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Pita Crisps

25 Sep

Somewhere en-route between Ralph’s and home yesterday, I suffered a massive brain injury. It became evident when I plopped down all those grocery bags on our kitchen counter and, halfway through unpacking, devoured a 1,713 calorie bag of pita chips in 0.46 seconds flat. I confess I may also have eaten 3 large spoonful’s of Nutella. I plead the fifth. Seriously, I’m blaming it entirely on acute onset PMS. If Mother Nature was a person, I’d invite her over for British tea and explain that this type of physiological shenanigans won’t do…. and then I’d punch her. (And possibly cry)

My descend into the pit of mindless eating wasn’t so much disturbing because I wolfed that bag down in record time, but more so because that was a family-size bag that cost me $5.95. We won’t even mention all that hummus & baba ghanoush that is now forced to live on in my fridge without any real purpose. ** insert a moment of silence. **

Just as I tossed the empty bag into the trash and started to feel partially guilty, Ina Garten popped up on TV, as by Divine Intervention. Complete with overly starched blouse and that trademark “I live in the Hamptons and you don’t” smile. She and her trusted bob-hairdo were entertaining a fellow Hamptonian, and she whipped up a platter of Greek deliciousness accompanied by house-baked pita chips. How easy is that? Of course, I don’t have access to artisan stone-milled wheat to handcraft my own pita bread, but she assured me store-bought is fine.

At an average cost of $0.99-$2.00 for a package of 6 pita bread rounds, home-baked pita chips are the fraction of the cost of those from Stacy’s popular brands. They are super easy to make, don’t require a lot of time-commitment and I think this could be a fun kid project too because, let’s face it, who doesn’t relish the idea of their 6-year old playing with a brush and olive oil?!

Once baked & cooled, I typically keep them in a Ziplock bag in our breadbasket for a few weeks, although they usually don’t last that long. You can sprinkle them with sea salt & herbs, or season them up with cinnamon sugar, or even cheese popcorn sprinkle… The choice truly is yours.

PITA CHIPS
(Courtesy of Ms. Garten & her bob hairdo… and a touch of Hungry Belgian)

– 6 pita bread rounds, or however many you want to bake
– olive oil
– seasonings of your choice

Preheat oven to 350F.

Cut pita bread rounds in half, and cut each half in half again.

Take each quarter, and cut it in half again, so you end up with small pita bread triangles.

Brush each triangle lightly with olive oil front & back, and place in a single layer on a baking sheet.

Sprinkle with sea salt, or any savory seasoning of your choice. (on one side only is fine). For sweet crisps, bake without seasoning and toss in cinnamon sugar after the baking process, when the chips are partially cooled but still a tad warm.

Bake for approx. 10-15 min on 1 side, then flip each triangle and bake for an additional 5 minutes on the other side. Keep an eye on them, as they can burn quickly. You want them to be crisp and golden on both sides.

Let cool completely, then store in an airtight container or ziplock bag, in a cool dry place.

Carrot-Macadamia Nut Brunch Cakes

5 Feb

Last Friday, karma struck. So did the guy that was driving behind me. It appears his nicotine levels were dropping dangerously low, and in an act of sheer desperation, he decided to retrieve his pack of cigarettes from the floor of his truck whilst driving in rush hour traffic. I was amusedly gazing at the seagulls out the front window, and never saw him coming. Being the last car at the tail-end of stopped traffic, I had the pleasure of meeting Mr. Marlboro Man when he crashed into the rear of my Honda CR-V at 30 mph, and sent my head flying in directions that defy all human anatomy.

