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Swedish Meatballs

22 Jul

The arrival of Swedish furniture giant Ikea not only brought us colorful & cozy Scandinavian home décor… but, more importantly, ‘kottbullar’! These tender morsels of beef & veal, in their creamy sauce and fruity lingonberry compote, sing their sweet siren song every time I happen to drive by the store alongside the 405 freeway. As soon as I see Ikea’s blue & gold logo in my line of sight, I feel a bubble of giddy excitement well up inside me and I nearly always feel compelled to pull off the freeway and stock up on a little bit of Europe in my otherwise American world. There’s something happy & cheery about Ikea, if it weren’t for the hoards of shoppers crowding the place on a daily basis.

Meatballs have long made their mark on Belgian cuisine as well. I think this is mainly because they pair so well with the warm fruity compotes you often find stewing in old-fashioned Belgian kitchens. I remember as a little girl, ‘omoe’ or grandma would brown up a batch of little meatballs and serve them with a sweet warm cherry sauce and chunky mashed potatoes. I have fond memories of those times, partly because grandpa would stuff his cheeks like a chipmunk and tell us stories in critter voice, much to the chagrin of grandma who felt it was not proper to indulge in such foolishness whilst having dinner. Occasionally, he’d lose a meatball and then all bets were off. Grandma would put an abrupt end to the silliness and grandpa would quickly follow suit for the sake of marital bliss and prompt us to be quiet and finish our plate. These moments of unbridled silliness never lasted long, but they shaped my memory of my beloved grandpa, who earned a PhD in biochemistry and was a professor emeritus at the renowned University of Ghent and super-cool kitchen table magician on weekends we visited. I think his world was filled with so much intellectual conversation and academic seriousness, that he enjoyed regaling his grandchildren with plain old silliness. Bless his soul in heaven.

As I got older and started paying my own bills, I developed a special affinity for the Swedish meatballs Ikea sold at bottom dollar. The recipe remains a bit of a mystery as so many Swedes have their own family recipe that was handed down from generation to generation, but below is my take on this beloved dish.

20130722-193259.jpg

SWEDISH MEATBALLS
(adapted from a recipe by Jeroen Meus)

For the meatballs:
– ½ lbs of lean ground beef
– ½ lbs of ground veal (or lean ground pork)
– 1 egg, yolk only
– ½ cup of breadcrumbs, soaked in 2-3 Tbsp of milk until just moistened through
– 1 Tbsp of allspice (or a combination of cinnamon, nutmeg & ground cloves)
– 2 shallots, very finely chopped
– salt & pepper
– beef broth, for boiling the meatballs before browning them

Take a large bowl and place the ground meats inside. Chop the shallots very finely and sauté in a little bit of butter until they turn translucent. Add the sautéed shallots to the bowl with the ground meats.

Add allspice and egg yolk to the meat mixture, and combine well. Add soaked breadcrumbs, and combine until everything is well incorporated. Add salt & pepper to taste.

Bring beef broth to a boil and drop 1.5-inch rolled meatballs into hot broth. Cook for approx. 4-5 minutes until done, and set aside on a plate. Once the meatballs are done, they’ll automatically float to the top.

In a heavy skillet, melt a few tablespoons of butter and quickly brown meatballs to a crispy golden brown, approx. 3 minutes.

For the creamy sauce:
– 4oz of heavy cream
– a splash of cognac (or cooking sherry)
– salt & pepper to taste

In the pan with the browned bits of the meatballs, add a hefty splash of cognac and ignite. You can do this with a match or – if you have a gas stove – by tilting your pan into flame, being careful not to spill the liquid. Stand back, as your pan will become enflamed for a few seconds.

Stir and scrape all the flavorful browned bits from the meatballs from the bottom of the pan, then add the cream and reduce the brown sauce a bit until it thickens. Add browned meatballs and toss to coat in the sauce.

Serve with mashed potatoes and a spoonful of cranberry sauce.

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Swedish Meatballs

22 Jul

The arrival of Swedish furniture giant Ikea not only brought us colorful & cozy Scandinavian home décor… but, more importantly, ‘kottbullar’! These tender morsels of beef & veal, in their creamy sauce and fruity lingonberry compote, sing their sweet siren song every time I happen to drive by the store alongside the 405 freeway. As soon as I see Ikea’s blue & gold logo in my line of sight, I feel a bubble of giddy excitement well up inside me and I nearly always feel compelled to pull off the freeway and stock up on a little bit of Europe in my otherwise American world. There’s something happy & cheery about Ikea, if it weren’t for the hoards of shoppers crowding the place on a daily basis.

