Archive | December, 2013

Pommes Duchesse with White Cheddar & Rosemary

31 Dec

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

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

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

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

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

Preheat oven to 400F.

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

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

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

Chocolate-Dipped Cinnamon Waffles with Amaretto

27 Dec

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Creamy Orecchiette with Roasted Parsnips, Kale & Cracked Peppercorn

24 Dec

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hot Mulled Apple Wine

19 Dec

Nothing says ‘Merry Christmas’ more than the aroma of hot, mulled wine simmering away. Wafting through the house, whilst the colorful lights of an ornately decorated tree dance across the ceiling and the ‘Yule Log’ DVD is playing in the background the fire in your hearth is crackling in perfect harmony. Mulled wine is a scent that permeates Belgium in the Winter too. From the many cozy Kristkindl markets near the German border to various booths (‘kraampjes’) across cobblestoned city squares, there is no escape from it.. and let’s face it, with single digit frost blowing in your face, hot spiced wine is just about the ticket to Winter heaven. Nothing warms your congealed fingers better during the midnight mass on Christmas eve, than wrapping them around a Styrofoam cup of hot liquid deliciousness, whilst listening to the choir belt out Handel’s Messiah on a make-shift stage outside the church.

I remember the first time I tried mulled wine as a child. The assault on my young taste buds was so violent, that I spat it out on the church floor, which yielded protest from my mom for desecration and for not having “swallowed out of respect & politeness”. Nowadays, I swallow. Get your mind out of the gutter, please. Don’t be alarmed by the notion that European children grow up with things like mulled wine. While most Americans will condemn European parents for feeding their children… shudder… ALCOHOL, it is actually a fairly normal thing in Belgium to expose your 12+ year old to things like beer & wine. Within limitation, of course. And with parental supervision at all times. Especially ‘mulled’ wine is fairly harmless, as some of the alcohol in the wine evaporates during the cooking process, and mostly the robust flavors of the spices and full-bodied wine remain. It’s definitely a grown-up taste though, if you ask me.

I confess that I hated mulled wine as child. So much so, that I didn’t touch wine ever again until I was well into my college years, even though the legal drinking age for beer & wine is 16 in Belgium (which is rarely enforced in the presence of adults). In attempt to be ‘cool’ and ‘holiday hip’, my first attempt at making mulled wine resulted in a traumatic childhood flashback. It went mostly down the drain, in a semi-violent fashion. Mind you, I didn’t have access to Pinterest and thus no recipe, as this occurred in the Jurassic before the Internet was invented. ** If your tween child is reading this with you, please pick him/her up from the floor and start CPR now.** At the time, I thought that mulled wine was just red wine that was simmered with spices. Whoops.

There’s plenty of recipes for red mulled wine available online, so I decided to post the white version of hot spiced wine… I based the recipe on a concoction I found at the ‘De Ketel & De Kurk’ tavern in Belgium. This white mulled wine has a gentle apple flavor, similar to apple cider, and gets its kick from the lemon peel and the warm spices from traditional red mulled wine. Enjoy!

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Hot Mulled Apple Wine
(Adapted from a recipe by ‘De Ketel & De Kurk’ tavern)
– 2 bottles of dry white wine, the cheapest one you like drinking is fine (makes approx. 8 large mugs)
– 4 cups of clear apple juice
– 1/2 cup of Grand Marnier
– Peel of 1 lemon + juice
– 5oz of brown sugar
– 1 inch piece of fresh ginger, roughly chopped or crushed
– 3 sticks of cinnamon + more for decorating the mugs
– 2 whole vanilla beans, sliced open (do not remove seeds)
– 2 whole cloves
– 2 star anise + more for decorating the mugs
– A small pinch of ground nutmeg

Rule #1: do not boil the wine! Try to keep the wine below boiling point, and let it gently heat through without ever cracking a boil. Bringing it to a rolling boil will make the wine very bitter.

Peel lemon so that only the oily zest comes off (not the white rind underneath), juice the peeled lemon.