Let me first start by saying that whiplash is poop. No, seriously. It’s poop! I can’t decide if I like the constant nausea better, or if perhaps the pinched nerve & cramping muscles rock my world more. And then there are the meds that are doing a number on my digestive system too, but what really tops the cake, is that all of sudden my brain’s auto-pilot mode seems corrupted. Yesterday, I tried to open our mailbox with our house key, you know, the key that is typically 3x LARGER! in size, until it dawned on me 15 seconds later – with an air of exasperation – that I had the wrong key. I feel like I’m not the sharpest tool in the shed right now, and that bothers me almost as much as Lady Gaga proclaiming she is classically trained and was invited by ‘Juilliard’. I mean, have you ever heard of a classically trained musician brushing an invitation from New York’s finest music school off the table to pursue a career in weird make-up and glittery green bodysuits that produce really awful camel toe look seriously painful to wear in one’s nether-regions?! Not me. But maybe I’m not seeing the possibilities here.

My wee blog has been suffering too. I’m already working 7 days a week and also attempting to run our household, and now I have to hold my head ‘just so’, so as to minimize the pain… Quite frankly, I feel like I should be sainted in a Papal audience and let it be hereforth known that I’m waiting for his invitation. Okay? After all, I do scoop the cats litter box quite frequently, and what comes out of there very much resembles leprosy, if you ask me. And with Father Damian being Belgian, well, we’re practically family. There.

And how does one tie leprosy into a recipe?!, you might ask. Fret not, for I am here to enlighten you with creative writing. When I purchased Trader Joe’s vegetable pancakes a few weeks ago, I decided that whatever Trader Joe’s can do, I can do better too… I’ve always been a BIG fan of Macadamia nuts, and I knew I wanted them to make a grand appearance in my crispy brunch latkes. And there you have it: Macadamia nuts = Hawaii = Molokai = leprosy. Please hold the applause.

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Carrot-Macadamia Nut Brunch Cakes
(based on a recipe for potato latkes)
– 1 lb of grated carrot
– 6 oz of Macadamia nuts, toasted and chopped
– 3.5 oz of aged Gouda, grated (or aged cheddar)
– 3 oz of day-old corn bread crumbs
– 3 egg yolks
– 1 tsp of Sriracha sauce or any hot sauce of your liking
– 2 Tbsp of Italian parsley, finely chopped + more for garnish, if you like.
– 2 Tbsp of fresh thyme, finely chopped
– 1 tsp of Hungarian sweet paprika powder
– olive oil
– salt & pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 400F. When hot, line baking sheet with foil and toast Macadamia nuts for 5-10 minutes until slightly browned. Remove from oven and let cool. Give nuts a rough chop, until crumbled.

Grate carrot, and blanch in boiling water for 1 minute. Pour into a fine-mesh strainer, drain well and allow to cool.
Combine carrot with grated cheese, corn bread crumbs, parsley, thyme, egg yolks, Sriracha, sweet paprika and salt & pepper. Divide mass into 10-12 equal parts, and form into a small ½ inch thick patties.

In a cast iron skillet or heavy pan, heat olive oil (be generous) until hot and fry patties until crisp & golden, approx. 2-3 minutes on each side. Serve hot with a side of sour cream.

Warm Blue Cheese Sriracha Corn Dip

9 Jan

I confess that I know nothing about American football. Well, almost nothing. I know that the Minnesota Vikings’ uniform colors are purple and GOLD!, not yellow. It looks pretty yellow to me, but who am I to judge?! I also know that you’re not supposed to hold a conversation during the game for longer than, say, 30 seconds. Commercials is when your verbal diarrhea is tolerated. And I know that you’re not supposed to jump up with arms extended and a loud ‘HELL YEAH!!!’ when there’s a flag against your team. A flag is evil… and a tat effeminate, if you ask me, but I’ll hold my vile tongue.

I have no clue what all the conferences mean, let alone how they stack up against each other. I’m truly a lost atom in the football vortex. I understand just about as much from football as I would from any scientific debate in Norwegian, and that notion is aggravated by the fact that I can’t even keep football and baseball straight. I kid you not, 90% of the time, I still think the Red Socks are a football team! Ouch.

