Archive | July, 2013

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.

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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.

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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.

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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

Mustard-crusted Pork Tenderloin with Balsamic Blueberry Reduction

21 Jul

Pork tenderloin or ‘varkenshaas’ is quite common in Belgium. We house many pig farmers near our coastal plains and the rural Ardennes in the South, and pork makes a frequent appearance in Flemish & Walloon cuisine. Pork is often served alongside a fruity ‘compote’ or warm, chunky fruit stew typically made from apples, rhubarb or apricots. It seems Belgian cuisine tends to favor fruity additions to savory dishes, and to date, I still like the sweetness fruits give to hearty stews or braised meats.

The problem with pork is, is that it often turns out a bit dry and flavorless. It doesn’t help that for years America’s preoccupation with food safety had everyone convinced that you have to cook pork until it’s well-done, and that’s a sad myth. It gave pork a bad reputation. While you shouldn’t eat pork raw, it’s perfectly safe to cook it to medium doneness, so it’s still juicy and a bit rosy on the inside.

Roasted into a tangy, caramelized feast and paired with a fruity sauce, pork is delicious! Below is my take on this Belgian classic.

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BALSAMIC BLUEBERRY REDUCTION
(adapted from a recipe by ‘Het Waterhuis’)

– 2 cups of fresh or frozen blueberries
– ¼ tsp chipotle powder
– ½ cup applesauce
– 2 Tbsp whole-gain mustard
– ½ an orange, zested and juiced
– 1 Tbsp balsamic vinegar
– 1 Tbsp agave syrup
– ¼ cup low sodium chicken broth, more if needed
– ¼ tsp freshly ground nutmeg

In a medium sauté pan, add all of the ingredients and let simmer for 10-15 minutes. Meanwhile, prepare the meat. If the consistency is too thick, add a little more chicken broth.

MUSTARD-CRUSTED PORK TENDERLOIN
Mustard-Crusted Pork Tenderloin
– 1 ¼ lbs pork tenderloin
– 1 ½ Tbsp whole-grain mustard
– salt and pepper, to taste

Rub salt and pepper on the tenderloin, then add the whole-grain mustard and coat all sides. On a foil-lined baking sheet, place the pork tenderloin under the broiler and rotate every 3-4 minutes, until the internal temperature reads 135F for a tender medium rare. Let it sit for 5 minutes before serving. Slice into medallions and serve with Balsamic Blueberry Reduction.

Vanilla Crepes

20 Jul

Who doesn’t like crepes? They’re a culinary hit no matter where you find yourself in the world. I believe crepes are originally French, but they’re very much a staple in Belgium as well. Millions of breakfast tables are adorned with a steaming stack of hot, buttery crepes every day, and an equal number of eager wee little fingers clumsily spread butter, jam or sugar on them as we speak. Crepes or ‘pannekoeken’ are not just for children, though. As a matter of fact, many Belgians will often gather with friends or family at their local coffee shop or ‘koffiehuis’ on dreary grey afternoons, and catch up on life and kids over a steaming hot cup of coffee and a freshly baked crepe or crispy waffle. It’s as much part of everyday life in Belgium as it is to run your car through any kind of drive-thru here in America.

Crepes are easy to bake, albeit a bit finicky and perhaps an acquired skill. Despite of what kitchen supply stores want you to believe, you actually do not need any sort of specialty crepe-making equipment. My grandma Jozefa used a regular pan, and her recipe has long been praised as the standard in crepe-baking.

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VANILLA CREPES
(adapted from a recipe by my omoe Jozefa)
– 7 oz of pastry flour or self-rising flour
– 4 eggs
– 2 cups of whole milk
– 3/4 oz of butter
– 2.5 oz of white sugar
– 2 vanilla beans

Melt the butter and combine with flour, eggs, milk & sugar. Split vanilla beans and with the tip of a knife scrape out the seeds. Add vanilla seeds to batter. The batter should be a thick liquid, that can easily be swirled or poured.

In a non-stick lightweight pan, heat a teaspoon of peanut oil until your pan is very hot. Depending on the size of your pan, pour about 1/3 cup of your batter in the pan and immediately swirl it around so you get an even, thin coating. Use a bit less for smaller pans, a bit more for larger pans. You want to achieve a thin pancake or crepe.

