Archive | August, 2013

Spaghetti Bolognese

18 Aug

Yesterday was one of those rare days on which I didn’t really feel like cooking. We’d been mostly in our ‘weekend lazy‘ mode, and I didn’t get out of my purple penguin pajamas until well into the afternoon. Up until that moment in which I actually traded my cozy pj’s for cozy jeans & a tee, my most strenuous activity was whipping up grilled cheese sandwiches & a tomato salad for the beau & I… It took 20 minutes of thumbing through the newest edition of ‘Food & Wine’ whilst slouched in the couch, to recover from this sudden burst of activity. I know I will pay dearly for this laziness in the upcoming week, but it was nice for once to actually not be running up & down the stairs with laundry baskets and hauling 20 bags of groceries inside, as though I’m in some wacky episode of ‘Survivor-Special Homestead Edition‘.

The result of this pointless Saturday lull, was that after hours of watching my stepson play ‘Portal 2’ on his Xbox and browsing Pinterest and the likes on my phone, I actually started enjoying the nothingness of my Saturday and I morphed into the mother of all laziness. The longer it went on, the more ‘nothing’ I felt like doing… and then dinner time hit me. Like the hand of God himself striking me down for my indolence.

A quick peek in the fridge brought ground beef, onions & basil to the forefront, so spaghetti it was! I realize that I’m not adding an earth-shattering culinary oeuvre with posting a recipe for ‘spaghetti bolognese‘, but I thought I’d share my version of this classic nonetheless…

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SPAGHETTI BOLOGNESE
(Adapted from a recipe by Anne Burrell)
– 3 shallots, finely diced
– 2 large carrots, finely diced
– 3 ribs celery, finely diced
– 4 cloves garlic, minced or grated
– 3 lbs of lean ground beef
– 2 6oz cans of tomato paste
– 1 28oz can of crushed tomatoes
– 3 cups full-bodied red wine
– salt & pepper
– olive oil
– a pinch of cayenne pepper
– 3 bay leaves
– 1 bunch of thyme, tied in a bundle
– 1.5 lbs of dry spaghetti
– 1/2 cup grated or shaved Parmigiano-Reggiano

In food processor, puree onion, carrots, celery, & garlic into a coarse paste (or blend with a hand mixer).

In large pan heat olive oil and sauté veggie paste with a generous helping of salt, until most water has evaporated and they start to brown, approx 15 min.

Add ground beef & season generously with salt as well. Allow the beef to brown slowly, 15-20 mins.

Add tomato paste & cook til brown, 4 to 5 mins. Add red wine. Cook til wine reduces by half, another 4-5 mins.

Add crushed tomatoes and toss in bay leaves & bundle of thyme. Stir to combine all. Bring to boil, reduce heat to simmer and -ideally- simmer 3 1/2-4 hours to develop all the flavors. If the sauce gets to thick, add water. Finish sauce with salt & pepper to taste, and add a pinch of cayenne pepper for a bit of heat.

During last 30 mins, bring a large pot of water to boil. Pasta water should always be well salted, so don’t skimp on this. When water comes to a rolling boil, add pasta & cook for 1 minute less than package says. Reserve 1/2 cup pasta water.

Meanwhile remove 1/2 of the sauce from pot & reserve in a separate bowl.

Drain the pasta & add to the pot with 1/2 the sauce. Toss pasta to coat. Add some reserved sauce to achieve an even ratio between pasta & sauce.

Add reserved pasta water and cook pasta & sauce together over med heat until the water reduces. Turn off heat.

Give a big sprinkle of freshly grated or shaved Parmigiano Reggiano and a generous drizzle of good quality olive oil.

Buon Appetito!

Honey & Lime Roasted Carrots

17 Aug

I roasted these lovely carrots in combination with my deliciously crispy curried chicken drumsticks the other night. The sweetness & tanginess of these carrots pairs perfectly with the earthiness of the curry flavored drumlets. It was a budget-friendly marriage made in heaven, if you ask me.

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HONEY & LIME ROASTED CARROTS
(A Hungry Belgian original)
– 6-7 large carrots, peeled whole, or 10-12 mini carrots
– 2 shallots, roughly chopped
– 1 lime, zested & juiced
– 1/4 cup of olive oil
– 1 tsp of ground cumin
– 1 Tbsp of honey
– salt & pepper, to taste

Preheat oven to 425F.

