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Lemon Curd

13 Mar

Lemon curd.

It’s not exactly an attractive sounding name, is it? Who reads that and goes “oh yum, I must have some C.U.R.D…!”. Unless you’re British and scones make up 70% of your daily dietary intake, I don’t think anyone gets super-hyped over curd. It just doesn’t excite like Javier Bardem chocolate does, does it?

Nonetheless, lemon curd has been on my list of “things to give a go” for a while now. I love lemon flavored things, but I never really grasped the vast deliciousness of curd until I made it last Sunday morning. Somehow, I always thought of making curd as a complicated ‘fancy’ thing. And somehow, I always thought the effort wasn’t worth it. I couldn’t have hit further off the mark if I was a 10-yr old boy in a public urinal. I was so wrong. Wrong-er than Richard Simmons’ aerobic outfits, and that is a whole other dimension of wrong, folks!

It all started with a trip to Underwood Family Farms with my fiery Latina colleague Maritza. If you’re in the greater Los Angeles area, you must visit some time. If you don’t have a fiery Latina colleague named Maritza, bring your kids to achieve the same level of vivaciousness & spunk. Being a full-fledged operational farm, complete with muddied farm workers & equipment that looks like it could be featured in a Halloween horror movie. The farm has brilliantly married its day-to-day operations with modern society’s obsession with Instagram, selfie-taking and a reconnect with Mother Earth. Opening a portion of their farm to the public, the owners’ genius created a farm fun-land for city slickers like yours truly. Beside a petting zoo, a playground, farm-themed kids’ entertainment and a fairly large farm stand for those who do not ‘dirt & sweat’ well, you also have endless…endless!… fields of U-pick deliciousness which rotate with the seasons. They are, after all, a real farm. Not a Disneyland farm.

Forget the quality of the produce for a minute… If you’ve already swan-dived into farm-fresh produce, carry on. For all others, sit down next to me and read on: picking your own produce is fun & therapeutic.  I never knew that snapping broccoli off its mother-stem had addictive qualities. The very moment you know it’s going to snap off, is incredibly satisfying. Or the wet, almost muted swooshing sound a beet makes as its roots leave the ground… Not to mention the suspense of not knowing how large that sucker is going to be? Right?  Then there’s the incredible aroma that fills the air when you yank a bunch of fresh cilantro out of the dirt. I have no words for that. Or, the delicateness with which you carefully harvest raspberries, making sure you’re as gentle with them as you are with your grandmother’s porcelain. Or cupping a handful of blueberries and watching them happily dart into your basket as they release… And, last but not least, the heroic courage you find within yourself to boldly reach into a cobwebbed cluster of branches to pick the ‘perfect’ lemon, only to then frantically fling your hand a Mach 3 speed to ensure all you got was the lemon… I find it all extraordinarily relaxing and rewarding.

And then there’s the flavor… It’s the stuff of fairytales. The thing is, one day you’re eating the flavorless fruits and produce you’ve always liked and you wouldn’t change a single thing. And then, one day, the triple-threat crunch/sweet/juicy punch of a fresh vegetable gets under your skin and suddenly, the grocery store landscape is a bleak, depressing place without these fresh beauties.

Dirty, sweaty and tired – I came home with the mother-ship of Meyer lemons. Funny enough, curd wasn’t even on my mind at the time. I figured that with the Farklepants’ brothers battling a nasty head cold, I would just juice them (the lemons, not the brothers) with some ginger… but then Bobby Flay ate a scone with lemon curd on Sunday morning. All bets were off.

The recipe below makes approx. 2 cups. You’re going to want to eat this sweet tangyness straight out of the jar, so I suggest you get your spoon ready.

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LEMON CURD

(per a recipe form Life Currents)

– 0.5 cup of Meyer lemon juice (or regular lemon juice)

– 1 stick of butter (4 oz), cubed

– 0.5 cups of granulated sugar (add an extra tablespoon if using regular lemon juice)

– 1/4 teaspoon of salt, or ‘a pinch’

– 4 large egg yolks + 3 whole large eggs  (use 3+3 for extra large eggs)

In small saucepan, combine the lemon juice, sugar, butter & salt. Heat over low heat until the butter has melted and the sugar has dissolved.