The kicker is (ain’t that a nice pun?!), I actually enjoy watching football. Very much like the cats. I don’t per se lounge on the ottoman like a jezebel and elaborately start grooming my nether regions, but – like the resident felines – I’m pleasantly entertained by the movement on the screen. I like seeing all the pretty colors. And then there is Mr. Farklepants too, with his spontaneous loud outbursts of approval and/or animated annoyance about certain referee calls. Watching him watch football, amuses me. I’ll come right out saying that there is no specific team I’m a fan of, and as such, I mostly root for the team wearing the prettiest colors the team that pleases my visual cortex the most. Contrary to what I just stated (I am female after all), the Seahawks will always have my vote because a) I have very dear friends in Seattle and feel a misplaced loyalty to their team, b) Seattle is quite possibly the coolest city in the USA and c) Pike Place Market. Enough said there.

What I like best about the ‘Super Bowl’, though, is that it comes with a widely accepted ‘diet pardon’ that makes it OK to stuff your face with chips dipped in whatever melts into a tasty homogenized blob in the oven. A while ago, I found a recipe for a hot blue cheese & onion dip and, true to my non-conformist nature, I turned that deliciousness into a corn version… with a bit of help from Pinterest. It was love at first bite.

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Warm Blue Cheese Sriracha Corn Dip
(Adapted from several hot dip recipes I found on Pinterest)

– 4 oz of cream cheese, softened
– 3 oz of blue cheese, crumbled (such a Roquefort or Danish Blue)
– 1/2 cup of sour cream
– 1/2 cup of mayonnaise
– 1 1/2 cups of Monterrey Jack cheese, grated + more for topping
– 2.5 cups of fresh or frozen corn
– 1 red bell pepper, diced finely
– 1 green bell pepper, diced finely
– 2 shallots, diced finely
– 2-4 Tbsp of Sriracha sauce, depending on the level of spiciness you desire.
– 1 tsp of ground cumin
– 1 tsp of Hungarian sweet paprika
– 2-3 green onions, for garnish.
– salt, to taste

Preheat oven to 350F.

If using frozen corn, take out of the freezer and let it defrost in a sieve, allowing the thawing juices to drain. If using fresh corn, cut corn off of the cobs and set aside. I prefer fresh when in season, but either works just fine!

In a skillet (I use my 12-inch Lodge Cast Iron skillet), sauté the shallots and bell peppers until beginning to soften. Turn off the heat and add reserved corn, allowing the corn to cool down the skillet just a bit.

In a bowl, mix cream cheese with mayo, sour cream, Sriracha Sauce & Monterey jack cheese. Add salt to taste. Add cumin & corn mixture from skillet and mix until well combined. Either pour mixture back into skillet or pour into an oven-safe casserole dish. Top with a little bit of Monterey jack cheese, and bake uncovered for approx. 30-40 min, until mixture is bubbly.

Slice green onions finely and sprinkle over top of dip. Serve hot, with tortilla chips, crackers or crusty French bread slices.

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.

Bangkok Chicken Satay with Coconut-Peanut Sauce

7 Sep

Football season is here! And with it, so is finger food season.

I confess that I know nothing about American football. Whenever a game comes on, I root for the team wearing the prettiest colors get lost in trying to figure out who actually has possession of the ball and when flags and penalties are dished out, all bets are off. I vaguely grasp the concept of a ‘first down and 8 yards to go’, but I guess football is one of those sports you must have either played yourself or grown up with, in order to fully comprehend the intricate detail of grown men throwing themselves on top of one another for… an oblong-shaped ball?! And why is that ball oblong shaped to begin with?! And who on earth understands what that referee is saying in that echoing microphone?

The first time I was graciously invited to someone’s house for an American cook-out and football BBQ party, I actually managed to silence an entire room by loudly jumping up from my comfy chair and belting out a cheer, complete with arms fully extended and the required high-pitched “WOOHOO!!!!”, when the referee threw a flag… against the team we were all supposed to be rooting for. Whoopsie!

