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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.

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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.

Lemon Braised Chicken with Black Olives & Saffron

8 Aug

I have fond memories of our vacations in the South of France. How can you not completely lose yourself amidst the sights & smells of beautiful Provençe? The fragrant purple-glowing lavender fields, knotty olive trees, the distant sound of church bells echoing over the citrus groves, the sweet honey-like smell of juicy figs, freshly baked crusty French bread wafting through the warm air, old cobble stone streets that are host to bustling markets selling anything from creamy local goat cheese to bright colorful Provençal textiles, and the prerequisite dusty bocce ball courts that are strategically placed underneath the shady oaks in the old town square, where the older beret-wearing men mingle and discuss politics over a friendly game of ‘pétanque’ or ‘jeux de boules’, while their wives haggle with the chatty vendors over fresh fish and cured olives…

Provençe is where the good life is at… It seems time has come to a standstill in the sleepy cobblestone towns, with their red clay rooftops spread out against a backdrop of olive groves and lavender fields, and their historic architecture splayed over the hillsides. These are the kind of rural hamlets where senior villagers frequently lounge in comfortable chairs right outside the doorstep of their old stone houses, to catch up on local gossip and to gawk amusedly at the occasional accidental tourist that stumbles into town. I suppose the younger generation flees towards the excitement & lure of the larger cities as soon as they have the chance, and who can blame them? With nothing more than an old mossy church, a few cafés or bistros and a handful of ‘odds & ends’ type stores the size of shoebox, there’s hardly anything present to engage or capture the essence of youth in these old havens of peaceful nothingness.

It’s precisely here, in this type of quiet solitude, that you find that unforgettable meal in your trip that will fondly linger in your memory for years to come. A dish that is sourced from the best quality local ingredients only, purveyed fresh from the field that same hazy morning, and infused with generations of love & passion for authentic regional cuisine. The recipe below hails from such a charming town in Provençe, and as such, its flavor and smell will transport you directly to ‘Banon’, to name just one Provençal pearl…

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CHICKEN WITH LEMON, BLACK OLIVES & SAFFRON
– 4 whole chicken legs or 6-8 thighs, skin on
– 4 fresh lemons
– 3 large onions, roughly the size of a small orange
– Approx. 20 oil-cured black olives (the Greek kind, with a deep dark black color and slightly wrinkled skin)
– a hefty pinch of saffron
– 1 cup of chicken stock
– 2 cloves of garlic, minced or grated
– Salt & pepper, to taste

Chop onion in half, and then each half cross-wise in half again, slice each onion quarter in small rings. Juice 2 of the lemons and reserve both juice and peels. Quarter 3 lemons (including the juiced ones), and then slice each lemon wedge cross-wise in half again. Slice 1 lemon in pretty round slices, for visual appeal… Wash chicken legs and pat dry, then salt & pepper them liberally.

In a large Dutch oven, sauté the onions in a splash of olive oil until translucent and slightly browned. Add chicken legs skin side down and brown to a crisp. Add reserved lemon juice, all lemon wedges & slices, garlic, olives, chicken stock & saffron, and braise covered over low heat for approx. 60 min, until chicken is “fall-off-the-bone” tender and flavors have developed.
Serve with crusty French bread to sop up the delicious lemony sauce and a crisp, cold Pinot Gris.

Bon appétit!

Chicken with 40 Cloves of Garlic

23 Jul

No. This isn’t a typo. I literally do mean 40 cloves of garlic. I encourage you to fight the good fight for as long as you can, because once your taste buds cross over to the garlicky side, there is no turning back.

‘Allium Sativum’, or common garlic, and I have been going steady since my childhood. Because of our Mediterranean seaside vacations in the South of France, where – let’s face it – people practically take garlic baths, we were exposed to garlicky deliciousness from a very young age. I remember being handed a fresh clove of garlic to rub on toasted, crusty French bread from as early as I had the fine motor skills to do so. It is no wonder that when mom produced this miracle poultry on our dinner table one time, we all succumbed to its culinary super powers and it instantly became a staple in our family’s food pyramid. As children, we’d get excited and bickered over who got to crack the dough seal off of the pot. And as adults, we loved the aroma that caressed our nostrils as soon as the lid came off.

I’m warning you right now, that this is by far the juiciest and most flavorful chicken you’ll ever put in your mouth, so unless you’re willing to cook this on a regular basis, don’t do it.

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CHICKEN WITH 40 CLOVES OF GARLIC
(as per mom’s recipe)
– 1 capon or large roasting chicken
– a few sprigs of fresh rosemary
– a few sprigs of fresh thyme
– a handful of fresh Italian parsley
– a handful of fresh basil
– 1 laurel leaf
– 1 fresh lemon, quartered
– 40 cloves of garlic, in their skin (approx. 4-5 bulbs)
– approx. ¼ cup of extra virgin olive oil
– salt & pepper, to taste
– 3 cups of flour, ½ cup of water & oil (for the seal)
– 1-2 tbsp of soft butter

Preheat oven to 350F. Rinse the chicken and pat dry, then salt & pepper the cavity. Take roughly about ¾ of all the fresh herbs, and stuff them in the cavity together with the fresh lemon. Rub salt & pepper on the outside and under the skin, and rub the chicken with a bit of butter.