In a medium size bowl, whisk 4 egg yolks and 3 whole eggs together until well-combined.

Here’s the tricky part: gently & slowly incorporate half of the hot lemon/butter mixture into your eggs, all the while whisking. This is called ‘tempering’ your eggs and forming an emulsion, so you don’t end up with scrambled eggs.

Place the bowl with the tempered egg mixture over a gently simmering pot of water (au bain marie) and incorporate the remainder of the lemon/butter mixture until it thickens. The thickening starts around 150F and will have the right consistency around 180F. If you don’t have a candy thermometer, just look for the consistency of custard. It will take approx. 5 min of constant gentle whisking (do not stop whisking, or you’ll end up with scrambled eggs!)

Also make sure to NOT boil the mixture.

Run the custard through a mesh sieve to get rid of any potential egg bits, and place the curd into a jar. Chill for at least 3 hours in the fridge.

Mediterranean Orzo with Roasted Vegetables & Lemon Zest

11 May

Dinner parties. It’s a time for pretty table linens, elegant dinnerware and culinary flights of fancy. A time in which my little apartment kitchen seems all too tiny and I start dreaming of a spacious farm kitchen, complete with brick walls and weathered wooden family table. When I was a child, our house was usually filled with dinner guests on Saturday evenings. My brother & I knew the kitchen was off-limits for pretty much the entire afternoon, as mom was in there whirling like a tornado and mostly cooking a 6-course meal for guests that would arrive later in the evening. Setting foot on the tile kitchen floor, meant the risk of being sucked into mom’s dishwashing vortex so we generally steered clear.

Fast forward 35 years, and – despite my good intentions – I realize I have turned into my mother. Rats. While I’m not yet wearing high-waisted hot pink capri pants that reach to my bra straps, or pee behind a spruce in Yosemite NP because the call of my bladder is far stronger than the language on any of the Park Ranger warning signs, I share my love of cooking with Cecilia. I enjoy entertaining guests with food I prepare, and I take joy out of billowing crisp, brightly colored linens over my table in preparation of the festivities. I enjoy buzzing around in my kitchen, hovering over pots & pans and making sure my guests will ooh & ah, whilst at the same time banning my house elves family members from entering the kitchen with a certain air of authority and mild annoyance. (*)
(*) Note to self: Must fight this genetic pattern before hot pink capris become all the rage.

Yesterday, J. was coming over for dinner. She had to drop off some papers, so – naturally – I suggested I cook dinner for all of us. I had planned on cooking a big pan of my lemon-braised chicken and serve that family-style, since I had to work all day and didn’t have much time whip out my whole arsenal of culinary wizardry. Lemon braised chicken has such a unique flavor, that it’s always a bit hard to find a side dish that will accompany it flawlessly without being blah, but the orzo below did just the trick. The roasted vegetables burst with flavor and are slightly caramelized which brings a note of sweetness, while the lemon dressing breaks that sweetness with the right amount of tang. The freshness of the scallions and basil not only adds to the wonderful flavors, but also makes this really pretty t look at.

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MEDITERRANEAN ORZO WITH ROASTED VEGETABLES & LEMON ZEST
(inspired by a ‘Barefoot Contessa’ recipe)
– about 2 cups of uncooked orzo pasta
– 1 red bell pepper, sliced into 1 inch pieces
– 1 yellow of orange bell pepper, sliced into 1 inch pieces
– 1 small eggplant, diced into 1 inch pieces
– 2-3 small red onions (tennis ball size), diced into 1/2  inch pieces
– 3-4 ripe lemons, zested & juiced
– 1 bunch of scallions, sliced thin
– 1/4 cup of pine nuts, toasted
– 2 good handfuls of fresh basil, julienned or sliced into thin ribbons
– 2-3 cloves of ROASTED garlic (optional)
– olive oil (+/- 1 cup)
– salt & pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 425F.

Place the peppers, onions & eggplant on a baking sheet, sprinkle with salt & pepper and coat liberally with olive oil on all sides. Roast in the oven until tender and caramelized, approx. 30-40 min. Set aside and allow to cool to temperature. Turn off oven.

In a small sauce pan, toast pine nuts until golden brown. Set aside and cool.

Zest 3-4 lemons, and set zest aside. Slice scallions and basil, and set aside.