Halve carrots lengthwise, and if using large ones, halve each half lengthwise again. Cut each quarter crosswise, so you end up with long carrot fries, so to speak.

In a large bowl, pour lemon zest, juice, olive oil & honey, and stir until well combined. Pour over the carrots & shallots, and toss to coat well.

Pour carrots, shallots and oil mixture onto a baking sheet, and sprinkle with cumin, salt & pepper.

Roast for approx. 30-45 min, until caramelized and charred around the edges. Bon Appetit!

Crispy Curried Chicken Drumlets

17 Aug

The other day, whilst thumbing through a glossy magazine, I came across an article on curry leaves and the history of the spice. Things like that completely stop me in my tracks, and I forgot I was actually standing in line in the store until a testy elderly lady in hot pink rhinestone embellished sweatpants angrily harped that it was my turn! She wore a matching jacket with the likeness of some Las Vegas idol sprawled across her chest, smiling broadly & winking as if though to say he scored himself a lucrative senior sweatshirt deal and was now kicking it with ‘Betty Boo’ here. With a twinge of mild irritation in her crackling, nicotine-damaged voice, she motioned towards the rapidly emptying conveyer belt and proceeded with giving me the stink eye for slowing her & Mr. Vegas down by 5 extra minutes. I snapped out of my curry leaves dream and apologetically resumed proper grocery store etiquette.

Because of the drama surrounding ‘the incident with the blue-haired coiffure’, I couldn’t tell you what I read anymore, other than that curry is way old and super versatile. Curry has got to be one of my favorite spices. It’s so warm and earthy, you can find it in a variety of heat levels and it colors your food a pleasing, happy yellow.

With our family’s poor man’s budget encouraging creative thinking, I picked up a 12-pack of chicken drumsticks and a few random items, and inadvertently came up with the deliciousness below… I hope you enjoy these too.

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CRISPY CURRIED CHICKEN DRUMLETS
(A Hungry Belgian original)
– 12 or more chicken drumsticks or thighs
– 1 14oz can of coconut milk
– 1 lime, zested
– 1.5 Tbsp of Sriracha sauce (or Harissa, Sambal Oelek or hot curry paste)
– 2-3 Tbsp of sweet curry powder (I use Penzey’s Spices, you can adjust as to how much curry flavor you want)
– 1.5 inch piece of fresh ginger root, peeled & grated
– salt & pepper, to taste
– fresh cilantro, for garnish

In a large container, pour all ingredients together other than the chicken & cilantro, and stir until well combined.

Rinse and pat chicken dry, and let marinate in the curried coconut milk mixture for at least 1-2 hours.

Preheat oven to 425F. Take drumsticks out of the marinade and place on a foil-lined baking sheet. Roast for approx. 30-45 minutes, until chicken is crispy and cooked through.

Serve with these lovely honey & lime roasted carrots, and rice.

Butter-braised Savoy Cabbage with Speck

16 Aug

Yesterday, my new Facebook friend Linda V. K. asked me if I knew what ‘wirsing’ means in English? While the word ‘wirsing’ is actually German for a lovely dish of butter-braised Savoy cabbage, the dish is decidedly Belgian in nature. Belgium is a land of country cooking & hearty food, and what could possibly be more country than cabbage?!

Whenever I see cabbage, I am instantly reminded of the frosted-over cabbage fields sprawled out over the western Flemish farm belt. The fields stretch for miles on end and are planted in perfectly straight rows, with dirt pathways cutting through the geometrical pattern like goat trails. Lone farmers tend to their crops with their weathered hands clad in woolen fingerless gloves, their rosy cheeks glowing like red beacons of life on the otherwise desolate, bleak fields. I used to cycle alongside these fields on my way to or from school, often pulling my sweater’s sleeves over my hands to give my fingers some relief from the icy morning fog that blankets these lands in Fall & Winter. I’m sure my mother’s ‘Don’t forget your gloves!!’ must have echoed a million times through our hallway.

When kicking off our snow-covered boots and darting over the frigid garage floor in our socks, the warmth of the kitchen and the aroma of butter-braised cabbage and browned sausage felt like the culinary equivalent of sitting by a warm hearth. In my post about braised red cabbage, I already proclaimed my love for the deep purple vegetable, but dark green Savoy cabbage was never all that popular. It’s a universal phenomenon for kids to dislike leafy green vegetables, and Belgian youth is no exception to this. I remember Bert & I used to heap butter and some of the sausage’s pan drippings over the green cabbage, to make it more palatable.