I remember this incident greatly embarrassed my then boyfriend to the point where he felt compelled to formally apologize on my behalf to everybody in the room, and explained that I was from Belgium! I learned three things from that unfortunate moment: a) football is a serious thing over here, b) a man who-we-shall-not-name is an asshole and c) Thai chicken skewers are delicious!

Fast forward 10 years, and my football expertise hasn’t much improved since then. I grew up playing a lot of sports and I love watching sports, but when it comes to American football, I stick with my tried & true routine of picking the team with the snazziest outfit… And I do so from the comfort of my kitchen, where the magic of football parties really happens!

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BANGKOK CHICKEN SATAY WITH COCONUT-PEANUT SAUCE
(Adapted from a recipe by Bobby Flay)
For the chicken satay:
– 3 lbs of skinless, boneless chicken breast, cut into 1 inch pieces
– 1/4 cup of soy sauce
– 3 Tbsp of dark brown sugar, firmly packed
– 2 Tbsp of fresh lime juice
– 2 tbsp of peanut oil
– 1 Tbsp of curry powder
– 2 garlic cloves, minced or grated
– 1 tsp of fresh ginger, grated
– 1/2 tsp of ground cardamom
– 24 wooden skewers, soaked in cold water for 20 min

Cut chicken into 1 inch cubes or bite-size pieces and set aside.

In a medium bowl, combine all other ingredients and whisk to make a marinade. Pour marinade over the chicken, cover with plastic foil and let rest in the refrigerator for at least 1 hour.

Thread 6-8 pieces of chicken on each skewer. Heat a grill pan or griddle over medium high heat, and cook chicken skewers for 8-10 min, turning once half way through… or cook skewers on the BBQ. Serve warm alongside peanut sauce below.

For the coconut-peanut sauce:
– 1 13.5oz can of coconut milk
– 1/4 cup of creamy peanut butter
– 1/4 cup of dark brown sugar, packed
– 1 Tbsp of soy sauce
– 1 1/2 tsp of red curry paste

Combine all ingredients in a small sauce pan. Bring to a boil and let simmer for 3-5 minutes. Pour sauce in the a small bowl and serve alongside chicken skewers.

Blackberry Balsamic Onion Jam with Bacon

1 Sep

A few years ago, during a random browsing session at Williams-Sonoma, my eye fell on a small jar of balsamic onion spread. With a $10.99 price tag, I decided it was entirely too expensive so I bought it anyway. For a little while I smeared it on anything from bread to crackers and grilled cheese sandwiches, until I could see the glass bottom and went into full-blown panic mode and rationed it as though the end of civilization was nigh.

So when my mom arrived for a visit some weeks later, we picked up a few gorgeous cheeses and a loaf of crusty French bread at the farmers market for lunch one day. As I was setting the table, mom came upon my nearly empty jar of balsamic onion spread, tucked in the back of my fridge, where it was shielded from impulsive midnight snacking. I think she must have seen the frantic expression in my twitching eye, cause she grabbed it and dismissively announced that wherever it came from she was sure they had more. Later that afternoon, one sales rep at Williams-Sonoma in Palos Verdes, CA became employee of the month for a record sale of balsamic onion spread, financed by the ‘Bank of Mom’.

With onions being fairly inexpensive, and fueled by my degree in Business, I figured their profit margin on that drug stuff must be sky-rocketing high, and so I set out on a quest to recreate my precious anything-spread. Only, I’d make it even better. There was some unpalatable trial & error, and a fair amount of spontaneous gagging, but in the end I came up trumps with something that is out-of-this-world delicious. The addition of bacon was real stroke of genius, but you can leave it out if you prefer a vegetarian version.

For your BBQ pleasure, I also smear this deliciousness on a Brioche bun, and top a crusty browned beef patty with some blue cheese, a fried egg and arugula, for a killer-hamburger that has just the right amount of ‘wrong’!

