was banned from the county fair’s ball-throwing booth. I was just a wee little pig-tailed waffle girl. The mustached carnivalmeister was not impressed with my bull’s eye precision when I repeatedly knocked over pyramid after pyramid of neatly stacked cans, with only a handful of flimsy beanbag balls. He’d angrily cross his tattooed arms and lock his piercing blue ice-cold eyes into mine in a tense stand-off. Undeterred, I’d proceed with winning a half dozen top shelf prizes, resulting in my father being curtly told by raspy-voiced Popeye that I wasn’t allowed to play anymore. It was an injustice too big to comprehend. It shaped my competitive spirit, and taught me the art of hustling at the ripe age of 9. I would clean him out of top shelf prizes for years to come, since he couldn’t remember me amongst the hundreds of kids that would frequent his establishment during carnival times. I never forgot. #Karmastings

Nowadays, my love for sports mainly manifests itself in eating copious amounts of food whilst cheering on my favorite teams. To aid me in my quest, I spent the past 5+ years transforming my nicely toned triceps into bat wings, so that the flapping motion of my cheering arms deters any flying insect within a 5-foot radius from landing on my chips & dip. As always, I’m at the top of my discipline here.

Now that the championship is over and Germany took home the FIFA trophy, I felt it opportune to bake something last Sunday. Anything, really. I work in an office full of Germans, and I swear, baking must be the 11th Commandment in Germany: “Thou must baketh something every week, or elseth thou shalt become Austrian”. Seriously, turning Austrian is every German’s worst fear. I kid you not.
But we digress… In a moment of misplaced German patriotism, what with being Belgian and all, I felt the burning need to bake something. Any time I try to bake, I end up with Godzilla from hell. I’m simply not good at baking, but strangely enough, I often feel like baking. I figure that at age 43, I’m probably baking at the level a German 5-yr old pulls off in his/her Fisher Price play kitchen, but whatever. Rome wasn’t built in one day either. And if you too suffer from sub-par baking skills, then these cookies are made for you as well. The recipe calls for exactly 4 ingredients. Four! How can that even go wrong, right?

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Swedish Kisses
(as per my colleague Melanie’s recipe, who probably saw it in some magazine or so…)

- 2 sticks of good quality softened butter
- ½ cup of plain white granulated sugar
- 2 cups of sifted, all-purpose flour
- your favorite jam or jelly

Preheat oven to 375F.

In a bowl and with a handheld electric beater (or in your fancy Kitchenaid mixer), beat the butter and sugar together until pale and fluffy. Add sifted flour a little bit at a time and incorporate it into the butter/sugar mixture with the beater on low speed. Trust me, you want this to be on LOW speed unless you don’t mind flour cakes in your arm pits.

When all the flour is well-incorporated, you will end up with a very crumbly mass resembling coarse wet sand. Take a bit of that crumbly dough in your hand, and roll into a ball about the size of a small apricot. Place that little ball on your lined baking sheet, and push your thumb into the center to create a little well or divot. Hence, ‘thumbprint cookies’.

Fill that little divot with your favorite jam, and bake cookies in the center of your oven for approx. 15-20 min until the edges are golden brown. They will be like crack cocaine buttery and crispy.

Mediterranean Orzo with Roasted Vegetables & Lemon Zest

11 May

Dinner parties. It’s a time for pretty table linens, elegant dinnerware and culinary flights of fancy. A time in which my little apartment kitchen seems all too tiny and I start dreaming of a spacious farm kitchen, complete with brick walls and weathered wooden family table. When I was a child, our house was usually filled with dinner guests on Saturday evenings. My brother & I knew the kitchen was off-limits for pretty much the entire afternoon, as mom was in there whirling like a tornado and mostly cooking a 6-course meal for guests that would arrive later in the evening. Setting foot on the tile kitchen floor, meant the risk of being sucked into mom’s dishwashing vortex so we generally steered clear.

Fast forward 35 years, and – despite my good intentions – I realize I have turned into my mother. Rats. While I’m not yet wearing high-waisted hot pink capri pants that reach to my bra straps, or pee behind a spruce in Yosemite NP because the call of my bladder is far stronger than the language on any of the Park Ranger warning signs, I share my love of cooking with Cecilia. I enjoy entertaining guests with food I prepare, and I take joy out of billowing crisp, brightly colored linens over my table in preparation of the festivities. I enjoy buzzing around in my kitchen, hovering over pots & pans and making sure my guests will ooh & ah, whilst at the same time banning my house elves family members from entering the kitchen with a certain air of authority and mild annoyance. (*)
(*) Note to self: Must fight this genetic pattern before hot pink capris become all the rage.