In a large Dutch oven, combine everything except for the wine. Bring to a boil and allow to simmer for 20-30 minutes in a covered pot. Add wine and bring to nary a boil. When you notice the wine is about ready to boil, turn the heat to low and allow it to heat through and steep for 2-3 hours without ever boiling. Pour the whole pot through a sieve to sift the impurities and spices out of the wine.

Serve hot and decorate each much with a stick of cinnamon and a star anise.

Bourbon Spiced Nuts

11 Dec

A few years ago, it was wasabi peas. Last year, it was pumpkin butter. Nowadays, it seems my stepdad’s survival & emotional well-being depends on teriyaki beef jerky. He’s presently engaged in an illicit cross-Atlantic love affair with dehydrated beef, and since my mother aims to please, I have been instructed asked to pick up 10 packages and ship them to Belgium. Pronto! Preferably yesterday, really.

It all started when she came to visit last October and we strolled a dozen or so local farmers markets, some as far North as Hollywood. On one of these markets, her eye fell on a booth with home-made grass-fed beef jerky. “What’s jerky?”, she asked slightly bewildered, already clutching a package in her hand. Smelling a sale, the vendor tipped his cowboy hat and launched into a passionate sales pitch about his family’s decades’ old ranch, his small business endeavors and the quality of his beef… all of which was efficiently halted at 0.5 seconds by mom’s brusque hand gesture and the mentioning in poor English that he needn’t bother because she doesn’t speak English. Cecile: 1 – Jerky Jim: 0
I whipped out my best apologetic smile and explained to my mom in Dutch that jerky is dehydrated beef and a common snack item in America. Jerky Jim understands. He’s not fazed by international language barriers and – whilst patiently waiting for me to finish my explanation – he kicks up the charm and proceeds with handing out a sample to my mom with a beckoning smile and a wink, as though to say “please accept my peace offering, oh Great Lady of the Comfortable Stretch Pants”. She is clearly charmed. And so it began…

Eight odd weeks later, I get a call from mom – out of the blue – asking me to please mail her 10 packages of ‘that jerky’ we bought ‘somewhere’. Why, of course! “Do you remember where we bought those, mom?” Personally, I would consider this a normal question considering we’ve been to a dozen odd markets, but this seemed to have caught my mother by surprise because, you know, I am a walking inventory of all things grocery in the greater Los Angeles area. “No, but YOU should because your brain is younger than mine and besides, YOU live there, not me?!”. I surrender. To aid me in my quest, she states she has mailed me the wrapping (?!). She could have scanned and emailed me the label, but she’s technologically challenged and her proficiency with electronics stops at kitchen gadgets and her television set she bought in 2001 or so. I respect that. I get lost in translation reading my stepsons’ Facebook statuses, and I’m only 43 21!

So, at my mom’s house, the latest episode of ‘F.C. De Kampioenen’ is enjoyed over the gregarious chewing of teriyaki jerky. I’m not much of a TV snacker myself, but I like nuts. I vaguely remember my mom’s addiction with nuts when I was younger, and her tête-a-tête with wasabi peas she discovered here a few years ago. Maybe she’ll fall in love with these nuts as well… Nuts are crazy-good in Belgium, anyway, but to rock them out of the house, I’m adding bacon, fat & sugar. What’s not to love?!

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BOURBON SPICED NUTS WITH BACON
(based on several recipes I found for spiced nuts. I kid you not, Pinterest alone is a haven of spiced nut recipes. I changed a few things and took the best of all recipes I found. These are heavenly!)
– 2 ½ cups of mixed pecans, almonds and cashews. (Or any combination you like, really)
– 1 large egg white
– 1/2 cup of maple syrup (or honey)
– 3 Tbsp of Bourbon
– 1 tsp of cinnamon
– 1/2 tsp of ground cumin
– 1/2 tsp of sea salt
– 1/4 tsp of ground nutmeg
– 1/4 tsp of ground ginger
– 1/4 tsp of cayenne pepper (I use Piment d’Espelette)
– 6 slices of crisped cooked bacon, crumbled into large pieces (optional)

Preheat oven to 350F.

Mix all the spices together in a small bowl. Beat egg whites with a whisk until foamy, then add the Bourbon & maple syrup and whisk a few minutes more to combine thoroughly.
Add nuts to the bowl with the frothy egg whites and coat well, then add all of the spices and mix until well-combined.