Smash the bulbs of garlic on your counter top, and separate all the cloves. Remove the loose, rough outer leaves, but leave each clove in its own peel. Chop the remainder of the fresh herbs finely.

In a heavy large oven-proof & lidded pot (such as a Dutch oven), add the olive oil, fresh herbs and 40 cloves of garlic all at once, and stir/sauté for just a minute or two. Place chicken on top of the garlic & herbs.

Make a flexible yet firm dough from the flour, water & oil. Roll into a sausage and line it alongside the edge of your pot. Place the lid on top and gently press it down into the dough, creating a glue-effect. The idea is to seal the pot completely, so no air can escape whilst cooking… trapping all the flavors inside.

Place the pot in the middle of the oven, and cook for approx. 1 ½ to 2 hours, depending on the size of the chicken. For crispy skin, remove lid from pot (you’ll have to crack it open!) for the last ½ hour of cooking so the skin can brown a bit, however, doing so will allow all the delicious flavors to escape and mellow out a bit… I’m not a chicken-skin aficionado, so I usually don’t care about crispy skin and leave my pot closed. This will be your call, really.

When the chicken is done, take it out of the pot and scoop up the cloves of garlic that have now browned and caramelized in the chicken juices. You can quite literally squeeze them out of their peel, and use the sweet, caramelized flesh to mix into mashed potatoes or schmear directly on crusty slices of French bread. Bon appétit!

Serve with any vegetable you like, but ‘Confit Byaldi’ is a great accompaniment.

Chili con Turkey

22 Jul

It seems ‘June gloom’ has finally arrived in coastal Los Angeles. Yesterday morning, we even got a few sprinkles of rain. I know. Shocking!

The gloomy weekend reminded me of the dreary, cloud-laden skies that blanket Belgium for a good portion out of the year, and all those times I’d cycle back home from school in fog & drizzle. Being outside in the rain is a natural state of being in Belgium. Unlike here in Southern California where even the slightest drop of rain causes widespread panic, life goes on and the world barely skips a beat. Even during school recess, I remember we’d play outside in the rain and were handed a towel to dry off when re-entering the class room after we’d taken off our boots, shuffling & sliding back to our desks on socks alone. Beautifully sunny days are scarce and – as such – they are worshipped like the Holy Grail. People swarm to the beach with their brood in one hand and an ice box in the other, or they soak up the rays over a few ice-cold beers on a sun-drenched café terrace, dotted with colorful umbrellas. I remember when I first arrived in California, I didn’t do laundry for 5 weeks straight, because it was always sunny in the weekend and on sunny weekends you simply don’t occupy yourself with mundane household chores… It later dawned on me that all weekends are sunny here, and unless I didn’t mind wearing my bikini to work, I had better get some laundry started. Pronto.

Yesterday was one of those typical dreary Belgian days by the California beach. It was a welcome change of pace from the heat wave we got the previous week, and a perfect opportunity to cook something hearty while smelling the dampness in the coastal air. Turkey chili & corn bread sounded like just the ticket.

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TURKEY CHILI
– ½ cup of diced pancetta (or 2-3 slices of bacon, chopped)
– 2 medium onions, diced
– 1 red bell pepper, ribs & seeds removed, diced
– 1 orange bell pepper, ribs & seeds removed, diced
– 1 lbs of ground turkey
– 1 15oz can of kidney beans, rinsed
– 1 15oz can of pinto beans, rinsed
– 1 15oz can of black beans, rinsed
– 1 28oz can of pureed tomatoes
– 2 15oz cans of diced tomatoes
– ½ tsp of ground cinnamon
– 1 tsp of unsweetened cocoa
– 1-2 peppers in adobo sauce, chopped (or more, if you like it spicier)
– 3 tbsp of chili powder (whichever kind you prefer)
– 1 tbsp of chopped fresh oregano (or ½ tbsp of dried oregano)
– 1.5 tbsp of ground cumin
– salt & pepper, to taste
– a few tbsp of ground masa flour, to thicken the chili if it’s too runny.

Pour beans into a strainer and gently rinse under cold water until no longer gooey. Set aside and let drain.

Brown pancetta or bacon in a large, heavy pan (or cazuela) until most of the fat is rendered. Remove & set aside. In the pancetta/bacon fat, sauté the onions until starting to soften. Add chopped bell peppers, and sauté a few minutes more until onions are turning translucent. Add ground turkey meat and sauté until browned and crumbly. Add salt & pepper to taste.

Add rest of the spices (except cinnamon & cocoa) and the chopped peppers in adobo sauce, and sauté for a minute more, just to release the flavors. Add pureed & diced canned tomatoes, and bring to a boil. Let everything simmer for another 10-15 minutes and thicken the sauce with the masa flour 1tbsp at a time, if needed.
Add cinnamon, cocoa, beans & browned pancetta/bacon, and fold everything together into a thick stew. Simmer for another few minutes to heat through.

Serve with sour cream, diced red onions, chopped fresh cilantro & shredded cheese… and yummy Cheddar jalapeno cornbread

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