Yesterday, J. was coming over for dinner. She had to drop off some papers, so – naturally – I suggested I cook dinner for all of us. I had planned on cooking a big pan of my lemon-braised chicken and serve that family-style, since I had to work all day and didn’t have much time whip out my whole arsenal of culinary wizardry. Lemon braised chicken has such a unique flavor, that it’s always a bit hard to find a side dish that will accompany it flawlessly without being blah, but the orzo below did just the trick. The roasted vegetables burst with flavor and are slightly caramelized which brings a note of sweetness, while the lemon dressing breaks that sweetness with the right amount of tang. The freshness of the scallions and basil not only adds to the wonderful flavors, but also makes this really pretty t look at.

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MEDITERRANEAN ORZO WITH ROASTED VEGETABLES & LEMON ZEST
(inspired by a ‘Barefoot Contessa’ recipe)
- about 2 cups of uncooked orzo pasta
- 1 red bell pepper, sliced into 1 inch pieces
- 1 yellow of orange bell pepper, sliced into 1 inch pieces
- 1 small eggplant, diced into 1 inch pieces
- 2-3 small red onions (tennis ball size), diced into 1/2  inch pieces
- 3-4 ripe lemons, zested & juiced
- 1 bunch of scallions, sliced thin
- 1/4 cup of pine nuts, toasted
- 2 good handfuls of fresh basil, julienned or sliced into thin ribbons
- 2-3 cloves of ROASTED garlic (optional)
- olive oil (+/- 1 cup)
- salt & pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 425F.

Place the peppers, onions & eggplant on a baking sheet, sprinkle with salt & pepper and coat liberally with olive oil on all sides. Roast in the oven until tender and caramelized, approx. 30-40 min. Set aside and allow to cool to temperature. Turn off oven.

In a small sauce pan, toast pine nuts until golden brown. Set aside and cool.

Zest 3-4 lemons, and set zest aside. Slice scallions and basil, and set aside.

For the lemon dressing, juice zested lemons into a measuring cup or bowl. Preferably one with a pour spout. You should have approx. 1/2 cup of lemon juice. Add about 3/4 cup-1 cup of olive oil to the lemon juice and blend well. Add salt & pepper to taste. Add pureed roasted garlic to the dressing, if you desire.

Bring a large pot of liberally salted water to a boil, and cook orzo according to package instructions. Drain well and pour into large serving bowl.  Immediately, while hot, pour about half of the lemon dressing over the pasta, and coat well so it won’t stick as it cools to room temperature.

When pasta is cool enough to handle, add roasted vegetables & lemon zest to the orzo, and gently fold until well combined. If the pasta salad seems a bit dry, add some more lemon dressing. Fold in toasted pine nuts, scallions and basil. keep a few basil leaves for decoration.

You can eat this pasta salad warm or cold. This recipe will make a large bowl that will comfortably feed 8 people or more. It can be served as a side, or with crusty French bread for a light lunch.

Bon Appetit!

Hunter’s Chicken

1 May

Legend has it that ‘chicken Cacciatore’ [catch-ah-toh-ree], or chicken in the style of the hunter, originated somewhere in Central Italy in the Renaissance period (ca. 1450-1600). You know, that part of history of awful torture, the black plague, magnificent art and ornately corseted powdered women practicing the harpsichord. Maybe Lady Gaga is on to something?

But we digress… In those times, the only people who could afford to enjoy a delicacy such as poultry, were the well-to-do Italian noblemen who indulged in hunting as a form of entertainment. Wait. Hunting chickens?! What? This almost resembles drunken history. I’m pretty sure that medieval Italy did not harbor flocks of ferocious free-roaming wild chickens in its woods, so let me go out on a historical limb and state that the Italian aristocracy probably hunted for pheasant. Possibly even quail.