Crepes cook quickly, and you’ll notice tiny bubbles appear on the top within a matter of 1-2 minutes. When you see these tiny bubbles or air holes, it’s time to flip your crepe and cook the other size. Loosen the edges and use a spatula to flip your crepe, or go ‘pro’ and try to flip it in the air.
Don’t be alarmed if your first crepe came out a mess. Every Belgian knows the first one is always a dud!

Serve with butter, sugar, honey or jam. They’re delicious hot or cold.

Blind Finches

19 Jul

OK, so the title of this dish is a bit odd, but let me make it perfectly clear that we’re not actually eating blind or headless birds here. There. I’m glad we cleared that out of the way.

Blind finches or ‘vogeltjes zonder kop’ (isn’t Dutch a romantic language?), are tender rolls of seasoned ground beef & veal or pork that are enveloped in a jacket of thinly sliced beef. They’re the Flemish equivalent of Italian ‘Braciole’, really. Usually seared in a hot pan & browned to a crisp on the outside, blind finches are then left to braise in a hearty concoction of brown beer, onions & thyme. Served with mashed potatoes, this dish is Belgian comfort food at its best.

My older brother Bert & I absolutely loved it, and the dish was a frequent request in mom’s weekly menu rotation… that is, until Satan Bert – in a sly effort to secure a larger portion of the beloved dish for himself – successfully convinced me that I was actually eating blind, headless dead birds, and – for good story-telling measure – would add drama by describing in detail how the fated birds would often cry for their feathery friends when captured. It left a serious mark on my sensitive wee little soul and I hated ‘vogeltjes zonder kop’ from that day forward… I think we went a couple of weeks of me stubbornly snubbing blind finches, but mom caught on pretty quickly that Bert’s mischievous hand was in this and set the record sraight.

Every respectable butcher in Belgium sells pre-assembled blind finches that are ready to be sautéed, but the concept remains elusive in my Californian neck of the woods. The recipe below includes instructions on making the beef roll-ups yourself, just in case in you can’t find them at your local butcher or grocery store.

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BLIND FINCHES
(as per Cecilia, my mother)
For the blind finches:
– 1 lbs of ground beef (93/7) + 0.5 lbs of ground veal or pork, for 6 individual finches
– 6 pieces of thinly sliced sirloin, to wrap the finches in (*)
– 1 shallot, finely chopped
– 1 clove of garlic, minced
– a handful of chopped parsley
– salt & pepper, to taste
– kitchen twine
(*) You can ask your butcher at the grocery store to thinly slice a sirloin roast for you into aprox. 3×5 inch slices, or approx. the size of a small taco-sized tortilla. Keep in mind that you just want to be able to wrap your rolls of ground beef in them, so the slices should be thinly cut so you can easily fold them and wrap them.

Melt 1-2 tbs of butter in a heavy pan (cast iron works best here) and sauté the garlic and shallots until translucent and soft. Set aside and let cool until able to handle with bare hands. Don’t wash pan, we’ll be using it later! In large mixing bowl, add ground meats, parsley and chopped shallots, and mix until well combined. Add salt & pepper to taste.
Lay out thin slices of sirloin, and divide ground beef evenly over each piece. Roll them up (like a mini-burrito) into tight little cylinder-shaped bundles and tie together with kitchen twine so they don’t fall apart whilst cooking. Salt & pepper the outside, to taste.
It goes without saying that you can pretty much put whatever you like in the ground meat mixture, I’ve cooked them before with some diced pancetta in them too…

For braising:
– 1 to ½ bottle of smooth dark beer (no IPA’s or other ‘bitter’ tasting beers!)
– approx. 1 cup of beef stock
– 2 small onions, diced or chopped
– 2-3 sprigs of fresh thyme, chopped
– 1-2 bay leaves
– 2 tbsp of butter
– 1 tbsp of cooking sherry

In the same heavy pan that you browned the shallots in, heat butter until pan is very hot but the butter is not burning! Quickly brown finches on all sides, being careful not to break the integrity of your bundles. When browned on all sides, douse the pan with the beef stock and beer, and scrape some of the browned bits off the bottom of your pan.
Add the chopped onions, thyme & laurel leaves, and cover the pan. Braise for approx. 20-30 min. until the meat is cooked through.
Remove finches to a plate or serving dish and cover with aluminum foil so they stay hot (or move to a warm 100F oven). Add 1 tbsp of flour + 1 tbsp of cooking sherry to pan sauce, and cook for a few minutes more, allowing the sauce to thicken. Pour sauce over the finches and serve hot with mashed potatoes, stoemp and/or roasted root vegetables.