For the lemon dressing, juice zested lemons into a measuring cup or bowl. Preferably one with a pour spout. You should have approx. 1/2 cup of lemon juice. Add about 3/4 cup-1 cup of olive oil to the lemon juice and blend well. Add salt & pepper to taste. Add pureed roasted garlic to the dressing, if you desire.

Bring a large pot of liberally salted water to a boil, and cook orzo according to package instructions. Drain well and pour into large serving bowl.  Immediately, while hot, pour about half of the lemon dressing over the pasta, and coat well so it won’t stick as it cools to room temperature.

When pasta is cool enough to handle, add roasted vegetables & lemon zest to the orzo, and gently fold until well combined. If the pasta salad seems a bit dry, add some more lemon dressing. Fold in toasted pine nuts, scallions and basil. keep a few basil leaves for decoration.

You can eat this pasta salad warm or cold. This recipe will make a large bowl that will comfortably feed 8 people or more. It can be served as a side, or with crusty French bread for a light lunch.

Bon Appetit!

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.

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!

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!

Appalachian Onion Soup

22 Oct

Yes. You read that right. This is ‘Appalachian Onion Soup’ because a) it’s made with Kentucky Bourbon and b) who doesn’t want to stick it to the French? Don’t be shy, raise your hand. I haven’t decided yet whether I hate the French or like them, but I sure do love their cuisine. You can’t go wrong with all that butter, cream and wine… n’est-ce pas? In all honesty, I secretly love the French and their curly moustaches. But being that I am from Belgium, and that I’m decidedly non-Francais and speak ‘funny’ French, I can’t be loved in return… You see, it’s against ‘The Code of Honor’ between the French & the Belgians. I understand. At least we have better chocolate. OH SNAP!

But we digress…. When I discovered that I had half a dozen of onions in my fridge and feared they would meet their early demise, I decided my family’s dinner destiny had to be French onion soup, for starters. The only problem, it was already pushing 07:00P and with zero ambition to schlepp myself to the store to go pick up white wine and a few random ingredients that go in an authentic ‘soupe a l’oignon’, I decided to get creative with my American pantry. And since the French would rather die than to endorse this version of their beloved classic, I can’t shame myself further into naming it French onion soup. It’s not proper. And besides, I’m Belgian… what do I know? Tsk!

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APPALACHIAN ONION SOUP
(Adapted from a recipe for classic French Onion Soup)
– 6 large onions, halved and cut into half rounds
– 4 small cloves of garlic, pressed or minced (or 2-3 large ones)
– 3 bay leaves
– 3 Tbsp of ground thyme
– 1 Tbsp of ground sage
– 1/2 cup of aged balsamic vinegar
– 1 cup of Kentucky Bourbon
– 3 cups of beef broth
– 3 cups of chicken broth
– a few slices of 2-day old sour dough bread, toasted
– a handful of grated white cheddar cheese
– salt & pepper, to taste
– 2 Tbsp of butter + 2 Tbsp of olive oil, to caramelize the onions (or 4 Tbsp of ‘ghee’ or clarified butter)
– 1 Tbsp of maple syrup, to caramelize the onions (optional)
– fresh thyme, finely chopped (for garnish)

Heat oven to 500F.

Cut each onion in half, then slice each half into half-moon rounds. Chop fresh thyme finely.

Heat butter and olive oil in a large Dutch oven over medium heat. The oil will prevent the butter from burning. Add bay leaves and sliced onions and cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the onions are caramelized and a rich amber or golden brown color. You can sprinkle the raw onions with some maple syrup or honey/sugar, which will help them caramelize quicker. This is an optional step, though. Caramelizing the onions will take upwards of 30 min., so be patient and stir only occasionally! If the onions seem to be burning, turn the heat down a notch and add in a splash of water. The water will evaporate in the process and will not water down your soup, but it will prevent the onions from burning.
When the onions are beginning to color lightly, add in the pressed garlic and ground thyme & sage. Stir to combine and continue to simmer the onions until they have reach an amber-like color.

When the onions are browned and caramelized, remove bay leaves and add the balsamic vinegar and half of the Bourbon to the pan, and deglaze the pan by scraping up the browned bits. Add the rest of the Bourbon and both broths, and bring to a simmer. Allow to simmer for an additional 10-15 min without the lid, so the alcohol burns off and the flavors can develop further.