Upon return to the homestead, the hunting party would stop on the trail and his lordship would turn to his page boy and say: “Luigi, picketh these  shrooms & herbs for they shalt tasteth awesome in the chicken pheasant soup”. Well, maybe not entirely like that, but the dish received its name because reportedly  the hunters would return from the woods with wild mushrooms and fragrant plants, all of which would be handed off to the house cook, who was then responsible for turning this into a meal (hm? Deja-vu much?). Rumor has it that tomatoes were added because their acidity tenderized the meat in question, and olives & onions were often added for flavor. I don’t know the history behind the aspect of wine being added, but I suspect a busty jezebel is part of the equation. The dish was served in tin bowls with big honks of crusty bread, since silverware didn’t make its debut until the 1700’s.

‘Hunters’ Chicken’ has many varieties but it’s always a tasty stew of poultry, slowly braised in a tomato sauce with mushrooms, onions, garlic and wine. The selection of herbs depends entirely on the region you are in, and olives don’t always make an appearance either. In short, there is no right or wrong way to prepare chicken cacciatore, there is only the tasty way. Below is my version and I opted for tarragon and parsley. I love the flavor or tarragon and it goes well with the olives and wine that are in this dish as well. Enjoy!

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HUNTER’S CHICKEN
(Adapted from a traditional Italian Chicken Cacciatore)
- 8-10 boneless, skinless chicken thighs
- 1 28oz can of peeled whole tomatoes, crushed by hand (or a large can of crushed tomatoes)
- approx. 24 oz of mushrooms, sliced  (*)
- 1.5 cups of dry cured black olives, pitted (or a 12-14 oz can, drained)
- 1 large onion, diced
- 4-5 cloves of garlic, minced or grated
- 1/4 cup of finely chopped fresh tarragon
- a good handful of fresh parsley, finely chopped
- 1.5 cups of dry white wine
- 4 Tbsp of flour
- salt & pepper to taste
- butter and/or olive oil to brown the chicken
(*) this may look & sound like a lot of mushrooms, but mushrooms shrink down to nothing when cooked and you want these mushrooms to be a key ingredient in your dish. I used a combination of baby bella mushrooms and regular white button mushrooms, but you can use a variety of wild mushrooms too. Just make sure they do not vary too much in cooking time.

Rinse the chicken thighs and pat dry. Season with salt & pepper set aside. Wipe the mushrooms clean with a  damp cloth, and slice into thick slices if large. DO NOT rinse your mushrooms in water, as they will absorb a lot of water and become less flavorful. If you dread this whole process, just buy a few bags of pre-sliced shrooms, and you’ll be fine as well.

Over medium-high heat, heat a bit of olive oil & 1 tbsp of butter (for flavor) in a large heavy pan. I used a 15-inch cast iron skillet for this dish, but you can use any large heavy pan. Brown the chicken on all sides for a few minutes and set aside. They will not be fully cooked, but that’s OK.

Add 1/4 of the wine and another tablespoon of butter and deglaze the pan, scraping up any browned chicken bits. Then add the onions and saute them until translucent and soft.

Dump all of your mushrooms in the pan. Don’t be alarmed. I know that ‘crowded’ mushrooms do not brown, but we’re not looking for beautifully browned mushrooms here, we just want to ‘sweat’ them out so they give off most of their juices. Continue to saute the mushrooms & onions, until the pans becomes mostly dry and the mushrooms appear slightly browned and soft.

Sprinkle the onions and mushrooms with the flour, and cook through for a minute more.

Add crushed tomatoes and their juices, the rest of the wine, garlic and 3/4 of the fresh herbs, and bring to a simmer. When simmering, nestle browned chicken thighs in the sauce and let simmer to cook through. Depending on the size of the thighs (doesn’t that sound kinky?), this will take another 30-45 minutes. Add the (drained) black olives during the last 15-20 minutes, simply to heat them through.

Finish the dish with a sprinkling of the remaining fresh herbs on top, and serve with crusty bread or over your favorite starch side.

Drunken Chicken

17 Apr

Good heavens. I’ve been working like a Peruvian mountain mule lately. Between my two jobs, the regular domestic wizardry household tasks and random chores, It’s surprising I even find time to use the loo. Let alone, cook a meal. As a matter of public confession, the Farklepants’ have pretty much been living off of pasta easy, one-pot meals lately.