The recipe below is for Linda. As promised, it’s imported directly from a trusted source in small rural Flemish village. Photo courtesy goes entirely to Belgian celebrity chef Jeroen Meus.

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BUTTER BRAISED SAVOY CABBAGE WITH SPECK
(Adapted from a recipe by Jeroen Meus)
– 1/2 head of Savoy cabbage (or green cabbage)
– a small pinch of sodium bicarbonate, to retain the cabbage’s bright green color during cooking (*)
– 8 slices of thick cut bacon, chopped into small pieces
– ground nutmeg, to taste
– salt & pepper, to taste
– 3 Tbsp of good quality butter
– ¼ cup of heavy cream
(*) This is completely optional but safe and flavorless! Sodium Bicarbonate is similar to Alka-Seltzer, for instance, or other stomach acid drugs. You only need a little bit for a whole pot of water, and it will not affect the flavor of the dish, nor is it unsafe to use. Sodium Bicarbonate ensures that the bright green color of cabbage is preserved in the cooking process, as otherwise the cabbage turns into somewhat of a drab brownish green. Many restaurants use this trick to preserve the bright green color of many green vegetables.

For an authentic flavor, you will need a head of Savoy cabbage (see picture below), and you will also need 2 large pots or Dutch ovens.

Start with filling one of your pots with water and bring to a rolling boil. While the water is heating, clear tough ‘older’ leaves from the outside cabbage and discard (or compost!). Cut cabbage in half, reserving one half for later. For the other half, cut the hard core out of the middle and cut that half in half again, so you end up with 2 quarter cabbage parts. Slice each cabbage quarter in very thin strips.

When the water is boiling, add a pinch of sodium bicarbonate to ensure the cabbage retains its bright green color. Add chopped cabbage, and simmer (blanch) for approx. 3-4 min until cabbage is crisp tender. Pour cabbage into a colander, and drain very well.

In the second pan, add 1 Tbsp of butter and brown bacon pieces until crisp, approx. 10 minutes. Reserve a few bacon bits for garnish. Add well-drained cabbage and sauté for 2-3 minutes more until cabbage is soft and well combined. Fold 2 Tbsp of butter and cream into the braised cabbage, and season with salt, pepper & ground nutmeg to taste. Sprinkle reserved bacon bits over the top and serve with browned sausage or you favorite protein.

Another Belgian classic! Enjoy!

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Belgium, the movie…

15 Aug

While the scale tips in favor of America, there’s certainly lots of things I miss about Belgium. I grew up in this diverse country and called it my home for 29 years…

The movie is narrated in English and it is such a beautiful documentary about all things Belgium. I just had to share it…

Belgium, the movie!
Click the title above, sit back and relax.

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Creamy Herbed Pea Soup

15 Aug

Ask my mother what my favorite vegetable is, and she’ll loudly proclaim: ‘SWEET PEAS!’. Well, she’d actually say ‘zveet peez!’, what with her having learned English by watching subtitled episodes of ‘The Golden Girls’ and all. (On a side note: they eat surprising few peas those golden girls!).
I’ve been in love with crisp fresh English peas for decades. Seeing them happily clinging together in their tiny pods, reminds me of lazy Summer weekends hanging out on the porch and sipping ice cold tea with your best girl friends. I know it’s a stretch, but stay with me…

With pea season arriving right around the time the winter chill leaves the early morning air, there’s nothing that stops me from planting my pajama-clad ‘derriere’ in one of our floral cabana patio chairs, armed with a mug of coffee and a bowl of fresh English peas for hulling. With the canopy of a big fat loquat tree shading our patio, I usually get the company of a few humming birds whizzing about and/or house finches, chirping loudly over who gets to perch on the top tier of our birdfeeder. These kind of lazy Sunday mornings are my favorite. The ‘house men’ are night owls and tend to sleep in late, so I have our cozy apartment all to myself, with the cats snoozing in the morning sun somewhere inconvenient or doing their cute feline chit-chattering thing to the birds in front of the open window, secretly plotting for you to break a leg as you try to avoid stepping on them when you walk back inside with a bowl of hulled peas.