In the meanwhile, take your slices of 1-2 day-old bread and brush them lightly with olive oil. Lay bread slices on a flat baking sheet and toast in the hot oven for approx. 10 min. Keep an eye on them, as they can go from crispy to burned in a matter of seconds. Take the toasted slices out of the oven and lightly rub a clove of garlic over each slice.

Ladle soup into oven-safe bowls, and place a slice (or 2) of toasted bread on top of each bowl. Sprinkle cheddar cheese over bread, and place bowls under the broiler for a few minutes until cheese is melted and bubbly. Sprinkle some fresh thyme over the bubbly, melted cheese and serve right away.

Cheesy Brioche Rolls with Bacon & Rosemary

24 Sep

“What shall we do with all of this bacon?”, said no one in my family ever. With a constant flux of at least 3 packages of bacon in our small apartment fridge, we embrace ‘Emergency Bacon Preparedness’… You know, for those nights on which you don’t feel like shopping for dinner groceries, but you don’t feel like pizza either?

Bacon is a drug hearty. It makes everything 10x better than it already is. And let’s admit, if there is any processed meat that could potentially be conceived as candy by your taste buds, it would be the crunchy sweetness of salty bacon. No? So when I won a $75.00 gift certificate of the LA Farmers Market during an industry event a few months ago, I knew exactly where I was going to spend the bulk of it: ‘Huntington Meats’. Just like so many small family-owned businesses in this Mecca of deliciousness, the folks at ‘Huntington Meats’ take great pride in their butcher’s craft. Besides the tasty quality of their meats, there’s something eerily familiar about an apron-wearing, fat-bellied man presenting me with a brown paper slab of house-cured & hand-crafted peppered bacon.
I regret that corporate America is slowly but surely edging out small businesses like this. Personally, I enjoy buying meat from a rosy-cheeked butcher, or seafood from a charming blue-tiled monger that smells a wee bit salty and beckons passers-by with a giant neon-flickering smiling mussel. Places like that make me happy. The people who own these types of stores, take pride in their craft and life’s work, and somehow they make me feel like I matter.

When I was younger and still lived in Belgium, these are the kind of places my mother would take us to on her weekly Saturday morning grocery runs. We’d be hectically crisscrossing all over town in her old Ford, and loading up the car with freshly baked pastries & bread from the sweet smelling bakery on the corner of our street or we’d stop by the smelly cheese shop and pick out the finest Cabrales or Brie to eat with our crusty French bread… Wherever we went, everything was freshly sliced, diced, cured, chopped and/or packaged… with love. We had a grocery store nearby, but mom considered that to be mostly for non-perishable stuff. Like peanuts, cat food and laundry soap.

The LA Farmers Market brings this community-minded way of grocery shopping back. If you haven’t been, you urgently have to plan a vacation around this place. Tucked away next to a fancy, overprized open-air mall, the market itself is surprisingly humble and quaint. And none of the boobs Gucci-clad ditsies with electric pink patent leather Hermès handbags actually shop here, for reasons unbeknownst to me because this place truly offers the finest foods in the county. The bustling, colorful market is a bit overwhelming at first sight, but once you get passed the crowded chaos and ‘see’ the vintage appeal of the mint green colored plastic picnic tables, you’ll feel like you’re in foodie heaven.

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With so many fabulous eateries, ranging from hot Brazilian roasted meats to Spanish tapas and spicy N’awlins drunken shrimp, you’re in for a real treat. And with most meals being under $10.00, you can splurge and eat your belly full without breaking the bank. Finally, there are the handful of purveyors of fine foods, my favorites being a toss up between ‘Tusquellas Seafood’ and ‘Huntington Meats’… Last Saturday, I walked away from the latter with just a little over 2 pounds of house-cured peppered bacon and 12 hot Italian sausages for nary $38 and change.

So what I am doing with all of this bacon? How about some cheesy brioche rolls now that soup season is officially open?