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BLACKBERRY BALSAMIC ONION JAM WITH BACON
(…because bacon makes everything better!)
– 4 slices of thick-cut bacon, sliced into very small pieces
– 2 large red onion, halved and thinly sliced (about 3 cups)
– 1/2 cup of fresh blackberries
– salt and cracked ground pepper, to taste
– 2/3 cup good quality balsamic vinegar (*)
– 1 tsp Dijon mustard
– 2/3 cup cooking sherry
(*) I used a lovely blackberry balsamic vinegar I found at the Torrance farmers market, and it gave this jam an even sweeter & fruitier touch.

Heat a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add the bacon pieces and cook until browned but not crispy, approx. 5-8 min. Remove the bacon from the pan and let it drain on a paper towel-lined plate.

Drain off all but 2-3 Tbsp of the bacon grease and then stir in the onions. season with a pinch of salt & pepper, to taste.

Saute the onions for 2 min. then add a splash of cooking sherry, and scrape the browned bits off of the bottom of the pan with a wooden spoon. Add the blackberries, cover the pot and cook the jam until the onions are soft and brown, and the berries have broken down, approx. 15-20 min.

Stir in a small pinch of cayenne pepper, the balsamic vinegar, mustard, and remaining sherry, and add in reserved bacon. Bring the mixture to a simmer and simmer uncovered until the sauce thickens and is almost completely absorbed, approx. 10 min. The jam should be a dark rich brown at this point.

Allow to cool and refrigerate in an airtight container for up to a week.

Kickin’ Chayote & Melon Salsa

28 Aug

I have a confession to make. Until I set foot in the USA, I had only vaguely heard of salsa. Let alone that I knew what it was supposed to taste like. As a matter of fact, the first time I tried it, was at a grungy roadside diner located across the street from my then office in Rockaway, NJ… Let’s just say that it was an overly sweet, jarred disappointment. It wasn’t until I set foot on California soil that my taste buds were properly courted by the smooth Latin lover that is ‘salsa fresca’.

Mom is an adventurous amateur chef, so it baffles me a wee bit as to why I didn’t really hear about salsa until I came to the USA. Frankly, growing up in Belgium and vacationing frequently in sweet Provence, we were surrounded by juicy tomatoes fresh from the vine every late Spring & Summer. When we moved into our new house in the country, mom even planted a few odd tomato plants against a sunny wall we shared with our neighbor. It so happens to be that those tomato plants set off a royal feud with Mr. Grouch, who never got over the fact that our yard was twice the size of his, and who vehemently claimed that watering our tomato plants caused structural damage to his garage’s wall. He was a royal pain in the you-know-what, and I won’t even go into detail about what happened when my soccer ball went over the fence and landed on his prize-winning dahlias. I don’t think the food blogging world could stomach the horror of such atrocity. But we digress… I think the problem with Flemish salsa may have been that things like limes, fresh cilantro and jalapenos – the latter being imported into Belgium and so by default ‘expensive’ – were either not in our family’s budget or not readily available… or mom didn’t care for them, which is the least likely of all three.

Mom is madly in love with fresh salsa & ‘pico de gallo’. During her weeklong California visits, she single-handedly powers through 2-3 family-size (!) containers of the stuff from the ‘salsa man’ at Torrance farmers market. She even engages in pseudo-English conversation with the man, using partial hand gestures and broken soap opera English. (*) She likes his stuff that much! Yes, the salsa man and my mom share a special bond.
(*) Like the time she walked into a grocery store in Spain, intending to buy cat food for the strays, sans knowledge of any Spanish, and resorted to signaling out “cat food” by pointing into her wide-open gaping mouth and uttering ‘meow meow’ to the unassuming store clerk. Per God’s blessing, I wasn’t present for this linguistic embarrassment.

With a great variety of fresh, flavorful salsas readily available here in Southern California year-round, I’ve never been challenged to come up with my own creation. I also don’t own a food processor, an excuse I’ve used far too many times to justify my salsa laziness. Now that I’m trying to live a little healthier with more ‘whole’ foods and fewer manipulated foods, I’m trying to move away from the jarred stuff which often contains ingredients that sound like they could be Klingon. No offense, Trekkie fans! The fresh tomato kind tends to come in the same boring old flavors, and I wanted to try something new. I can’t wait for my mom to be here in October, so she can then tell me in her dry, ‘matter-of-fact’ teacher voice that the tomato stuff from the salsa man is better. I’m fully prepared to embrace that defeat…!