I like hulling peas. Seeing them bounce around on the bottom of the bowl as they come cascading in with the help of my thumb, I can’t help but think it must feel like a roller-coaster ride to them… I’ve always had a vivid imagination. It doesn’t help much that my office cubicle overlooks the take-off & landing strips of Los Angeles International airport, and I occasionally find myself day-dreaming about being sprawled out in a polka dot bikini on an exotic white sand beach with coconut palms swaying back & forth… That is, until the roaring engine of Air Tahiti Nui’s flight #85 approaches and thunders by my 6th floor office window, which usually sets off an overly sensitive car alarm or two. I’m instantly reminded that Century Blvd isn’t even remotely near Tahiti, and if I dare squeeze my curves into a tiny polka dot bikini, I’d risk getting a ticket for bringing the human form into disrepute. But we were talking about peas… See what I mean with vivid imagination?! Sheesh.

Last Spring, I came home with a 5 lbs bag of fresh English peas from the farmers market. We pretty much ate pea-anything that week. It was as if we were on a 7-day pea cleansing program, which I’m sure exists somewhere here, in Beverly Hills or so. Among many other green adventures, I made the Summer soup below. It’s served cold, like gazpacho, and it’s such a refreshing dish on a hot Summer day, but if you like, you could eat it warm too… Aren’t peas just awesome?!

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CREAMY HERBED PEA SOUP
(A Hungry Belgian original)
– 1 large shallot, diced
– 1-2 Tbsp of grapeseed oil (or light olive oil)
– 2 3/4 cups of chicken broth
– 1/4 cup of Pinot Grigio (or other crisp white wine)
– 1.5 lbs of fresh peas (or equal amount of frozen peas)
– 1/3 cup of heavy cream
– 1 Tbsp of fresh mint, chopped very finely
– 1 tsp of fresh tarragon, chopped very finely
– 2 Tbsp of fresh parsley, chopped finely
– 1 Tbsp of fresh chives, chopped finely
– zest of 1 small lemon
– salt & pepper, to taste
– crème fraiche, for garnish
– 1/2 leek, thinly sliced, for garnish (optional)

In a sauce pan, add oil and sauté shallots over medium heat until softened, but not browned! Add broth, wine and peas, and simmer until peas are mostly tender but still bright green. Remove from heat and add lemon zest. In a blender, or with a hand-mixer, blend the soup so it’s smooth and lump-free. It should be a fairly thick but liquid consistency. Pour blended mixture into a bowl and set in iced cold water to cool the soup quickly and retain its bright green color. (Make sure the ice water won’t pour into your soup!)

When soup feels cool enough to the touch, add cream & herbs. Season with salt & pepper to taste, and serve in bowls. Swirl a dollop of crème fraiche through it and sprinkle with a few of the shavings of leek, for garnish.

Pairs really nice with smoked salmon toast or cold shrimp. Yum!

Wine Braised Cabbage with Plums & Bacon

14 Aug

The other day, I discovered a smoked turkey sausage in the back of my fridge. With ‘it’ being far removed from my much more popular non-processed food corner, I didn’t even catch its presence until famine set in and I nosied around in the fridge for a quick dinner idea, or shall we say, in a desperate attempt to save myself a trip to the grocery store. And there it was. Sitting proudly in the ‘man corner’ of the fridge, right next to the hot dogs and beer. I’m usually pretty good with keeping a detailed inventory of our fridge’s contents in the back of my mind, you know, in that special lobe that keeps track of all practical things, but that darn sausage snuck up on me. I’m not ‘big’ on things that have an unnatural and/or freakishly long shelf life, but with our finances seriously strapped these days, a sale on $5.00 smoked sausage goes a long way…

Just like Velveeta, I believe there’s a place for kielbasa in this world as well. However, when I bought that sausage, I must have not been entirely sure where exactly that place was. Come to think of if, this is probably why it ended up on the ‘man shelf’ in our fridge in the first place. Then, as per divine intervention, I remembered: ‘Rookworst met rode kool’! Braised red cabbage and sausage is not only popular in Belgium, but in Holland as well. Although our northern neighbor traditionally opts for braised kale or ‘boerekool’, rather than red cabbage. Either way, braised cabbage is everywhere in the lower lands and many a Flemish child grows up on that stuff.

With my flavor palette a bit more refined these days, I fancified my vocabulary this cabbage a little bit. Rather than braising it traditionally with just bits of apple and vinegar, I opted for a more flavorful combination of red wine, dried plums and bacon.