Meatballs have long made their mark on Belgian cuisine as well. I think this is mainly because they pair so well with the warm fruity compotes you often find stewing in old-fashioned Belgian kitchens. I remember as a little girl, ‘omoe’ or grandma would brown up a batch of little meatballs and serve them with a sweet warm cherry sauce and chunky mashed potatoes. I have fond memories of those times, partly because grandpa would stuff his cheeks like a chipmunk and tell us stories in critter voice, much to the chagrin of grandma who felt it was not proper to indulge in such foolishness whilst having dinner. Occasionally, he’d lose a meatball and then all bets were off. Grandma would put an abrupt end to the silliness and grandpa would quickly follow suit for the sake of marital bliss and prompt us to be quiet and finish our plate. These moments of unbridled silliness never lasted long, but they shaped my memory of my beloved grandpa, who earned a PhD in biochemistry and was a professor emeritus at the renowned University of Ghent and super-cool kitchen table magician on weekends we visited. I think his world was filled with so much intellectual conversation and academic seriousness, that he enjoyed regaling his grandchildren with plain old silliness. Bless his soul in heaven.

As I got older and started paying my own bills, I developed a special affinity for the Swedish meatballs Ikea sold at bottom dollar. The recipe remains a bit of a mystery as so many Swedes have their own family recipe that was handed down from generation to generation, but below is my take on this beloved dish.

20130722-193259.jpg

SWEDISH MEATBALLS
(adapted from a recipe by Jeroen Meus)

For the meatballs:
– ½ lbs of lean ground beef
– ½ lbs of ground veal (or lean ground pork)
– 1 egg, yolk only
– ½ cup of breadcrumbs, soaked in 2-3 Tbsp of milk until just moistened through
– 1 Tbsp of allspice (or a combination of cinnamon, nutmeg & ground cloves)
– 2 shallots, very finely chopped
– salt & pepper
– beef broth, for boiling the meatballs before browning them

Take a large bowl and place the ground meats inside. Chop the shallots very finely and sauté in a little bit of butter until they turn translucent. Add the sautéed shallots to the bowl with the ground meats.

Add allspice and egg yolk to the meat mixture, and combine well. Add soaked breadcrumbs, and combine until everything is well incorporated. Add salt & pepper to taste.

Bring beef broth to a boil and drop 1.5-inch rolled meatballs into hot broth. Cook for approx. 4-5 minutes until done, and set aside on a plate. Once the meatballs are done, they’ll automatically float to the top.

In a heavy skillet, melt a few tablespoons of butter and quickly brown meatballs to a crispy golden brown, approx. 3 minutes.

For the creamy sauce:
– 4oz of heavy cream
– a splash of cognac (or cooking sherry)
– salt & pepper to taste

In the pan with the browned bits of the meatballs, add a hefty splash of cognac and ignite. You can do this with a match or – if you have a gas stove – by tilting your pan into flame, being careful not to spill the liquid. Stand back, as your pan will become enflamed for a few seconds.

Stir and scrape all the flavorful browned bits from the meatballs from the bottom of the pan, then add the cream and reduce the brown sauce a bit until it thickens. Add browned meatballs and toss to coat in the sauce.

Serve with mashed potatoes and a spoonful of cranberry sauce.

Cheddar Jalapeno Cornbread

22 Jul

Yesterday, on a gloomy Sunday evening, I cooked a scrumptious turkey chili and needed something on the side to sop up all the delicious juices from the chili. The thought of cornbread crossed my mind as it is such a traditional staple, and it almost seemed wrong not to serve it alongside this chili.

Cornbread has always intrigued my foodie sense, but I’ve never actually baked cornbread from scratch before because my family didn’t seem too keen on it and it always seemed like a waste to cook an entire loaf just for me. Yesterday, however, I bit the bullet and decided it was cornbread time. I got a bit spooked by the idea of making it from scratch and, I confess, I ended up buying a tin of dry jalapeno cornbread mix from my neighborhood market. I did spruce it up with a blend of jack & cheddar cheese and a dash of cayenne pepper, so that ought to pardon me a bit, no? It turned out beautifully golden in my cast iron skillet, and everyone loved it. I’ve been scouring the Internet for a recipe to make this one fresh some day, and I thought this one from Ina Garten looked like a winner to me.