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KICKIN’ CHAYOTE & MELON SALSA
(A Hungry Belgian original)
– 1 chayote squash, peeled & diced very small (*)
– 1/4 honey dew or Galia melon, diced very small
– 1/2 red onion, diced very small
– 1 Serrano chili, seeded and chopped very fine
– juice & zest of 1 large lime
– 1 tsp of agave syrup
– 1/2 tsp of ground cumin
– 1/2 bunch of fresh cilantro, chopped
– salt, to taste
(*) If you’re not familiar with chayote, see picture below, you should know that they have a crisp, cool flavor similar to cucumber. The flat, almond-shaped pit inside is edible too, but I remove it for this salsa.

Place all ingredients in a bowl, and gently fold together to combine. Let ‘rest’ in the refrigerator for a few hours, so flavors have time to develop and meld beautifully.

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Roquefort, Gruyère & Walnut Puffs

24 Aug

For the longest time, puff pastry scared me. I’m not a baker at all. It seems all my culinary talent is condensed into cooking, and the whole idea of working with dough brings forth horrible visions of botched pies and messy fails.

The thing is, is that baking requires you to be precise when measuring ingredients, to the point where I fear I’m playing Russian Roulette with my ticket to baking heaven if I even dare contemplate an extra component. I’m not a precise-kinda lass. I feel that all that preciseness cuts off the creative flow in my ‘chi’, and it prevents me from adding a little bit of this and that. I openly confess that all my baking attempts have resulted in mediocrity at best, and it’s nearly always been so, because I can’t stick to directions.

Puff pastry tops high on my rank of deliciousness. The first time I ever used puff pastry dough was for a lovely fig tart. Given my track record in baking anything, my expectations for success were low, but it turned out exactly the way I wanted it to. I was so thrilled with myself that I figured a ribbon from the Pope would certainly be nigh.

Since then, puff pastry & I are BFF’s and it makes a frequent appearance at brunch. The scrumptious savory rolls below are a breeze to make and you could easily swap out the ingredients for things that are on your favorite list! For me, I’ve had a long-standing love affair with blue cheese, so if I want something flavorful & cheesy, that’s usually the route I take…

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ROQUEFORT, GRUYÈRE & WALNUT PUFFS
(Adapted from a recipe by ‘Williams-Sonoma’)
– 1 sheet of puff pastry, thawed (11×14)
– 3oz of Roquefort cheese
– 2-4 Tbsp of double cream (like mascarpone)
– 1/2 cup of walnuts, finely chopped or minced
– 3 Tbsp of fresh rosemary, finely chopped
– 1/2 cup of Gruyère cheese, shaved or grated
– honey, for drizzling

Preheat oven to 400F, and line 2 large baking sheets with parchment paper.

On a flour-dusted work surface, roll out puff pastry to 1/4 inch thick, then cut in half lengthwise.

In a medium bowl, combine cheeses and enough cream to make a spreadable paste.

Spread half the mixture on one half of the prepared puff pastry, spreading to within 1/4 inch of the edges. Sprinkle with walnuts, rosemary and drizzle a wee bit of honey over the top.

Starting from the long side, roll up pastry sheet and pinch the edge to seal. Repeat with other half of the puff pastry. Using a sharp knife, cut the rolls crosswise into slices 1/2 inch thick.

Place on your lined baking sheets, spacing the rolls 1 inch apart. Place the baking sheets in the freezer for 15 minutes.

Remove baking sheets and bake 12 to 15 minutes, or until rolls are puffed and golden. Let cool 10 minutes before serving.