A week ago, during a haggard grocery-store run on my way home, I had the brilliant idea to turn a 2-hour beer-braised beef stew into a 45-min hearty chicken stew. Wait. Before you pull that slow-cooker card, I confess that I have one. A very fancy one, as a matter of fact, courtesy of Cecilia… mother and personal whip hand extraordinaire. The thing is, even with a crockpot, you need to plan ahead and in order to plan ahead, you need time. Time to think about what to make. And there we have it: time + thinking about what to cook 24-hours prior to dinner, are a luxury commodity in my world lately. As a matter of fact, with rising at 05:00A and working a full day, I generally stop thinking after 08:00P altogether. On that note, am I alone in thinking that pajamas are perfectly acceptable attire at 04:30P? Anyone?

But we digress… As I was wandering aimlessly in my local ‘Vons’, I smelled beef stew. It was kind of a dreary, uninspiring evening and when that beefy aroma hit my nostrils, I wanted it. Like a blood hound, I sniffed my way through aisle 5, 6 and 7, before halting at the header of aisle 8, where the lovely Bernice with her Southern Texas drawl was stirring a pot of beef chili. Her well-manicured hands resting casually on a neatly stacked pyramid of cans, she beckoned me with her bright Fixodent smile and said “Try some, sweetie”. I’ll admit that it was hard to resist the call of her rhinestone embellished sweater-vest, but canned chili wasn’t going to cut it. Not even in my stupor of post-workday tiredness. Sorry Bernice.

Still obsessing over the idea of a hearty meal, I finally grabbed the usual beef stew stuff and figured chicken takes way less time than beef, and I ran with it. I thought to myself ‘how bad can it be?’, and clutched a six-pack of Newcastle ale on my way to the cash register. It was going on 07:00P and I just didn’t care anymore. Really. I tell you, this stew turned out to be rib-sticking delicious and very quick to make… It has all the traditional flavors of a regular beef stew, but takes 1/3 of the time. And with chicken being more budget-friendly, you have yourself a hearty dish of deliciousness for pennies on the dollar.

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DRUNKEN CHICKEN
(a Hungry Belgian creation)
- 10-12 boneless, skinless chicken thighs
- 1 large yellow onion, diced
- 2-3 large carrots, sliced
- 2-3 stalks of celery, diced
- 3-4 cloves of garlic, crushed or minced
- 1 6oz can of tomato paste
- 6-8 slices of thick cut bacon, sliced in strips
- 16oz of button mushrooms, halved (if small enough, you can leave them whole)
- 2 lbs of Yukon Gold potatoes, cubed in 1-inch thick pieces
- 2-3 cups of chicken stock
- 12-16 oz of brown ale/beer (I used 1.5 bottles Newcastle… and drank the other half)
- 4 Tbsp of fresh thyme, chopped
- 2 Tbsp of fresh rosemary, finely chopped
- 3 bay leaves
- salt & pepper to taste
- flour, to coat & brown the chicken
- olive oil, to sauté vegetables and chicken

Dice onion & celery in a approx. equal size dice, slice carrots in discs. Chop fresh herbs and set aside. Crush garlic and set aside.

In a large Dutch oven or heavy pot, without added oil or butter, sauté bacon over medium-high heat until crisp but not blackened. Set aside and drain all but 2 Tbsp of bacon fat from the pot.

Rinse & pat chicken dry. Season with salt & pepper on all sides. Coat dry chicken thighs in flour and brown over medium-high heat on all sides in the reserved bacon fat. Set aside.

In same pot, add a bit of olive oil to the crusty bacon grease and sauté garlic, carrots, celery & onions over medium-high heat until beginning to soften. Add in tomato paste and cook for another 1-2 min over medium heat. The bottom of the pot will be quite crusty by now. Add a hefty splash of beer to the pan, and scrape all the flavorful bits off of the bottom. Adding more beer, if needed.

Add reserved chicken & potatoes into pot, stir and cover with remaining beer and chicken stock. Add half of the fresh herbs and all bay leaves, and simmer uncovered over medium-low heat for approx. 30 minutes. If liquid gets low, add a bit more chicken stock or water. After 30 min, add in reserved bacon and mushrooms, and cook another 15-20 min until mushrooms are cooked thru and chicken is fork-tender. Season with more salt & pepper, if needed.

Discard bay leaves, sprinkle remaining herbs over the top and serve with crusty country bread.

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.

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