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CHEESY BRIOCHE ROLLS WITH BACON & ROSEMARY
(Adapted from a recipe for French ‘pistolets’)
– 1 lbs of bread flour, sifted
– 5 eggs, beaten + 1 more for the egg wash
– 5-6 slices of bacon (or more)
– 1.5 oz of fresh yeast or 1 packet of dry yeast
– 1/2 cup of whole or 2% milk
– 1/3 cup of finely chopped fresh rosemary
– 1 cup of freshly grated Parmesan
– 1 Tbsp of sugar
– 1 tsp of sea salt
– 1 tsp of baking powder

Preheat oven to 400F.

Crumble yeast into a small bowl, add sugar & lukewarm milk and stir until dissolved. Set aside for 15 min while you cook the bacon.

Slice bacon into thin strips and sauté over medium heat until cooked through but not crispy. Reserve 1-2 Tbsp of the fat, then drain fat and set aside to cool.

Sift flour into large bowl, add the baking powder, add eggs, salt and foamy yeast mixture, and stir or knead into a doughy consistency. Add in reserved bacon, bacon fat, Parmesan and rosemary, and knead 10-15 min. (tip: you can do this on the ‘dough’ setting of your bread maker!)

Place dough in a lightly greased warm bowl, cover with a clean towel and allow to rise in a warm, draft-free place for at least 90 min or longer, until practically doubled in size.

Flour a clean surface. Tip dough out of the bowl, and knead for another 15 min or so. Divide dough in even balls the size of a small apple, and space apart on a lined baking sheet or place in a greased muffin tin. Cover with a clean, damp towel and allow to rise a bit more over 20 min.

Brush rolls with a quick egg wash made out of 1 beaten egg and a splash of water. This will make them shiny. Bake rolls for 20-30 min, until golden brown and crusty on the outside.

Maple Bacon & Butternut Squash Waffles

18 Sep

When I stumbled upon a recipe for mashed potato cheddar & chive waffles from Joy The Baker the other day, I swear I heard the faint sound of violins. I mean, waffles… with cheeseand mashed potatoes! What could possibly be better than that winning trifecta? And who knew you could put mashed potatoes in waffle batter? But more importantly, who even has leftover mashed potatoes to begin with?!

My inner-Belgian was intrigued, so I baked Joy’s waffles that same night and I thought they were really good. As in ‘I binged on 6 waffles in one sitting’-kinda good, and then impulsively grabbed the last sole survivor this morning for breakfast-on-the-go and ate that one ice cold because I was desperate I was in a hurry. Let me tell you, any waffle that tastes this good after being left overnight on the kitchen counter, should be considered a mortal sin. It made me ponder the question, if this much tastiness can be achieved with cheddar & chives, how wickedly delicious would these waffles be with, let’s say, bacon? And what if we replaced the mashed potatoes with puréed butternut squash for instance? With visions of savory waffle greatness, I took Joy’s recipe and ran with it. Like a thief in the night.

Even malicious recipe-snatchers foodies like me sometimes need a late breakfast-brunch idea, and these Fall-inspired waffles are perfect for those days on which your uterus bleeds uncontrollably you crave something salty & sweet or you need a unique alternative to a dinner roll. The mapled butternut squash mash gives them a subtle sweetness and the bacon adds a salty touch to balance everything out nicely. Now let’s all surf to Joy’s blog, and thank her for the original recipe that sparked this tasty spin off! These waffles are delicious straight out of your hot waffle iron, but they are equally as good the next day, albeit that they lose their crispiness as they cool. Top these babies with a dollop of crème fraiche, and you’ll find yourself in savory waffle heaven.

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MAPLE, BACON & BUTTERNUT SQUASH WAFFLES
(Inspired by ‘Joy The Baker’)
– 4 Tbsp of unsalted butter
– 1/4 cup of buttermilk
– 2 large eggs
– 2 cups of butternut squash mash (*)
– 4-5 slices of bacon
– 1 large shallot, finely diced
– A pinch of brown sugar
– A pinch of cayenne pepper
– 1/2 cup of all-purpose flour
– 1/2 tsp of baking powder
– 1/4 tsp of baking soda
– 1/2 tsp of salt
– 1/2 tsp of freshly ground pepper
– crème fraiche, for topping
(*) Butternut squash mash is simple to make and a healthy alternative to regular mashed potatoes, See recipe below.

Plug in your waffle iron and allow it to heat so it’ll be nice & hot when you’re ready to bake.