Roasted Pear & Plum Chutney

22 Aug

I don’t know about you, but my mind has been on Fall lately. It may be because my morning commute has been blanketed in coastal fog the past few days, or perhaps I’m excited about my mom’s pending visit from Belgium in October. Either way, I’m over the California Summer heat and I want Fall to get here already.

Tucked in the Northeastern corner of Belgium, is the province of Limburg. With its rich, fertile soil, the region is dotted with fruit growers and groves. Whilst cruising on the rural byways in Spring, you drive in a cloud of pinkish white petals from all the blossoming orchards that produce enough fruit in Fall to stop world hunger for a few months. Sint-Truiden, one of Limburg’s finest cities in the heart of the apple- & pear producing region of ‘Haspengouw’, is truly the Oak Glen of Belgium. There is a lot of friendly mockery when it comes to Limburgers’ heavy local dialect, but if you ask me, the province has so much historical beauty and peaceful homestead allure, that there is little else to mock but the country twang of its inhabitants.

I remember my brother & I being sent off to Scouts Camp for a few weeks every year during our 2 month Summer vacations, and many of these camps took place somewhere in Limburg. We’d pitch our tents in the woods or on the heather-covered hills, and – being giddy tweens – we’d make fun of the local boys during scavenger hunts in which we left our campground and skipped across the rural towns in search of clues. During these outings, for which we were sternly lectured by camp staff as to the do’s and don’ts and the potential consequences we’d face if we broke the rules, we’d often slip into the orchards to celebrate our freedom from camp regulations and share our deepest camp secrets underneath the shady canopy of an apple tree. The utmost privacy of our secrets being sealed by a pinky swear and the solemn promise to always be friends.

Apples & pears are staples in Belgium’s culinary repertoire. From ‘Luikse Stroop’ to ‘beer-braised rabbit with prunes’, Flemish cuisine often marries stewed or roasted fruits into its regional specialties. I love the savory & sweet combination of these flavors, and for that reason, chutney is winner in my book. I’ve played around with chutneys here & there, but it wasn’t until I came across a mango chutney recipe from an old edition of ‘Bon Appetit’, that I knew I had a winner on my hands. Since I love pears, I tweaked that recipe a bit to favor pears and… voilà! Get some cheese & crackers, and you’re all set for a true Belgian Fall favorite!

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ROASTED PEAR & PLUM CHUTNEY
(Adapted from a recipe by ‘Bon Appetit’)
– 2 ripe pears, peeled & cut in half (preferably Bosc pears or another firm variety)
– juice & zest of 1 lemon
– 1/4 cup + 1 Tbsp of sugar
– 3/4 tsp of ground cinnamon
– 1/4 tsp of ground cloves
– 2 Tbsp of canola oil (or another oil)
– 1/4 cup of pure maple syrup
– 2 shallots, halved and cut into slices/strips
– 1 clove of garlic, chopped finely
– 1 tsp of freshly grated ginger
– 3 Tbsp of currants (or dried blueberries works great as well!)
– 3 Tbsp of chopped dried figs
– 1/2 cup of champagne vinegar (or white wine vinegar)
– 1 tsp of hot red pepper flakes
– 1 tsp of fresh thyme, chopped finely
– 1 cup of ripe plums, diced small
– 1/4 cup of dry white wine

Preheat the oven to 350°F.

Toss the pears with the lemon juice, 1 tablespoon of the sugar, the cinnamon, and cloves. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil and coat the foil with half the oil. Set the pears cut side down on the pan. Brush the pears with the remaining oil, and roast until caramelized and tender, approx. 40 to 50 minutes. Take out of the oven, and set aside to cool.

While the pears are roasting, bring all of the remaining ingredients to a boil in a non-reactive saucepan (like a Dutch oven). Reduce the heat and simmer for 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and allow to cool as well.

Using a small spoon, scoop out the cores of the cooked pears. Cut the pears into 1/2-inch slices. Combine the pears and the onion mixture. Cover and refrigerate for at least 1 day before serving.

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.

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