Animal-style Mayonnaise

18 Jul

My Belgian roots seem to trump any American traits I have adopted over the years when it comes to French fries. For instance, I will not settle anymore for plain old non-flavored coffee, but I still like the creaminess of mayo with my steaming hot & crunchy fries. It’s considered an oddity here in ketchup-loving California, but I bet the epicenter of mayo-based casseroles balmy Southern states share my dipping joy.

So when I was introduced to a California institution named ‘In & Out Burger’ by my American family, and was told with much excitement that this red & gold vinyl circus was the Mecca of all hamburger joints, I was highly disappointed there was not a drop of mayonnaise to be had. At the time, I already had a wee bit of a chip on my shoulder as fast food is not exactly my idea of culinary sophistication, so I may or may not have had a an air of superiority about the whole thing. I plead the fifth. Not being able to drown my fast food sorrow with a vat of mayonnaise, probably put me over the edge. “Try the animal sauce…” , Scott proclaimed, “…you’ll like it”. I’m sure I must have looked at him with an air of complete disbelief, but I aim to please and reluctantly bit the corner of a little plastic pouch of animal sauce, and – with some trepidation – squirted some on a ‘test fry’… I swear, I heard the faint sound of violins and saw rosy-cheeked cherubs blowing kisses in my general direction. Honest to God!

I figured animal sauce can’t be that hard to recreate as my taste buds instantly recognized its delicious mayonnaise base. It was just a matter of adding a few things to it.

I listed a recipe for basic mayonnaise here, as well as my own recipe for In & Out’s animal style hamburger sauce.

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BASIC MAYONNAISE
– 2 eggs, yolks only
– 1tsp of white vinegar
– 2 tsp of freshly squeezed lemon juice
– 1 tsp of dijon mustard (not the grainy kind)
– 1/2 cup of safflower oil (or cannola oil)
– 1/2 cup of olive oil (or safflower/cannola or any other oil you like)
– salt & pepper to taste

Since mayo is an emulsion, it’s an important to use room temperature ingredients. If you keep your egg in the fridge, take them out about 30-45 minutes prior to making this mayo and let them warm a bit. When at room temperature, separate the yolks and discard the whites. In regards to the oils, olive oil has amore pronounced flavor then safflower or cannola oil, so use light olive oil or any other light oil if you don;t care for the flavor of olive oil.

In a stainless steel bowl, whisk yolks, mustard and vinegar together until smooth. Add salt & white pepper to taste (using blackpepper will leave little flecks of black in your creamy mayo).

Now here comes the tricky part… You will need both hands, so make sure the bowl on your countertop is secured. You can do so by placing it on top of a non-skid mat, or by using a cold damp towel that will hold your bowl in place whil you whisk.

Adding the oil to your egg-mustard mixture is where things can go wrong. Gently and in a steady motion trickle oil into the egg & mustard mixture one drop at a time, whilst whisking constantly. When the emulsion is beginning to thicken, you can go from droplets to a thin stream and so forth. You will need pretty much all of the oil, but when you see it is getting harder to incorporate the oil, it means you are reaching the limit. If this is the case, stop adding oil as otherwise you risk your mayonnaise separating again. If your mixture is not thickening, you are liking whisking too vigorously so slow down a bit. The pace of whisking should be steady, but neither too fast nor too slow… it’s a learnt art!

When you have achieved a beautifully creamy sauce, add the lemon juice and some more salt & pepper to your taste. Enjoy your homemade mayo!

(*) You can also add herbs to flavor your mayo, such as finely chopped fresh tarragon for a French twist, minced garlic for a traditional aioli or a few drops of sriracha sauce for a spicy fiery mayo. The possibilities are endless.

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ANIMAL SAUCE
(adapted from In & Out Burger)
– 1/2 cup of mayo
– 3 tsp of ketchup (for the recipe, look here)
– 6 tsp of pickle relish
– 1.5 tsp of distilled white vinegar
– 1.5 tsp of white sugar

Whisk all ingredients together and enjoy on a hamburger bun with your favorite hamburger, cheese, lettuce, tomato & onions! Yum!