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WINE BRAISED CABBAGE WITH PLUMS & BACON
(A “Hungry Belgian” original…)
– 1 small head of red cabbage, shredded thinly or chopped finely (+/- 1.5 lbs shredded)
– 2/3 cup of good quality red wine + more for soaking (*)
– 2-3 shallots, chopped into small dice (or 1 medium size red onion)
– 10-12 dried plums, slivered
– 2 small pears, peeled, cored & diced
– 2 sticks of cinnamon
– 2 cloves
– 1 laurel leaf
– 4-5 slices of thick cut bacon, sliced into small slivers
– salt & pepper, to taste
(*) The age-old adage is: if you don’t like the wine for drinking, don’t cook with it either!

Soak plums in a bit of red wine to soften them. Place a large heavy pot or Dutch oven over high heat and brown the bacon until crisp. Remove from pot and set aside.

In the bacon fat, brown shallots until translucent. Then add shredded cabbage with wine, pears, spices and salt & pepper to taste, and fold so everything is well combined. Cover the pot and braise over medium-low heat for approx. 45 min until cabbage is soft. Add plums, and simmer 10-15 min more to allow most of the liquid to evaporate. Remove cinnamon, laurel leaf and cloves, and add bacon bits back in.

Serve braised cabbage alongside your preferred choice of crisp browned sausage links.

Fig Tartlets with Goat Cheese & Honey

13 Aug

Ah… Fresh figs!

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I love everything about fresh figs, really. The sweet stickiness that lingers on your lips, the earthy smell, the bright red flesh that offsets the crisp green or deep dark purple of the skin, the plump texture with just the right amount of crunch form the tiny seeds… I even like the shape of the bright green leaves and the knottiness of the tree branches. Let it be known that if I were to reincarnate as a tree, I’d like to come back as a fig tree.

Mom must have loved figs too, because I remember us bringing back a few saplings during one of our vacations in the South of France. Mom carefully nursed them on our dining room window sill, where the afternoon sunlight would caress their tiny organic bodies and would cause their little leaves to quiver from the warmth. The next Spring, we planted two of them in the backyard, in a post-winter ritual involving partially decomposed dog doodoo and a rusty shovel (with possibly some canned banana shoved in the hollow handle) (*). We didn’t hold much hope for the saplings’ survival of the first brutal Belgian winter that would be nipping at their fragile roots come November, nor did we expect for them to thrive in our cold, wet climate. Despite all odds being stacked against them, these little knotty fig trees have grown to reach the edge of my mom’s single level’s rooftop over the years. Overwhelmed by the amount of fruit they’d produce every late Summer thru early Fall, we couldn’t keep up with the harvest and… well… let’s just say that the crows & squirrels of the ‘Jasmijnenlaan’ were well fed.
(*) For more intriguing story lines of ‘canned bananas’, please read my banana butter post here.

I realize that figs are expensive outside of Southern California. Lucky for me, however, I happen to live in a dry, sunny climate, similar to the Mediterranean where fig trees thrive. Even better is that ‘fig season’ actually comes in 2 installments… The first crop, named the ‘breba’ crop, grows from branches that sprouted the previous year and is the harvest that begins in late Spring. It’s a fairly short-lived season, usually with the last crops harvested around early Summer. The second & larger harvest, sprouting from this year’s branch growth, begins in mid-August and runs as late as October for some varieties. This means that, with a bit of clever pre-planned farmers market hopping, I can actually enjoy fresh figs with nary a hiccup through fall. Most of the figs around here are ‘Brown Turkey’ figs or ‘Black Mission’ figs, with the deep purple black mission fruit usually having a more intense fig flavor. Later in the summer, you see ‘Kadota’ figs and ‘Calimyrna’ figs. Kadota figs are used mostly for drying, but the bright green Calimyrna’s are excellent for eating raw as well. ‘Adriatic’ figs and striped tropical ‘Panachée’ figs are quite scarce over here, so if you see them, grab them.

If you’ve never eaten fresh figs before, don’t be alarmed. When ripe, there are few fruits that compare to their sweet juiciness and I know you’ll love them too. Simply rinse the whole fruit, trim the stems back a bit and sink your teeth in like you would a strawberry. On the other hand, fresh figs are a treat when roasted in the oven with some goat cheese or chopped in salads, or you can bake them into a sweet or savory tart like I did below.