cheddar jalapeno cornbread

CHEDDAR JALAPENO CORNBREAD
(Adapted from a recipe by Ina Garten. Photo courtesy by Ina Garten)
– 3 cups of all purpose flour
– 1 cup of yellow corn meal
– ¼ cup of sugar
– 2 Tbsp baking powder
– 2 tsp of Kosher salt
– 2 cups of milk
– 3 extra large eggs, lightly beaten
– ½ lbs of unsalted butter (2 sticks), melted
– 8 oz of extra-sharp Cheddar, grated & divided
– 3 scallions (white & green parts), chopped & divided
– 3 Tbsp of seeded & minced fresh jalapeno peppers

Combine the flour, cornmeal, sugar, baking powder and salt in a large bowl. In a separate bowl, combine the milk, eggs & butter. With a wooden spoon, stir the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients until most of the lumps are dissolved. Be careful not to over-mix! Mix in 2 cups of the Cheddar, the scallions and the jalapenos, and allow for the batter to sit at room temperature for about 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, preheat oven to 350F and grease a cast-iron skillet (or 9x13x2 oven-safe pan).

Pour the batter into the pan, smooth the top and sprinkle with remaining Cheddar and a few extra chopped scallions. Bake for 30-35 min or until a toothpick comes out clean. Cool and cut into wedges or large squares.

Chili con Turkey

22 Jul

It seems ‘June gloom’ has finally arrived in coastal Los Angeles. Yesterday morning, we even got a few sprinkles of rain. I know. Shocking!

The gloomy weekend reminded me of the dreary, cloud-laden skies that blanket Belgium for a good portion out of the year, and all those times I’d cycle back home from school in fog & drizzle. Being outside in the rain is a natural state of being in Belgium. Unlike here in Southern California where even the slightest drop of rain causes widespread panic, life goes on and the world barely skips a beat. Even during school recess, I remember we’d play outside in the rain and were handed a towel to dry off when re-entering the class room after we’d taken off our boots, shuffling & sliding back to our desks on socks alone. Beautifully sunny days are scarce and – as such – they are worshipped like the Holy Grail. People swarm to the beach with their brood in one hand and an ice box in the other, or they soak up the rays over a few ice-cold beers on a sun-drenched café terrace, dotted with colorful umbrellas. I remember when I first arrived in California, I didn’t do laundry for 5 weeks straight, because it was always sunny in the weekend and on sunny weekends you simply don’t occupy yourself with mundane household chores… It later dawned on me that all weekends are sunny here, and unless I didn’t mind wearing my bikini to work, I had better get some laundry started. Pronto.

Yesterday was one of those typical dreary Belgian days by the California beach. It was a welcome change of pace from the heat wave we got the previous week, and a perfect opportunity to cook something hearty while smelling the dampness in the coastal air. Turkey chili & corn bread sounded like just the ticket.

chili 2

TURKEY CHILI
– ½ cup of diced pancetta (or 2-3 slices of bacon, chopped)
– 2 medium onions, diced
– 1 red bell pepper, ribs & seeds removed, diced
– 1 orange bell pepper, ribs & seeds removed, diced
– 1 lbs of ground turkey
– 1 15oz can of kidney beans, rinsed
– 1 15oz can of pinto beans, rinsed
– 1 15oz can of black beans, rinsed
– 1 28oz can of pureed tomatoes
– 2 15oz cans of diced tomatoes
– ½ tsp of ground cinnamon
– 1 tsp of unsweetened cocoa
– 1-2 peppers in adobo sauce, chopped (or more, if you like it spicier)
– 3 tbsp of chili powder (whichever kind you prefer)
– 1 tbsp of chopped fresh oregano (or ½ tbsp of dried oregano)
– 1.5 tbsp of ground cumin
– salt & pepper, to taste
– a few tbsp of ground masa flour, to thicken the chili if it’s too runny.

Pour beans into a strainer and gently rinse under cold water until no longer gooey. Set aside and let drain.

Brown pancetta or bacon in a large, heavy pan (or cazuela) until most of the fat is rendered. Remove & set aside. In the pancetta/bacon fat, sauté the onions until starting to soften. Add chopped bell peppers, and sauté a few minutes more until onions are turning translucent. Add ground turkey meat and sauté until browned and crumbly. Add salt & pepper to taste.

Add rest of the spices (except cinnamon & cocoa) and the chopped peppers in adobo sauce, and sauté for a minute more, just to release the flavors. Add pureed & diced canned tomatoes, and bring to a boil. Let everything simmer for another 10-15 minutes and thicken the sauce with the masa flour 1tbsp at a time, if needed.
Add cinnamon, cocoa, beans & browned pancetta/bacon, and fold everything together into a thick stew. Simmer for another few minutes to heat through.

Serve with sour cream, diced red onions, chopped fresh cilantro & shredded cheese… and yummy Cheddar jalapeno cornbread

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