Piperade Basquaise

17 Jul

Traditionally from the rural Basque regions in Spain & Southern France, I decided that something as delicious as ‘Piperade’ must be honored on this blog. There’s no tie to Belgian cuisine, other than the fairly mundane fact that I ate this in my mom’s country kitchen in our small Flemish country town, surrounded by smelly dairy farms, swarms of potato bugs, cackling poultry and endless corn fields.

Piperade fits right in this pretty farmers picture. It’s a flavorful and hearty dish that won’t break the bank… unless you live in coastal Los Angeles, but let’s not be cynical about living a mile away from the Pacific Ocean, shall we? In Spain and the South of France, piperade is often accompanied by cubes of grilled Bayonne ham and silky poached eggs, and served alongside hand-torn morsels of brown country bread to sop up the culinary orgasm that is runny yolks blended with ham- and sweet pepper juices. I feel bashful just writing about it.

Since Bayonne ham is not readily available in my coastal settlement, I would probably have to drive all the way to smog city downtown LA in order to score some authentic Basque ham. And trust me when I say that no ham is worth fighting 405 freeway traffic for!

This leads me to tell you that since Bayonne ham has a light smoky flavor, I figured I’d try my luck with pancetta, and… BINGO! I think bacon would work well too, or surely even diced smoked kielbasa. In fact, this is such a versatile dish, that you could completely omit the meat and go vegetarian altogether. Or serve it alongside or on top of crispy browned chicken legs, which I vaguely remember is what my mother did.

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PIPERADE BASQUAISE
(adapted from multiple recipes I found online)
– 1 medium size red bell pepper
– 1 medium size yellow bell pepper
– 1 medium size orange bell pepper
– 2 medium size onions
– 1/4 cup of extra virgin olive oil
– 6 cloves of garlic, minced
– 1 tsp of Piment d’Espelette (*)
– 1/2 tsp of chopped fresh oregano
– 1 tsp of chopped fresh thyme
– 1 cup of diced pancetta
– 4 large fresh eggs
(*) Piment d’Espelette is a medium hot chili that comes from the Basque town of Espelette. You can find it in specialty food stores, but you can also replace it with hot paprika if you can’t find it.

Cut peppers in half lengthwise, seed, core and slice into thin strips. Cut onions in half and slice into thin strips as well. Mince garlic cloves.

Heat oil in a large heavy pan and sauté garlic and onions until beginning to soften, approx. 3-4 min. Add peppers and sauté until beginning to soften, approx. 5 min. Add bay leaves, piment d’espelette and fresh oregano, and simmer over low heat until vegetables are soft.

In the meantime, dice pancetta and brown in a separate pan. When browned, set aside on paper towel. Deglaze pan with a bit of white wine, and add pan juices to vegetables.

When vegetables are soft, add pancetta & fresh thyme to pan and simmer 3 min more to blend all flavors. Salt & pepper to taste.

Make 4 small spaces in your pan, among the pepper mixture, and drop a raw egg in each space. Turn heat to low, cover and allow egg to cook for 3-4 min until whites are done and yolks are a bit runny still. This will take a little while, so patience is key here. (You can also poach your eggs separately, and serve over the piperade).

Sprinkle with some fresh parsley and serve with crusty brown bread, or over couscous.

Soledad Goat Cheese

16 Jul

I have a confession to make. I just ate lemon-lavender goat cheese for dessert. Straight from the jar. What kind of goat cheese can conceivably be conceptualized as a dessert by taste buds? This kind.

At $6.00 a tub, I used to think Soledad goat cheese was way too expensive, until they roped me in with a sample one day. Ever since that moment, I’ve had pear-walnut-honey goat cheese on raisin toast for breakfast, onion-cucumber goat cheese on rye for lunch, roasted sweet pepper goat cheese stuffed in figs for a snack, regular goat cheese on beet salads, lemon-lavender goat cheese as dessert… Oh dear Lord, help me.

I’m sorry if you live out of Los Angeles County lines, because that means you will likely not be able to drift off into goat cheese nirvana until your next vacation. However, next time you plan a visit, make sure to pencil in a stop at any of our local farmers markets and pick up a tub of their goat cheese.

Apart from making great cheese, the folks at Soledad Goat Farms love their goats. Loved goats give great milk. It’s a happy place.