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FRESH FIG TARTLETS WITH GOAT CHEESE & HONEY
– 4 pieces of puff pastry, sliced into 6-7 inch rounds (or squares)
– 5-6 oz of soft, mild goat cheese (or if you don’t like goat cheese, use ricotta)
– 2 Tbsp of fresh oregano, chopped
– 1 tsp of lemon zest
– 6 fresh figs, sliced fairly thinly (like you would a lemon)
– Honey, for drizzling
– Salt & pepper

Preheat oven to 350F.

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and place 4 puff pastry rounds on top, spaced approx. 1.5-inch apart. In small bowl, soften goat cheese with some salt & pepper to taste, and the lemon zest. Divide goat cheese mixture evenly over the center of the puff pastry rounds, making sure to leave approx. 1 inch of the edges clear. Sprinkle chopped fresh oregano over the goat cheese.

Place fresh fig slices over the goat cheese to more or less cover. Fold the edges of the pastry over themselves just a little bit, so you get a bit of a thicker edge on the outside.

Bake the tartlets in the oven for approx. 15 min until the edges are puffed and the center looks caramelized and somewhat gooey. Drizzle some honey over the top and serve warm.

Belgian Endive Salad with Blue Cheese & Walnuts

12 Aug

A few weeks ago, I wrote a tidbit about crunchy & faintly bitter ‘witlof’ in a post featuring a delicious Summer red beet, apple & fennel slaw. Authentic ivory-colored Belgian endive tends to be expensive over here, but you can find the red variety in California fairly easily and at a much lower cost. In order for the leaves of ‘witlof’ to stay a pearly white, it needs to be grown and tended to in a dark, cool & temperature-controlled environment. With this wisdom uncovered, I’ve always been baffled as to why the USA seemingly can’t reproduce this elegant chicory variant, so a few years ago, I set out on a ‘witlof’ mission… Inspired by this beauty, which makes my Belgian heart pine for witlof each and every time:

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(Photo courtesy ‘Roquefort Cheese Co’)

Back then, my local ‘Henry’s produce & farmers market’ was kind enough to aide me in my quest to understand witlof pricing in the US, and summoned their Regional Purchasing Manager to explain a few chicory facts to me. As luck may have it, Mr. Roden happened to in town that morning, and showed up clasping a leather-bound file folder tightly in his arm pit, whilst gently cradling a white and a red chicory root in the palm of his aging hands. “The ‘real’ Belgian endive”, he says in a serious teacher tone of voice whilst holding up the all-ivory root, “has to be imported from Belgium”. He continues stating that it is usually packaged and shipped to the USA in 10 lbs boxes. Because the vegetables are exposed to sunlight during transport, it causes these tender delicate roots to develop their natural, greenish color. As a result, each box has to be unpacked upon arrival at the East Coast, with each individual root of ‘witlof’ needing to be stripped of its outer leaves by hand and subsequently repackaged to be distributed to the rest of the country. “All of this is very labor-intensive and thus costly”. I nod my head in agreement.

Another cost-factor”, he continues, “is that much of the endive grown in Belgium is grown artisanally by a method called ‘forcing’”. In Belgium, many farms that grow endive use this labor-intensive agriculture which involves replanting the chicory root by hand. That replanting process, called ‘forcing’, must take place in a darkened, temperature-controlled room. Twenty-one days after the roots are planted, employees then crouch down on hands & knees, scrape the dirt off the endive and harvest it. I look bewildered. He continues that after decades of seed trials and piddling around, the USA managed to grow a red variety hydroponically (i.e. in water), eliminating the need for workers to hand-wash the dirt off of the roots and eliminating much of the shipping- & import costs. Unfortunately, growing endive still involves a costly production process that is labor intensive.

I thank Mr. Roden for his time in sharing his knowledge with me, and sheepishly add that I’m from Belgium and miss being able to afford Belgian endive now that I live on this side of the Atlantic Ocean. He shakes my hand firmly and promises that the red variety virtually has no difference in taste, which prompts my confession that the pearly white roots simply hold nostalgic value to me. I think I inadvertently struck a chord in the somewhat stern older man, because on my way out of the store, the clerk I spoke with earlier, stopped me in my tracks and handed me a bag of ‘real’ Belgian endive, “courtesy of Mr. Roden”, she winks with a smile.

With its faint bitterness, witlof is a bit of an acquired taste. However, paired with the sweetness of a ripe apple and the creamy sharpness of a marbled blue cheese, this bitterness dissipates and melds beautifully with the other flavors introduced in the salad.