Preheat oven to 450F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper, and place bacon slices on top. Sprinkle bacon lightly with brown sugar and cayenne pepper, and bake at 450F for approx. 10-15 min, until crispy. Set aside on paper towels and allow to cool, then crumble.

In a small pan, melt butter over medium-low heat and allow it to brown. When it’s all melted, it’ll start popping and cracklin a bit, which is the water evaporating out of the butter and giving the butter a yummy nutty flavor. Keep watching the pan and wait for the edges to brown slightly. Once you see browned edges, pour browned butter directly into your cooled butternut squash mash, and whisk in the eggs & buttermilk to combine into a smooth mass. Keep on an eye on this process, as butter can go from tasty browned nuttiness to a burned mess in a matter of seconds!

Wipe pan with a paper towel, and give diced shallots a quick sauté, until they are translucent. It should only take a minute or 2-3. Set aside.

In a medium bowl, sift flour and add baking soda, baking powder, salt & pepper. Fold in the butternut squash mixture and combine into a smooth batter. Add crumbled bacon and reserved shallots, and stir to combine.

Place about 1/4 cup of the batter in each section of your waffle iron, and cook waffles according to your taste. I like mine crispy and dark, but that’s just personal preference. Allow waffles to cool on a rack, as placing them on a solid surface will make them soggy and limp.

BUTTERNUT SQUASH MASH
– 1/2 small-medium butternut squash, seeded, peeled & cut into in large chunks
– 1 large tan sweet potato (not a red-skinned yam!), peeled & cut into large chunks
– 1.5 Tbsp of maple syrup
– 1/2 tsp of of curry powder
– 2 Tbsp of butter
– salt & pepper, to taste

Boil butternut squash together with potatoes until tender. Give it a quick mash, then and add butter & maple syrup. Mash together, and season with salt & pepper & curry powder.

Lucette’s Calvados Apple Butter

12 Sep

Just last week, my colleague Alex asked me if I could figure out the recipe for Lucille’s famous apple butter. If you’ve had the pleasure of dining at ‘Lucille’s Smokehouse’, you know what I’m talking about. It’s that gooey, buttery sweetness you spread entirely too thick over those soft warm biscuits… of which they only give you two! Good Christian women are not greedy!

Until a friend treated me to a BBQ lunch at Lucille’s one time, I had never heard of apple butter. As a matter of fact, I don’t think I had ever tasted freshly baked warm biscuits either. Biscuits were non-existent when I lived in Belgium. The whole idea of serving a semi-sweet pastry with something even sweeter to smear on top… for dinner!…. is an abstract concept that was entirely foreign to me. Baked goods and sweetness belong with breakfast or way after dinner, not during dinner. The preposterous absurdity of eating something sweet with dinner, prompts my mother to give me her best ‘get this away from me!’ face every time she visits. To place this blatant snubbing of a Southern staple into perspective, Cecilia’s idea of a delectable dessert is a smelly plate of French cheeses with crackers… which is entirely an appetizer in my book, but whatever. She usually passes on a ‘real’ dessert altogether. Evidently, she is sweet enough ‘as is’. ZING! POW!

The smooth, tasty apple lover of Lucille’s is a compound butter that is made with real butter, unlike the typical delicious fruit butters you see appearing on grocery shelves around Fall. I figured I did not want a regular compound butter with big chunks of apple in it, I wanted the smooth bluesy James Brown kind the restaurant chain itself offers. I found several recipes online but ‘powdered apple’, really? I don’t know about you, but a dehydrator is not something that collects dust on my kitchen counter. I also do not per se want to plan my apple butter-making adventure 7 days in advance so I can then order my ‘powdered apples’ online some place, nor do I want to spend 8-10 hours tediously watching apples dehydrate in my oven to see if they are dried enough already but not turning brown! I read somewhere online that reportedly Lucille’s blends its butter with the fruity canned apple butters you find jarred in various supermarkets, and an undisclosed amount of Karo corn syrup. I opted for using plain old dried apples. They’re readily available everywhere, and you can also buy them in bulk in farmers market-type stores like ‘Sprouts’ here in Southern California.