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Rémy’s Ratatouille (Rat-a-too-ee)

16 Jul

So…how many of you saw the title and instantly wandered off to romantic Paris in their mind, with its cobble-stoned rues and fresh baguettes? Right? A few Christmases ago, my sweetheart surprised me with Pixar’s ‘Ratatouille’, and I instantly fell in love with it for more reasons than just the adorable rat Rémy and the equally as lovable man who gave me the movie in the first place. I loved it because it teaches us a very simple but important lesson in life: no matter who you are or where you come from, there’s always something wonderful around the corner when you follow your passion. Aw.

Now the thing is, there’s nothing even remotely Belgian about ratatouille. It’s a dish straight out of French cuisine, Provence to be precise. As children, my brother & I spent many Summer vacations in our family’s sweltering caravan, on a dusty campground at the Cote d’Azur. How lucky were we?
Ratatouille is reminiscent of the flavors of my childhood vacations, so it has a special place in my heart, right next to the smell of gasoline and roasted salty & sweet peanuts. Don’t ask.

Rémy didn’t actually cook ‘ratatouille’ as his showcase dish for Mr. Anton Ego, the austere & disdainful food critic in the movie. No. Rémy cooked ‘Confit Byaldi’.

While similar in flavor, Confit Byaldi is the more elegant version of its often too soggy & overcooked Provençal cousin ratatouille. Visually stunning, Confit Byaldi tempts with caramelized layers of equal size slices of zucchini, yellow squash, Japanese eggplant & roma tomatoes, all resting happily on a bed of piperade sauce. Doesn’t that sound sexy already? And with all these gorgeous Summer vegetables making a happy appearance at your local farmers’ market right now, the timing couldn’t be better.

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CONFIT BYALDI
(adapted from Thomas Keller)

For the Piperade sauce:
– 1/2 red bell pepper, seeds & ribs removed, finely diced
– 1/2 yellow bell pepper, seeds & ribs removed, finely diced
– 1/2 of orange bell pepper, seeds & ribs removed, finely diced
– 1 small clove of garlic, minced (+/- 1 tsp)
– 2-3 tbsp of extra virgin olive oil
– 1.5 cups of crushed tomatoes
– 1 small onion, finely diced
– 2 sprigs of fresh thyme, left whole
– salt & pepper
– 1 bay leaf

Heat olive oil in a pan and sauté onion & garlic over medium-low heat until onions are soft but not browned, +/- 8 minutes. Add crushed tomatoes, thyme & bay leaf, and simmer until everything is very soft and very little liquid remains, about 10 minutes. Add peppers and simmer until soft, another 8-10 minutes or so. Discard bay leaf & thyme, season with salt & pepper.

For the vegetables:
– 1 zucchini (4 to 5 ounces) sliced in 1/16-inch rounds
– 1 Japanese eggplant, (4 to 5 ounces) sliced into 1/16-inch rounds
– 1 yellow squash (4 to 5 ounces) sliced into 1/16-inch rounds
– 4 Roma tomatoes, sliced into 1/16-inch rounds
– 1 small red onion, sliced thinly but make sure rounds stay together and don’t fall apart
– 1 red bell pepper, thinly sliced in rounds
– 1 tsp minced garlic
– 2 tsp of extra-virgin olive oil
– 1 tsp of chopped fresh thyme leaves
– 1/2 cup of sliced black olives (if you hate olives, you can totally leave them out. No big deal)
– salt and pepper, to taste

(*) I use a mandolin to slice my thumbnail all vegetables nice & evenly, but you can definitely do this by hand as well. Just make sure all slices are even in size.

Spread piperade sauce on the bottom of an oven-proof pan. Heat oven to 250F degrees.
Arrange alternating vegetables in a close spiral, so that 1/4 of each slice of vegetable sticks out. Repeat until pan is filled and all (or most) of the vegetables are used.

Mix garlic, oil, and thyme leaves in bowl and season with salt and pepper to taste. Sprinkle over vegetables.

Cover the pan with foil and seal well. Bake until vegetables are tender, about 2 hours. Uncover, turn oven to 400F and bake for 30 minutes more, or until the dish is slightly browned and liquid has mostly evaporated.
Take out of the oven and sprinkle olives and fresh thyme over the top.

I typically serve this over couscous or brown rice, barley… You name it. Chicken or fish are great with this dish as well.

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