Pour nut mixture onto a parchment paper lined baking sheet, in a single layer. Bake at 350F for approx. 15 min, stirring every 5 min to turn the nuts and roast all sides. After 15 min, add the crisped bacon pieces and bake for an additional 5 minutes (bacon is optional, but oh so yummy!) The nuts should be nice and toasted now, but if not, give them another 2-3 minutes.

As soon as they’re done, remove them from the oven and spoon them onto a new sheet of parchment or waxed paper. Allow them to cool. If some pieces stick together break them apart once they’re cooled.

Chocolate Brioche Buns

1 Dec

Truthfully, I am not a baking wonder. I actually don’t really like baking, but I felt compelled to bake these buns out of desperation. With nothing but whole grain bread in our bread basket, the house was completely void of anything that could even remotely satisfy the side effects of my bleeding uterus (oh crap, now I’ve said it!!!), and I already devoured anything that was readily available for eating days ago… So what is a girl to do but bake something, right?! Sigh.

I saw a recipe for chocolate brioche in ‘Bon Appetit’ months ago, and dismissed it almost as instantly as I saw it. However, I’ve been thinking about it for months now and, given the sudden dip in my hormonal landscape, I felt the time was now. A notion that was re-enforced by divine intervention the fact that I actually had all the ingredients in my pantry. Because let’s face it, for baking grinches like yours truly, even a quick trip to the market derails the whole idea of baking something.

Once I got past having to measure everything out ‘just so’, a major ugh in baking, I actually enjoyed putting this dough together by hand because I don’t own a mixer with dough hook. Dear Santa… These buns turned out delicious, albeit a bit dense and ‘doughy’. Considering my hands don’t have a 3K RPM speed, I think they were a bit dense due to the lack of mechanical kneading, and next time, when my brain is not lame, I might just let my bread machine do the kneading for me. Full stop.

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Chocolate Brioche Buns
(Adapted from ‘Bon Appetit’)
– 2 cups of bread flour
– 2 cups of all purpose flour
– 1 Tbsp of baking powder
– 2 oz of butter, melted & slightly cooled
– 1/2 cup of chocolate shavings or sprinkles (or small chips)
– 3/4 cup of lukewarm milk
– 2 tsp of instant dry yeast
– small pinch of salt
– 2 eggs
– 1/2 cup + 2 Tbsp of granulated sugar
– 1/3 cup of milk, to brush the buns before baking
– 1/4 cup of melted butter, to brush the buns after baking

Preheat oven to 115F, and turn off immediately after temperature is reached. Leave door closed.

Heat milk until it’s lukewarm. Add a pinch of sugar to the milk and let the yeast dissolve into the milk. Allow to sit and culture for 10-15 min.

In a large bowl, combine flour, baking powder, sugar & 2oz of melted butter. Knead by hand or with a mixer for approx 5 min. until well combined. Add eggs and knead 5 more min until well combined.

Slowly pour yeast/milk mixture into dough, and knead 5 min to combine well. You should have a smooth dough when this is done. If the dough is still sticky, add a bit more flour.

Turn out onto a flour surfaced, and hand-knead a few more minutes. Oil the inside of the bowl, and let dough rise in the warm oven for 90-120 min.

After the dough has rested and is almost doubled in size, take it out the warm oven and cut dough ball in half.

Crank oven to 375F.

Roll each half of the dough into a broad rectangle until 1/8 inch thick. Sprinkle chocolate shavings all over the top and roll dough into a cylinder.

Cut cylinder into 4 equal parts. Slice deep slits into each part across the top, then pinch left & right end together. This will make each slit fan out a bit, which is what we want. Repeat with the other parts.

Place each bun on a parchment paper lined baking sheet.

Repeat the process with the other half of the dough.

Cover unbaked buns with a clean damp cloth and allow to rise another 30 min. Then lightly brush buns with milk.

Place baking sheet in the oven and bake buns at 375F for 15-18 min until the top is golden brown.

Immediately after taking out of the oven, brush buns with melted butter.

Bon Appetit!

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