In the end, I took the best of what I read online and ran with it… I think this delicious apple butter comes very close to Lucille’s in flavor, but can perfection really be… well… perfected? Let’s just consider my butter to be Lucille’s more sophisticated twin sister, and as such, I’m naming her Lucette. There.

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LUCETTE’S CALVADOS APPLE BUTTER
– 1 cup of unsalted butter, softened
– 2 Tbsp of light brown sugar
– 3 Tbsp of good quality honey (preferably orange blossom, but any kind will work!)
– 1 tsp of ground cinnamon
– 1/2 Tbsp of vanilla extract
– 6 oz of dried apple slices (not candied!)
– 1/4 cup of Calvados (French apple liquor)
(*) This is a sweet butter. If you want the butter to only be mildly sweet, reduce sugar & honey, to your liking.

In a food processor, soak the dried apples in the Calvados for about 20-30 min, then blend apples until you achieve a fairly smooth paste-like substance. Add in the butter, and blend until well combined. Then add the cinnamon, honey & sugar, and keep blending until you get a gorgeous and fragrant butter-like substance. Place in an airtight glass jar, and store in the fridge for a few weeks… as if this would even last a few weeks!

Citrus Lavender Dutch Baby with Almond

2 Sep

It’s the last day of our three-day Labor Day weekend today. I figured that calls for a celebration, as I rarely get to sit in my lazy chair on a Monday morning.

My family loves crisp ‘Dutch Baby’ pancakes. We usually get them at our local pancake house, but since going out for breakfast is not within our financial constellation lately, I urgently needed to learn how to make these at home. What did I do before the Pinterest-era?!

Seeing all those gorgeous Dutch baby recipes online, made me pause and ponder why they are called Dutch Babies in the first place. I can’t remember enjoying these in Belgium or Holland, so I’m entirely pointing my finger towards the Amish for having something to do with that… Let’s face it, doesn’t anything delicious come from the Amish?! Those folks know how to bake. Not to mention that they have access to farm fresh ingredients that haven’t been tampered with, and that they aren’t swayed by grabbing something off the grocery shelf real quick, because whatever. When I first came to the USA with my 2 suitcases, I lived a mere 2-hr drive away from the Amish country in PA, right by the Delaware Water Gap, in a tiny town called Blairstown, NJ. My then roommate & I would drive down in our weekends, and we’d load up the car with the most amazing jams and baked goods I have ever tasted. While I have to admit that I don’t fully understand their religion and culture, I recognize that the simplicity & ‘purity’ of their lifestyle brings forth amazing products. Apart from the many wonderful things I have learned from traveling all over the world, is to be tolerant and appreciate the best in each culture, and I thank the Amish for their contribution to my culinary journey, even if I’m completely wrong and they had nothing to do with the invention of this tasty pancake.

This Dutch baby was wonderful sweet & tangy at the same time. I confess that I had never baked one before, so I got a bit jittery and skeptical, but it was truly that easy! Who knew?! I gave it my own twist by going Provence on this classic and infusing a citrus-lavender flavor directly into the batter.

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CITRUS LAVENDER DUTCH BABY WITH ALMOND
(Adapted from recipes for simple Dutch babies I found on Pinterest)
– 3 eggs, room temperature
– 1/2 cup of all-purpose flour
– 1/2 cup of 2% or whole milk
– 1.5 Tbsp of brown sugar
– 1 tsp of almond extract
– zest of 1 lemon
– zest of 1 small orange
– 1/4 cup of fresh lavender blossoms, rinsed and finely chopped (no stems!)
– 10-inch cast iron skillet

Place 2 Tbsp of butter in your cast iron skillet, and place in the middle of your oven. Then preheat oven to 425F, to get the pan nice & hot and the butter slightly brown and bubbly.

In the meantime, blend eggs with flour, milk & almond extract into a smooth batter. Fold in lemon zest, orange zest, brown sugar and lavender blossoms.

Take skillet out of the hot oven and pour in batter. Don’t stir! It’ll be quite runny, but don’t worry as it’ll puff up nice & golden in the oven. Bake pancake for approx. 15-20 minutes, until the edges are dark and crisped, and the pancake has puffed.

Take out of the oven and let it ‘sink’ a bit. Squeeze half a lemon out over the pancake and sprinkle with powdered sugar. Serve hot.

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