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BELGIAN ENDIVE SALAD WITH BLUE CHEESE AND WALNUTS
For the salad:
– 3 Belgian endives, washed and torn into individual leaves
– 1 sweet apple, peeled and sliced into thin wedges
– 4 oz of blue cheese, crumbled into chunks
– 1/3 cup of walnuts, roughly chopped

Peel & discard outer leaves of the endives. Remove inner leaves individually and arrange on a serving platter. Toss thinly sliced apple wedges over the endives and sprinkle crumbled blue cheese & chopped walnuts over the top. Drizzle dressing over the top.

For the dressing:
– ¼ cup of champagne vinegar
– ¾ cup of olive oil
– 2 tsp of Dijon mustard
– ½ tsp of fresh grated garlic
– 1 egg yolk, room temperature
– salt & pepper, to taste

In a non-reactive bowl, add vinegar, mustard, egg yolk & garlic and whisk until well-combined. Continue whisking and slowly pour in olive oil until the vinaigrette is emulsified. Season with salt & pepper to taste.

Cajun Pumpkin Soup

11 Aug

Fall is by far my favorite Season. There’s several things I like about Fall, but the biggest charm for me is that all vegetables that remind me of a stormy day in Belgium are in season: parsnips, pumpkins, rutabagas, turnips… And, you get to spice everything warmly because ‘t is the season. Sadly, Southern California has only two seasons. The difference between the two being that in Fall & Winter you may need to take a sweater with you, you know, for when the sun sets… what with temperatures dropping below 65F and all.

Every October, when the last residual heat of September slowly ebbs away, I’m excited to start feeling the crisp chill in the beach air and occasionally hear the sound of rain pounding my apartment’s roof. I confess that I didn’t like rain when I lived in Belgium. Rainy days would turn into soggy weeks, then into months, and eventually you’d start wondering if you should start building an ark and save yourself?! It’s only after several months of dry heat and blistering sun that I learned to appreciate a cool, wet day. Fall in Southern California is bliss. Day time temperatures remain a steady 60F-70F, and evenings get cool enough to cuddle with my beau and sip on spiced wine without risking a hot flash. An added bonus is that with 60F, we can still crack our windows open just a smidgen, and let the earthy smell of the damp beach sand & wet wooden boardwalk permeate our humble home.

It’s on these days that the soup below tastes fantastic. Decades ago, when my brother still lived in Amsterdam and mom & I would drive up for a weekend visit, he would frequently invite us for dinner at a restaurant called ‘The Louisiana Kitchen’, off of the Ceintuurbaan in the heart of the city. At the time, I was already thinking about relocating to the USA and eventually, my brother bought me the Cajun bistro’s cookbook as a parting gift. I’ve since adapted the recipe to my own preference, but the base recipe comes out of the book.

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CAJUN PUMPKIN SOUP
(Adapted from a recipe out of ‘The Louisiana Kitchen’ by Rob Van Berkum & Andre Numan)

– 8 cups of chicken broth
– 35 oz of cubed pumpkin
– 2.5 cups of good quality dry sherry
– 1.5 cups of heavy cream
– 3 large shallots, diced
– 3 ribs of celery, chopped
– 2 Tbsp of Cajun seasoning + more for the shrimp
– a pinch (or two) of cayenne pepper
– a cup of sliced or chopped mushrooms (any kind)
– 1 lbs of large scampi-size shrimp
– 5 slices of bacon, cooked & crumbled

Place a large soup pot on the stove over high heat. Add a splash of olive oil, and saute the chopped shallots & celery until translucent and starting to brown. Douse with sherry, and cook for a minute or so to burn off some of the alcohol. Add chicken broth and chopped pumpkin, and bring to a boil. Let simmer until pumpkin is soft and cooked through.

In the meantime, saute sliced mushrooms until browned and cooked through. Set aside.

Cook bacon, drain or pat dry and crumble. Set aside.
Shell & devein shrimp, toss in a bit of olive oil and grill in a 450F oven with a sprinkling of Cajun seasoning until done , approx 10 min.

When pumpkin is soft, blend the soup until smooth and velvety. Add cream, 2 Tbsp of Cajun seasoning, grilled shrimp, bacon and browned mushrooms and warm through in the soup. Season with salt & pepper, and add a pinch or two of cayenne pepper for a bit of heat.

Ladle in soup bowls, sprinkle with a bit of parsley and serve with corn bread.

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